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On the Eve of Our 1 Year Anniversary

For Carlos Hernandez
by C. S. E. Cooney


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?


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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!


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!


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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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Readercon 2018 Schedule for C. S. E. Cooney & Carlos Hernandez



Group Reading: The New American Bizarrerie

Salon A Writing Reading

Fri 2:00 PM

Duration: 01:00

Description From gothic to gilded, from Latinx SF to weird Americana, from the Icarus-altitudes of the surreal to the depths of the dark fantastic, readers C.S.E. Cooney, Julia Rios, Carlos Hernandez, Jessica P. Wick, Patty Templeton, and Christa Carmen will regale listeners with a glorious gallimaufry of contemporary speculative fiction.

Speculative Poetry Deathmatch!

Salon A Writing Performance

Fri 4:00 PM

Duration: 01:00

Description This entertaining and interactive panel on science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry will teach attendees a little about speculative poetry. Poets will read some of their works and then participate in a lyrical death match in which audience members decide which poet walks away with a tin foil crown and bragging rights.




Imagination All Compact Blue Hills Writing

Performance Sat 10:00 AM

Duration: 02:00

Description Speculative poets perform their work.


A Thing with Feathers: Avian Imagery in Speculative Fiction

Salon 5 Writing Panel

Sat 2:00 PM

Duration: 01:00

Description Works such as The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Cormorant Run, Blackbirds, Rose Lemberg’s Birdverse stories, and the Black Feathersanthology use the imagery, characterization, presence, and beauty of birds to explore issues of environmentalism, social violence, and empathy with the other. How have birds come to be a metaphor for our human failings and strivings? How is the reality of avian life and biology transformed into speculative narrative?


Reading: C.S.E. Cooney

Salon A Writing Reading

Sat 3:00 PM

Duration: 00:30







Gamification of Story Development

Salon 5



Group Reading: The New American Bizarrerie

Salon A



Reading: Carlos Hernandez

Salon A, 9pm – 9:30pm





Imagination All Compact

Blue Hills, 10am – 12pm



Group Reading: Kaleidocast

Salon A

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How To Be An Audiobook Narrator (In ∞ Many Steps)

Dear friend,

You’ve asked me recently (okay, like, twenty billion months ago now) how I got into audiobook narrating. Because you’re interested. You, too–or someone you love–would like to get into audiobook narrating. This is a very reasonable desire. I ADORE BEING AN AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR. I want to HELP YOU!

But I, like I always do, instead of answering you right away, sat there stumped by my own idiosyncratic experience.

(How did I get into this? A series of accidents? A lifetime of training? $40,000+ of college debt going toward a Fiction Writing Major/Acting Minor? Narrating stories for awesome podcasts that didn’t pay much–but they ended up on my resumé at the right time? A lifetime of having too many jobs (to pay off my college debt) to ever be in theatre, so the only time I ever got to PERFORM was at writing conventions, during which I was, in essence, reading fiction aloud to an audience, which is, in essence, what narrating is? Because someone I knew happened to be a proofer at a semi-local studio that happened to be hiring narrators at the time she was working there, and even after I sent them my resumé, it was still 3 months till I got an audition–and I could have just as easily NOT gotten one?)

I AM SURE there are MORE PURPOSEFUL, LESS CATACLYSMICALLY COINCIDENTAL ways to become an audiobook narrator . . .

. . . And now that I’ve had my 3-year crash course in audiobook narration and know a little more about the business, I will suggest a few to you.

First of all, one of my colleagues at Tantor, where I do most of my audiobook narration, Elise Arsenault, has a WHOLE BUSINESS helping actors start up their voice over careers. Her first strategy session with you is complementary, so you might want to give Work with Elise a go!

From what I’ve observed, Elise is a community builder, a next-level networker, a working actress, voice over artist, and audiobook narrator, and a producer/director besides. Kind of a Guru. Or Goddess. Well, follow the links and see for yourself!

So that’s one suggestion. Here’s another.

So, I was just at my first APAC–that is, the Audio Publishers Association Conference–yesterday, and I learned, well, the appropriate unit of measurement would be probably “craploads.”

I TOTALLY recommend the conference for new narrators. The next one is in May of next year!

At APAC, one of the panels I found the most informative and invigorating was called “Building Blocks for Developing Narrators.” It featured Hillary Huber, Scott Brick, and Sean Pratt, moderated by Johnny Heller.

An aside: Johnny Heller is the voice coach for my friend and colleague, narrator Callie Beaulieu (she has a blog of her own, if you want insights from a hard-working narrator and actor!) (and an Instagram account!). She has only good things to say about Johnny! She leaves his sessions and workshops so stimulated and inspired. I was also very impressed with what Heller had to say as a panelist, narrator, and teacher. I would love to take a workshop from him sometime!

Here’s his website, if you’re looking for a coach!  Johnny “a real swell guy” Heller!

One of the other panelists, narrator Sean Pratt, is also a long-time teacher. He seems to have built his own codified vocabulary, skill sets, and etiquette–all very clear and precise–about the tools a modern narrator needs: acting, directing, producing, and engineering. This link clicks to the coaching wing of his website.

If you’re a narrator looking to start at the beginning, taking a class from a knowledgable and devoted teacher will funnel you into the audiobook community.

When I went to the “Ask A Casting Director” panel, many of them said that when they are scouting for new talent, they go straight to Audible, and listen to samples.

One of the places to set yourself up as a narrator-for-hire directly to authors who are looking is to join ACX. I haven’t done this myself yet–but ACX has its own How To Tutorials up the wazoo! (CAN I SAY WAZOO IN A BLOG? Sorry, ACX! You’re doing GREAT!) Here is a direct link to how to get started as an ACX narrator.


Casting directors are also looking out for MORE DIVERSE NARRATORS! Narrators of color! Narrators who can speak other languages! Narrators from places other than America! The audiobook industry, they admitted, has been TOO WHITE FOR TOO LONG.

Also, native Australian accents seem to be in high demand. And MALE narrators for romance and erotica are seriously sought after! I’m just saying.

Now, personally, I got my start narrating for Podcastle, the fantasy branch of Escape Pod–podcasts of short-form genre fiction. Those links above click directly to their narration guidelines, which are very helpful and highly specific.

Another place I’ve heard about, where you can volunteer to narrate is Librivox. This might give you some practice and get you comfortable with the tools and skill-sets you’ll be needing later on in your career.

A few other useful links I found during a light search on the subject was’s “Advice for Actors: Voice Over Exchange.” MANY FINE LINKS TO BE FOUND WITHIN THAT LINK–A RABBIT HOLE TO WONDERLAND! And also Voice Bunny’s blog “Voice Over Work: How to Get Started.”

I know that for myself, the next thing I want to do to continue my education as an audiobook narrator is to attend a Johnny Heller workshop, or perhaps pay for a few coaching classes with Sean Pratt.

I am also EXTREMELY INTERESTED in this Masterclass Series happening a little later this year–six workshops with the biggest names in audiobooks!!!–presented by PJ Ochlan and The Deyan Institute. Here is a link to the specifics.

Dear friend, I hope that helps. And if you have a friend who is interested in audiobook narration, I hope this helps them too. I still feel like such a n00b myself, but I realize that I have resources you don’t, so I’ll try to be as available as I can to answer any of your questions. I’ve learned all kinds of hacks in the last three years, my own tools and tricks, but I am really, really looking forward to learning new ones, instead of feeling like I’m flying by the seat of my pants ALL THE TIME.

Your Devoted if Tardy,

C. S. E. Cooney






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The One Brave Edit

Last year, I wrote a 40000 word novella called “Desdemona and the Deep,” which I finished on New Year’s Day, 2018, in Paris. Then I let it lie, sleeping dog-like.

Today, thinking about a favorite Hernandezism (“A review of one of Rafael Campo’s books declared it was one brave edit away from great; that always stuck with me.”), I found myself face to face with “my one brave” edit.

Well, with 3546 brave edits, to be precise.

So far. The novella’s not QUITE 40000 words anymore, thank the Horned Lords. And I’m only on page 18 of 73.

Still. There is a feeling of sloughing off, of de-doughifying, of a bloated thing sagging, expressed of its noxious liquids.

It’s . . . nice.

But there is more work to be done.


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“Amateur” Means “Love”: N00Bie-Moi Invents Fan Game for Redick’s MASTER ASSASSINS: Part 1

Well, we start out with my love for Robert V. S. Redick’s MASTER ASSASSINS, which I did not expect to love, but after about 3 seconds at his reading at Boskone, I knew I would die if I did not eat read it all that week.

So I did.

And I said things about it on Facebook like:

Oh, man. Robert V.S. Redick. Holy yatra in the Stolen Sea. Oh, boy. Oh, damn. I just finished your book. Wahhh.

Whoa. Wait… And, like, the next one is not even DONE yet, is it?


But. I have to say. If my life falls in such a way that I never read another book—yours is a good one to end on.



PHEW! So it’s not my imagination, all the incredibly nuanced and complicated work this book is doing!

I have felt, reading it, that it is not a book I would be able to recommend LIGHTLY, or without proper trigger warnings. But I would recommend it ardently. And fervently.

It’s… not an unflinching look at war and misogyny, but… more like, flinch-making. Worth every deeper look, but oh, the woe of this world!

But all that was back in February.

I mean, come on! Is my love of such THIN AND STARRY COBWEB STUFF that I can forget about this book in a mere two measly months? NO!

Especially not when I get a huge jolt of Girardian mimetic desire as soon as Hernandez starts reading it.

(Hernandez is my husband, by the way. Carlos Hernandez. He’s fancy. A professor, author, game designer. Has a book coming out next year, you know. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe. Awww yeah. Plus, green eyes. Curly hair. Super hot. And a genius. If you’re reading my blog, you probably already know all this because you are probably my mama. HI, SITA!  So, if you’re not my mama, lemme explain: I occasionally call Hernandez by his last name, Hernandez, because it makes me feel butch, like we’re on a football team or something, and if you know me and my polka dots and my crinolines and my hair flowers, then you know that feeling like you’re on a football team is kind of like feeling that you finally got IN.)

So Hernandez is taking his turn reading MASTER ASSASSINS, and I’m all like


and he’s like [THIS PART]




and he perks up and looks REALLY INTERESTED, ’cause he’s (aforementioned) a game designer, and he’s all like THAT MAKES ME FEEL GOOEY, COONEY and grins at me, and crosses his feet at the ankles, so now I HAVE to do it.

Plus, we’re going to visit Robert Redick (author of MASTER ASSASSINS) at his HOUSE in June, and I want to bring him a HOST GIFT.

So making a fan game based on his book is kind of like baking brownies, right?

Especially since I have NEVER DONE SUCH A THING BEFORE! Made a game, I mean. Not baked brownies. I mean, I have baked brownies. Out of a box.

And I’ve watched Carlos (Hernandez, that is, my husband–don’t want to confuse you) make games. And like he says (he said it tonight, in fact, just now, to me):


So I’m gonna.

I have a few ideas. They might not work. As soon as I’m done writing this blog, I’m gonna spend my evening doing two things.

  1. Scouring Redick’s MASTER ASSASSINS text for poetry and song (his text is rife with them) and poetic language (same). I want to extract about 200-250 “fragments” of poetic text and print them out on cards. The players will then draw two (maybe?) at random, and then have to write the next two lines. Sort of build a poem–or maybe a prophecy–that way. Maybe completing the poem/prophecy is the only thing that ENSURES THEIR SURVIVAL AS THEY FLEE ACROSS THE DESERT. Very thematic. Themic. Themey.
  2. Making a “paper fortune teller” or a “chatterbox.” I have to consult Youtube. This video, I think. You know those paper monster things in GRADE SCHOOL where you stick your fingers in it, and it’s sort of like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, and it tells you who you’re going to marry or if you’re wearing polka dot underpants? Yeah, I wanna make one of those. It’ll be a game piece I call THE PROPHET and it’s gonna maybe be one of my main mechanics. Introduces the element of chaos. Like dice. Or maybe WITH DICE. Also THEMATICALLY, uh, THEMIC for MASTER ASSASSINS.

Hernandez suggested calling the game “CANON,” as in the players/fans making their contribution to the Redick Canon. So that’s the working title.

It’s all still very vague in my head, but bear with me. I’m new at this. And it’s all in fun. My SUPER SEEKRIT NIGHTTIME THING after working all week on my forever-fiction-revisions, 8th draft of novel, 3rd draft of novella, blah blah blah. I’ll keep you posted here. Or I’ll GIVE UP IN SHAME! Either way, you’ll probably know about it.

Maybe if I can get an iteration on its feet, you all will help me playtest it! WHAT FUN! (THAT’S RIGHT, MAMA! I’M TALKING TO YOU! HI! PLAY MY MADE-UP NOT YET REAL GAME WITH ME!)

But in the meantime, go read Robert V. S. Redick‘s MASTER ASSASSINS.

Oh, and also read this BEAUTIFUL blog he wrote about it: “Wrath, War, Love, Feminism: On Mixing a Four Shot Fantasy Cocktail in Master Assassins.


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Why Not Seafall?

Second walk of the day, and a much longer one. I wrote for several hours, and I hope to write again. But the walk was clarifying. Still thrall to that luminous gray, but unlike this morning, no drizzle to curtail me. The house is dim and warm, but outside it is brighter, and I felt more brisk almost at once.

I spent the first half admiring all the orgulous brick edifices studding the “crescents” that scythe off of Alderton. I came home by a different street, forgetting that it is the hour school lets out, or at least some schools, and that the street I needed to take happened to have one of those schools on it. O, the clamorous glee! And thus, some negotiating of noise and buses and bustling parents and enthusiastically liberated younguns and strollers.

Thoughts on walk:

Mike Allen recently reminded me of “Lady of Shades,” a story I wrote–or tried to write–in the wake of too much Hadestown. (How much is too much? Really?) I re-read the latest draft recently and thought both, “DAMN IT’S GOOD” and also “BUT I CAN SEE WHY IT KEEPS GETTING REJECTED.” And I thought, both then and two nights ago talking to Mike, that the story really needs a bigger space to unspool than the <7500 word constraint. It’s maybe not a novel-sized idea, but it could be a novella.

So then, today, as I was walking, and thinking about cities, and about “Dark Chicago” which is the setting for “Lady of Shades”–or was–and all the alternate New Yorks in urban fantasy, I wondered if I might release “Lady of Shades” from the bonds of this world.

On the one hand, it severely curtails my references, and thus an array of amusing metaphors and allusions. On the other hand, it shakes loose the myths we all know and bow to, the same stories we scrawl and scratch out, trying time and again to re-imagine, and in shucking that dust, I have a new leave to, you know, make the beast with two backs with my plot and characters. Flirt with, unfurl, it. If you get what I mean.

In my Dark Breakers novellas, I have this city, Seafall, which is loosely inspired by Newport, RI. It has mention in “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One,” first published by Ann Leckie in GigoNotoSaurus, and then reprinted in my collection Bone Swans.

The world wherein Seafall exists also plays host to many other of my stories, though they do not all take place in the same country, or even continent, much less timeline, and very rarely are the characters aware of or linked to characters in other stories. Seafall and its sister cities have a mythology that is sometimes alike, and sometimes alien, to ours. And there are cities I’ve written I haven’t yet fully explored. Or exploited. (A city can be infinite.) And there are, I hope, cities and towns and whole ranges of this world I haven’t even invented yet!

And I think one of these cities will now host “Lady of Shades.” I’ve not yet written a contemporary fantasy in this world. The latest novella “Desdemona and the Deep” (needs one more draft, not yet published) is the third of the Dark Breakers stories, and it loosely maps to our 1900-1910-ish timeline. Sort of Belle Epoch-y. What they call their “Orchid Age.”

Scoot up the timeline a hundred, hundred-fifty years? I do that, and I can really start to play. How will the world I’ve so far made look in its own future. How alike and unlike will it be to this one? And will my characters, whom I love, in “Lady of Shades” be able, finally, to BREATHE there, and become a VIABLE STORY???

One can only hope!

In the meantime, I found my second walk VERY POTENTIATING, to coin a favorite Hernandez phrase.

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My Reaper’s Gettin’ Old, And So Am I

I was just wandering through the house, muttering to myself, “I’m looking for a scrap of paper to write a list on,” and I was so careful to repeat it every time I passed a threshold, LEST I STRAY because of DOORWAY EFFECT!

(I read that article in Scientific American and was suddenly more forgiving of myself about losing track of what I was doing on my iPhone. ALL THOSE LITTLE APP-SHAPED DOORWAYS EVERYWHERE! Most particularly, doorways into the INTERNET! But if I say out loud to myself, “I am just here to check the temperature,” I can usually escape unscathed…)

…And then I found an old journal, and I brought it down to take a scrap of paper out of the unused part, and something I don’t remember writing caught my eye.

A poem? A song? About a, what, someone’s old TATTOO??? Something that begins with the words, “My reaper’s getting old, and so am I.” Why did I write it??? It reminds me of my friend Jeanine.

So I thought I’d copy it here for you. Thus SUCCUMBING to the very thing I’d tried to AVOID with my WIZARDLY incantations.



by C. S. E. Cooney

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
The ink beneath my skin
Is pale and dry
O his scythe’s a blunted sickle
And his grin is sick and fickle
O my reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
And my bicep in the mirror
Makes me cry
For his robe is black and torn
And his red eyes seem so worn
O my reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
And I guess we’ll both be dyin’
By and by
But my reaper makes me mind:
Live my life so wild and kind!
‘Cause it’s old–but also wise
And so am I

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“Connect, George, connect.”

I go months sometimes without talking to people I consider dear friends. And then there are days like yesterday, where I had three separate 90-minute phone conversations, mostly catch-up, with some industry, some encouragement, some plans for the future.

And so, yesterday, I found myself repeating a few things that have been on my mind: this constant sense of discombobulation, not knowing whether I am coming or going, a floating feeling of disconnect from the present world, as if I am myself only as I was in the past, in some time before change (whenever that was), as if in my confusion I hit some sort of mental re-set that flung me back a few decades. A childlike fog, a barrier, both protective and smothering.

Since moving to New York in August, my years in Chicago have slammed me. Shattered more recent memory. Five years in Rhode Island? That quiet, bounded place. My time there is a satellite broken free of orbit, or at least cast into a long elliptical.  Now at apogee.

Meanwhile, back in a city, the biggest city yet, my memories have begun to cross. All the cities I’ve ever lived in are sinking into each other like layers of wet onionskin lightly written upon. If I write down my address, and I do not concentrate, it becomes three addresses in one. Penn Station is Ogilivie; I don’t even hear myself when I speak wrongly. My internal map is blitzed. Rego Park is Oak Park is Forest Park is Forest Hills.

All subways of the past, CTA or MTA, commingle in a single subway to nowhere, no place, just this limbo of movement filled with Scrabble. I have trouble sleeping if I play too much Scrabble too close to nighttime: my brain tumbles bright Tetris-falls of meaningless letters, trying to polish them into usable jewels. Can I somehow rearrange this Q and this W and this V and this Y and those three A’s in a single 7-letter word outside of whatever fantasy world I currently inhabit? If I can, I shall be like Kai, spelling ETERNITY in shards of ice for the Snow Queen.

The subway is infinite, an endless roaring wormhole of peeling cement, darting rats, the redolent strata of urine, staircases mosaicked black and gray with the random dispersal of chewing gum. I descend into that perpetual florescent dimness, ascend again to a white-water-rapids of humanity whose currents clip along faster than my walking pace, my heartbeat, my ability to think. All I do is cry sometimes. I have to stop and put my back to a wall, or a gate, or a pillar.

I love my work. The commute is three hours one way. I am away from home for 3 days, maybe 4, staying with friends or, more recently, Air BNBs. My work is sitting in a black box, sunk into the architecture of an alien mind, talking to myself, unspooling their storylines, exploring their characters, in all the voices at my command. My work is wonderful, absorbing. If I don’t strictly adhere to a particular sleep pattern, it doesn’t work. My flesh resents me talking to anyone on a night after I’ve been working; my spirit is willing; my spirit yearns. Sometimes it wins, and my face goes numb, my throat scraped. It’s worth it? I bought yoga balls to help ease certain pressure points in jaw, neck, back. It’s possible to sustain this pace without popping preventative Aleve every morning? It’s possible. It must be. My bladder swims with “sour water”: my drink of choice. Hot water and apple cider vinegar and honey. Sometimes a Sleepytime tea bag. Sometimes a splash of pineapple juice. It varies. What doesn’t is the amount.  I am well-hydrated. I am at capacity. And yet, still dry and greedy, gaspingly, graspingly. When I am not working, I do not drink like this.

Time away from home, away from a kitchen to call my own, it is harder to control food. Difficult to exercise regularly beyond the walk to and from the train station. Perhaps I am not trying hard enough. I am not disciplined enough. I am not, I am not, I am not. And of course, with contract work, the possibility of never working again seems to loom every month, even if that’s unlikely to happen if we go by what pattern suggests. Sometimes I do not know if I long for that guillotine blade. For someone to tell me, “Stick with writing; your narration work’s not up to par, your ratings are low, you’re a hack, really, and ruinous.” Writing, of course, is even less certain, but I’ve been at it longer. I am better at it. It exercises a hold over me.

I go from this quiet, solitary, physically tasking world, my black hole, my whisper box, back to the rails, the long ride home. Transition time. Liminal space. I have been using this time well; I have been watching TV or listening to audiobooks–something I haven’t done much of over the last few years at all, and even though sometimes I have to force-feed myself pleasurable entertainment, it always seems to charge a battery I keep forgetting is on empty.

And then, here I am again, New York, and there you are, New York, and I am crying on your sidewalks, and I am crying in your underground, I am ascending in Queens, and there’s the moonlight, and I’m almost home, and there is Hernandez, waving from the window, pointing to the door below, miming turning the key, beckoning me up, quick, quick, and I start to laugh, and my tears are drying on my face, and he throws open the door, and voila! It’s all right again. More than. More than all right. I never dreamed this rightness.

A few days at home work to unscramble me. Cooking grounds me. Writing mornings with Hernandez. Long walks in these quiet neighborhoods surrounding me. Sitting here, between the two windows of my study, looking out at the clifflike brownstones against the luminous overcast that Hernandez calls “The Other Sky.”

A certain hour of twilight, nacreous with mystery, recalls all my other twilights in a long string of opals that end here, right here, this blue fire opal burning on my breast. I am caught in the water-swirl, perfectly enraptured, utterly myself. It is fine, fine to be alive. To dream only of death and destruction eliminates an infinity of options. Is a failure of the imagination.

“I can’t be contented with yesterday’s glory
I can’t live on promises winter to spring . . .”

(Today, John Denver)

Writing-wise (is that like sunwise? or widdershins? depends on the day), I am finishing revisions for my novel, for my agent, who is wonderful, who answers my elaborate emails with courtly courtesy and encouragement, and I haven’t had so much fun writing or liked my writing so much for the last two years at least.

It’s all I wanted: to remember what it is to love writing, and I dare not think of this book’s future, or even if it has one. That’s not my job right now. I do not even know what I want from it beyond this. Beyond finishing. Beyond making myself laugh at the footnotes. I feel this fondness for the book, and for myself, and it is like a friend I have been missing.

I miss my friends, near and far, old and new, constantly, an ache of failure. Of failing to be for them what I was at fifteen, what I was at twenty five. I can talk to a friend and miss them at the same time. I see them like burning brands, like signal flames flaring across the umbral reaches of the Internet, and I still miss them. They send me emails, and I do not reply, and I think about them all the time, and I miss them. I send them emails and they do not reply, and it is all right; we’re no longer what we were, nor have the time to spare for all we desire. This decade is about something else. Wide flung nets, circling the wagons, self-care, household, career, relevance. Something. Branching out into the World Tree. I have friends who have gone missing, who feel as distant to me as I sometimes feel to myself. I do not know how to reach them, or if they want reaching. It seems best to leave them be. That ache of failure.

But joy.

Joy is local, Hernandez tells me. And whenever I do feel affixed to my location, I tend to snag on joy. I want to do better, to double-down on it, in all wry awareness. Is there a way to purge foulness but not complain about it? Is there an expression of complexity, of exploring the facets and fractures that is not also just whining? Dig my heels in, without resentment. Engage in community without fear of unfurling. Do some more dishes. Start singing again. Something.

It is not enough to know myself; I have to keep knowing myself. Whatever I say now will probably all be different next week, unpindownable, no matter how you jab. The future is tremulous quicksilver, an incoming tide. Nevertheless, I set my face to it. We have plans. We are an anthology of hope. A florilegium of possibility.

Anyway. It’s spring.


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