October Newsletter: Prickly Pear Juice

So there I was, having another panic attack in the car.

Yeah, it’s been a while since I wrote about something hard. Here we go!

For context: 2 sets of PCR tests, quarantine, stomach bug, let’s all drive to Greece! I mean, we’re working from home anyway, right? Why not?

I did not relish the thought of injecting even more chaos into my schedule. Let’s say, in fact, that I resented the hell out of the whole idea of going to Greece. I wasn’t sure if we’d have a good enough internet connection to support the work/school/cartoons of four people at once, if I’d be able to write, or that Pavlina respected my work.

A ridiculous suspicion! And ungrateful. Pavlina makes her own mornings much more complicated in order to protect my writing time. I knew that, so I didn’t push back against this Greece trip. I told her I was okay with it. I told myself I was okay with it.

But once the two of us were alone in the car, my nose closed up. We headed north out of Sofia, the cane-laden canal and village houses of Chepinski rolling past, and I tried to take a calming breath. It wouldn’t come. Pavlina was talking to me, but I don’t remember about what. I was busy hyperventilating.

We turned onto the highway that would take us south and my nose and belly were tingling. It wasn’t safe for Pavlina to stop the car, but she had to stop the car. I had to get out. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. My hands were cramped into claws. It was the Irish Embankment all over again. And, a peak into the future, I would have another panic attack on the way back from Greece ten days later.

Here’s what I think is going on: chaos is scary. I usually cope with the uncertainty of the future with my google calendar. Problem solved! Except that when that calendar was threatened, I freaked out. I reacted as if to an attack.

What attack? We had a spectacular time in Greece! We found this skinny green grasshopper with a super-long nose! Uh…this one! We took a walk in the hills with a stray dog and found some prickly-pears that I turned into juice. I collected, peeled (oh my good peeled!) and boiled up those glochidiferous bastards, even though there were a bunch of other things I could have been doing. “Make prickly pear juice” was nowhere on my schedule, but I’m glad I did it anyway.

What a lucky man I am, to get this lesson taught to me over and over again. Order is fine, but so is chaos. You can construct good things with care and perseverance, but you can also spread your arms and let them come to you. My calendar should be a story, not a set of instructions. Let’s see how well I can remember that in November.

Right, so what about that NASA story, hey? The 2020 Exoplanet Demographics conference, hosted by NASA and IPAC/Caltech, has a scifi track this year, where they sent writers and artists the abstracts of presentations and told us to create stories/poems/etc based on them. I got mine on Friday the 30th, and I had until Friday the 6th to submit something. I ended up spending about 6 hours over the course of the week, making something that I thought turned out pretty good. I’ll share it when and if I can.

At the beginning of the month, I participated in Eurocon Futuricon with my speculative biology panel, and I helped organize the launch party for First Knife. Man, what a great party that was. Uh, no access to the videos yet. You guys will just have to keep your eyes peeled for my next announcement.

Fellow Tetrapod alpha draft continues. Every morning I do a 15-30 min exercise thing on Headspace, meditate, and write about whatever inspires me. It is very rarely the notes I left for myself from the previous day, which means that the story is developing in a very different direction from what I envisioned. But if I knew exactly what the book would be like, writing it would be boring. Bam! Lesson reiterated.

And here’s what I read this month:

Washington’s Dirigible by John Barnes — more bloodthirsty killing of bad guys, but then the hero thinks “…should I be enjoying this so much?” It works pretty well, and I am a sucker for lovingly-described anachronistic motor-carriages!

Heaven’s River  by Dennis E. Taylor — honestly, I was disappointed. The moral theory was very shallow, and the big questions didn’t get answered. There were a few moments of insight though. I sympathize with the feeling of society mutating out from under you.

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett — One of my read-in-the-bath books. I didn’t like this one as much as the other Guard books, but of course it’s still Pratchett’s work, and therefor excellent. I suspect that it was originally two books.

Wintersteel by Will Wight — The 8th in the Cradle series, and you really have to read 1-7 first. Go do that now. They’re short. Okay, done? Oh my Kung-Foo-Space-God! Wasn’t it great? I mean, finally, right? You know what I’m talking about 😉

And Wintersteel made it into the Goodreads best of 2020 books contest as a write-in candidate! So go vote for it!

A Zoo in My Luggage  by Gerald Durrell — what lovely this was inspiration for Fellow Tetrapod. This is the autobiography of a British zoo collector who goes to Cameroon right before its independence to collect rare animals for a zoo…that he hasn’t actually built yet. Don’t worry, it turned out fine.

No Experience Necessary by Norman Van Aken — turned out a lot like the Elon Musk biography. I read it because I’m writing a chef character, and now I know how not to write him. Yes, Fellow Tetrapod’s protagonist will be quite unlike Norman Van Aken, except for the subconscious belief that a normal job will kill you.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit — The were-rabbit may only be killed by a bullet of solid gold. 24…carrot! My older daughter got it. My younger daughter liked it when the bunnies were sucked into their holes. Now we’re watching Shaun the Sheep.

It’s Okay to Not be Okay by Studio Dragon — Another huge inspiration for Fellow Tetrapod. Uh, okay. So there’s a male nurse who works at mental hospitals, but can never stay more than a year at any of them because his autistic brother has some kind of flashback every spring, and they have to uproot and move to a new town. This year, they move back to their old home town, pursued by a children’s book author who thinks she’s a witch-princess (but is actually just a sociopath). The director of the mental hospital (and world-class expert in trauma) thinks that this is an excellent opportunity for all three of these characters to heal. The children’s book publisher disagrees. Butterflies! And all of this is told with humor, grace, and compassion. Damn what a good show! I want to be watching it right now!

Okay bye!


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