Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

The past, present, and future of Steven Townshend, version 2014

March 12th, 2014 (Lessons Learned)

Eclipse Ships Macro
Across the Universe

YESTERDAY

Universal Lessons About Art Learned from Painting Miniature Spaceships:

1. The hardest part is figuring out what it’s going to be. What it’s supposed to look like. Lots of tentative brushstrokes in various colors, painting over the last, each one an experiment. Sometimes the model reveals tiny details or opportunities for intricate design work, which turns out to be too complicated for one’s personal level of skill. Try. Fail. Paint over the attempt. Move on.

2. There is no creative project that can’t be botched by overcomplicating the smallest thing, struggling for perfection, obsessing over a single minute detail and, as a result, making a gigantic mess of the whole thing.

3. Sometimes “good enough” is what you want. You may be going crazy trying to fix things that don’t matter, that nobody will notice, and that you won’t notice once you step away. You can spend forever obsessing.

4. Focus on the thing at hand. Do that. Forget everything else. It’s no use worrying about anything but what you have the power to affect in the moment. Do that task. Finish it to the point that it looks okay. Then move on. It’s not ever going to be perfect. You do what you can. Most important: you DO what you can.

5. You very rarely need to start over from the beginning. Sometimes you’ve muddled so badly there’s no other course but to begin again. Usually that comes from adding on layer after layer after layer in an attempt to fix something you shouldn’t have tried to fix in the first place.

TODAY

Ship-painting continues. Halfway through the project I feel far more confident than I did when I began. The more I do, the more satisfied and well adjusted I feel. In some ways I feel like I’m doing nothing. It’s strange to think that over the past couple weeks I’ve painted over 100 miniatures spaceships. Certainly a personal painting record for me. Strange to feel creatively blocked while at the same time pouring out work in a different medium.

TOMORROW

I’m having dinner with an old friend I haven’t seen for maybe 14 or 15 years. It is strange. We became friends when we were teenagers, at a time I was at my most intense, most over dramatic, my most self-righteous and opinionated. When I perceived myself as “good” because I followed rules. Any rules. All rules. Family, church, state. We were both idealistic small town kids back then. We were good friends in that time between the end of high school, through college, and right up until married life. I’m looking forward to spending an hour catching up as grown ups.

Watching

I finished watching Breaking Bad this week. It ended very differently than I has imagined. In large part because of this I was satisfied with its conclusion.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

On Monday, after finishing up one of the most difficult paint jobs I’ve done yet, I found I was missing one of the tiny spaceships. I searched the office, then went home and searched the house. I looked underneath everything, through the garbage–every rotten vegetable and avocado skin–through the recycling, through the vacuum cleaner bag, through the vent registers, but it was nowhere to be found. Hopeless, I gave up and after a time decided to prepare dinner. As I was about to run the water in the sink, I lifted the plug on the garbage disposal and heard a slight click. I peered down the drain, and there at the bottom of it was the missing spaceship, fully intact. The cat was acquitted of the crime.

March 5th, 2014 (From Below)

And Beyond
And Beyond

YESTERDAY

Looking back, most of the good things I’ve ever made (things I’ve enjoyed) have come from a curious tinkering, experimentation without stakes.

Ideally we all want to be able to create good art all the time. To be disciplined and productive. But should you force yourself to create soulless things that you’re not feeling because that’s what a disciplined artist does? Or should you turn your focus toward creating something you enjoy rather than what you feel obligated to create? Who’s keeping score? These are questions I’ve been asking myself.

TODAY

I used my brush to thin the other line of paint I’d drawn. Even at the breadth of a millimeter it was too wide, too awkward on the miniature spaceship. I dipped my brush in the pool of paint slowly congealing in the miniature plastic easel, dipped the brush again in the plastic cup of cloudy water and, hunched over the miniature, I thinned the line, holding my hands steady, elbows braced against the countertop so that the brush wouldn’t slide as it had so many times, requiring me to dip into another color and fix a new problem.

I painted through the night on Friday and Saturday, in the company of the cats, Pentangle and Pink Floyd playing softly through the overhead speakers. As I painted, the hours drifted by and I didn’t notice that they’d passed until I glanced up at the clock on the stove and it was 5 a.m.

I made mistakes as I painted, some of them worse than others. Whenever I began to paint, the ship I was painting didn’t look like much. The washes dipped into the grooves of the primed figure but the thing had no detail. It looked raw and clumsy, nowhere near how I’d imagined it. As I began to fill in details the ship began to take gradual shape until at last it became a thing utterly unlike what it had been, and it was strange to see it so transformed. There has only been one ship group that I’ve messed up so bad I need to start over. All the other mistakes I’ve been able to salvage or transform into something better.

TOMORROW

The essential difference between painting one of these ships or making a photograph vs. writing a story is that I don’t have to be a good ship painter; I don’t have to be a good photographer either. The painted figures and the photographs only need to be good enough to make me happy. In my mind, a story needs to please everyone that will ever read it. This isn’t true, of course, but it’s hard to stay outside that kind of thinking sometimes when you’re serious about it. I want to get back to the place where I can enjoy playing with words. Where they become less an obligation and more a constantly changing experiment.

Listening

My favorite album might be Sweet Child, by Pentangle. It’s an album I can listen to repeatedly and it never grows old. Today I treated myself to another of their albums–Reflection, from 1971. It was far better than I thought it would be.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

As it happens, this is the coldest Chicago winter on record. As a surprise to absolutely nobody that lives here. 

February 26th, 2014 (Fine Art)

Copper Celtic Queen
Copper Celtic Queen

YESTERDAY

From the embankment at the end of our street we watched through the fence as the kids ran up the hard icy dunes that perched between the lake and the beach like enormous waves, frozen the moment before their crashing. We made our way to this place following the shadow shape of a black cat—one of a family of strays that stood upon the top of a wooden shelter some kind soul had constructed to protect them from the elements. He cleaned his back paw as we approached and then turned to look at us with eyes like week-old limes. This little warrior, survivor of the bitter subzero cold, he lives a life of action, I thought, prowling through the alleys and along the beaches, catching and scavenging his own food, mating with the other strays that come his way, his life a desperate luxurious struggle of sex and death. How long it will be before the coyote comes, or the lean months scrape the inside of his stomach like the edge of a knife, or the van comes to collect him and sting him with the end of the needle of endless sleep, who can say. He is not a creature of the future, will never be known or forgotten or remembered except by me, this creature of the present, of the now–that in the mild chill of a Saturday in February, sits like a king before a lakeside vista of ultramarine and white, the tawny grass shivering in the wind around him.

TODAY

I dreamed last night that the board game Village existed as an iOS app, and that all the world participated in tournaments when they played, whether they liked it or not. Unwittingly, I ended up in one of the top 2 positions, and had somehow won all the other games in the tournament as well. At the end I was paired against my friend Eric Simon, and it was my turn to make a move—but life and work and other distractions kept me from returning to the game for a few hours, half a day perhaps, while the whole world waited to see who the next champion might be–where it was the topic of forums and news, though I was strangely remote from all of this and unaware of it. Later on I found the time to return to the game only to discover that it, and the tournament, were over; I hadn’t played fast enough, it seemed, and in a tiff, the judges had called the match. I checked the app and checked again to get some verification, but I could learn nothing. It ought to have bothered me more, this great loss, but I took it in stride as much as I was able, and went on with the way that things were. In the scheme of things, disappointing the world over a game wasn’t so important. Not in comparison with all the other things that remain undone, the art uncomposed, the stories unwritten.

TOMORROW

Creatively, these past 2 months have felt a little like staggering through a dark cave wondering which way leads to daylight and fresh air. I know the surface world exists and that it’s populated by lots of people who see clearly in the day and breathe deeply, and think little of the subterranean world beneath their feet. I used to live there. Down below, drafts sometimes whisper through the caverns, and rumblings from the world above; I keep tunneling, in hopes I’m getting closer to freedom.

WATCHING

This week it’s been theatre and more theatre. Saw an excellent new play, Miss Marx, at Strawdog Theatre Company, and saw A Tale of Two Cities at Lifeline. This week I’ll head over to see another new one, Rites and Sacrifices, at Idle Muse. Chicago is the best theatre city I’ve ever heard of–the art is prolific, it’s (relatively) inexpensive to produce in comparison with bigger cities, and so much of it is experimental. Theatre artists can afford to take risks here, and those that enjoy taking risks stick around and continue to refine their art. The people that stay here are committed to their work; they’re not here waiting to “be discovered.” They know this isn’t the right place for that. Many leave and find larger success elsewhere. The ones that stay live their lives creating incredible art. I’m proud to live here.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Yesterday my niece phoned to tell me that author Richard Peck selected her poem to read in front of the whole elementary school. She was chosen for the young author’s conference (and he confided to my sister that it was his favorite of the poems he read). I’m very proud of her.

When I was her age I had a similar experience at a young author’s conference with Gerda Weissmann Klein. Ms. Klein didn’t rave about my story, but my teachers did, and that encouragement and validation became the foundation upon which I learned to love writing. The story I wrote was called Steviana Lones’s Space Adventure, and you can pretty well see it for the Star Wars-Indy mashup that it was. I never understood why my teachers loved it; I knew when I wrote it that none of it was original. I’d obviously ripped off Han Solo and Indiana Jones, cast myself in the role, and my friend John Evans as my sidekick and companion. I stole heavily from everything else that inspired me in 1984–the Galaxian video game, Dungeons & Dragons, and television shows.

Then again… I’ve since learned that nothing I’ve ever written is original, whether or not I believe it to be, and most of my favorite works of art are simply older works rehashed. I knew more back when I knew nothing.

February 19th, 2014 (Valentines)

Big Tall City
Big Tall City

YESTERDAY

My first love was Star Wars. When I was four years old I didn’t know I hadn’t seen it. The images printed on the Topp’s Sugar Free Gum and trading cards and the Kenner action figures were enough to inspire my imagination to dream up stories, and the stories I imagined served well enough. I finally saw it on its second release at a drive-in movie theater around 1979 and became obsessed with its characters, and in my late teen years, its lore. It was the great myth of my generation, our Lord of the Rings and Wizard of Oz, and when the children of the ’70s and ’80s were growing up, it stood in our minds as a pure and beautiful thing.

TODAY

Elizabeth gave me a board game for my birthday–it’s called Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy, and it’s a game about space exploration, colonization, negotiation, and galactic warfare among various factions. Although I’ve actually only had the opportunity to play it once, the theme and feel of the game stirs that familiar sense of wonder, and as I sort through the components and flip through the rules, I feel the way I did when I was four or five years old, dreaming on the vast starry distances between alien worlds. Maybe one of the things I love about it is that the strange creatures and factions and past events are only briefly summarized, and the details are left to your imagination.

I remember a time when we didn’t know exactly what happened before the Star Wars films were set, but we each had our own idea of the glorious age before the Empire. When we learned all of those details we stopped imagining them, and I think that maybe we lost something for all that.

TOMORROW

The long freeze is over for now, it seems, and the massive snowfall is melting, forming ponds at crosswalks and intersections. With the warmth, scents are back in the air–downtown scents of gasoline and chocolate and cooking meat and curry. The sun is high and bright and the gloomy winter doesn’t seem so oppressive as it was. The glint of sunlight on melting snow is a glimpse of far off summer. The winter days still before us feel somehow bearable again.

WATCHING

I picked up Starz’s Spartacus series when it was on sale over Thanksgiving, and I recently I began watching the prequel series, Gods of the Arena. Gods of the Arena was a prequel miniseries made when the star of Spartacus, Andy Whitfield, was undergoing treatment for the cancer that tragically took his life. The sex and violence in the show is, I’m sure, Starz’s very deliberate effort to draw viewers to it–in the same way that the arena and the decadence of the ludus enthralls and captivates the Romans of the period. The actors are our gladiators, the television our arena. 

For all of that, the pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue is actually fantastic. The conflicts engaging. The stakes feel consistently high even though (having seen the first season of the show) we already know how all of this is going to play out. To me that means the show is doing an excellent job telling its story. I can only watch one a night, but that hour of drama is packed with important things happening. I’m hooked.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

After 16 years living here, I decided I wanted to see the top of the Hancock building on my birthday. I hadn’t ever felt compelled to go or to see it, but on that day we parked the car in a neighborhood where we could find parking and we took the train downtown. A young woman approached us and said, “Happy Valentines Day,” and she gave us small paper Valentines with lace snowflake designs on one side and in the center, a classical painting of Cupid. On the back, the Valentine was addressed “To: You, From: Me.” She didn’t ask us for anything. There weren’t political or religious messages written on one side or the other–just a simple Valentine given by a complete stranger, riding the train downtown. She had made a few hundred of them and she was passing them along for no other reason that we knew.

It was strange, I remarked later, to receive something completely unexpected and be asked for nothing in return. I couldn’t remember the last time it had happened.

February 11th, 2014 (Relentless)

Relentless
Relentless

YESTERDAY

In November I treated myself to the luxury of ScanCafe. I sent a box containing over 3,000 old film negatives to the scanning company, and last Thursday received the preview images of the work the company had done. While this wasn’t exactly cheap, it beat the time cost of doing it myself, and having all these old memories digitally accessible will be worth the price.

Over the past week I’ve been looking over the images I took with my first camera, a Canon SLR my grandfather gave my father for Christmas around 1972. Many of the later images suffered from shutter drag, so several prints are darkly shadowed at one side or another, and there are many images that I shot when I didn’t know what I was doing or how to frame a shot. Even so, when I reviewed the scans to tell the scanning company which ones to trash and which to keep, I had trouble letting go of my mistakes. The dark and blurry photos were my first dim view through the camera’s eye. I didn’t want to trash my mistakes, I want to always remember them; I’m fond of them in a way.

TODAY

It’s the first day in weeks that mountains of snow aren’t falling down around us or subzero temperatures aren’t drying our tongues, stiffening our nostrils, whiskers, skin, and hair. The sun is in the sky, the wind is tame, and there’s not a mote of snow in the air. After over a month of the former, a few days in the low ’20s are a blessed relief.

TOMORROW

Another Valentines Day approaches, another anniversary for me watching the Earth turn a full cycle around the sun; it’s introspective, as usual.

WATCHING

The show in our Netflix watch list has been the BBC series Monarchy, which tells the story of the kings and queens of England from the anglo-saxon period to the present. It’s interesting to see both how civilized and how barbaric the rulers were, especially when you consider that there’s nothing fundamentally different about these people, biologically speaking, than us today. We’re separated by a thousand years, only an eyeblink in the span of our species. It made me think how tenuous our grasp on civilized society–how one big disaster could throw us over the brink, back into barbarism, and we no different, really, no less brutal or barbaric (or civilized) than the people of the dark ages. 

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Posting old photos of friends has put us back in touch again. Years later, with families and children, most are still the people I knew from way back–more reserved, maybe, but still the same at their core–and as the photos circulate around the social networks, other friends from long ago reach out and we reconnect. If there’s a drug that keeps me going, reconnection is what it is.

February 5th, 2014 (Snowed Under)

Snowed Under by The Townshend
Snowed Under, a photo by The Townshend on Flickr.

YESTERDAY

Stumbled down the rabbit hole of a friend’s blog and I think I found some truth at the bottom of it. The thing about truth is that it’s slippery beast, hard to wrap your arms around it and embrace it. Even harder sometimes to wrap your mind around it. The truth I may have stumbled upon has to do with the way I’ve been writing stories, why they fail when they fail, why they succeed when they succeed. I’m still grappling with this beast, trying to get a good look at its face to make sure it’s truth I’ve actually grasped on not some poor innocent bystander. Will keep you posted.

TODAY

A little while ago I rewarded myself for staying disciplined for a year of putting words down every day. The reward I gave myself was to send a box of all my old film negatives to a scan service so that they would create digital versions of all 3,000+ photos I had taken before upgrading to digital around 2007. The preview pictures came today and I’ve been looking through them one by one, remembering the moments. Remembering my family when we were all younger. Family members and pets and past loves that have all passed out of my life. It was costly to have all those images scanned, but even having these tiny splinters of the past is worth it.

TOMORROW

I planned to get out of town this weekend, see friends I see only every now and then, stay up late playing games, having drinks, and making new memories… but every time I put in a hotel bid on one of the travel sites, I quietly hope it isn’t fulfilled. On some level I’d rather stay home while the snow continues to fall, look through all these old photographs, eat chocolate, drink coffee, and wine. It’s winter in February alright.

READING

I’ve lately become fascinated with small role-playing games. By “small” I mean anything under 100 pages. Preferably around 40 pages. When I used to do long-form improvisation, my teams would sometimes create new forms. An improv form is just a structure for improvisation that shapes the show so that it’s focused and not entirely random. For example, the most interesting form we did in that time was called “Slam Dunk,” which was created by our improv class under the direction of Del Close. The form was a poetry slam in which an emcee asked made up a poem based on a suggestion from the audience and our team improvised scenes derived from lines from the poem. At various points in the show, the emcee would come downstage center and call one of us out of the scene and to the mic. In the reality of the show, the characters in these scenes were stepping out of the scene and reciting their subtext–their actual feelings–as poems at a poetry slam.

That’s just one example of what an improv form can be.

Small role-playing games work like improv forms. There’s an excellent game called Ribbon Drive, by Joe McDaldno, which is an improvised road trip based around a music playlist, where the suggestions for scenes and characters come from the songs that are playing. That kind of thing.

This week, I’ve read De Profundis, by Michael Oracz, a game you play by writing in-character letters to your associates in a society that slowly learns about strange mysteries and unspeakable horrors that underlie the waking world.

I’ve read Becoming, by Brian Engard, a game in which a hero sets out to solve a problem, but every time the hero comes into conflict, the Fates make bargains with the hero to help him or her succeed, all the while stripping away everything the hero cares about.

I’ve read God-King, by Daniel Cruz-Chan, a game about explorers in a mythic Asia, who go on a quest to discover the cause for all the chaos in the world and (possibly) restore it to balance.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

According to legend, total snow accumulation in Chicago had been approximately 5 inches total for the winter.

This year, it’s 52 inches and very steadily climbing. That, and the coldest temperatures on record.
Sure is pretty though.

January 29th, 2014 (Metaphors)

Deadly Redly Knife Room by The Townshend
Deadly Redly Knife Room, a photo by The Townshend on Flickr.

Yesterday

When I was nineteen years old I took a poetry class at Ohio University. When I was nineteen years old my ideas about poetry were limited. When I was nineteen years old I admired poetry with a rhyme scheme and a meter because I thought it was cleverer and harder to do than free verse. When I was nineteen years old the poet Mary Oliver came to Ohio University to do a reading and our class was required to go. When I was nineteen years old the last thing I wanted to do was go to a poetry reading by a contemporary poet on a spring evening in Athens; I’d rather be outside on the green, or down in the basement of one of the big brick quads playing games with my friends. When I was nineteen years old I went to Mary Oliver’s reading and stood in the back of the auditorium, but the work was lost on me; two decades later, her work is a complete revelation I can’t believe I missed when she was standing right in front of me.

Today

Failure is my bones. Failure is my blood. Failure is my brain. Failure is my best friend–I know Failure better than I know most people. I spend a lot of time with Failure.

I have another friend. Success. Success visits infrequently, but when success visits she makes a grand entrance. Success is kind of a diva.

Success is kind of a slut too. I’ve caught Success making out with my other friends. Lots of them at once sometimes. Like full on make out. With tongue.

It’s easy to feel jealous. It’s understandable. Sometimes I get so tired of Failure’s company I get up and run toward the house of Success as hard and fast as I can.

Success isn’t home, of course. The doors are locked, the lights are out. I knock on the doors and ring the bell and knock harder, exhausted from my hard run. Who strolls up behind me while I’m banging on the door? You guessed it. My old friend Failure. We walk home together. It’s embarrassing and awkward to explain. Everything with Failure is awkward. We go back to the way we were.

Eventually Success shows up again. She makes her grand entrance and I’m hers again. I drop all my grievances and bask in her warmth. That’s just how it goes.

It’s great having success around. But after a while I feel languid, sluggish. I look out the window and see something just over the horizon. A gleaming. A glimmer like the sea, or the night sky lying on its side, wavering with stars. I want to go there.

Success doesn’t want to go anywhere though. I get up to stretch my legs and walk down the path, but it’s a long lonely journey and I don’t know the way.

Two steps down the road and Failure shows up again, a bag packed with all the necessary supplies for the journey. I know I’d never make it there without him.

Tomorrow

I’m in a period of discovery. I’m standing at a crossroads. I’m looking out over a new frontier.

From this vantage point, looking back I can see where my path has twisted an turned. I can still see the impressions of my footprints in places where my past is stamped down from walking in circles, and other places where I sprinted so fast I hardly left a mark. I study the patterns. I make notes. It’s hard not to get lost in such a vast place as the Future. Before I might have thrown caution to the wind and charged on ahead, afraid of losing time. Today I take some time to think on what I’ve learned in hopes that the challenges ahead will seem more familiar, and that the bends and diversions in the path will no longer lead me in circles but toward equally interesting destinations.

Reading

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver.

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth this week for the first time, after seeing Wildclaw Theatre’s adaptation at the Athenaeum in Chicago. More accurately, I finished reading The Shadow Over Innsmouth, having begun it 20 years ago. I like the story of ‘Shadow,’ but always drift off during Lovecraft’s erudite and mannered telling of it; I like several of his other works a lot more. Apart from switching the protagonist’s gender and a few tiny plot adjustments, Scott T. Barsotti’s stage production was rigorously faithful to the original and (in my opinion) a far more compelling experience than the story as written by Lovecraft.

Stranger Than Fiction

I have a cat that jumps at a blank piece of wall space. Over and over again he jumps at it. I’ve checked the wall for marks and dust, I’ve washed it down, but there’s nothing. He doesn’t care. he returns to the same blank piece of wall and leaps repeatedly at it. Barks at it sometimes (he barks). The place isn’t old enough to have ghosts, let alone ghosts that live outside the wall 3 stories up. Maybe I should hang a picture there that he can appreciate.

January 22nd, 2014 (Quiet)

Winter at Morse

Morse in winter.

Yesterday

Friday I took the day off work to drive Elizabeth to the hospital. Afterward, we drove around town and treated ourselves to all the places that have long lines on the weekends but nobody’s there at 3 in the afternoon. Hot Doug’s. Jenni’s Splendid Ice Cream. There are so many things to appreciate in this city if only you can take the time to appreciate them. 

Whenever the city digs its nails in, it’s worth taking a day off to explore the place while other people are occupied at work. Without the traffic and the competition, the city always feels peaceful and quiet on weekdays–outside of rush hour and outside the Loop. These days help to appreciate how beautiful it is, how much there is to do, how richly cultured it really is.

Today

After a few days abroad the bitter, gusting cold returned and brought with it a fresh load of snow. A couple little stories that I didn’t properly feed yesterday are begging for sustenance today. I’m a bad story parent though, and feel like starting another story to distract me from the ugly, noisy ones.

Tomorrow

As old friends leave town to start their new lives in the West, we’ll celebrate the time we’ve had together and throw them a party. Their departure will leave a void we can never really fulfill, except we’ll spend more time with other friends new and old. Nothing stays the same, and that’s as much a blessing as a sorrow.

Watching

Spike Jonze’s new one, Her. I’d anticipated it from the first trailer. It was everything I hoped it would be and more, and I’ll bet it’s my favorite film I see all year. It was exactly my kind of movie.

Stranger Than Fiction

Our Internet died on Friday, but the next appointment we could get for a technician to fix it was on Tuesday. It’s amazing how much of our lives seem to revolve around a technology over which we have so little control.

January 15th, 2014 (Snow Cats)

Lake Freeze
The winter shore.

Yesterday

While Elizabeth participated in the  Winter Wonderland Workshop last week, I sorted through some files and made a to-do list of projects I’d like to take on in the near future. If you’re ever in St. Charles, Illinois the Arcedium Coffee House is one of the best coffee shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The baristas are masters of their craft. Unfortunately, freezing rain on top of the ice made for hazardous conditions at the workshop this year and Elizabeth slipped on black ice, fell, and broke her wrist after only the first day of fight classes. Heartbreaking.

Today

I’m taking a close look at some work I’ve had on the back burner for a while and juggling mundane real life tasks. I’m reminding myself to let go of things that don’t matter and pay more attention to people and things that do. This requires regular upkeep.

Tomorrow

This weekend, we’re spending some quality time with one of my oldest friends and creative collaborators before his family moves to Tucson, Arizona. In our 20-year friendship we’ve lived in the same place for most of that time, from Athens, OH to Chicago, IL. We’ve been roommates from time to time. We grew up together. Played games together. We learned from one another. In the coming year both our lives and social circles will transition.

Reading

Finished the first Wild Cards book this week, as well as my friend Seth Chambers’s novella, In Her Eyes, recently published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science-Fiction. Currently reading The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury, and Astro City, by Kurt Busiek. 

Stranger Than Fiction

Stress and anxiety kept me up late the day before a long drive. Exhausted, I took a day off work and slept in. The snow still covered everything, so I walked to the lake to get a picture. When I reached the end of the street, something rustled in the tall dead grass beneath the steps leading down to the beach, and a black, fuzzy creature scampered out across the snow. Another followed it, and then another, and they ran off into the brush between the street and the beach. I thought they were skunks or raccoons. I took another step and three or four more emerged, rustling from somewhere beneath the street. One followed the others into the brush but the rest stopped and huddled in the snow and looked back at me, shaggy black cats with eyes like old limes, stark against the deep white snow.

January 8th, 2014 (Cold Bad!)

Cityguts
City Guts

Yesterday

Yesterday it was cold. And the day before that it was colder. The day before that–before the deepest cold settled in–I ventured down to Lake Michigan to capture a video of the winter landscape. But the snowdrifts on the beach were deeper than I expected, and I plunged through them up to the thigh. My thigh–which is higher up than the average thigh. Deep.

I needed to use the camera so I wasn’t wearing gloves, and caught myself with my bare hands. With the wind fierce as it was, by the time I made it to the top of the icy rampart at the edge of the lake I could only withstand a few seconds’ capture of the torpid steel-colored water, undulating in ice-encrusted waves. Before the lake freezes it moves like this, so slow and sluggish, mesmerizing in the rise and fall.  It was something to see.

I ran home, stumbling through (yet more) snowdrifts, and by the time I reached the gate I could no longer feel my fingers. I reached in my coat pocket in search of the keys and felt the vague impressions of solid objects in a mass, but had no sense of their shapes, edges, or teeth. I turned out my pocket in order to get at them, so as to identify the ends by sight, and after a few attempts I aligned the key with the lock and made for the warmth of the garage. The following day the temperatures reached -40 (including the wind chill). I didn’t open the door.

The lesson: “Cold bad.”

Fire bad too, but this we knew (thanks, Frankenstein).

Today

It’s not as cold. A balmy 0 degrees outside the front door this morning. Before that, a cat leapt on my back and chewed on my hair for two minutes. Which I allowed, because I was curious to see where the situation would lead. From this experience I learned absolutely nothing.

Tomorrow

The Winter Wonderland Workshop for movement and combat education is my favorite event to attend without participating. While Elizabeth learns how to (safely) brutalize other human beings with fist, broadsword, and <ahem> lightsaber, I get a weekend outside my regular surroundings to write, reflect, and relax.

Watching

Downton Abbey. A show at which I alternately gasp, laugh, or weep. At first I didn’t understand why. But I have a hunch it’s because the characters all want things, and the show is about them wanting things, and how much they want things. They want these things so well that I too want these things for them.

One of my friends said she was surprised that I liked that show–but I love it for the same reasons I loved Battlestar Galactica (though there are slightly fewer killer robots in Downton… so far).

Stranger Than Fiction

The setting: frozen apocalyptic urban wasteland.

Saturday night: Did a 180 in an icy intersection.

Sunday: Near-frostbite.

Monday night: A glass globe from a ceiling fan fell 14 feet and shattered on the floor beside me.

2014… Action movie or a horror film?