Some Days…

My brain is switched on to food references this week. I’m writing a paper on food in Australian fantasy novels. Even if I’ve read the novel before, I’m re-reading it, because I need to apply that brain-switch and analyse everything for food. It’s hard work. I’m placing references into ten different categories. The net result of this was I had no energy to cook yesterday or today.

This never happened when I was younger.

I was going to write a long screed describing food, because it’s my current (and absorbing) work, then I changed my mind and wanted to explain that chronic fatigue is impacted by emotional fatigue, which is why food research led to such a state of exhaustion. The events of the last eighteen months welled up and I missed all my lost friends and I became a mewling mess. I decided you didn’t need a long piece today, for the world is a difficult place right now.

Take this as a moral. Have early nights when life is stressed. Eat comfort food. Cry when you have to.

And I’ll be working on foodways for a bit longer, so maybe one day I’ll tell you about how writers use food to create miracles in fantasy fiction. Except when they don’t.

A Quiet Moment

So many people around me have found distractions help in dealing with the extraordinary times we’re living through. This post is my present to you. Big stuff happens in the US on 20 January. This is a breath. A break. A moment before everything changes.

For me this week is an anniversary. This time last year I had been evacuated to Melbourne because of the bushfires. The air in Canberra was dangerous for me. Tonight my windows are wide open and I’m up late, cooling everything down as much as I can, for we have an incoming heatwave. Earlier today, however, everything was shut, for the dust storms in NSW sent a bit of frazzled air our way. That reminded me that I’ve been mostly indoors since June 2019. Bushfires followed by pandemic. Every now and again I get out and do things and this reminds me that the world outside is real. These incidents come from that real world. I think this is also the moment to celebrate that.

The first story is from Sydney in 1956, for tonight someone reminded me about the torch carrying for the 1956 Olympics.

A group of university students didn’t like the link between the torch and Hitler. Also, they were Australian. Of course they were Australian.

They painted a chair leg silver and put a tin on the end. They filled the tin with a pair of men’s underpants and set it on fire. Two students carried that torch. One of them successfully handed it to the Lord Mayor of Sydney at the Town Hall. The Lord Mayor didn’t realise at first that this was a hoax, and the torchbearer had time to slip away into the crowd.

The second story is from Canberra, quite recently.

A writer-friend was telling us on Twitter tonight about a time… let me give you the story in her words:

“Was at a con sitting at the signing table under a poster with “K.J. TAYLOR” on it and behind a nameplate which also said “K.J. TAYLOR”. A guy came up to me and said “Is K.J. Taylor here?” I patted myself down and said “I’m pretty sure I’m here!” He looked so confused.”

My third tidbit is a bit older, and is from the US. I collect interesting stories about food history. How fast molasses can burst out of a factory on a cold day, for example, and where to buy meat pies in London in 1250. I didn’t know that, on 16 May 1902, there was a kosher beef war on the Lower East Side in New York. Some describe it as riots. Kosher beef riots. This one deserves a link.

I live in a city where there are 300 people who admit to being Jewish. I can’t see us rioting. We used to hold food fairs, where our numbers were drowned by the crowds who wanted to eat bagels and felafel and lokshen kugel and particularly tasty curry from Jewish India.

I used to cook Medieval Jewish dishes for my stall, and people would ask, “Were there really Jews in the Middle Ages?” I gave those asking morsels of history along with their plates of food. Other days I’d talk about the persecution and the murders, but not at the food fair. We all need times where we don’t bear the burdens of history. Take that time today. Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Meanderings: parties and work and dealing with life

I’m sorry I’m a bit late with this fortnight’s post. By ‘a bit’ I mean it’s the right day in the US and a day later in Australia.

I’ve been working on two big things (more about them in a moment) and also discovering that the social life this season is a bit bigger than I expected. Every other year I am excluded from most social events, due to being from the wrong background, not being able to drive, not having children: the usual. I get just enough friends in my life for two weeks so that I know I exist.

This year, everyone else has movement restrictions and we’re meeting online and.. there are still events I don’t get invited to, because people forget that I can come, but every day (every single day) there are other events.

I appreciate this so very much that a friend is setting me up a meeting place on 25 December (that’s 24 December in the US, for I am UTC+11) so that I can return the favour and any friend who is alone that day can drop in and we can chat. It’s only a few hours, for that’s a work day for me, but it’s happening.

I have one thing to finish before then. In fact, I need to finish it today. The other thing is ongoing. Two friends and I are designing a world for gaming and for writing in. One friend is an artist, the other is a writer with military background and me, I’m an ethnohistorian when I’m not a writer. The ethnohistory is the thing: our cultures hold together and are sexy and we all want to venture into this world we’re creating. My current role is to work out how our fairy tales would work in these countries. I’ve already done a Cinderella. There is no handsome prince in this one: Cinders has to find her own way out using her specific background. This Cinders bears grudges…

The other thing (‘thing’ is a technical word for me, which is my only excuse for overusing it, and it’s a very bad excuse) is my non-fiction. The book I finished in winter is being thoroughly edited in summer. This book makes a lot more sense now, and I’m not unhappy with it.

Today I’ll be finishing it and then it wends its way and I shall worry for its journey. Publication takes forever, and even an interested publisher may not want a book, when they read it again.

I love telling people what this book is about. I’m looking at how science fiction and fantasy novels communicate culture and operate as cultural objects. I’ve developed a bunch of tools for the analysis and those tools are so handy that the talk I gave about a few of them at this year’s European Science Fiction Convention had people chasing me to get the talk published. I needed a home for it that was a place these same readers knew, but the editors were slow to answer (or, in one case, has just let it slide without even an acknowledgement) so I’ve had to give up looking. At least one of my regular publishers was willing to help, but I need to be careful how I overlap my academic self and my fictional self. Unless I hear back from the silent publisher (which has a history of not answering emails from me, so I wouldn’t hold my breath) everyone can wait for the book.

With essays in general and with short stories, I won’t chase beyond a certain point, because if I do, then I won’t have time to write anything else. I’m not alone in this, but my disabilities/chronic health problems do have an effect on my time and energy. If I want to see any of my work in print, I assess it for how much time and energy it will take to get it there.

This applies to most aspects of my life. If I don’t have a copy of a book of mine, for example, or a bookshop has said they want me to visit and I have not turned up, it’s because I’ve chased it a certain number of times and can’t chase it any more without it eating into core things. ‘Eating into core things’ means physical pain which affects absolutely everything.

When people chase me up or answer emails or fill all their promises without reminders, my life is better. It’s the work equivalent of those end of year/Christmas/other parties I have to miss most years.

This wasn’t really a post about parties or the work I’m doing. I wanted to show you how I balance my particular physical limitations. The other thing that delayed me yesterday, you see, was a visit to the hospital, where I found out why typing hurts so much when I do the hard yards of reminding everything of all the things they forget.

Every single one of us is balancing a lot of things this year. We all have to put our needs and other peoples’ needs into some kind of order to get as much done as possible. And me, I need to remind myself that I can share the joy with an online party, but when a delivery doesn’t come because someone has slipped up or if emails have not been answered, I am not always capable of being the responsible soul who chases everything for everybody and keeps whole communities of work together.

We all have to prioritise this season. I’m using that need to find ways of handling the impossible workload writers often have. In all the lists I have, reminders are, oddly, the hardest to handle. Everyone with illness/disability is different. I’m lucky I can still write books and design worlds and research. Very, very lucky. Where I need support, it turns out, is getting them out into the world.

My lesson of the week (for I’m in learning mode, being a student again) is to apply this same equation to everyone around me and to let things go when I can’t solve problems. I get told “You should’ve reminded me” or “I thought I did that” or “Oops – maybe next week” and every time, it creates physical hurt for me, and I want to be angry at the person who causes the pain. My resolution is to get through this more lightly than I have. I need less pain and less judgement and more understanding. And I need to work out for every person around me what difficult decisions they’ve had to make in this difficult time and give them the space they need to deal with it. Until now, I’d be the one helping them get through. I’d take on work for them and sacrifice.

Sacrifices are more difficult now and parties are easier.

I need to return to my book and to stop letting my thoughts become complicated. Or maybe I need coffee.

If you want to find me on 25 December, let me know and I’ll share the link when it goes live.

Just Let Me Have a Nap, then I Can Conquer the World. Or at Least Potty Training.

2020 is an ongoing trash fire.  That’s just a fact.  It’s easy to get bogged down in it, to decide there’s no damn use, to just…sink under the weight of it all. Like most people, I’m barely getting through the day. Taking on more responsibility seemed crazy.

But I’d been thinking for a while about getting a dog. And when the older of my two cats passed this spring, and I moved into my own place, it seemed like maybe now was the time?

So I started looking at shelters, putting in applications for dogs who matched what I wanted: a young adult, mid-sized and solidly built, who was cat-friendly.   Each time, I lost out because there is a scarcity of cat-friendly pups available after the great Lockdown Pup Adoption Frenzy.  So, meh, I figured it would take a while.

Then one of the shelters I’d applied to reached out and asked me if I’d be interested in fostering, since they knew I did that for Homeward Pet.  And I said, sure, why not?  And they said, “we have 8-week-old puppies.”  And I said, “sure, why not?”  Because I’m an idiot like that.

“They’re 8-week-old Red Heelers,” they said.  And I said, “oh hell.”  Because that kind of high-energy, high-attention critter was very much not what I was looking for.

And then I saw the picture of “Minnie” and I may have lost a bit of my heart to her.  So I agreed, and the night before my birthday, a transport of twenty-four (yes, 24) pups, including Minnie and her litter mates, arrived, and were parceled out to the waiting fosters.

Dear Reader, I may have known what I was agreeing to, but I had no idea what I was getting into.

Minnie (whom I immediately dubbed the more accurate “Maxi”) is a delightful, adorable, slightly clumsy, and surprisingly thoughtful creature, and I already adore her.  But she. Has. To. Pee. Every. Three. Hours. 

Which isn’t a problem during the daytime. Having enforced breaks to get up and stretch my legs has been nice, actually.  But at night?  At night it’s a different story.

And no, I can’t let her pee in her crate.  Or, I could, but it’s a bad idea, for many reasons, and I’m not going to do that.  So I’m setting my alarm, and getting up at midnight, and again at 3am, and again at 6am….

It’s only been three days, and I’m beyond exhausted.  I’ve got a book I need to revise, and a couple of short stories to write, and a day gig, and a regime to protest.  And a cat who is being really good about all this but also wants his Human Time. 

There are times I just want to sink.

But.  In the midst of the trash fire that is 2020, there’s something kind of amazing about having this fresh, fragile, trusting life in your hands.  About knowing that you can do it right, and make sure they get a solid start to life, to grow up confident, unafraid, and loving.  Healthy, and happy.

And to know that whatever you do is returned to you, immediately.  Because when I stagger to the crate at 3am, I’m greeted by a warm, wriggly bundle of sheer joy, who wants only to lick my face – and pee, yeah, but first, there needs to be face licking.

And between kitten snuggles and puppy kisses, I’m able to think not just about surviving, but thriving.

If she’d just stop licking my face so I can work.

An Argument for Watching Many Movies

This week I’m so tired I can’t talk about any of the things I’d thought of. I’d thought of telling you about my writing, about my cousin, about eh World Science Fiction convention. They’re all subjects that contain many aspects of interest. I finished a novel, and have to edit some non-fiction, and have so much writing news and I spent five amazing days sitting at my own desk and travelling the world.

Maybe I’ll tell you about my writing next time.

What I want to say this time is short and sweet. Four things. Four simple things.

1. I am through July. This not just a thing. This is a Thing. July and I have a mutually inamicable agreement. I hates it, as a rule. And I’m through it. If I could travel right now, the early wattles would be on the edge of bloom and the big road from here to Sydney will be lined with yellow in a measly two weeks. I have a bus ticket I was supposed to use in May. I intend to pretend to use it in about two weeks. I shall take out pictures from other bus trips to Sydney and I shall let my computer travel down that road for me this year.

2. Canberra has no COVID-19 reported right now. We have the most cases in the whole country to the south of us in Victoria and the second most in New South Wales, which surrounds us. I looked at a map. I then went online and ordered food to stock my cupboards, for there are a lot of people at this stupid moment in human history who carry that stupid with them and ignore closed borders and warnings and face masks. This is how Victoria went from one of the safest places in the world to a place where my cousin died alone, and I am unhappy with stupid, right now. I suspect all of us are. I won’t be happier after her funeral on Wednesday, but I will have said farewell, which is something. She was much older than me and I didn’t see her very often, but she was important, and her mother was important, and, anyway, no-one should have to die alone. I wasn’t going to talk about this. Let me return to not talking about it.

3. I couldn’t see all the planetary alignments tonight. I did see one, and the moon had a halo, and a friend said, “Go outside and take picture.” It was so cold that I put on my superwarm dressing gown. I didn’t care if people saw it. I got through July – I can go outside when it’s that cool. I can and I did and I came inside fairly quickly. I meant to make myself hot chocolate, but I had a glass of water and kept watching…

4. What does one do when overtired and overcold and has got through July safely and needs emotional escape? I could decide between a complete X-Men rewatch or a complete Avengers rewatch, or Stardust. I’m watching all of them. No more than two movies a day, but all of them. Also, I’m willing to add to the list if anyone feels there are things that ought to be on that list. (I don’t normally have access to this many movies, but I have Netflix and Disney+ until life returns to normal, for living alone requires company). By the time I’m finished, winter will be over and the wattle will be here. Yellow on trees in this part of the world is the harbinger of summer. In two weeks, everything will improve.