burning sensations

My spouse makes electronic music with modular synths, and bought a wooden case to house them. I volunteered to decorate it with pyrography, an art at which I’m not especially well practiced. Despite knowing this, my spouse agreed.

Below is a preliminary state. Having put together a design, I printed it out and and used that to make a heat transfer template. SO much easier than tracing, especially with something I can’t really avoid working on upright.

 

 

Tomorrow I’ll get started actually burning it in. I do have to work, though, so chances are slim it’ll be done then.

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*flails internally*

Oh. Hi there. Been just about a month since I last posted. Well, there are reasons.

I call the thing on the left there a wind sock person. Wikipedia says it’s a tube man, though it also is called a skydancer or air dancer. Oh, the guy who came up with the idea called it a tall boy. Anyway, here it represents the way I’ve been feeling lately: flailing with frustration.

My RA has been flaring up like crazy lately. I’ll confess that I’ve been rationing my medicine, but when I have a flareup, usually if I take my medicine regularly for a week or so, I get it back under control. It’s been at least three weeks now. I’m typing this with one hand, because my left arm hurts too much.

At first, I blamed the weather. Then I realized it was possibly also linked to a major source of stress in my life right now, and that is: a habit of terrible decision-making on part of upper management at work has culminated in the adoption of terrible software. Remember how, in the ’90s, someone at Apple thought it would be a great idea if the way to eject a floppy disk was to find its icon on the desktop, and then drag that icon into the trash? Someone managed to take that level of counterintuitive and design an entire business-running software out of it. Thanks, I hate it.

I’ve been at my job a decade and a half. I’ve withstood some managerial nonsense in my time. This week, I started filling out job applications. I mean, why not? My immediate supervisor, who I really like and who is one of two reasons I’ve stuck it out so much longer than I ever meant to (the other being inertia) is making noises about retirement. I really like most of my co-workers, but beyond my supervisor, the company has done nothing to secure my loyalty.

Maybe things wouldn’t be any better somewhere else. But maybe it’s time for me to find that out for myself. Maybe I can even get some insurance that sucks less and will pay for my medicine. Probably not, since the provider we’ve got seems to hold a near-monopoly here. But again, worth a try.

They say you might as well apply for any job that looks interesting, because the worst that can happen is they say no. That’s not actually true. The worst that can happen is that they call you in and the interview is excruciatingly awkward.

Anyway.

I failed to keep up the book a week habit, so what better book to pick it up again with than James Clear’s Atomic Habits (book 6, 306 pages)?

I took notes on this one. The idea here is that people tend to focus too much on their goals, and not enough on the process that leads you to the goal. Incremental progress is what’s needed, but people get frustrated because incremental progress is often boring and difficult to measure. So Clear’s suggestion is that you set yourself up for success in developing beneficial habits by finding ways to make them 1) obvious 2) attractive 3) easy and 4) satisfying.

Ex: 1) organize your space so that reminders of and tools for Doing the Thing are highly visible 2) link Doing the Thing to something else you want to do 3) start with a doable version of the habit — if you want to run a mile every day, start by walking 10 minutes a day 4) make a point of noting achievement.

Much of what’s in this book is more of the “this should be obvious, yet we don’t think about it” variety. One thing, though, did kind of blow my mind, and that was the link between habits and identity. Clear says that there are three levels of possible change: changing outcomes (completing a goal), changing process (habits) and changing identity (worldview, self-image, judgments). He further says that changing habits is difficult without changing the underlying beliefs. Here’s his example:

Imagine two people resisting a cigarette. When offered a smoke, the first person says, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit.” It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs.

The second person declines by saying, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.” It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of their former life, not their current one. They no longer identify as someone who smokes.

And it’s awfully scary, because we are all pretty tied to our identities, right? But it makes total sense to me. It makes me unhappy that I tend to be so negative, but as long as I continue to see myself as a cynical person, how can I expect that to change?

It makes me think about magic. In many ancient spells/prayers, the caster identified themselves with a given god, in order to assert authority, and stated what they were after as though it were already fact. Fake it until you make it.

Now, how the fact that I’ve continued to call myself a writer despite the fact that I’ve rarely strung more than a few pages of fiction together in the two decades since college fits into all this …

reads 2/3/19

I never see anyone mention A. Lee Martinez. I’ve read a few of his dozen or so novels over the years, and he’s a comic fantasy author I appreciate. So book 5 for 2019 is Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest by [Martinez, A. Lee]his Helen and Troy’s Epic Road Quest, 340 pages.

If you enjoyed American Gods’ premise of a mortal being divinely press-ganged into a life or death road trip, but wish it had more wacky humor, this adventure is for you. Former classmates Helen and Troy, now co-workers, lose their fast-food jobs and nearly their lives in the first few pages. That’s before the quest is laid upon them. Like it or not, they must complete the Lost God’s task — or die.

They aren’t entirely on their own. Dubious help appears in the form of the National Questing Bureau and a three-legged dog. From there, it’s overcome the challenges, collect the Macguffins, and … nobody seems to want to spell the end goal out for them.

Helen is the protagonist, and luckily, Martinez is not one of those male authors who suck at writing women. Probably any girl or former girl who ever felt too tall or too hairy can relate to her.

Overall, I enjoyed it.

gut feelings

I haven’t been working on writing or art, and I haven’t been reading books, but I have been reading a ton. (And also marathoning The Twilight Zone.) I got into research mode, I guess, because I’d finally had enough of the last two years of bad digestion and decided to do better than simply live with it.

A couple years ago, I had cancer that required a hysterectomy. (I’m okay now. I go for checkups every few months and so far it’s shown no signs of coming back.) I spent the two weeks following my surgery living in my recliner, and just as I was anticipating getting back to work and normalcy, I developed massive pains. They started in my shoulders, then showed up in my knees. I was stiff and painful enough that I couldn’t manage my bra, and had to walk with a cane sometimes — something I had started doing anyway because of being weak first from my cancer, then from surgery.

When I saw my doctor, it turned out to be something I had been expecting to show up one day. I had inherited my mom’s rheumatoid arthritis. I just hadn’t recognized it because I had expected it to appear in my hands, not my shoulders. But it made it down to my fingers soon enough. In time I was able to see a rheumatologist, who prescribed me leflunomide. The medication sorted out my RA effectively — but also wrought havoc upon my digestive system. I mentioned it to my rheumatologist, and she said that it should only be a short-lived side effect. “Take a probiotic. Eat some yogurt.” I had already been doing both of those things …

I didn’t really want to try changing medicines, because the leuflonomide was dealing with my RA so well, and because some of the other drugs have even worse side effects — the one my mom was on caused her to develop thyroid cancer. So I lived with it.  And lived with it. I would try things to address it now and then. Probiotic juice, kefir. They would seem to help at first, but the effect was temporary. I did notice if I ate salad or multi-grain hot cereal, my digestion was a little better, though I couldn’t just eat those things my whole life. But clearly what I ate had an effect on how middling to awful my digestion was: it wasn’t solely the medication.

I think I was searching “elimination diets” or “inflammatory foods” when I came across the term AIP, or autoimmune protocol. Hey, I thought, I have an autoimmune disease. So I kept reading. AIP is a temporary elimination diet that is intended to help you find out which foods may trigger your inflammation, and also to give your gut a break from being so often inflammed. The controversial term “leaky gut” shows up from time to time. It’s got a bit of a hippie vibe to it, but sometimes I do, too.

At its strictest, AIP eliminates all dairy products; eggs; alcohol; all “additives and preservatives;” all cooking oils except for coconut, olive and avocado; all extraneous sweeteners except for limited honey or real maple syrup; all nightshade vegetables, including spices derived from chiles; all food that is a seed: grains, legumes, nuts, coffee, spices derived from seeds, etc. — except for coconut. Unsweetened coconut in all its forms — oil, milk, water, shredded — is embraced. Fruits are to be limited. Vegetables other than nightshades are welcomed, as are all kinds of meat. In fact, there are a number of foods you are encouraged to start or increase eating on AIP, and organ meats are one of them. The others include oily, cold-water ocean fish, bone broth, non-dairy fermented foods and kelp.

I haven’t been able to talk myself into trying organ meats yet, but I have started eating sardines from time to time (which aren’t gutted, so I guess I am eating very tiny organ meats), as well as bone broth. I even put a little nori (kelp) into my sardine and bone broth soup. I’ve started a couple jars of salt-fermented vegetables — one beets, the other carrot — though I’ve been eating fermented foods all along, because I’m not actually cutting out dairy. Yogurt and kefir are still in my diet, though I’m trying to go easy on the cheese. In fact, I’m not really even very close to compliant, but I’m eating more … “AIP-informed,” you could say.

As for nightshades, eggplant rarely shows up in my life. I dislike raw tomatoes so I tend to skip them anyway when I can. Tomato sauce I’ve only been able to take in small amounts anyway, so skipping it altogether isn’t too hard. I’d feel sad about potatoes except that I then remember you can usually substitute sweet potatoes (which aren’t really potatoes and are AIP compliant). I will cry if I have to give up peppers and pepper-based spices.

I haven’t cut out eggs, but I think I’m eating less of them. For oils, I was only using coconut and olive anyway (though there’s still butter). Trying to be more judicious about how much candy I eat. As with peppers, I would cry if I had to give up beans altogether, but maybe cutting back wouldn’t kill me. I’m eating fewer sandwhiches and less cold cereal, and more of the minimally-processed hot cereal. I am also planning sourdough experiments, since sourdough is apparently kinder to the digestive system.

Something I’m doing, or some combination of things I’m doing, is making a difference. I highly suspect it’s mainly the reduction of sugar, because when I’ve caved and gone overboard on sugar, it has a dramatic effect on my digestion later. Sugar, after all, feeds the not-so-beneficial bacteria in the gut, and then they crowd out the good guys. I need to feed the beneficial bacteria what they crave instead. They seem to want beets.

reads 1/24/19

The primary setting for several of my stories — okay, story ideas — is a place inspired largely by the Library of Alexandria and the University of Timbuktu. So a few years ago I was happy to discover that my own library carried a book called Libraries in the Ancient World by Lionel Carson (177 pages). At the time, I read the first couple chapters, then, being prone to not finishing books at the time, let it sit around until I had to return it. I got my own copy to read in my own time, only to let that sit around, too. But I’m resolved to get at least a book a week read this year, so I have at last got through it, start to finish. (This is book 4.)

The joke may be on me, though, because all of the best details came in the first third of the book. Tablets in ancient Mesopotamian libraries tended to include, along with title and author information, curses upon anyone who damaged, stole, or lost the document. Owners (typically kings) of ancient libraries often resorted to underhanded tactics to stock their libraries, including plunder and trickery. Anecdotally, at least, the rivalry between the Library of Alexandria and the “upstart” one at Pergamum led the Ptolemies to stop export of papyrus, and to imprison scholars to force them to remain in residence. These are all great details I am totally stealing to add to my setting, and there’s a bit of information about the progression from tablets to rolls to codices (the format we recognize today as a book) that is useful to me.

That the book focused largely on Greece, Rome, and their empires is to be expected, I guess, since the author is a Classics professor. I really would have liked to have read more about Mesopotamia and the wider Middle East region, or places in Africa in addition to Ptolemy-era Egypt. There are several little anecdotes about Greek and Roman personalities that are often amusing, and give some insight into the attitudes people of the day had toward their libraries, but the information about the libraries themselves gets drier as the book goes on. Weirdly, the book ends rather abruptly, without offering a real conclusion paragraph, let alone chapter. Overall, I’m not sorry I read it, but the amount of information that I’ll take away for my own writing is limited enough that I wish I’d made it through the library’s copy. Since I’m not likely to need to refer back to it, I don’t think I really need my own.

reads 1/15/19

Truckin’ right along with book 3 of 2019 is Persephone by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky, 138 pages. (Graphic novel.) It’s described on the cover as a modern re-telling of the Greek myth involving the figure of the same name, but I’d call it more “loosely inspired by.”

The setting looks mid-20th-century-ish? There are two realms: Eleusis, the land above, Persephone by [Locatelli-Kournwsky, Loïc]and Hades, the land below. The residents of Hades aren’t dead, just people who live in Hades. Formerly there was normalized relations between the two realms, but then the ruler of Hades (Hades) went mad following the death of his wife (not Persephone) and tired to do some bad things with magic. Demeter, in this story a mage rather than a goddess, was among those who stopped these shenanigans and sealed the doorway between the realms. But not before leaving Hades (the realm) with a soft little bundle in her arms.

Magic in this reality is limited to those who inherit it from their parents. Teenage Persephone knows she’s adopted, though not that she originated in Hades, and is frustrated because she knows she can’t follow in her adopted mother’s footsteps. She’s on a train intending to go on a school trip when she is abducted and brought to the land below. With that, her adventure begins.

This book was okay but not amazing. Mostly things happen around Persephone — she’s not an especially active heroine. In the end, she’s no longer dissatisfied with her inability to do magic, so I guess that’s a bit of character development. But there was a great deal of telling rather than showing, which seems especially weird in a graphic novel. It did meet my minimum standard of “I’m not sorry I spent the time reading this book” — but it was a fairly quick read.

reads 1/9/19

Book 2 of 2019 is graphic novel Rivers of London: Night Witch by Ben Aaronovitch, 122 pages.

I found it a bit difficult to follow, but as it turns out to be a compilation of issues 5-10, themselves based on a series of novels, I Rivers of London Vol. 2: Night Witch by [Aaronovitch, Ben, Cartmel, Andrew]guess that’s to be expected. But I also had trouble keeping straight a few characters who seem to make their first (and probably only) appearance in this story.

Anyway, the Rivers of London series is about a young British police constable named Peter Grant who is also an apprentice wizard. As you might expect, he investigates crimes with a magical bent. The current case involves the disappearance of the young daughter of wealthy Russian immigrants — at the hands, the mother insists, of a supernatural forest creature. Also (reluctantly) on the case is a Russian woman who was one of the WWII Night Witches — and in this reality, they turn out to be actual witches.

I enjoyed this book well enough to be curious about seeing how the story started. It’s hard to judge a series by a non-quite beginning.

reads 1/7/19

52 weeks, 52 books. That’s the plan, anyway. A book a week is totally doable. Hopefully, once I get up to speed, I’ll read even more.

The first book for 2019 is Six Ways: Approaches & Entries For Practical Magic by Aidan Wachter, (talismanic jewelrymaker and “dirt sorcerer”) 165 pages.

I think I haven’t mentioned yet on this blog, a grave oversight, that I have always wanted magic. A couple years ago, a coworker asked me why. I didn’t have an answer. I still don’t. To me, the appeal, the draw, the need for magic is intrinsic and obvious.

As a small child, I would develop collections that looked like witchcraft and invent whatever little rituals came to me instinctively. I didn’t have a name for what I was doing, I was just being a weird kid who spent a lot of time on her own. My writing can’t help but involve fantastical elements. I’ve tried writing realistic stories. Something impossible always shows up.

As I was considering what forms my “emergence” and thus this blog would take, one of the things I wrote down was, “I’m 41. I ought to be a wizard* by now.” What has held me back? In addition to depression, which ate most of my adult life, I guess I would have to say skepticism and fear of malevolent entities and/or failure. I’ve dabbled here and there, but with no regularity or much in the way of results. Why not give up on it? Because, skeptic though I tend to be, I have experienced just enough to convince me that there exists more than can be measured. (I mean hey, there was a time radio waves fit into that category.)

While Six Ways is a primer and thus there is not a great deal in the practices described that is entirely new to me, I’m finding it a useful refresher.

I enjoyed reading about Wachter’s philosophy. Like me, he espouses the idea that magic is largely psychology, but also real. There’s also quite a bit about stories and information, and as those seem to be the theme of my life, I could appreciate that as well. And while he never seems to use the “D” word, a number of the practices as he presents them seem well-tailored to aiding those of us who are struggling or have struggled with depression or the aftereffects of abuse.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a vast background in the various schools of thought on magic. There’s so much to get bogged down in, and I’m so easily distracted. (I guess I should add that to the list of “why I’m not a wizard already.”) But I know what hits my “aha!” button when I see it. I plan on giving the practices in Six Ways a go and see where they take me.

*Why a wizard and not a witch? For me the difference is not gender but function. I’ll talk about that another time.

reads 12/22/18

Growing up, I spent most of my free time either writing my own stories, or reading books. This stopped when I went to college. I was reading and writing for classes. I was reading and writing for work. I had unprecedented freedom to go anywhere I wanted with friends. I was kept hopping in a way I never was before, and when I had free time to spend on my own, I was usually tired enough that I didn’t have enough brain to focus on a book, and chose instead to veg with TV, video games, or the Internet.

Maybe it’s wrong, but my instinct is to not count the time I spend online as pleasure reading. But then I’m not reading novel-length works while sitting at my computer. Hopping around articles is about more my speed. Or, gods help me, clickbaity listicles. Anyway, I noticed at some point after I graduated (2000!) that I simply couldn’t concentrate well enough to get through a book. Years later, I got a tablet and discovered that my problem wasn’t just paper.

This is a real problem for someone who once identified as a book lover, let alone a writer (my fiction writing suffered a parallel decline), and is downright embarrassing for someone who has spent the last 15 years working in libraries.

But I am determined to get my writer self back, and good writers are readers. (It’s true — my writing’s always been best when it’s been informed by good reads.) So I am insisting to myself that I get to reading again, and to that end, I am going to hold myself to account by keeping track of books read in this blog. Reviews? Probably not. Blurbs, more likely.

Anyway, baby steps:

Steven Universe: Ultimate Dough-Down by Talya Perper, 146 pages

Yes, it’s a Steven Universe comic. I picked it up primarily because I thought my spouse might be interested, but since they got me into SU, I figured I would read it, too.

I was happy to find it’s a Sadie story, since she’s one of my favorite characters. She’s been roped into representing the Big Doughnut at a doughnut competition, and Steven volunteers his (and the Gems’) help. Hijinks ensue. It’s a cute story, makes a couple pop culture references that I understood. Quick read, as you might expect. Comics I don’t have so much trouble with, so I got through it in two sittings this evening. (Well, last night, now.)

emerging

Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the longest night. It seems like an ideal time for banishing those things that no longer serve, or that never served. A time for endings. And, so, consequently, a time for beginnings, as the philosopher Semisonic so aptly pointed out.

In Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) religion, today is the Return of the Wandering Goddess, the conclusion of a story that began when Ra, king of the gods, dwelled on Earth and served as king over humans as well. Some evil men conspired to overthrow Ra, but his daughter Het-hert (Hathor), hearing of this, transformed from her bovine form to her leonine form, Sekhmet, and slaughtered the would-be assassins. Unfortunately, this was not enough to stem her rage over the threat to her beloved father, and she continued her murderous rampage. Seeing that Sekhmet had to be stopped before she killed all of humankind, the other gods devised a plan. They ordered a huge quantity of beer to be brewed, and colored red with ochre. This they spilled out on the ground in a place they knew Sekhmet would find it. When the goddess discovered this seeming lake of blood, she stopped to drink it, being literally bloodthirsty. The beer, of course, left her quite drunk, and she fell asleep. When she woke, she was Het-hert again.

Distraught over the realization of what she had done, Het-hert did not go home but wandered further away, taking the light with her, and so the days grew shorter. Ra wanted his daughter back, so he sent Djehuty (Thoth) to go after her. With his great skill at words, Djehuty persuaded Hethert to stop running away. Winter Solstice, therefore, marks the day Hethert made up her mind to stop fleeing from her deeds and return home to reconciliation.

I too have been wandering. I too am resolving, on the Winter Solstice, to stop wandering. To wake my heart from its hibernation. To revive those dozens of ideas I’ve sprouted only to let them whither through lack of tending. To regain my focus and confidence.

CYRANO: I have been wandering — Wasting my force upon too many plans. Now I have chosen one.

LE BRET: What one?

CYRANO: The simplest — To make myself in all things admirable!

— Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand, Brian Hooker translation

I always thought that was a good goal.

I find myself at the moment beset by the question: “What is it that you want?” I am 41, and my life, like the lives of probably most people, did not go the way I might have hoped. At this point, being a rock star or an adventurer or a mother are not open to me. But from the beginning, from before I even knew how, what I wanted was to be a writer. And in my younger years, I stuck with it fairly well. I was a good writer — for a teenager. I got older and lost my focus, and then subsequently my confidence. My poor characters have been hibernating even longer than my heart.

I have a bad habit of either hanging on to things long past the time I should let them go, or letting problems linger for so long, it becomes painful to finally address them. I am 41, and I have spent a lot of years letting my dreams languish. What makes me think there is any point to trying again now? I was re-reading some of my old journals, thinking about what I wanted to write here. I came across this advice I’d given myself long ago: It’s better to start over from the beginning than to never start again.

With that, I’d like to leave you with this observation: Most insects complete their life cycles in a matter of weeks or months, or sometimes over the course of a year or two. Then there are certain species of cicadas, who spend 13 or 17 years underground in their immature state before finally emerging to climb trees and sing. I was unduly amused to discover that these particular species have the genus name Magicicada. I’ve been unable to verify it, but I suspect it’s because “long-lived” = “wise” = “magi.”  Spend 13 or 17 years studying wizardry underground and emerge a magic cicada. I think I’ll try it.