Living Beyond the Walls

I’ll tell you, I had every intention of getting into writing last night.  Computer was ready, I was ready, there was nothing on television, I was ready for music and typing out words.

But life never lets you do what you want to do, right?

As I’m leaving work I check my phone and find I missed a call.  I check it, and it’s from the place where I was getting my new glasses from, and they tell me they’re it.  So I get home, get ready–just to even go out a have to get ready a little–and head out.  Fortunately traffic isn’t bad, but I still have to make a run to somewhere on the north side of the city.  And I notice that traffic going into the city is bad because of a wreck.  Not something good, particularly when things are backed up for miles.

I get my glasses–yeah, they look great . . .

Oh, and new earrings, too.  Wonderful.

Oh, and new earrings, too. Wonderful.

. . . and after picking them up I decides I need to pick up a few things at Target, and then get something to eat.  I wasn’t planing on staying out long, but I didn’t want to try and fight my way back through the traffic, so I took my time with my dinner.

By the time I rolled back to the apartment to snap the above picture, it was about eight PM.

Then I had to roll out and do something on Facebook, because I’m hosting a book club this month, and I had to set up which three books people can choose from.  Since I’d made my selections months ago it was just a matter of doing the ol’ cut and paste and getting things in place before setting up a poll, but it still took time to get that and the notifications together.  And as soon as I finished getting that set up–

The questions came.

Because they always do when there’s a new book.  Because people want to know things, they have interests in what you’re presenting.  I should have known, but sometimes I can be . . . clueless.  It’s not an easy feeling.

Oh, and I didn’t mention the PMs from people wanting to get together in a couple of weeks.  Did I mention that?  No.  I have now.

This is life, and it’s something I haven’t experienced in a bit.  It’s where unexpected things jump out at you and you do what is necessary to handle them.  My plan had been to come home, start dinner, get the book club stuff set up, eat, then write.  Silly me:  what did I know?

It’s a nice change up to be able to do something unexpected–and I had been waiting for my glasses for a few days, so there was a bit of excitement there.  I just didn’t expect it all to happen like . . . this.

Writing tonight, I promise.  I’ve got Isis trying to explain a school break-in where there shouldn’t be one, and gargoyles hiding in the wall.  I’ll get back into my fantasy . . .

And hope that life doesn’t throw a curve at me tonight.

Return of the Last Week

Does that seem cryptic?  Like, oh, god, what sort of “Last Week” are you describing?  Hummm, maybe a little cryptic, but that because I come from a different time and place, not unlike a certain traveler who was on over the weekend.

A week from today is Labor Day, or as some people think of it, the traditional marking of the end of summer.  After that day women aren’t supposed to wear white shoes, men are suppose to stop wearing shorts, and everyone’s suppose to adapt to the idea that fall is here and winter’s around the corner.  It was also, in some places the start of the school year, and depending on the calendar, school either started today, or it started next Tuesday.

That simply isn’t the case any longer.  Today we start school like the first week of August, people don’t much give a damn about what they wear well into fall (something I’ve noticed as I’ve adapted my change in clothing and watched how other women to the same), and winter is now a meme to tell people to brace themselves for some life-changing shit.

And my head was chopped off a few years or over a decade ago, so totally not a spoiler.

And his head was chopped off a few years or over a decade ago, depending on the medium of your choice, so totally not a spoiler.

So we are in the last week of summer.  It’s here, and soon it’ll be Friday, and summer is going . . . well, it’s not going anywhere.  Fall doesn’t officially come for almost another month, and looking ahead for the weeks to come, I doubt that we’re going to see fall-like weather soon.  Which is good, because I don’t have all my winter clothes together yet.  I can get through fall okay, but winter–it’s gonna be a tough one in The Burg.

The only true season I ever used to pay attention to was summer, and that was because I grew up in a house with no air conditioning until about 1970, and so summer was as time of dread.  It was hot and sweaty and miserable, and I couldn’t wait for cooler weather so I could sleep and enjoy going outside without enduring the sensation that I was melting.

The summer’s been mild this year, and where it was super sweltering I’ve manage to stay out of the direct rays and stay comfortable.  Winter is suppose to be a total pain in the ass this year, and that only bothers me in the sense that it’s necessary to go out and share the road with hundreds of drivers who lose their minds whenever there’s the smallest amount of snow on the ground.

However, it’s not the weather going away that I’ll think about this year.  The summer was one of dramatic change for me, and in this last week I meet with my therapist and talk about all the stuff that’s happened in the month since I last saw her.  I’m sure they’ll be a lot of discussion about what’s going to happen at work this winter, and not a few mentions of my emotional state over the month of August.

And then we can talk about what’s coming in the fall.

All-in-all, it’s not been a bad summer,

Maybe I need to get out and enjoy what their is of my new life in the fall.

message

Changing seasons, changing gender appearance–pretty much the same, don’t you think?  It can still make for a good hike on a nice day.

 

Letting the Rest Roll

Let it be known that I’ve been slacking off.  Really, I have.  I feel it.  Because I’ve needed to slack off, to be honest.

One, I’ve been tired a lot.  The last couple of nights I’ve taken sleeping pills–just one each night–to help me get through the night and not wake up at three-thirty AM with no chance of getting back to bed.  I’ve managed to get some sleep out of these nights, and even though I was awake at four AM needing to use the bathroom, I went right back to sleep and woke up only moments before the alarm went off.

Two, I’ve been distracted of late by wanting to do things, be it watch TV, read, get out of the house and travel–anything.  I’ve needed to change up my routine for some time now, and it’s great for recharging.  Tonight I’ll go out and do a little grocery shopping, and when that’s over I’m going to stop at Panera, get something to eat–probably a big bowl of soup–and then set up my computer and write.  I did this last week and plopped down a thousand words; I want to finish this scene I’m in, start on the next, and maybe finish it as well.  Because I’m moving ahead.

Annie's letting me know I better get her scene finished, because . . . well, because.

Annie’s letting me know I better get her scene finished, because . . . well, because.

And, admittedly, I enjoy the break.  Which leads into–

Three:  I’ve been feeling a lot burned out.  I’m two hundred and thirty thousand words into the novel, maybe two-thirds of the way through, and after ten months I’m ready for something else.  This is the doldrums part of the story, where you want to keep pushing, but you also want to do something else.  You’ve lived with these people for so long it’s like having guests who never go away, and just like you want the Guests Who Wouldn’t Leave to pack up their shit and move on, I’m ready for another project.

Not that I hate what I’m doing, but like anything else where you do it over and over every day, it starts to wear you down.  I feel that what may be needed is an adjustment of schedules.  Set aside the time I need to do something, and do it then.  I’m thinking Wednesday afternoon is going to become a new writing time for me for the next few months.  After that I’ll find something else to help with the time.

My fear is taking a break from writing for a week or two.  I’ve done that in the past, and when I have I’ve managed to take a month off and get back into things without a problem.  Then again, I’ve also taken a break that lasted years, and I don’t want that to happen.  Because I’ve got the story where I want it, and I don’t have time to take a year off from this project.  Sure, I might be able to get other things done, but I want to finish this story.

Let me correct that:  I need to finish this.

Because it’s too damn important to put to the side.  No matter how I feel right now.

The Juggling of the Duties

The novel did not advance quickly last night.  If anything, I managed a few hundred words–just under three hundred, in fact–because . . . well, so many things happened last night.  Allow me to explain–

Believe it or not, I’ve got a bunch of different things floating around at the same time.  Mine is not a simply life of “Get up, work, come home, eat, write, sleep.”  There are times when it does feel that way, but last night wasn’t one of those night.  No, it was more like I had miles to go before falling off into sleep.

First off, I walked throughout most of the day like a zombie.  It wasn’t a good time, because my “Hey, it’s four AM, let’s get up” body was doing just that to me, and I’d only gotten to bed just a little after midnight, so I was running on just under four hours of sleep.  Not a good way to start the day.

"No, I can write code when I'm half asleep . . . Um, what does two plus two mean?"

“No, I can write code when I’m half asleep . . . Um, what does two plus two mean?”

Then I get home feeling sleepy at four-thirty in the afternoon, and it’s time to eat.  And write.  Only it takes an hour to get dinner ready, and I can’t concentrate on writing.  So I jump online for a bit and chat up a bit.  And then I get into discussions with people:  we talk about things they’re working on, I give a few opinions on copyright protections (this is something that’s come up a lot among the people in the crocheting group in which I hang out), I lay out a few memes for people because, in another life, I am The Memestress, and I come bringing the snark.

One of the things I got involved in while on line was helping out a woman who was having a problem with mold in her house.  She rents but it seemed the landlord not only wasn’t going anything about the mold, he was being confrontational about it.  As I have mad Google skills (no, I won’t spell it the other way), I did a quick search and discovered three sites in the city where she lives (which, by the way, is not in the U.S.) and posted them for her to use.  It does appear that she received help with her problem, and she posted a thank you on my Facebook wall which greeted me this morning when I logged in.

Ah, but then!  I had to take over asking questions in a book club.  Yes, the person who was running the show this month went MIA, and I sort of got elected to step in and ask questions for the book in question, which I read.  So late at night, as I was trying to work on my novel, I jumped in and set up a few questions for other people–in fact, I did a few more this morning, because I’m nothing if not diligent.

There you have it:  my crazy night.  Juggle, juggle, juggle.  Maybe tonight I can actually get back to work on my novel . . .

Maybe.

"I need to have Annie kick some ass here.  People better just leave me--oh, look, a message!"

“I need to have Annie kick some ass here. People better just leave me–oh, look, a message!”

Signposts Amid the Shadows

I’m touching on writing a little here, but I’m getting into some other stuff as well–like mental illness.  That’s a heavy thing, so if you don’t want to read what I have to say, look at the picture and move along.

This looks like it's near Annie's house--which makes sense, since I'm going to talk about her.

This looks like it’s near Annie’s house–which makes sense, since I’m going to talk about her.

Onward, then.

 

Though it may seem like a strange thing to consider when writing a novel about tweens and teens who are training up to be magical people, one of the things I had to consider when putting Salem together was the issue of counselling and mental health issues.  That’s a very important thing to consider when you one realizes that pulling some kid in off the street and showing them they can alter reality to suit their whims may just put a weird-ass bend on their personality in time.  The Foundation isn’t going to be happy if, after your second year at school, you turn your parents into ferrets and keep then in cages the whole summer.

And that’s a minor thing.  Imagine what happens when you get really good?  Say . . . like my main characters.

There will come a time at Salem when the pressures of what’s happening in their lives becomes a little too much for Annie and Kerry, and they start to lose it a little.  I mean, Annie admitted first day of Sorcery class she knew how to kill someone with black magic, and Kerry was already seen suffering from depression.  Sure, becoming better witches is going to make their feel a lot better–until they snap.

Then all hell breaks loose.

In these stories there will come a time where Kerry nearly dies.  There will come a time where Annie loses her shit and almost kills someone in school.  There will come a time where both Annie and Kerry will be put through a most stressful day that pushes them physically, magically, and mentally right to the edge and beyond.  There will come a time where both of them are faced with a situation that may seem like it’s the final night for them both, and they not only talk about their impending demise–they promise each other that if one should die, the other will follow, because continuing to live without their soul mate simply isn’t an option.

That’s an issue that’s really simple for them as well.  Annie points out that they both know enough transformation magic and sorcery that if they wanted to die, it would be over in less time than it would take to work up the spell.  Stop your heart, freeze your blood, shut down all chemical reactions in your brain:  stuff they could do to others they could easily do to themselves.  It would be quick, it would be painless, and they’d know someone would be waiting for them on the other side once they were gone.  It’s not something either would do because of depression:  they’re not like that.  But to join the other in death?  Yeah, not a second thought is needed.

It’s the  part about being able to do this to others that keeps The Foundation on their toes.  At various times in the stories they both get counselling.  They both suffer depression; they both go through periods of intense anxiety; they both exhibit signs of PTSD at various times.  All before they ever get out of school, so imagine what their adult lives are gonna be like.

But they get great counselling.  The Foundation has some of the best counselors in the world, and when you have a couple of people like Annie and Kerry representing your future, you want them to get the best psychiatric case possible.  And they do.

They live in a world where they can get all the best medical care possible.  They live in a world where, after a particularly hard day of fighting the magical fight in the shadows, they can spend the next month chilling and talking to someone about the experience.  They go to a school that has enchantments in place to prevent people from jumping out of high towers, or crashing brooms into walls at a few hundred kilometers an hour, or setting themselves on fire, or any number of ways one may try to harm themselves.  They live in a world where certain people–whose names start with an A and a K–could, if they decided to just go completely batshit insane, could do up River Tam considerably and take out a couple of dozen people with their minds.

It’s not a perfect location for that, but the school does its best, because training kids up to be the future shadow runners of the world is sometimes gonna leave an invisible mark.

We, on the other hand, aren’t that lucky.  I’ve never hidden my own mental illness, never admitted that it isn’t there.  Between depression, being bi-polar, and having GID, I’ve been a mess most of my life.

Mental health treatment in the country of my birth is a joke.  Most of it isn’t covered by insurance.  Nearly all my therapy has been covered out of pocket since 2009 on, and believer me, it’s not cheap.  I don’t take meds because I (1) have no health insurance, and (2) didn’t like how I felt when I was on meds, which was either zombie-like or not much better than I was before getting on them.

These days I do what I can to get by, and I’m usually successful.  Usually.  I have my “Break down and cry” moments, and they’re usually bad, but I get over them and move on.  I was crying Sunday when I went out to pay a bill, because I do that–cry, not pay bills.  Saturday night . . . well, that was a disaster.

I have a hotline number on my phone, and my therapist’s number as well.  When I’m feeling bad I don’t go out on my balcony, because I live twelve stories up and I have enough knowledge of physics and laws of gravity and acceleration to know once you’re over the side it just about two seconds and done, finished, out of the blue and into the black.  Quick, easy, and pretty much painless.

When I’m feeling really bad I visualize.  I have two people that mean everything to me.  One is my daughter.  The world can suck enough and she doesn’t need anymore suckage in her life.  The other is a person I spoke of last week, the one person who means the world to me.  When I get really bad I imagine her alone in a room in the dark, crying because she’s heard that I’ve move on beyond The Veil and I’m not coming back.  I hold that image in my mind for a few moments, then shuffle all the bad shit away and move on.

I’d die for her, but not that way.  It isn’t fair to her.

My novel kids will not always have an easy time.  Before they turn eighteen they’re going to see a world of shit, and it will be difficult for them to walk away unscathed.  It’s stuff that they’ll take into adulthood, things that will remain with them for a long time.

But I’ll take care of them in the end and see they get help.

If only I could do that for everyone.

Here I Am, Speaking Wise Stuff

Today I’m doing something I haven’t done in long time:  I’m speaking on another blog!  Yes, I did a guest post over at My Write Side and I am giving Wednesday Writers Wisdom–which you can probably take or leave.

You’ll find me here on this link, so come on over and share the love, and see what I have to say.

I'm even having coffee.  Come join me.

I’m even having coffee. Come join me.

Once Upon a Time in China

Story-wise, it was a barn burner.  What do I mean?  I mean with all the chatting I was doing, either on certain Facebook walls or in PMs from people I know, I still managed to write one thousand, three hundred, and fifty-five words to finish up the current scene.  That means there are only two scenes left in Chapter Fifteen, and one will be very short, so the hell that is gonna be The Witch House A Level Beginning Sorcery class is coming sooner than you think.

Sorcery:  it's always closer than you think.

Sorcery: it’s always closer than you think.

Believe it or not, Act Two has reached a word count of thirty-nine thousand, nine hundred and three, if my memory servers me correctly.  When you add the up almost one hundred and fifty thousand words in Act One–well, you see where this is going.  Sometime tonight I’ll pass forty thousand words on this current act, and that will probably put me over one hundred and ninety thousand words for the novel by this evening or tomorrow.  And if I keep on keepin’, somewhere in the middle of July I’ll bump past two hundred thousand words for only the second time in my writing history.

Yep, it’s a big one.

But I’m not talking about writing today.  Why not?  Because one of the conversation I had last night concerned something about my past as related to a few hookers I know.  Get your mind out of the gutter:  not those kind of hookers.  These are women I know who crochet, and while I don’t hook myself–I have no talent there, believe it now–I am fortunate enough to know the owner of a Facebook group who sorta, kinda, pretty much lets me hang out and act as comic relief.  (One of the reasons I have a big white HodgePodge Crochet button on my page, because I always return favors for my closest friends.)

What happened was someone was saying they ordered something off Amazon that was listed as “hand made”, but when they got the shipping conformation–surprise!  It was shipping from Shenzhen.  I mentioned that I knew Shenzhen rather well, since there was a time when I used to work right down the road from there, and one thing led to another–usually with comments like, “You should write a column for us!”–and it got me thinking about my time in China . . .

Or as I like to call it, "The Land Where I Was the Minority."

Or as I like to call it, “The Land Where I Was the Minority.”

There were many times, from 1998 to 2005, that I used to fly into Hong Kong (the area to the bottom of the map above) spend the night, then while all jet lagged to hell and gone (traveling from my home to Chicago to Hong Kong used to take almost twenty-six hours on the nose, from the time I walked out of my house, to the time I walked into the Sheraton on Nathan Road in Kowloon), I’d hop a ferry and head up the river to the area on the above map labeled “Shekou Residential District.”

And I’d stay here, at the Nanhai Hotel, my home away from home, and where I’d usually have a morning conversation with the dragon in the fountain, because why not?

Hotel to the right, Ferry Port to the left, and the prostitutes used to be found at the top.

Hotel to the center top, Ferry Port to the bottom left, and the prostitutes used to be found at the top area out of frame.

My company used to send me over to sling code for our factor just over the mountain in Chiwan.  The reason I was there was because the site had their own computer, but no one to program.  Since I didn’t have a problem traveling to the other side of the world, there I went, rocketing around the world–which, actually, I once did when I missed my flight to Tokyo, and I had to fly Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Hong Kong to Tokyo and back to Minneapolis before returning to Chicago.

At the plant I spent most of the time locked in the computer room, which was actually an old storage room not much bigger than my current location.  Most everyone in the office spoke English, so there was never a problem with communications.  Getting out of the office, however . . . there were parts of Shekou where people had no idea what you were saying.  I also ran into that in parts of Hong Kong as well, but I never let that bother me, because when you’re out and about exploring, you just go.  Or as some wrote to me yesterday, take the road less traveled and see where it leads.

I saw a lot of these roads.  Once on a walking trip I visited Tiger Balm Gardens–which is an insane terracotta garden meant to visualize the various Chinese hells–and Happy Valley, the large horse racing track, all the while walking westward across Victoria Island.  I’ve been up the Tram to Victoria Peak in good weather and bad, and sat meditating on one of the highest points with a great view of the city.  I visited the location of Kowloon Walled City, and once ventured on a rickety bus to the Po Lam Monastery, home of the gigantic bronze Buddha that you may have seen.

There he is in the bottom center of the picture.  Hey, remember me?

There he is in the bottom center of the picture. Hey, remember me?

There was a noodle house in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong that I used to visit all the time, where for $90 HKD you could get a huge bowl of noodles with a little pork and eggs, and green tea.  The exchange rate then was $7.50 HKD for one US Dollar, so for one of the most expensive cities in the world, it was cheap eating.  (The other end of that spectrum was dining at a steak house one night with a friend and running up a bill of $250 USD on two steaks with normal trimmings and a couple of beers.  They were, however, damn good steaks.)

In Shekou there was a mountain overlooking the area that had, what looked like to me when I wandered out of the hotel, a white building on it.  One day I went looking for that building and found stairs leading up the mountain.  I eventually found the building–it was a covered rest stop–and discovered there was a path going up one side of the mountain, across the top, and coming down on the other side.  I was the first one from my company to find this, and every time I was working in China I made a point to walk this path at least two or three times.

And on one trip I counted the stairs used to get up and, at the northwest end of the mountain, get down to ground level.  How many were there, you ask?  2,846.  And at the end of that particular walk I came across a street vendor selling grilled sweet potatoes.  He didn’t speak English, but it didn’t matter:  I pointed to a potato, handed him 10 RMB (exchange rate of 8 RMB to 1 Dollar), and he gave me 3 RMB change.  I slowly walked back to the hotel nibbling on that potato, letting the sugars and carbs replenish my energy.  It was one of the best moments of my life.

One thing to point out to some of my friends who were asking about this last night:  Hong Kong is not a big city.  It’s crowded and compacted, and most of the city on Victoria Island isn’t even on the island.  Allow me to explain:

Here is an area I know very well, because I’d walk this way from the Star Ferry building to the Peak Tram station.  The Bank on China building is on the right, and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) building is on the left.  The HSBC building is famous because it’s not only a lot of glass from one wall to the other, but most of the floors are glass, and standing under it you can actually look up into the offices.  Reason for this is not only because having a clear view of the harbor is good feng shui, but a feng shui master informed the company that the dragon living in the hill behind the building needed to see the harbor, too.

And are you gonna argue with a dragon?

And are you gonna argue with a dragon?

In the picture above do you see the thick line of trees just below the HSBC building?  That’s the actual edge of the island.  Where those bank buildings stand, that was ocean maybe a hundred years ago.  So when we expand our view . . .

We're still keeping that dragon happy . . .

We’re still keeping that dragon happy . . .

Nearly all those building above that dark green tree line are built on land fill.  And that’s not a wide stretch of land:  maybe a half mile (800 meters) from the harbor to the edge of Victoria Peak.  On the north side of the harbor Kowloon found land by knocking down the eight mountains there–and yet, there are still parts of that area that are all land fill.  Until you visit Hong Kong, you can’t imagine how close together everything is.

I’ve talked enough about this.  I haven’t been back to China in almost ten years, and while I still have those memories, like Roy Batty’s tears in the rain, they’ll fade away one day.  It was a great time in my life, and I can say I pretty much enjoyed myself–when I wasn’t suffering from loneliness and depression, but that’s another story.

And one day I’ll have to tell you about the Wan Chai reader who told me about my past life in the city . . .