I realized that it’s been like two years since I had a post title in a different language and that made me a little sad, so good thing I’m here to talk to you about Russia. This one is leh-beh-DEEN-uh-yeh OH-zeh-ruh.
I have seen a grand total of one ballet thus far. It is Swan Lake, that is, of course, Лебединое озеро. That one performance, it just so happens, was at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia. Not the most prestigious in Russia but a theatre and company of renown in a country with renown in the world of ballet. It was truly a gift.
That experience has been on my mind recently because over the last week or two, I’ve taken some time to become reacquainted with an old friend of mine, François. Who is, to be clear, not a human being but my oboe. My oboe exploits (such as they are) have not been much the subject of this blog because I have not been in a wind ensemble of any description for its entire duration. Though I have picked it up on a few occasions since graduating from my undergraduate institution (the last time I played corporately), they have been few and far between. I estimate I hadn’t played for two years at least, likely much longer, until just recently.
Anyway, I have finally started playing again. Nothing much, really, just messing around. Doing some scales (only the ones I like), playing bits of songs that I remember, finding some fun new music for solo oboe to play along with on YouTube. I also have found a site with some very simple, boiled down (but still interesting, not child-level as some are) great classics. This included, yesterday, playing through the main theme from Swan Lake.
The music of Swan Lake is incredible, I assure you. I am in no position to be a critic of ballet itself, though I did really enjoy watching the performance. What really got me was the music. And it’s a bonkers-level emotional experience to sit through the whole thing. The story is lovely and the music truly does tell it even if you’re barely following along. The main theme is so mournful and haunting and beautiful. At the very end, it is magically transformed even as a swan into something triumphant and glorious, a relatively simple musical trick but let me tell you, it feels more cathartic than anything after watching the whole ballet with this mournful motif and suddenly having that theme turn mourning into dancing, if you will.
It just so happens that this comes almost exactly eight years after my visit to the Mikhailovsky. That’s not really relevant but I thought it was fun.
Anyway. Swan Lake, at least in my mind, is an incredibly well-known ballet with much critical acclaim. It’s a pretty big deal, if you’re in that scene. But audiences and critics at the time of its premiere were not overly impressed. They didn’t like the lead dancers, they thought the choreography was boring, they considered the set and costumes lacking, they disliked the ‘stupid’ story, and they found the music too noisy. Like, they really weren’t into it.
But it was not a case of great works not being appreciated in their time. Tchaikovsky was famous in his own lifetime. And the ballet lived on. It continued to be performed regularly at the theatre of its premiere for six years, receiving more performances than many other ballets of the same company.
We don’t need to get into the weeds about later performances and alterations and whatnot, all pretty common for performance material of that sort, like off-Broadway revisions and stuff. I just appreciated, at this moment in my life, an example of something being a bit of a failure and still being a success. That perseverance matters even if it takes a sec for the result to be anything all that meaningful.
Plus also, it’s nice to remember my time in Russia. I would really love to go back someday, there’s so much more to see and a number of incredible things that I want to see and experience again. Looking forward, I’m not sure that a return trip is ever going to happen. For, you know, a lot of reasons. But I can be grateful that I went there.
As a great Russian poem says, люблю я грусть твоих просторов.
There is an EE Cummings poem in which the poet begins by thanking God for these things, in my very faithful paraphrase:
this amazing day
the leaping, greenly spirits of trees
a blue true dream of sky
everything which is natural
everything which is infinite
everything which is yes
There is a beautiful setting of this poem by Eric Whitacre which I highly recommend for anyone with any interest in choral music. But the reason I bring it up because I often think about that poem and sometimes sing that poem driving in the car on beautiful days.
There is a particular place on my drive home from work (or from most places) that brings a tear to my eye far more often than it should for what it is. It isn’t any particularly remarkable vista, it’s just a view of some trees not unlike a score of other such places along that drive. But when the light is just right and my day has been just wrong, I am overcome. I am often overcome by views of nature that aren’t really anything exceptionally wonderful. And I think that’s wonderful.
Sometimes, I just need a lift and I don’t much care if it’s in the form of watery eyes at an expressly normal and inexplicably perfect line of trees.
I don’t know how much you’ve been following news from Haiti but it’s not in a good place. Haiti hasn’t been in a good place for quite some time but the assassination of its president certainly isn’t helping.
Disaster and difficulty seem to be endlessly compounded in the country, earthquake and hurricanes and cholera feeding a cycle of poverty and sickness and destruction. Political and economic corruption and exploitation, gang violence, and now assassination. So much of it is tied up in international intervention, too, so it’s even more difficult to imagine ways to help.
I don’t have anything further to say about it. Clearly, I’m not the one to come up with solutions or remedies of any kind. I do hope and pray for the people of Haiti, though, for some relief. And more, for the long, difficult work of rebuilding–of infrastructure and society–in ways that will be good for the people, and which will last when confronted with the challenges that inevitably will arise.
I know that there are many conflicts simmering–or frozen or blazing–in the world right now. It’s difficult to keep track of all of them, to bear them in mind and follow developments. To mourn losses and celebrate progress toward peace.
But sometimes, I just want to issue little reminders. There’s not really much to be done, not by us, most of the time, but I think there’s something valuable about taking a moment to just be aware.
The disasters of Haiti, ongoing violence across the Sahel, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, conflict in Tigray, the Uighur people in China, a variety of issues in Myanmar. More frozen but still contentious conflicts like Ukraine, Cyprus, Korea. And plenty more besides. Places we’ve never heard of. Places we haven’t heard of in years but whose problems persist even when they’re not in our personal news cycle.
Sometimes, I think about places like Abkhazia–a country that no one outside its borders really believes exists and which struggles on its own, doing its own thing, out of the eye of nearly everyone. As it has for decades, now.
It’s not like I’m the only one who thinks about these things. And it’s not like thinking about them does anything. But I think it’s important nonetheless. The world is a big place and everyone deserves care, even if it’s momentary, at a distance, and without real connection. There’s always value in caring.
This week, I was talking with someone I don’t know well about my job search. And, laying it all out there, I couldn’t help thinking this feels fake. I even said it. It feels fake. There’s no way I could be putting in any meaningful effort to finding a job for two years and still have nothing to show for it–even considering the impact of the pandemic. It just stretches credulity. This, because I had an interview a couple weeks ago and found out this week (after much waiting) that I hadn’t been offered a second one.
I didn’t get a second interview, having thought the first went well, having some definitely relevant (not just vaguely maybe relevant) experience, for a position with four openings in a fairly small city. It wouldn’t have felt good even if I were not in my current place, search-wise.
And, we may recall another fun job search fact about my life. When I came back home and got this job at Michaels, I had applied to many places for similar work, just something part time or anything to tide me over for a bit (so I thought). And only one other place even offered me an interview (for a job exactly like this Michaels one) and did not give me a job offer.
It’s true that I’m not applying to literally anything. At this point, it just doesn’t make much sense to me to just go and get another job like the one I currently have. Even if it were full time, I wouldn’t be in a substantially different position than I am now. Some more money, but not enough to be all that comfortable on my own and a whole lot less time and energy to spend looking for and applying to jobs. But anyway.
What I’m trying to say is. I guess. I feel like I generally do pretty well on the self-confidence front. And I like who I am decently. And I think I do well (probably too well) with self-care. But the evidence definitely indicates that this is a failure, ongoing and unrelenting. Despite seeking help from a variety of sources, attempting to network some (which makes me exceedingly uncomfortable), having my resume and things professionally looked at, taking feedback from interviewers (when they deign to give it, when they deign to give me an interview), applying broadly to all sorts of random jobs in all sorts of random places.
Clearly, I’m not doing enough. More jobs, more applications, more advice, more something, more articles about how to do better with this stuff, more networking, more getting over myself and getting a full time job at a pizzeria because (??? I don’t have a because but I suppose there’s a reason and I just don’t want to).
I follow a science YouTuber (even though I do not science in the least bit, I started for other reasons and have stuck around because interesting things are interesting). He has a PhD in atmospheric physics and is a Very Science Person. Went to Oxford. Obviously very smart. Can do the things. I watched a video he posted yesterday, though, and it kind of caught me off guard. In a good way. It’s about science but mostly it’s not.
He was taking a look back at a subject area of physics that had eluded him in one of his last courses at Oxford before he started his PhD. He had not done well with it at all, and had also been in the midst of a lot of other issues in his life at the time. In this video, he took out the textbook they had used and set about trying to learn the material.
He had some good things to say about learning, challenging ones self, taking time just to discover and grow and whatnot. He also said a lot of things about quantum field theory that I got the very basic gist of and mostly just kind of glazed over at, but that’s not the point.
He talked about how, at the time, he felt like a failure for not getting this material. That he wasn’t smart enough, incapable of learning it, not giving enough effort, missing the obvious things he needed to be doing to succeed. Because here’s the thing: it was a failure. He didn’t learn it. There were consequences.
As he came back to it now, though, his attitude differed significantly. First, looking back at all the notes and things he had saved, he confirmed that he was doing the right things, was putting in enough effort. It didn’t make him learn it at the time, but it wasn’t because he was stupid or lazy. In part, at least, it was because he wasn’t giving himself the time, space, or grace to absorb and process. And in so doing, not only was he not learning but he was feeling worse about not learning it.
The thing he says he lacked in that year at Oxford is self-compassion. Though other factors were at play in his difficulty with the subject matter, the major obstacle was a failure of mindset. To be okay making mistakes and failing but pursuing anyway. Growth mindset, to use a buzzword. And compassion, rather than spirals of self-recrimination, when the things that usually work aren’t working.
It brought to my mind a poem by Siegfried Sassoon, The Imperfect Lover. It’s about… well, it’s about a doomed love (???) and stuff and we don’t need to get into that but the closing line is what I’m thinking about. Not really as it fits into the poem, at all, but on it’s own.
Unvanquished in my atmosphere of devils.
To be in the midst of devils but to be unvanquished. To be in the midst of failures but not weighed down by them. I almost said, just now, “I’m not sure what that looks like,” but I guess I kind of do. It’s mostly just more of the same. I said maybe I’m a little too good at self-care. I have no way of knowing, really, unless someone confronts me about it. But I think me saying that was mostly me saying yet again, I’m not good enough. I’m not doing enough. If I spent less time relaxing and more time putting in effort–since I’m only working part time!– then I would’ve gotten a job already.
It seems fake that it’s taken this long. It feels certain that it’s something I’m doing wrong or not at all. I have no real metric for what is reasonable to ask of myself, especially at this point. Which jobs are worth it, which ones won’t mean anything even if I do get them–not enough to be okay on my own, not enough to bolster my resume to get a job I want, too unpleasant for me to stay at (I’ve already proven my weakness at staying in jobs I don’t want to stay in) which will only land me back in this terrible job search again.
I just have to believe that I’m doing enough. I’m trying new things, keeping an eye out, and just trying continually. Levels of effort vary but it’s there. I want other people to believe I’m trying, too, but I guess I should probably let go of that as I can. It doesn’t make it any less of a failure but it does make me feel a little better now. And since I have to live my life now, not in some hypothetical future when I eventually get some decent job, the now is worth something.
Sometimes, Shakespeare said, we are devils to ourselves; I just want to be unvanquished even if I’m still failing.
I am ready for a new job. I have applied to many. Last Friday, I had an interview. They hoped to get back to me–about a second interview, that is–that very same evening. Perhaps Monday. In the event, they’re running a bit behind and I can certainly understand that. Who knows when I’ll hear from them, much less what they’ll say.
I’m not faulting them for doing their best in what is still a chaotic time (and they did give some explanation about the delay). It’s just. I’d like a second interview. I’d like the job. I’m ready. Please. It may yet happen, I feel like I’m still in the running.
But we’ll say that it’s easier to keep my hopes low now than it was on Friday afternoon.
In the meantime, I’ve just got to keep going. There’s been a lot of just keeping going in my life lately and I’m still here so I guess I’ve gotten decent at it. So let’s take that as a win.
I sometimes think about how I would look at the world–or what it would feel like, or something like that–if I were the first human eyes to survey a landscape. Both in that I was the first person to see a particular place and also that no human had seen anything at all like it before, so I couldn’t even have imagined it beforehand from a story or a picture or anything.
Yesterday, I thought about the rivers of gold in California and Alaska, for example. What if I was out and about and came across a river with obvious, beautiful pieces of gold just hanging out in the gravel. What would I have thought about the sight? Would I have taken any gold from the river? Would I have told anyone?
What if I didn’t have any existing knowledge of gold? Would it appear as beautiful?
My favorite thing about imagining these scenarios, though, is seeing and doing nothing. To go and take it in, then go away from that place and leave no trace. I sometimes wish humanity touched nature less. I am not a conqueror and the gold, I hope and pray, wouldn’t make me into one. Gold is just gold and I’d rather let nature have it.
So this past Tuesday, I went quite deep down a random Wikipedia rabbit hole, as I am often wont to do. On this occasion, the subject was astronomy. Not on purpose, mind you. We started with sombreros (ask me not wherefore we began with sombreros, I could not tell you) but it turns out that there is a celestial body commonly referred to as the Sombrero Galaxy and so I couldn’t not investigate.
I am not a science person and so, as is usually the case when reading science Wikipedia, I didn’t absorb much in the particulars but sampled widely to get just a taste for some astronomy basics. Some terms that I still don’t really understand well but get the general gist.
On Tuesday, such terms included “globular cluster,” “metal” (which in astronomy referring to stars apparently means any elements other than hydrogen and helium), and “galactic bulge,” which we need not pursue any further. Another delightful term I learned was “blue straggler.”
I’m still not certain exactly what a blue straggler is but my general understanding is that it’s a star that is more luminous and more blue than one would expect given its context (provided one knew enough to have expectations about the luminosity and color of stars). They appear to be somewhat of a mystery to contemporary science. But fear not, my interest in them is strictly for their name, not any properties those stars themselves may or may not possess.
So here’s the other thing that happened on Tuesday, after my celestial learnings. I listened to a podcast episode about the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes and then met with a group of people online to talk about it.
If you’re not immediately familiar, that’s the book that has the bit about a time for everything (“a time to cry and a time to laugh” &ct &ct) and also the one that constantly says everything is meaningless (or vanity or whatever your translation says). Not generally received as a super uplifting book.
But I had a little moment where I feel like I saw that the book is a book about joy. In contrast to Proverbs, which is doing its best to set up a system whereby to live a good life (be righteous and good things will happen to you), Ecclesiastes says that the world is not, in fact, governed by such a system. Maybe it ought to be, and maybe there’s weight to that idea, but often bad things happen to good people and vice versa and you get the idea.
With that in mind, I felt that it wasn’t trying to communicate anything about meaninglessness. Instead, it felt like someone trying to explain that the world is kind of trash but we’ve got to get through it anyway. What I took away from this most recent reading of the book was less of a manual about how to live and more an exhortation to find joy in an often disappointing world. It is, after all, also the book that says, “Eat, drink, and be merry.”
Anyway. The Sombrero Galaxy has a high number of globular clusters, often home to blue stragglers. And blue stragglers feel a bit like Ecclesiastes to me. And also like pandemic times. Blue is sad. Sad times slow you down. You might be the last one on the joy train when times are rough–as they undoubtedly sometimes are. But–and hear me out–you’re still a star. Blue though you may be, you are bright and luminous. Straggler though you may be, you will get on that joy train.
So let’s eat, drink, and be merry. Not because the world is meaningless or because we’ll all die, but because we’re stars and a firmament carefully arranged by a God who cares about us.
Greetings this week from greater Sacramento. There’s nothing quite like writing a blog post about wantedness and then coming to visit people who, when I ask about when I should head home, pretty much just shrug and I actually kind of believe them. So that’s nice. They’re nice. It’s good.
Mercifully, I have brought some reasonable weather with me. Last week, here, temperatures were consistently in the high 90s or decidedly over 100. This week, I think we had one high of like 85 and has otherwise been in the mid/upper 70s. Still hot to me but reasonable hot. Next week, highs here return. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring any rain which they really could use but if it’s up to me personally to fix a drought, there probably isn’t much hope for the world. There’s lots more to say about the drought but, I mean, you can read the news.
On Monday, my friend and I went on a hike up in the Sierra Nevada, near Lake Tahoe. We sought a waterfall which, even in non-drought times, only lasts until around this time before becoming a trickle. We found it easily enough and, though it wasn’t at any kind of spring melt peak, it was still going strong and beautiful.
We decided to climb up to get close to the waterfall and, surprise, when the flow is annually much greater than when we found it, the rocks around it are incredibly slippery. There may have been some crawling through a little tunnel/opening that I irrationally feared would collapse on us at any moment (irrationally because the boulders forming the opening were enormous and hugely well-grounded).
We did eventually make it up to the falls but decided to backtrack completely and circle around so as to actually come out on top of them. This little trail was more of an actual trail (it’s difficult to have a visible trail across bare granite) and we easily crossed the bare rock parts, not being nearly so slippery as the water-smooth bits closer to the falls. And once at the top, we enjoyed some fantastic vistas and a wide granite plain with the water rushing by in its bizarre, weathered course. Lots of potholes and splashbacks and cracks and all sorts of geology stuff. So beautiful.
There were many trees as well. California has that weird thing where it encompasses lots of different climate and vegetation zones in quite a small area, and the western slopes of the Sierras are well-forested indeed, in spite of drought and wildfire and disaster piled on disaster. Here, atop the falls, there was one tree in particular that captured my attention.
You, reader, know that I think a lot about growing. I’m a little obsessed with the idea. I’m sure I have little enough idea what growth really means but I’m definitely here for it. To learn, to change, to lean into the future, to make the future better, to understand, to become, to draw near to good things.
That tree is growing toward the sky, as best as it is able. It is growing from the rocks, a difficult place to be rooted but also a place of strength. I think it’s important to consider what we are growing toward. It reminds me of this great line from Guiseppe Mazzini, a figure in the Italian unification movement, “Love is the flight of the soul toward God.” The toward matters a lot.
I also finally watched Frozen II last night. Not many thoughts (at least, not many too positive ones, surprise, it was fine but whatever). But I am just now, writing this, having a couple thoughts about the song that I think is meant to be the Big Thing from the movie (not that any song is going to compete with Let It Go). Into the Unknown. That’s a good ‘toward’ moment.
I think it’s also important to consider where we are rooted. And to consider the tree in between the roots and the toward, where we are in this moment, how we are doing today, what our life looks like now. But I’m not sure that’s really what this tree made me consider. I’m not sure exactly what it made me think about. But it’s an image that has stayed with me this week. Here’s a different example, from earlier on that same hike.
Maybe it’s something to do with visiting people who laugh in a good-humored when I apologize every ten seconds or so, failing to realize–for the entire game of Ticket to Ride (entire world edition)–when it’s my turn. I promise, I was trying to keep track but my brain can only keep track of a couple things at a time, apparently.
It’s not simply telling myself to *bloom where you’re planted*. Nor is it an exhortation to just *bloom*. Maybe it’s just a reminder that wherever you go, there you are. And that’s okay. And it can look really cool, regardless. Anyway, I think about trees a lot.
It’s another book blog post this week and I will never be sorry about having book moments but I probably have Too Many Feelings in this one. I will try to make it up to you by peppering in extra cat pictures. The book is In This Iron Ground by Marina Vivancos. It is a steamy gay romance so I’m not necessarily recommending it for you, I just need to talk it out a bit (with the internet, apparently). The rambles are… far-reaching. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I have often heard that reading can make people more empathetic. I’m not super sure that this has been true for me, though, at least not in some of the ways I’ve heard other people describe that empathy. I think I’m a generally empathetic person but I feel like in some situations, I’m more doing what I think is expected/ is the empathetic response rather than actually feeling the truth of empathy.
As long time readers of this blog will know, movies and TV shows and even real, actual life rarely make me cry. Books, though, make me cry with some regularity. What I usually mean by that is that they make me shed tears. I’m reading and tears come out. Once, maybe twice, that I can think of, books have caused me to weep: steady stream of tears, snotty nose, grotesque sad face.
This was the first time in my recollection (and we’ll forgive my trash memory for being trash, if this is not the case) that I have had such a strong reaction. Reading this book, I had that eye pressure feeling for a while, then I shed some tears. Then, toward the end, I was wracked by sobs. I read this book in one sitting and stayed up far too late to finish it. When I did, I went straight to bed where I was immediately wracked by further sobs just thinking about it. In a good way. This was not angry crying (as some books have been known to cause). This was sad and then happy-sad. It was painful but good.
But this is why I brought up the empathy thing. I am very grateful for my life. Though I acknowledge that there are issues and troubles and difficulties, none have been all that difficult, none have been trauma. That doesn’t mean that they’re not a big deal to me, they’re still Things Going On In My Life, but they have so far been manageable. So in that way, I do not identify with this main character, who does actually deal with a lot of trauma.
I do, however, identify with this character in some of the things he thinks. This is one reason why books are always more moving to me that other media–I get to be inside someone’s head and that’s always going to be a more compelling way to feel for a character than anything else for me.
The main question I have things to say about has to do with wantedness/belonging/worthiness. I have written some about my problems on this topic before, as in my story about deodorant, but it’s still an issue. There are two parts to it, as I’m looking at it right now, and both are handily dealt with in the book when the main character finally goes to therapy (such a handy thing that happens with some frequency in gay romance novels and I’m glad for it on many levels).
Firstly, I’m working on evidence-based thinking when it comes to other people. Instead of listening to the voice that tells me not-great, not-true things, I will only operate on clear evidence that other people give me regarding how they feel about me. Obviously, there are many kinds of evidence in this arena but mostly I go with words because I just don’t know what to make of actions much of the time.
I’m a believer that, theoretically, actions speak louder than words. And words certainly are not always to be taken at face value. In this case, that’s what I’m going with for two main reasons: I find people really difficult to understand and so words are a clearer form of communication for me, and I also try to just straight up tell people that I’m working on communicating more clearly and that I hope for them same from them in the form of words. Maybe not perfect but it’s what I’m going with for now.
And I think it’s mostly working. I have gotten much better at shutting down negative thought spirals where I catastrophize (maybe that’s a strong word for it but it’s such a good word) what other people are ‘really’ thinking about me. I focus on what I know from our communication and refuse to read more into things that I cannot have any firm conclusions about. And if there’s something that’s really worrying me or making me feel wounded, I try to tell them and then we can clear it up or whatever.
After that, though, as the book-therapy points out, one must reconcile this logical conclusion–I am wanted– with the emotional process that says otherwise. Logic just doesn’t often win emotional arguments, especially not in one’s own head. That’s a little bit where I’m stuck, though I think probably it will come with time and nothing else. I can acknowledge that my fears are unfounded and ridiculous, I can communicate openly with people and all that. I’m just waiting for it to settle into my bones.
Evidence is good but it really is just kind of a change in the heart. The book gives a great example of this. Though there is one final thing that other characters do to be the Big Evidence That You’re Wanted, mostly they’ve been providing a whole lot of evidence for him for many years. But he just couldn’t quite believe it, not fully.
I think this is one reason marriage is very important to me. There are many ways to have healthy romantic relationships but I just can’t imagine myself ever being someone who doesn’t need labels or doesn’t need to get married or whatever. I want that Big Evidence for myself, I want to give it to the man I love, and I want us both to have that widely recognized and understood public symbol that we definitely want each other. It’s something that I expect will be very hard-won. Maybe it’s foolish or naïve to think given where I stand so far in the romantic realm but I don’t expect I’ll be the oft lamented commitment-phobe.
Anyway. So there are A Lot of Thoughts about Thoughts and Also Werewolf Books. This was, surprise, a werewolf book. Coming not too far behind the series about Oliver and Cooper, which I don’t think made me cry but did really write healthy relationships well and therefore gave me a lot of feelings. And this book was also very similar to another werewolf book I read several years ago which I loved but which definitely made me cry and gave me lots of Difficult Feelings.
I had one brief interlude in my reading last night, taking a miniscule break from the book somewhere in the middle. Messaged with a friend and told them that I was reading a book that was making me cry. They said, aw I’m sorry. And I was like, I absolutely am not, it’s a sure sign of a good book. I know not everyone experiences reading fiction the way I do and that’s okay! But just so you know. If I ever tell you that a book is making me cry, know that I am very engaged in it and will have a lot of feelings about it but I will never be sorry about it.
In the meantime, keep on bringing me books about werewolves because apparently, it’s one of the best ways to make me super emotional. I’m not sure why but I’m not mad about it.
Earlier this week (and I promise this is relevant… sort of), I had a conversation with some friends about wisdom and “the fear of the Lord.” Specifically asking what is the fear of the Lord? We all had some kind of gist but none of us loved that fear was in the mix. God is love and perfect love casts out fear. So something like awe, we supposed, but I just wasn’t quite satisfied with any of the words we came up with. Maybe if I were a medieval English peasant, awe would be a word with more meaning for me.
The explanations that felt most accurate to me weren’t words but feelings. We talked about Aslan, the Narnian lion, and how he’s not tame but we can trust him to let us take a drink. But again, I don’t think we should be afraid that God is going to eat us. We talked about museums and how we aren’t going to touch the art or artifacts, not because we’re afraid they’re going to eat us but because there’s a certain weightiness and reverence and Some Kind of Feeling about them. I have felt that feeling. We talked about old growth forests and how, even when we do actually touch those trees, there’s some ineffable immensity and aloof, regal something. I have felt that feeling.
In this book, I sobbed at the end because the main character finally felt love and belonging. After so much denial and so much pain, he finally just got it, you know? And I think that’s a bit of “the fear of the Lord,” too. A drawing near to the spirit of God, a glimpse of the nature of God, the feeling of reverence and majesty and immensity and, most importantly, love.
I hadn’t intended this to be a post for Pride month but now that I’ve made it this far, it feels fitting. Because there’s something holy in saying “Here I am.” There’s something holy in knowing in your brain and feeling in your bones that you are seen, you are known, and you are loved just as you are.
And this is the thing about good books, emotional moments, Pride, weighty conversations: I can see the spirit of God in them. I’m sure I don’t know much about wisdom but if it starts with the fear of the Lord–a phrase too opaque and indecipherable for me–I’ll keep looking in places such as those for wisdom and for love.
I read a book this week about a magical school. Very done, yes, but this was a great iteration. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik. Frustratingly, I somehow imagined it was a stand-alone the whole time I was reading only to find out that it’s the start of a brand new series so who knows when that’ll finish, bleh. But that’s not the point.
I liked the book a lot and thought it was an interesting premise. Here’s the bit I want to share with you today, though. There are monsters who like to attack children to eat their magic. Adults are not tasty and young children don’t have enough magic, so teenagers are the best candidates for eating (I will never not YA fantasy, I’m not sorry about it). This magical school is a high school so it’s just four years, when youths are at their most attractive to the monsters.
The freshmen are less attractive than the seniors because they have less magic to eat but the seniors are much more skilled in defending themselves so the risk of monster death is much higher. I think that explanation makes sense. Yeah? Anyway.
I’m just thinking about growing up. Learning skills that make life’s monsters less likely to eat you but also attracting monsters all the more as you go on and have a life to be eaten. I think I have learned some ways to combat some monsters.
And there is something nice, thinking about having a life that monsters would like to eat. Is that weird? I don’t care, I need a win.
Yesterday marked my two weeks since second dose and so now I’m as immunized as I’m going to get, I expect. There’s a bit of a what now feeling. I’m so so glad to have gotten the vaccine, and so much earlier than a lot of people in the world can. Things are going back to normal, slowly, while many people are facing the worst yet of their pandemic times. I’m grateful that I can kind of do what I like, right, except for two things: we’re still wearing masks and things at work for the time being and I’ll probably wear a mask in certain spaces for a while regardless, and also I don’t do things much anyway.
But that’s okay because my life is still enough for the monsters. I’m still desirable to them and that’s what really counts. The thing about the school in that book. Forgive me if I botch the numbers, I’ve already returned it to the library, but I think it says that magic kids outside the school (and before the school was founded) had about a 1 in 20 chance of survival to adulthood. Attending school, the survival rate is about 1 in 4. Maybe even 1 in 2, I forget. The monsters can’t be kept out completely but it’s your best bet to be in the school.
In life, the survival rate is zero but it’s generally a lot longer than four years so at least we have that going for us. I promise you, this is uplifting for me to write. I’m just trying to be the tastiest snack I can for whatever monster ends up getting me. I want to have lots of life built up, lots of magic, lots of enchantments that will outlast me.
So. My sister and I wrote a book together and it’s finally out! Let me tell you, the writing part mostly happened fairly quickly but the everything else seemed to take forever. Hard to keep up the motivation once the story exists and is complete. Editing is not my scene.
But. I am very happy about how it turned out. Rereading little bits right before we uploaded it, I was surprised (is that bad?) at how much I enjoyed it. Funny bits that I didn’t remember and found very funny, cute bits that I didn’t remember and found very cute.
I want to tell you just a little bit about what we did and how we did it, and then I’ll give you a little blurb and if you feel so led, you can get it and read it for yourself.
First, how we did what we did. Cowriting was actually a lot of fun and, as someone who thought a lot about writing books as a child, probably the only way I was ever going to actually write a book as an adult. It’s a lot of work.
We set up a series of Google Docs (and a fun Google Draw moment when I got to draw the first, basic map [probs one of my favorite parts of any book]). This allowed us to write simultaneously, easily track suggestions and changes, and get things going without having to both have Word or whatever.
We’d have weekly calls reviewing what we’d written and the edits we made to each other’s sections and then discuss what each of us would be writing for the coming week. We didn’t always make our weekly word count goals but we kept at it and the writing part ended up coming together in what I feel was a pretty short timeframe for a first novel.
We decided to self-publish as an ebook on Amazon because easy and free and guaranteed, unlike the traditional publishing route. And now here we are.
What did we actually write, though?? A fantasy gay romance, of course. You know that’s my scene. We both read quite a lot of gay romance and fantasy alike and we both know that, in the niche of gay romance ebooks, there are many gems but also many mediocre books out there. Not just books we didn’t love but ones with shoddy editing and unfortunate-looking covers. So we felt pretty confident that we could enter that market with something we were proud of and at the very least expect people to say, “Yes, this is a real book!”
So we took special care in editing and proofing–ourselves and with professionals–and we commissioned a very nice cover, leaning firmly into romance territory, though I’ll admit that our book is more of a slow burn romance than others I’ve read, we’ll say.
I’m so happy to have this book out in the world and I hope that you’ll give it a look if it sounds like something you might be interested in–or maybe even if it’s not, never hurts to try something new! You can take a look at our Goodreads page here or just go straight to Amazon here. Check out our little blurb below, the description on those pages, and happy reading!
Kel is doing his best to run away from his past, until an encounter with three deities and the granting of an unachievable quest force him to face everything he’s been trying to forget. Now, Kel must learn to control his dangerous magic in order to defeat the god of death’s plans for world destruction. Ilun, the god of death, should be trying to defeat Kel, but all he seems to be doing is showing up at inopportune times and making Kel feel things he shouldn’t be feeling for his enemy. Will Kel be able to embrace his magic that only seems to hurt? And will he be able to harden his heart against someone who seems to accept every destructive part of him?