I’ve spent the last week here at the coast, the lovely North Carolina coast. When I first came here a decade ago, I was shocked that such a place existed. In my experience, the ocean had only been cold and unforgiving, full of rocks and churning waves (I’d had two near drownings before 12, and let’s just say we had a tenuous relationship at best).
But here is a calmer, gentler, warmer side of Neptune. The white sands, the blooming yucca, the magnificent dunes covered in cactus and Gaillardia and sea oats. The waves that come up to my knees and don’t tower overhead. The blue-green waters, the dolphins, the sweet breeze. When I’m here, I achieve a certain kind of mental zen, an odd white noise of thought brought about by the landscape that’s unlike any other place.
I’m not a beach person. I should point that out. Sand, sunscreen, and beach bumming are just generally not on my list of faves. But after ten years of visiting this same beach, in those rare moments of quiet and freedom from childrens’ requests and the hustle and bustle, I still tap into that sense of peace. I usually find it on a boat, but I found it somewhere else this year.
For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, you’ll notice that I’ve been starting to run. In the hectic life I lead, I needed something that was mine, something that got me out of the house and away from all the noise of life.
But this is highly amusing on a number of levels. First, I’ve never been a runner. In high school and elementary school, there were few words I feared more than “the mile run.” It was a yearly horror. I’m not really built for running. Aside from the physical limitations (mitigated through surgery) I’ve never managed to do more than sputter and gasp my way for a few minutes and give up. Some people can look back to times in their lives where they managed great feats of athleticism, but that’s never been me. There’s nothing to reclaim.
Still, I love my neighborhood (even though it’s seriously hilly) and my puppy kept looking at me with his big eyes. So I started. And I didn’t use an app, other than to track my runs, and I just moved. Right shoes. Right clothes. Great canine motivation. My first few “runs” were really more like stumbles down the hill. But I noticed something new. I’ve been doing yoga for years, and instead of slipping into gasping and sputtering, I started falling into a breathing pattern. In (2, 3, 4), out (2, 3, 4). I became a machine. Oxygen my fuel, my lungs the engine. And it wasn’t exactly easy, but it was somehow… satisfying.
Then I got here to the beach. The week previous, I’d managed to run for 10 minutes straight. Then, my first night here, I decided to run in the dark for a mile. I tapped in to that stillness. Instead of rugged hills, it was all flat going. Ocean breeze. Stars above. All thought vanished, and I became the machine. In (2, 3, 4), out (2, 3, 4). I hit that point where I was no longer in my body, I was sort of floating above everything else and just going, going, going…
And I ran a mile.
No, it’s not your mile. Yes, I’m aware that people run ultra marathons, which make my mile look like a lap around a kiddie pool in comparison. I’m not in it for the stickers on the back of my car. I’m in it to keep the Blerch away. I’m in it to find some zen. Just like writing books, it has nothing to do with what everyone else is doing and everything to do with me. It’s a selfish act, sure. But it’s an essential solace. Every step is another word in a sentence, every breath punctuation.
I haven’t written much in the novel, at least not on paper. But this is Joss’s world, out there. And while I’ve always had a fear of the waves, I feel like this year I made some peace with them. On foot, or in the waves, I’ve achieved some kind of understanding. And, in spite of the craziness of a full-out family vacation, I’ll take that as a considerable victory.
But while that’s all very interesting, I’m thinking about villains.
I’ve never liked simple villains. Being evil for evil’s sake just doesn’t do much for me. And especially in this book, I had a deep and abiding desire to make villains that aren’t always villains. Friends who turn. People who go mad. Deals done wrong. Because while harm is a choice, circumstance is a great catalyst. No one starts out doing bad things. It happens, and usually it happens because they think they’re in the right.
A good villain is the hero of their own story, or something like that. Not my quote. Apparently Tom Hiddleston? Yes. I’ll go with that.
If you’re being picky, there are at least four villains in this book. They love and hate each other. Some are reformed villains. Others swing the other way, starting off seemingly innocent and just.
But that’s the thing about godlings. They live as long as they can stand (which is a better descriptor than saying they live forever). They have a long time to think about things. To rationalize. To warp.
And the love stories. There are two. And none of them end really happily, but one at least doesn’t end the worst way. And sometimes I think that love produces the worst villains.
Anyway. Next week we’re off for a week of beach vacationing, and since for the first time in years I seem to be able to use a regular keyboard without excruciating pain, I may just finish this. There is a kind of poetic justice in being by the ocean and finishing Joss’s story.
LaRoche puts it better than I do. From his diary entries, which Joss uncovers:
I am being torn apart by this. The matter that makes me a godling is rending apart beneath my flesh. I spend all day trying desperately to hold everything together. I am holding myself together and holding them together. Sraosha is not dead. If he were dead, I would be free of this pain at least in part. But it as if I have a wound now inflamed with hatred and ire and a need for revenge.
Heavens, Joss, I have been such a blind, selfish creature. I have loved her more than anything on the earth. And while I learned every inch of her over the years, I also learned to permeate every crack. We have played games with each others hearts so long I can’t remember when the last time I looked at her and did not want to make love to her and kill her at the same time. I have kept parts of her locked within myself, and I have made it almost impossible for her to go.
I cannot love as I have loved,
And yet I know not why;
It is the one great woe of life
To feel all feeling die.
— Philip James Bailey
“Oh, Joss, it’s a great and tortuous circle. We have found each other, time and again, across time and across worlds. Which of us began which poison? I am, and am not, a product of my own mind. I was shaped, as you were shaped. Sraosha trained up Verta, and Verta trained up me—and I found you. And we fight and hate and wound and take down entire worlds with us, century after century. And for what purpose? Do we truly make world better? Or are we simply forces of destruction? I have to believe there is some reason to all of this, some greater plan, some great melody that I have contributed to. Or else the alternative is too bleak to even ponder.”
From Watcher of the Skies
I’m almost finished with Watcher of the Skies. Hitting that point where I feel it all whooshing to the conclusion. And rather than show you a snippet, I thought I’d just let you take a look. I’ve been busy at the Pinterest board, and it’s got a lot of spoilers in it. Or, at least, to me, it does. It might not to you. A bit Regency, a bit Classical, a bit Victorian… and lots and lots of water.
Joss’s story is sad. Sadder than I thought it was going to be when I started. It’s still got a lot of light moments, including a pair of cats named Puke and Shit. As you do.
Last, from the poem that inspired the title:
On first looking into Chapman’s Homer, by John Keats
MUCH have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told 5
That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken; 10
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
I’m closing in on 90K with Watcher of the Skies, and I’ve been elbows deep in Pinterest and my board there. I thought I’d add it to the RSS images over there—> so you can see it. You can also visit here. My birthday present (and getting a real job present) this year was an iPad Mini, and it’s really done nothing for my Pinterest obsession.
But! I figure time “researching” is still time well spent. You will see lots of waves and fish and faces.
Just a little longer to go, and the book will be through draft zero.
At my last job, I once got stuck “in the weeds” during a meeting. At least, according to the Boss. You see, I was in a meeting with Dudes Higher Up. And they had Opinions. And their Opinions came into direct issue with my Experience. And I’m not someone to Shut Up and Say Nothing. In other words, getting stuck “in the weeds” meant that I didn’t back down. I asserted myself. The full context of the conversation was, “Next time that happens, don’t get stuck in the weeds.” So, in other words, back down next time. Don’t assert yourself.
This encapsulated the heart of my frustration at the previous place of work. Which is all over and done with and, thanks to the heavens, I’m at a place now where my opinion isn’t just listened to, but appreciated. People come to me with questions. They actually care what I have to say and want my advice. There are tons of bright, intelligent women all around me. Ditto with the dudes (but, no offense dudes, you’re not exactly hard to find in the business world–while there were some brilliant women before, there were so few women to begin with it was always overwhelming to be in such a minority).
Which is to say that I’m feeling very satisfied lately. My brain is in a good place. Writing’s been slow, but that’s to be expected. I had thought, at some point, that motherhood would be enough. It’s hard to admit that I didn’t feel fulfilled as a full-time mom. Even with my son’s ASD and my daughter clearly needing me around, it felt selfish to say: “This isn’t enough.” They were a different kind of weeds, I guess. I turned to my husband one night during the whole Great Work Debate of 2013, and said, “Y’know what’s the worst part? I just feel invisible.” And in some ways, it was the same kind of invisibility at the last job. I’m just the kind of person who does my job. I do it really well, to the very best of my ability. But if I’m just left to my own devices, I sort of shrivel. I’m by no means an astrology follower, but I’ve always been a bit of a stereotypical Gemini. I crave conversation and collaboration and thoughts and ideas.
Balance isn’t easy. And there are some days that I don’t feel I get any. I crashed and burned a little this week, having ended up with pink eye and a sinus infection on top of all my allergies. But I’ll recover. The thing is, up there in my head, things make sense. Natania is a person who is appreciated and listened to, who’s a part of a great team at home, at work, and during extracurriculars (because who would I be if I didn’t have a half dozen projects going at once?). Natania can flourish as a writer when she feels appreciated and listened to in the real world. Her happy little fantasy worlds (which aren’t exactly happy, let’s face it) can grown and flourish when all of Natania is happy.
And apparently I slide into the third person in some cases.
Anyway. Once upon a time in a far away land, I imagined that I would raise children and be blissfully happy, writing every evening and conventioning. But the truth of the matter that, well, that still costs money. And full-time mommying is hard work, man. Like I said, I wish that it was completely satisfying for me. I wish that said dream could just materialize. But oddly enough, I like having a 401K plan. I like dorking out with my coworkers about social media.
Do I have more time than I had before to write? Well, no. But I have a little more brain space. Sure, there’s been a transition period. But for the first time in a very long time I’m working a flexible job that actually allows me to go home well ahead of dinner. I get time with my kids, I can fiddle in my garden. Then once the kids are asleep I can write. (Or, uh, watch Doctor Who or Doctor Who, which is totally, ahem, the same thing.)
My rambling point? It’s okay to embrace the weeds. It’s okay to admit you can’t do stuff. It’s okay to admit you feel fulfilled even if you aren’t writing 100% of the time. Full-time writer status is something so few people find. And someday, sure, I’d like to be there. But I have a feeling I’ll be in retirement by then and hopefully writing isn’t write-to-live, but write-to-love.
Indeed, I’ve been busy. I started the new job a month ago, and it’s been honestly quite awesome. There hasn’t been much in the way of writing, but I’m okay with that. I’ve found that it’s best to be realistic about these things. I had a brief moment of insanity where I thought that it might be a good idea to try and finish Watcher of the Skies in time for my daughter’s first birthday (marking two books since she was born) and then I laughed a while and poured myself another glass of wine.
I had a visit from my best friend, Karen, all the way from Arizona. And she, as usual, triggered all sorts of writerly thoughts. Karen and I met years ago on Elendor, and though we never actually managed to RP together, we struck up a deep and amazing friendship bolstered by our love of writing and shiny things and the Beatles and thrifting (among others). We get each other, and her Baggins to my Took works marvelously in the grand scheme of things (though I believe we were both Burrowses when we met). We spent last weekend together and ate good food and drank good wine, and laughed and cried and plotted. We antiqued and sat in the rain and inspired one another in a myriad different ways. It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years of friendship, through its own trials and tribulations. But to have a friend like that… it’s a magical thing. In some ways, we’re so different. But in the ways that matter, well… it’s like we don’t even need words sometimes.
This is all to say that the last month has got me thinking a great deal about writing and living. Am I a little sad that I haven’t finished my draft? Sort of. So much of my early writing career was focused so much on the writing, on the physical getting brain to paper, that it became easy to forget that I had another point to life. Sure, I cranked out lots of novels. But there’s also that other part: you know, living. I’m totally on board with the whole sacrificing stuff to write. It’s worth it. But to a point. There’s a life to live, flowers to plant, songs to sing. Forgetting to do that means that you lose out on the most important tool in any writer’s toolbox: experience.
Which once again makes me think of Keats and his life of sensations. Which makes me think that I ought to spend some time writing today.