10 things that made my 2016 (a little) better

For most people, 2016 was a fucked up, miserable, factually terrible dumpster fire of a year. Icons died, racists thrived, and everywhere you looked, someone else was telling you not to be so upset, not to take it all personally, and not to worry because they were still getting what they wanted out of life, so that must mean you’re overreacting…

No, you’re not.

Icons matter because they tell us we live in a world where our aspirations are possible, and politics matter because the choices politicians make affects every bit of our existence, and racists matter because their willingness to be vocal and noticed in major ways means that a) racism never really left*, and b) they think society is swinging back to the old, oppressive, whites-first, straight people first, ablebodied people first, and especially, aggressively, men first, ways.

* I know it never left. That’s obvious to anyone who isn’t white, and to anyone who spends any time with and caring about people who aren’t white, or even actually listening to the white racist folks all around us. But a lot of well-meaning people convinced themselves that we were living post-racially, and need the reminder that the fight for equality, in this way especially, is not nearly over.

We need to see the awful, horrible, bits of 2016 so we can fight against them. Dismissing the people who are upset about this year because it’s not been horrible to you, yet, just means you have enough privilege to have avoided what a lot of other people are going through, and you’re a selfish jackass.

But.

Recognizing that the world has been on fire doesn’t mean you can’t also appreciate the cool sips of water you manage to find in between the flames. Seeing and holding on to the good makes it possible to survive the bad, and maybe even fuel the fight against it. My 2016 has been hard not just for the larger, global reasons, but for very personal ones that mainly affect… just me. I struggled. I hurt. I was afraid, and I still am.

But… I found good in the year, too. In no particular order, here’s 10 things that got me through:

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1. Arrival. I’d read the Ted Chiang story several times before, and the movie is not quite the story — which was itself, brilliant  — but in its own way, as a translation of Chiang’s story (which is about, in part, translation)… it’s beautiful. It said things to me that I needed to hear. I got to see it just a few weeks ago, in a mostly-empty theater, at a Sunday matinee, with the love of my life, and it was a perfect couple of hours. It was a moment I needed very badly just then, and I’m so grateful I got it in exactly that way, with that person.

2. Destiny. Yes, the video game. I stumbled on the free trial at the beginning of December, found out a couple of writer/agent friends were also playing, and jumped in. I love it enough that I was given the full copy as a gift a week later, just because my happiness was obvious. The game is gorgeous, the voice actors are recognizable in a way that adds to the game (rather than distracting too much from it) and I’m good at it. When I do well, I get prizes. Yay!

I also like that it’s very mission oriented, which for me means that I can play through a mission or strike in about 20 minutes, and then I have to pause. I might have to go talk to someone to get the next mission, or turn in my engrams (they’re like… virtual carnival tickets) to get my loot, or dump stuff I’ve got too much of, but it’s a moment for my brain to think, “Ok, that’s done.” I play one mission, and then I go do other things. I’ve had favorite games before that easily lent themselves to day- or week-long binges, and if I did that with Destiny, I’d feel so guilty that it’d ruin the game for me. This is a self-indulgent fun that doesn’t interfere with me actually accomplishing things, and that’s exactly what I needed from it.

I need fun. Plus, the game devs have a lot of fun with the game. This trailer, for a new racing bike option in the latest update, is exactly what I mean.

3. The support of people I mostly know online. Other writers, fans of my fiction, students of my workshop, clients, and people who just like what I have to say have been a constant source of happiness this year. From virtual hugs to holiday cards to emails and tweets — it’s all a reminder that I am part of a larger community that cares about my well being and wants me to write more, to succeed in life. Even though I didn’t get out to any conventions this year, and won’t for at least part of next year; even though I don’t live in a big city, and often feel cut off from the writers I’ve gotten to know… I’m not entirely absent from their thoughts.

I appreciate you all, so much.

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4. My son. I rarely post about him publicly because I generally think that’s a very bad idea, but I will say that he’s doing well. He’s taller than me now, which is something we’re both getting used to, and he’s trying to find his way through those awkward teen years that’d have been difficult even if he didn’t have a serious speech disorder and an an absent father and a mother who doesn’t make enough money to do much with him. He could be an angry, selfish, terrible kid… and he’s not. He struggles, but he learns, and he is kind when I need him to be, and he loves me without reservation. As hard as it has been to figure out what he needs and how to give it to him, and as much as I sometimes resent people who have it so much easier, I’m very lucky to have this particular child. He’s a good person, and I don’t ever want to let him down.

5. The Affordable Care Act. It saved my life.

6. My bullet journal. My person has been using this system for a couple of years. He would show it to me when I asked, but never pushed it on me. Never insisted it would change my life, or anything like that. It just worked for him, and he, quietly, like he does, went on using it. Earlier this year, I finally said, “I think this might work for me, too. Can you explain it to me?” Right after work, he came over with a new Leuchtturm 1917 journal book, and walked me through exactly how to make bullet journaling fit what I needed it to do. I’ve been using it ever since as a combination diary/to do list, and it’s helped me keep days sorted from each other, plus let me look back and see how much I really am getting done, on days where I feel like I’m slacking. I feel more organized and I’ve kept on top of things I know I’d otherwise have forgotten.

(Want to try it? Start here.)

7. Deciding on life plans for the next couple of years. We sat down  a couple of times this year, and talked through what we all needed (he, and I, and us together, and us with my son) and outlined the future. I’m making some big changes, and following through on some old plans. Right now, life is still hard, especially financially, but if everything goes according to plan, that’s going to change soon enough. Where I am in a couple of years should be dramatically different from where I am now, and I can’t wait.

8. My ADHD medication. If you need help to keep your brain, or body, functioning, there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is different, and while celebrating our differences is important and good, it’s also okay to realize that some differences might be keeping us from living — or thinking — the way we want to. As much as it’s acceptable to get a cast put on a broken leg, it should also be acceptable to seek medication for a disorder like ADHD, if it’s serious enough to impact your daily life. In my case, having ADHD is like trying to juggle a dozen different thoughts at any given moment, and forgetting half of them when I try to focus on any one. With the medication, I can hold on to a train of thought for long enough to act on it, and I stop doing things like burning food I suddenly forgot I was cooking. It doesn’t give me super powers, but it makes a big liability into a small one, so rather than trying to run a marathon while also being chained to an anchor, I’m trying to run a marathon while also feeling a bit lazy and wearing uncomfortable shoes. Things become possible, but I still have to do the work. Which, I think, is fair.

9. My midnight trip to Columbus, OH. I snuck away to join my person in Columbus, OH, for a day of touristy reminiscing about where and how he lived when he was younger. It was my only real adventure this year, a sudden, spontaneous, whirlwind of travel that involved more time on a bus (there and back) than we were actually in Columbus, but it was totally worth it.

10. My partner, my buddy, my love, my person. He knows why.

I hope you had people and moments in 2016 that were worth remembering, even as we celebrate this year finally coming to an end.

 

Changing Plans (for now)

After several months of working to build my freelance side gig into a reliable full-time business of my own, I was nearly to where I could at least pay my usual expenses without too much help, and on track to inch my way forward into financial stability. I was so close! I started making plans again. I felt hopeful, even with the rest of 2016 grinding us down.

On my birthday, at the end of November, I was mistakenly hit with a direct debit from my checking account for almost $1000. Because of that, I was hit with bank fees for everything that was paid out of my “overdraft protection” for the next two weeks, while I scrambled to make up the missing funds. I’ve done all of the paperwork and phone calls and I’m trying to get it back, but it turns out the payment — to my student loans — can be both accidentally taken and irretrievable at the same time. They’re investigating, they said, and I may get it back, in 90 days or so.

They’ll let me know.

Because of this, everything else fell apart, like I was juggling a dozen eggs and then someone sped up the music, until I couldn’t keep time with it anymore, and the pieces I was trying to balance suddenly crashed to the floor. I worked harder than ever, but it wasn’t enough, and ended the month with a cold that I am pretty sure was brought on by lack of sleep, and stress.

I don’t feel right yet, but I have to keep going.

Due to the unexpected financial problems I’ve had this month, I’ve decided not to attend any conventions until at least Fall 2018, or do any kind of travel. (This means I won’t be able to be at Boskone this February.)

I do miss everyone, and I do feel lonely and isolated here sometimes, since it’s just me and mine and we’re not tapped into the same kind of writing community I’ve gotten out of my FB/Twitter/convention relationships with other writers. But, as tempting as conventions are, I am still behind on rent and bills. I’m still worried every day, and that interferes with my work.

And, I’m not writing regularly because of all the stress — it turns out, I need to know my son is safe and my life is relatively stable before I can be “selfish” enough to write, since that’s a thing I do just for me.

I know me, though. I will get my money, my life, and my writing back on track, consistently. Then I can focus on getting back into the world.

I hope to see you all, out there, soon.

My 2016 Awards Eligibility Post

#sfwapro

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I have two short stories out this year that I loved and am proud of, for entirely different reasons, and which are also “award eligible”:

That Lucky Old Sun” Apex Magazine, Issue 80. January 2016.

I started out the year with an appearance in a big, pro-rate, well-known, solidly genre magazine. I love that my first appearance with Apex ended up being a solidly genre story which still flips Golden Age conventions on its head.

I write a lot about the people on the edges of, or left behind after, more “traditional” SF tropes have taken place. This one tackles McCarthyism and atomic age SF — stories about nuclear war and rocket ships and fleeing dying planets for new worlds — by focusing on just one little girl, and her mother, and one day of their life together.

Most readers got what I was aiming for, calling it “a very chilling tale”, and “a sad, lovely, hideous, wonderful comment on human folly” so what else could I ask for? (You can read more reviews of this story here.)

Ok, maybe I also am enamored of this review, which said:

“And that the story follows a mother and her daughter on this day is bleak as fuck, but also I rather enjoyed it. There is something to be said about this, that this is where fascism leads, that this is where intolerance and bigotry lead,” and then suggested “it’s a wrenching story and a sad one, very much worth reading but maybe prepare some cat videos for the aftermath.” (I cut out the spoilers but the whole review is fabulous if you want to read it after you’ve read the story.)

One Echo of an August Morning” Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal. Issue 1.3, Summer 2016.

This is a slightly strange, experimental, speculative fiction story set in the present (sort of), about parallel worlds, loneliness, and the nature of time. I loved being able to focus on details, to write about a woman truly living in the moment, and the fact that I got to extrapolate real science from a real math theorem that really exists.

I love math. And science. And writing science fiction that is solidly founded but still weird. Please take a look — you can also read this for free online — and let me know what you think.

A couple of other things I had published which you might have missed (but aren’t “award eligible”):

  • “If Wishes Were Feathers” (original fiction) appeared in the Art & Words show, October 2016, along with “Myth of the Mother Snake” (reprint poem, link goes to original appearance).
  • “Call Center Blues” (reprint) Luna Station Quarterly, September 1, 2016.
  • “Tomorrow I Will Bury My Dream In The Dirt and Let It Go” (poem) Wordgathering, September 2016.
  • Three SF haiku, Scifaikuest, May 2016 print issue and online.

And original work which is only posted here on my site:

I hope you found something of mine that you enjoy. If so, please let me know in the comments!

Thank you.

First reviews of my latest story, “That Lucky Old Sun”

In January, Apex Magazine published my short story, “That Lucky Old Sun”, to my great delight. You can read it online for free, here. (You can also buy the whole issue for Kindle here.) If you haven’t read it yet, be warned that there are minor spoilers below.

I was nervous before “That Lucky Old Sun” came out; it’s the longest short story I’ve published to date, and it plays with an old SF trope in a way that readers might either love, or hate, or not notice at all. You can never tell until a story ends up in the world and out of your hands. I was more nervous because this story is important to me. They all are, of course, though some of what I write is fun, some is dark, some is about projecting the future – I’m usually pushing at the edges of what I can do in a story, but the boundaries I’m pushing aren’t always the same.

In classic, golden age SF, we have these grand stories about building rockets, escaping doomed worlds, blasting off into space with limitless potential in front of us. I could write that again a hundred times, and who would question it? We know that tale. We’ve all read it. With this story, I wanted to talk about the people who get left behind. Not the rocket scientists or astronauts or the child looking out the porthole at a dwindling blue marble that used to be his home. Just regular, everyday people. Families. Neighbors. Small town folks, faced with things much bigger than themselves.

I am so happy with how it’s been received.

Amelia Crowly said:

This really gave me chills.
I love the way it *seems* to set the scene at once, only to become darker and more intriguing as the story progressed.

On Twitter, @robertired said:

It’s amazing. Subverting old school sci-fi is something that should be done more. Congratulations.

@ScottMBeggs said:

Beautiful short story from (via ). Uses the familiar to deliver the unexpected.

@MariaHaskins called it:

Wonderful, creeping-up-on-you #scifi

And @LaurenLykke said:

Just read and LOVED your story in !! Got me all teary-eyed!

Over at Tangent Online, Kevin P. Halett said:

Carrie’s “end of the world” science fiction story is time and world ambiguous, telling this often-told story from a new perspective. The protagonist is a small girl, innocuously spending what could be her last day with her loving mother, who knows what’s coming. The author touchingly portrays the mother’s loving patience and the girl’s innocence in this easy to read tale.

Telling the story from the little girl’s perspective made it darker and more compelling. I found the writing engaging from the very beginning and it continued to hold me even though I could guess where it might end; a pleasing new variation on an old theme.

Lastly, and with the most spoilers… At Quick Sip Reviews, Charles Payseur said:

………….okay then. Yeah, this story is a bit dark, a bit…well, a bit very dark, about a child, Melanie, and her mother as they sort-of wait for the end of the world. The setting is vaguely futuristic and also rather dystopian, a place where people are judged based on their skin but not exactly the way that they are now. Here it’s not exactly race it seems but something in the blood that changes the skin’s color and might do other things to it. Whatever the case, it means that there are vast systems in place to try and “contain” it, mostly by reporting on neighbors and living in a police state and it’s an all around not-good scene. And yet the “problem” persists and so the government decided to just bomb everything. Bomb it all and then return to reclaim the wiped slate. And that the story follows a mother and her daughter on this day is bleak as fuck, but also I rather enjoyed it. There is something to be said about this, that this is where fascism leads, that this is where intolerance and bigotry lead. That there are “understanding” people who are just part of the problem and that everything is built on hate without reason, hate because that’s all it is, and in the end it tears everything apart, tears families apart and lets the central lie of the story fester and burn like the fires of the bombs being dropped. Because a large part of the story is the absence of the father, who is “pure” and who has the chance to survive. It’s a wrenching story and a sad one, very much worth reading but maybe prepare some cat videos for the aftermath. Indeed.

10 Easy Resolutions We Can All Do in 2016

  1. Read more of everything.
    • Books are great, read those. But there are also newspapers and online news sites, short fiction, poetry, magazines, graffiti in bathroom stalls, motivational sayings at the bottoms of posters featuring kittens dangling precariously. Anything you enjoy reading, you should read more of. Anything that seems informative, you should read more of. Then, you should seek out the opposite information and read that, too, so you can decide for yourself which side you think is correct. Probably, the truth is somewhere in the middle. It tends to be. But the more you read, the better informed you are, and the better chance that you’ll be able to sort these things out for yourself.
  2. Go for more walks.
    • Move purposely, out in the world, alone with your own thoughts. Look around the scenery. Stand up straight as you walk. Don’t hurry. Don’t dawdle.
  3. Sleep whenever you can.
    • If you’re not being productive, if you’re tired, if you feel frustrated by your aging body’s desire to do less than your brain deems necessary at any given moment – go to bed. Rest. Nap. Sleep for many glorious hours. Whatever your body needs, do it. You’ll feel better, snap less, get more done, and generally be healthier.
  4. Replace every instance of “ferret” with: “they’re weasels, man, not pets; they’re fucking weasels“.
  5. Cook more often.
    • I don’t mean heating food according to the package directions. Make something from scratch. Taste all of the ingredients. Roll them around on your tongue. Know the individual flavors of everything going into your food. Use ingredients you adore. Love your food.
  6. Every once in a while, refrain from saying something. You don’t always need to. You can listen, instead.
  7. Pick one thing you are unhappy about, and fix it.
    • It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it can be. That’s up to you. Just find one thing that’s making your life worse, a thing or a person or a way of being that you’re trying to ignore, and find a solution. Get rid of it. Have it repaired. Break up with it. Move away from it. Rearrange it. Ship it off to where it actually belongs. Whatever you need to do, stop putting it off, and get it done.
  8. Laugh every chance you get.
  9. Give something away. Preferably to someone who needs it, or someone that you would love to have the thing, or – if that fails – to a charity which could use the thing. You really don’t need all of those things.
  10. Take a day off. Listen to some music. Take a walk. Kiss someone you fancy. Eat a nice lunch. Maybe have a nap. Whatever you want, as long as you don’t do anything important at all.