The State of Me: June 2018

This is my new friend Henry.

Another quick one because: a) the election and b) medication.

So bullet points:

  • Latest New Dog update suggests that IF they find one for me, next class starts in September so I should hear something next month. I’m not banking on anything. 2018 is much more likely.
  • It’s bipolar redux month: I’ve just gone back on quetiapine. My mood’s been plummeting and my anxiety’s sky-rocketed. Some of it was personal but getting a rent notice three months early and paperwork from the DWP a year early (to add insult, on a Saturday) did not help.
  • I’m taking enough that I feel stoned until around 2:30pm each day. Coffee helps but only a little. Oh and I slept for 14 hours last night, right through until mid-afternoon.
  • And I missed most of the election, which turns out to be a good thing. Urgh.
  • I’ve moved into Nero’s permanently now and am accruing a lot of free coffees by being savvy (you get a bonus stamp for bringing your own mug which allows me to spend a lot less on coffee, as well as making sure it doesn’t cool).
  • When not in Nero’s, I seem to be in the Lamb. It’s a little pub with a courtyard in spitting distance of my bus stop and they even have their own cat: Henry, Lover of Dreamies. We’ve bonded and it’s not in the least bit creepy that I now carry Dreamies in my bag.
  • Yesterday was the first anniversary of the Great Name Change. I bought myself a throw in celebration.
  • Speaking of the Great Name Change, I’m still encountering issues. Like the DWP deciding to ignore the loss of a middle name in my paperwork. It’s taken me a year to notice as they seldom any middle name unless it’s renewal paperwork and they don’t usually send me large print. I’m hoping this has now been fixed. The Deed Poll was pretty clear about my old name and my new one.
  • Wonder Woman was amazing, BTW. I’ve seen it twice and, oh, the arse-kickery.
  • American Gods is, similarly, one of the few TV shows to really get my attention.
  • People have started calling me Ash in earnest now. I like it. I’ve never had a contraction of a name I’ve loved before.
  • The cats love me; D is still a bitey little shit.
  • I’m still writing but my process has slowed. I broke my Amazon account so don’t really want to go anywhere near KDP for a while, even though I spent a week dealing with Amazon and the angelic CSR who eventually helped me fix everything. Triggers are a bitch.
  • I’m writing a proof of concept story called “Proof of Concept”. I’m hoping it’ll be ready for crit next week. That aside, anything more complicated is on hold. Though I do have an idea for a fantasy series connected to this particular short.
  • It’s sorta, kinda summer. Yay!
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The Liner Notes: “Bindings, Seen and Not”

First off, a note on my year out (as we’re into May and well into the mid-year), this doesn’t mean I’m not writing. Far from it. It just means I’m not publishing, mainly because I just can’t financially or psychologically do it right now. I also have nothing I’m ready to let go yet, much less get professionally edited. I’ve not even sent out a short story yet, despite writing quite a few. This is basically just me being a little fragile at the moment so I’m focusing my sights on what I feel like writing, as opposed to a schedule which will just put pressure and stress on me.

Remember: stress + pressure = mania.

Oh and I’m horrible to myself as well, in terms of the pressure I put on myself, the limits I aim for. So I need the time.

So far, so good.

You’re probably wondering: Asha, why is there a pic of Moleskines on your post header? I found the shop in Covent Garden and was very good but stationary is my thing, my one joy. But, they’re actually here to segue nicely into the Liner Notes for my current WiP which is all about a bookbinder living in a segregated and very technologically focused society.

Currently called “Bindings, Seen and Not” it refers both to the bindings in books, artfully hidden by endpapers, skill and straight lines, but also the state of things in Taborin, the city where this story is set. Ironically, due to the fact Maxov is biologically an intersex/third gender Ubani, a progenitor, he’s effectively a member of an enslaved minority. Society uses ‘it’, the Ubani use ‘they but some, like Maxov, actually identify as one gender or another, hence his pronouns. Anyway, as he notes in the text, he can see his bindings the Directorate has placed on his people which gives him infinitely more power than most would think:

Technology could change words on the page, you could with print as well, it was just a lot more obvious and harder to ignore. Even the Ubani pretended to be blind, sometimes, to keep themselves and their culture’s existence, safe.

They were all bound in knots, except the Ubani—chattel to sterile families, passed like pieces in a game—who saw and felt theirs every day. Rough against their skin, too tight. He pitted the others, the remnants of old Atridia, because their bindings were ribbons so fine, so soft, they didn’t notice the hangman’s noose around their throats.

I do actually know how to book bind, I learnt the basics a few years ago and, thanks to YouTube, have been learning more advanced techniques. This is mainly due to my stationary fetish and my on-going love of Midori (most notebooks are staddle-stitched and easy enough to make). The story itself is triggered when Maxov’s days running a ramshackle emporium of old and mostly illegal books is interrupted.

 The story itself is triggered when Maxov’s (who’s in his late seventies at this point and very gruff expect for those he likes) ‘adopted’ daughter, Usaki, comes in and asks him to spirit away some incriminating letters and journals left to her son by his mother (Juran and Reshi Elaspe of The Fractured Era) by sending them on the Ghost Road, the progenitor-only escape route off-world and seeing them placed within the Ubani Archives. He accepts because the letters, from Juran’s biological male and female grandparents, are pre-Singularity, but also because Usaki asks and offers to pay the toll herself: by writing down her life story for preservation in the Archives. Eventually, someone else will add in the rest, how she lived, how she died, who will remember her.

So he makes her a book in which to record her story and, as he does, finds himself remembering his own past as well. He was born before the Singularity and given male gender after the pogroms and the nationalisation of Ubani and the introduction of a licensed lottery that saw the Ubani become surrogates to fertile, well-adjusted and connected, families. Good genes were welcomed, undesirables denied children and so weeded out. The Ubani themselves, referred to as ‘progenitors’ by the state, are forced into rotation, have their first child (always a progenitor) stolen from them as a life lesson and are moved from family to family, birthing sons and daughters before being dragged to another posting. Eventually, they just end up on the societal scrap heap. Just as Maxov found himself and decided to look opportunity in the face and rely on his community and himself.

Right now the story is a combination of a historical worldbuilding info dump and bookbinding porn (as in writing very descriptively about how to make a book, not literal porn). From endpapers, bone folders and signatures to binding and materials. I’m trying to evoke the emotion of a different kind of creation and it’s refreshing, actually, to focus on the enduring quality of a well made book, not just the words inside it.

As a bonus, this is the video which inspired the story:

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Time For a May Update!

So it’s time for an update, it’s been a couple of weeks and I currently have a D on my foot, which means I’m stuck.

Send help and chocolate!

But, seriously, spring is … erm … springing. We have blossom and my windows are open/the Sonos are on half-pelt. Life’s okay.

My foot is going to sleep. Crap.

But, yeah, I survived London and Easter. S’all good. My mood has been relatively stable which is nice, though my anxiety remains through the roof. Not so good but it’s a work in progress. Shall we do this through the medium of bullet points, just for brevity?

 Okay then:

  • London was awesome. I really enjoyed it. I’m still paying it off but it was worth it.
  • Hidden Figures is even more awesome in the cinema. Bonus for having an actual American with me who can explain the whole political mess around it and the Space Race. Also, it makes me want to go back to my Space Race on an alien planet novella.
  • I am writing. My current focus is still on the Atridia books, specifically on a short story I’m calling “Bindings, Seen and Not” about a neutral gender bookbinder living in a city under state-sanctioned non-binary gender oppression.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale was amazing … and severely triggering. I want to watch the rest of it (I think there are like ten episodes). I’m not sure I’ll be able to though, it’s horrifically foretelling but incredibly relevant. I know a lot of people are noping out purely because of anxiety issues with the content.
  • In election news, I’m noping out. Due to a bureaucratic cock-up relating to the Great Name Change, I’ve been kicked off the electoral roll and won’t be back on it time for the local election. I’m very angry about this but also glad I caught it as I do want to vote in the general election next month. I just don’t want to have to listen to the election kerfuffle until then. Aside: I know it’s a cock-up because they have ZERO records of me under Old Name either and I’ve lived here for a decade and voted, both in person and postal. They also have no problems sending me Council Tax bills in my new name. It’s a work in progress but I don’t expect it to be resolved in time to vote locally (I have re-registered to vote and intend to give someone at Electoral a serious talking to about the legalities of this, I’m registered as a head of household and am not dependent of anyone else so there’s no reason for me to have been removed).
  • There’s no ETA on the guide dog front either. Sigh. The cats are picking up the slack though. Bramble and Gismo hugs are also helping.
  • I got an update on Uni’s progress and she’s doing so well. She’s happy and has a beach. That’s all I can ask for.
  • My mood has been yoyoing but nothing too hard-core though I managed to really trigger myself last weekend. It was unpleasant. Oh and I’ve been obsessing again, mainly on buying things, Field Notes and food. Oh and Midori, of course. But I’m starting to argue out reasons why I should wait (example: my phone is due an upgrade but, instead, I’m going to go sim-only for a few months/til the end of the year as it’s cheaper).
  • Money-wise, I sat down and worked out my income and did a spreadsheet. I’ve worked out a rough, date by date, payment plan and should be debt free just after my birthday. I even budgeted in a new Limitless card and my rent. 2018 should start out with a nice, clean, slate. If I can restrain myself and focus on the Big Picture.
  • At some point, I’m going to write that book on bipolar or, at least, how to manage things like money while dealing with the mood swings.
  • I’ve decided to teach myself bookbinding (I started learning it a couple of years ago), thanks to the help of YouTube. Actually, I’ve been a lot more crafty of late; mostly laminating stuff and experimenting with little things like making postcard-sized pictures for my fridge (mostly of upcoming movie posters and inspirational quotes) or laminating stuff for friends. I am now the proud owner of an awl, a craft knife, cutting map, guillotine and haven’t yet done myself any serious damage. Go me. My task for this week is to learn to saddle stitch and learn how to bind my own notebooks for my wallet (there’s more variety in terms of paper and cover colour). Plus it keeps my brain quiet which is the biggest thing.

  • I cancelled my gym membership. The pressure of attendance (I’m not an evening person, especially not when I ‘have’ to do something I don’t want to do) and my continuing plantar fasciitis had been driving me nuts. Said PF was getting better, then I went to London. Sigh. On the upside, I’m not missing the place and much prefer walking around Eaton Park with my guide dog owner friends and their hounds.
  • I’m eating better food. Simple meals which are easy to cook and fast (or involve the minimum amount of prep). This week it’s garlic and bacon pasta with chorizo and lots of herbs. Healthy and tasty.
  • My faux Midori wallet is working beautifully, as is the free diary I got from JP Books (though it runs out in September and I kinda want a dated one. Dates are hard.). I’ve been playing with the inserts and now have a zipper pouch, a kraft folder and a notebook inside each other on the first string and my diary and expenses ledger held together with a band on the second. It works perfectly. Oh, I added a Neo Queen Serenity tiara charm onto the string and it sits beautifully on my yen coin.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is freaking awesome. End of. I didn’t look at my watch once AND I’m going back tomorrow.
  • I’m looking forward to so much TV and so many movies. I have tickets to Alien: Covenant and Wonder Woman already. I’m actually going to the cinema physically and ordering in bulb because the Odeon site only lets me book two performances ahead online (in person I can book loads). It’s annoying and cramping my social life.
  • Doctor Who is actually kinda good this season.
  • American Gods starts tomorrow. YAY!!!!
  • I’m managed to keep on top of household stuff, though I’m yet to put my washing away. Small steps, Asha, small steps.
  • I’m back in therapy and it’s helping. Reddit is helping more in terms of a support group which is just odd but so welcome. Ditto my very closest chosen family.
  • Ramen is still awesome.
  • I finally got my hands on a Lindt 1kg Gold Bunny in the post-Easter sales and I don’t regret it. Not for one second. 😀
  • We are Groot, people!
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Progress and Short Stories

I’m still sick; this lurgy is going to be the week long suffering plus three week recovery kind. I hate those because even doing simple things leaves me lying on the sofa feeling like a piece of soggy cabbage.

I hate being ill but I had drawn out recovery even more. I’m able to do things like go out but I spend the rest of the day lying on the sofa and feeling really dizzy. I’ve basically been watching Breaking Bad for three days straight though I did manage to revise “Constructed Mind, Reforged Soul”. I even had a market in mind … and then discovered the anthology was cancelled this morning.

Sigh.

I’m trying to look on the upside: I have a story nearly ready to go with my crit group in a few weeks which is nice. Also, it’s my first nearly-done story for 2017 which is awesome given my three month funk (aka the Winter of Discontent). Shannon has reminded me that this is a big thing, actually revising a story and polishing it so it starts to shine. I have a couple of replacement markets in mind (it was originally written for a specific antho call last year so has only been sent out once).

S’all good, man.

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Retelling Old Tales: “Hearts of Stone and Age”

A while ago, I did Rachel Swirsky’s class on retelling old stories. This weekend I did Cat’s class on building characters (elementary, you might think, but still incredibly useful and well worth taking. Thanks to my Patrons who covered the cost as well!). The morning before, I started on a new story, which I’m calling “Hearts of Stone and Age” was very much a re-telling of The Little Mermaid but set in a secondary world I’m developing. Meren, the merfolk of this world (the Wasting World and the same one featured in “Pearls and Memories, Spilled and Scattered”), are wild and dangerous and very inhuman which makes it all the odder for a statue of one to sit in the harbour of a prosperous little port town.

It’s a nesting story and focuses not on the mermaid (who isn’t a princess), but on the sorceress (who in this story was the creature’s lover, not her enemy) and on her mentor who cursed the sorceress with unending youth. It’s still a story of two worlds meeting and things going wrong but

Cat asked us to do two exercises as part of the class, both of which really helped. The first was to write about the protagonist from their own perspective, who they are:

My name is Talin and I am old, I was a sorceress when the world was young and I lived in a small harbour town watching as it grew, offering my services to whomever needed it. I was cursed with immortality and, worse, unending youthfulness. It forced me to move around lest my secret be uncovered as everyone, in their heart of hearts, never wants to know death. I don’t know if my state can be stolen or another infected with it. But I also know that only when I find someone who accepts what I am and offers to take my burden from me without my asking them to do so, knowing what it means to live until the end of days immortal, can I pass from this world. And, until I fell in love, I never wanted to. The problem is my beloved is a creature of the sea; mortals and Meren, they can’t live in each other’s worlds and I don’t know if we go to the same place after we die. Meren turn to sea-foam, humans to bone and ash. So I turned my beloved into a statue, at her request, and continued to wander, seeking out the person who would release me but who would also keep the secret of what I was, only then can I return, free my beloved and we can face death together.

The second was to write about the protagonist for the point of somone who hates them, which is where the evil mentor comes in:

She was beautiful, thought that was more birth and breeding than any glamour or other woven magics. Her pretty heart reflecting in kind eyes and a desire to help, not hinder, those who came to her. She was my pupil once and I thought, perhaps, her goodness was just a front and I could seduce her into darkness. No, she was good to her sweet core and the dark deities, they cannot stomach purity. So I invoked them and blessed her with the long life of my kind but wove a curse. But, when she realised how dark my heart was and who I served, she ran, refuted me, and renounced all connection to our kind and the covenants. She went rogue and wandered and, you know what? She never stopped seeing that beauty in the world, even after civilisations had burned to ash and love, well it only made things worse.

The final one was to write about a possession that the protagonist carries with them and their relationship with it:

In the first days after the statue of the Meren holding her heart appeared in the harbour, everyone was very confused and no one knew where it came from. A week after, I took a piece of sea-smoothed glass found as we watched that last sunrise together to a local mason, asking him to please carve me a replica of the statue’s heart. By the time I returned three decades later, his main business was selling tiny stone and sea-glass statues of her. Mine, however, remained unique, no one wanted her heart, no they wanted the idiolised beauty of a carved sea-maiden. Her heart, in miniature, it has traveled years and miles in a tiny cloth pouch, kept safe deep in my pack. I take it out at night when I can’t be with her, when I’m lying in a tavern bed or camping in the wilderness. It anchors me to her even when I’m a life and a million miles from the ocean. One day I will return, let the heart return to the sea and speak the words which will free her from the stone.

The thing is, though these pieces will never make their way into the story, they did help me figure out the mechanics of the story. Oh and there’s going to be a showdown on the beach between the evil witch and the good sorceress, witnessed by an innocent bard seeking the truth to the legend of the Meren holding her heart in her hands. This is my first new story of the year and a nice take chance to try my hand at retelling one of my favourite stories.

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My Plan for 2017: Be Like D

No seriously. Look at him, this is the most chilled out, ‘I don’t give a fuck’ cat on the planet. He’s the world’s best feline role model, even if he’s bitey.

For my health, I need to chill out. I’ve spent 2016 taking on too much, pushing myself too far. It’s not that bad; I got off with a micro, stress-induced manic phase and one hard-core suicidal one, coupled with time of the month crashing (thanks, body). That’s light considering the Five Manic Episodes of 2015.

But it doesn’t mean I can do that shit again.

2017 is going to be about self-care, about being a little selfish. I need to get my triggers and IBS under control, as well as focusing on snowballing my way out of debt. Plus 2016 was a shit year (bar like two things) and needs to burn and the earth salted. I don’t know if next year is going to be better but I need to take it out.

Writing-wise, my aim is to quietly potter on whatever calls my attention. I will still try and submit short stories (I have enough for a collection at this point and sending them out is easy enough that I can do it in my sleep thanks to the Grinder). I’m also aiming to get some work done on longer projects before doing a full rebrand once I have the money in 2018, republishing all my books under the Asha Bardon byline.

But as for publishing and, especially, editing. No. I haven’t got the energy to go through the process, much less the crowdfunding side of things. I’ve got to learn that saying I’ll do something doesn’t bind me into actually doing it and things will get in the way which will always call issues.

I need space to breathe, space to write without expectation. That’s what 2017 is about.

On a personal front, I’m coping pretty well. I’m adulting, though I hate it, and surviving without bipolar medication. The trick is staying calm, monitoring my moods and using the 30-day waiting period before purchases, big or small. It’s still a fine line and I don’t know when the next obsession or manic phase will strike. That scares me.

I’m still worried about Class and New Dog but it’s on the backburner. I don’t need to worry about that right this second. New Dog will come when she’s ready and I’m very used to waiting. For now, all I can do is enjoy the end of year peace, the chance to reflect. Gods know I have a heap of things to look forward to in the coming months.

It’s hard, though. My brain is stuck in ‘what awful thing is next’ mode. It’s a bit like flight mode except it’s more about anxiety than instinct. I have an amazing therapist whose helping and I’m finding that if I can avoid things which trigger me then I’m much more able to cope. I spent the rest of my time reading up on living with various conditions, coping with narcissistic people (avoidance/NC works for me).

Some things are unavoidable but Habitica gives me bonus points for those.

I’m lucky in that I have people around me who are amazing, a core group who are my chosen family. Ironically, it’s taken the last year for me to realise who that actually involves. Some of my oldest friends are no longer friends because their worldviews differed so much with mine, and my needs, that it turned nasty. I don’t need people who spew poison or try to control me in my life, especially not when I’m trying to dig myself out of a hole I’ve created.

The important people, they’ve been at my side all the long and I can’t thank them enough for it.

So yeah, the next twelve months are about me. I’m actually looking forward to it as my main focus has been ‘I need to be x in case y or z calls’. The trick is shifting my focus to ‘I’m going to x because I want to, meeting up with an alphabet of people is a bonus’. I need to teach myself that it’s okay if I want dinner or see a movie, I don’t need other people unless we make a date. I need to live my life for me, not for anyone else, even though all the people in my life are awesome enough to get that I’m stupidly altruistic and don’t abuse that.

At the same time I like my routine, it keeps me from descending into slobbery and I’m proud of that. I don’t want to be the stereotypical ‘on benefits’ person who sleeps into midday and, besides, productivity is my friend. Early mornings mean peace and quiet and I value that a lot, just as I do the odd quiet day at home with a queue of movies lined up.

So wish me luck as we finally see the back of 2016 and begin a new, fresh, year. I’m looking forward to it already.

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