Saturday bonus–snippet

All right, my ghost-medium story isn’t shaping, but this other snippet from a different concept came out, so… enjoy! (It’s got all the cliches, but I figure as I go further I can figure out which ones I need and which I don’t.)

She’d once been beautiful, though it was hard to see how anymore—not just the vicious burn scars that splattered across the surfaces of her body visible behind her long lab coat, but the harshness and cruelty that infused every action, every line in her face made it clear that such a woman did not exist any longer. Yet if you looked, there were hints in the statuesque figure and its carefully controlled movements of what had come before.

Rex swallowed as she approached, shied away despite himself—as far as the chain that connected him to the floor would allow. He couldn’t tear his eyes from the foreboding yellow vial in her hand, the dosing gun she slid it into. “Mira,” he said, and his tone was soft and pleading. “Mira, none of this is you. It’s all him. You don’t have to do this.”

She smiled, as much as she could in spite of the scar tissue, but it was cold. “Your mistake,” she said, emphasizing every third syllable with a click of her heels against the stone floor, “is to think that there was ever a difference.”

Even had she still been fully human, it would have been difficult to resister her, at least from their relative positions; with her cybernetic arm added to the mix, seizing his jaw in a bruising grip, there was less than no chance. She met Rex’s eyes from a distance of inches as she brought the gun to his neck, her gaze fit to freeze steam in the air.

“We all serve God in our own ways, you say?” she hissed. “Now you can serve mine.”

Then she pulled the trigger.

The burning was instantaneous, sharper than in any injection he’d ever had before; Rex gritted his teeth against the pain as it spread, moving throughout his body with every elevated beat of his heart. He didn’t hold out long; despite himself, he felt scream rip itself from his throat as the agony grew and spread, infusing itself into shifting muscles and lengthening bones.

“You have always been a dog,” she growled, and her impossible hand let him go; in a second, she was out of the furthest range of his chains. “Now you can be my master’s dog.”

It was physically impossible that the wolfman serum should work so quickly, inconceivable that an injection should so completely remake a man. But as he hunched over with the shifting of his spine, felt the claws erupt from his fingers—he couldn’t deny it was true.

The transformation was almost complete before he felt it began to touch his mind.

He stared up at Mira, once his truest love, through wide, yellow eyes with the startle of comprehension as he practically felt words, concepts, facts fall out of his brain, felt his very personality shrink and sharpen its way away from him. He opened his jaws to speak one last time—but the only sound that came out was a small, pathetic whimper.

Seconds later, he couldn’t remember what he’d meant to say.

A minute after that, he couldn’t remember what he’d thought was so important anyway.

The wolfman formerly known as Rex Ambruglio lifted one lazy leg to scratch the itchy place at the back of his ear, then yawned his big jaws wide. Carefully, Mira approached, human hand extended with its fingers in a wide, placating gesture. “Are we all better now? Do we feel like being a good boy?”

She started as the wolfman lunged forward—but relaxed as all he did was shove his great, furry head beneath her hand in a pleading gesture. With a small chuckle, she scratched his neck, earning a guttural sound of contentment.

“You know,” she mused, “we might have stayed married if you’d acted like this before.”

The words didn’t make any sense to him. But he nuzzled close to her and thumped his tail against her, enjoying the familiar smell. He didn’t have the word for it, but the concept was clear. Home.

At his side, Dr. Mira Bergman just smiled.

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Song Analysis: The Rainbow Connection

One of my hobbies is to analyze (or over-analyze) song lyrics.

A lot of times, it’s a non-starter: there are a lot of songs that make no sense explicitly for the purpose of making no sense, and a lot of other times you have lines thrown together because they sound good rather than due to anything the writer’s actually trying to say. But discounting those, there’s some interest to be had.

(This is one of the reasons I like Warren Zevon so much; several of his songs take on a different meaning after you’ve dug into it a bit, frequently turning on one or two lines. Down at the Mall from Transverse City seems like a silly little piece making fun of consumerism, but I tend to find the whole concept hinging more on one line: We’ll put it on a charge account we’re never gonna pay. Which goes from “Silly people wasting all of their time and money trying to chase happiness in commercial goods” to “the entire thing is built on a fraud, there’s no actual money changing hands, and this is a very brief period of frivolous excess before everything crashes and burns because nobody’s producing anything.)

Anyway, rabbit hole.

Since I got pregnant, I started doing more analysis with children’s songs. Most of which, admittedly, don’t provide much in the way of material. But I find The Muppet Movie’s Rainbow Connection to be a fairly beautiful exception. Take a listen before I start:

It’s deceptively simple, and when I was looking for what other people had to say, I mostly found the same comment over and over: It’s just a kid’s song, meant to be light and cheerful, stop overthinking it. But, y’know, I’m constitutionally incapable of that—and more to the point, I think it’d be a lot less vague, and a lot less unsettling in parts, if it was actually meant that way.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of going line-by-line, because this has a bit of a tendency for missing the forest for the trees… but basically, after mulling it over for a long time, I basically came to the conclusion that… well. I think it’s about depression. And pushing through despite that, of finding something beautiful and meaningful even if everything in the universe tells you it only means anything in your head.

Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions—and rainbows have nothing to hide

Okay, so I’m going line-by line like I said I wouldn’t. But this first part of the first verse—for purposes of my analysis, I’d like to just leave this labelled as such: “The world says that the things rainbows satnd for—hope, beauty, God’s forgiveness, whatever—aren’t real, they’re illusory.”

That’s what we’re told, and some choose to believe it;
I know they’re wrong, wait and see
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me

Label: I don’t accept that. I don’t have anything to base it on, and there’s nothing special about me to give me the knowledge or faith… but I can’t believe that. I won’t.

Who said that every wish would be heard and answered when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it, and look what it’s done so far.
What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing, and what do we think we might see?

Label: My own good sense and reason tells me that everything hopeful, beautiful, and magical is stupid and illusory, just like the world said in the prior verse. Someone made it all up, and… it’s ambiguous, and I think intentionally ambiguous, what that’s done so far. Because you really could go both ways with it—that wishes don’t come true, or that the belief in wishes makes extraordinary things possible. I see that as a struggle within the singer, spoken wryly. (Because this is the speaker singing of his own observations, now, not a nebulous world that he can reject.)

Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me
All of us under its spell
We know that it’s probably magic

Label: But I’m still clinging to the fact that there is meaning, even if it’s nothing I can reason or sense, and that someday isn’t here yet.

Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices? I’ve heard them calling my name
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors? The voice could be one and the same

…this is the main part that makes me think it’s about depression. The rest of it’s kind of got a wry, exhausted sense to it. But, taking the sweet sound that calls the young sailors to be sirens, who inspire seamen to dash their ships against the rocks…

Label: My very brain is set against me, and trying to destroy me, and convince me that hope is an illusion

I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it, it’s something that I’m supposed to be

Label: And I’m losing

Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me

Label: …but I’m still not giving up, and cling to the idea. Even if I can’t manage to love or dream myself.

So, yeah, there’s my analysis of The Rainbow Connection.

I don’t know if it’s anything like what they had in mind. But… it’s the closest I can come to something that makes sense given all the lyrics.

I’d like to see the take of someone more familiar than me with faith and Christ and all that stuff… it’s just, particularly with the rainbow being a sign of God’s covenant and the fact that the World is continually trying to sever Man’s connection with God, and that whispering demons and singing sirens aren’t fully separate concepts from one another, there might be a more meaningful reading there. But I don’t have the background and I don’t have the knowledge to do well by it, so… I work with the tools I have, I guess.

But I do like the reading I’ve managed. Kind of… it makes me think of a little man in a coracle, one against all the elements without much in the way to guide or protect himself. But pushing forward regardless, because… the good stuff is out there somewhere.

And… I plan to cling to that, myself.

More fun with crayons!

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Crayons

Another art-only post. But I spent a little longer making the art than usual, so I hope it’s worth it.

On the downside… it’s made with Crayola crayons.

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I actually really enjoy working with non-standard, ill-respected materials. (One time when I’m not throwing things off the cuff, I’ll have to show you the portrait of a witch with a lamb I drew in Crayola crayons once–I sold the original for $80.) There are a couple of reasons. First is that I’m trying to resist the temptation I have with *any* hobby to immediately spend all of the money on the best materials, as though buying supplies is the same as accomplishing something. Very human. I have to resist it every time I toy with a new hobby.

The other reason is that I really believe the adage that it’s a poor workman who blames his tools.

I’m not against quality, expensive tools. I own a few dozen Copic markers and find them an absolute joy to work with. (I’ve needed to put together an order to refill my paler grays and skin tones for, oh, three years…) But you don’t need them. A piece with Crayola crayons will probably never be as pretty as something I could make with Copic markers, but you can still make a fun, functional piece.

(I also like to do a lot of my experimentation and doodling in dirt-cheap materials, only moving onto my expensive stuff when I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’m trying to do.)

…so, yeah. That’s, er, all.

Review(ish): Winging It! Confessions of an Angel-in-Training by Shel Delisle

So, part of the problem I have with reviews is that I don’t entirely trust my initial reaction—there are books I thought I really enjoyed at the time, but I… and then there are others that I didn’t exactly like, but wound up being interesting enough that I kept thinking of it in passing later.

Watchmen is a great example of the second type—I finished reading and was fairly immediately seized with a “What the hell did I just read?” But… even now, probably a decade and a half later, I’ll still randomly start conversations with my husband about various aspects. The author’s overarching nihilism is grating and difficult to get around… but he still ended up with some interesting conceits.

As for the former… hm. Peter Grant’s Take the Star Road probably qualifies. It was a fun romp, but there was nothing that really stuck with me afterward. (I should probably still pick up some more in the series, though, because “fun, a tad forgettable” is something likely to be mended past a first novel. And again, I really liked his prison chaplain memoir, Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls.

Sometimes, it goes the other way, though. Sometimes you’re pretty sure that something’s going to be fun-but-forgettable, and then it sticks with you.

Most recently, I’ve decided this applies to Winging It!: Confessions of an Angel-in-Training by Shel Delisle. As the title implies, it’s about an angel-in-training… who manages to convince God to let her come down to earth to be a guardian angel, despite her incomplete education.

I picked it up because I was broke and bored, along with a couple of other modern-day-fantastic books out of the free section of the Kindle store. (This one, at least, is still free! Yay!) And it was a great deal of what I was looking for—a light, not-particularly-dramatic read where no one’s really bad, we just get in our own ways a lot of the time. And I gotta say—I am a  sucker for an overall hopeful view of humanity.

All of this also got to why I thought it would be a very transient read.  Nothing particularly bad happens. The human characters (the cast is about half-and-half humans and angels) can be pretty flat. And almost all of the conflict comes from our protagonist rushing into the unknown like a charging bull without thinking once, much less twice, about what she’s doing.

…except that last part is actually what makes it so endearing. Grace, the “angel-in-training” from the title, is a really fun character with a really clear voice and… well, probably the wisdom of a small lizard, but all the heart in the world to back it up. It puts a person in mind of when they were young, were convinced they had answers to all the problems of the universe if only anyone would just listen… and I only wish that I’d had the spirit and resilience that she displays when it turns out she didn’t know as much as she thought she did.

And I still feel this way, years after I last picked up the book. (Just re-downloaded it to my current device, so hopefully that won’t be the case for long.)

So… yeah. If you’re looking for a light, hopeful read featuring a character with more gumption than common sense, I recommend it.

Meanwhile, I’m not nearly as broke as I used to be. So hey.  Maybe I’ll finally pick up the sequel!

For today’s ballpoint drawing, we have a charming family scene—me, husband, daughter. (Had I thought about it more, his tail would be curling around my ankle instead of lying on top of my foot… but, y’know, being unable to change things is a weakness of the medium.)

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Toofs

The child has been teething lately.

And let me tell you, before I had the kid, I was completely unaware of what teething entailed. I had kind of thought that it was sort of this continual, low-key grumpy that lasted from when the first tooth started poking out clear on to when the last one was fully in.

Well, it’s not that continual, for which I can only be grateful–so far, it seems like kind of this sudden surprise that involves shifted behavior for maybe a week or three, but is only really acute for a few days.

Those few days are something else.

Our child is, in general, a nice, cheerful, outgoing sort. Stubborn as a mule, and capable of fixating on something she wants to do for much longer than either Daddy or I is particularly capable of remembering to keep her away from it (if we’re serious, it’s necessary to physically remove it from her ever-increasing sphere of influence)… but bubbly, affectionate and nice company.

Unless there’s a toof coming in. Then, it’s batten down the hatches.

Of course, it’s a mistake to think of it just as teething. Some of it’s the knock-on affects. For instance, when she decides she wants to stop eating solid food. So her mouth hurts and she’s really hungry.

So.

Picture, if you will, a weekend where you’ve got a small, not-quite-verbal thing that seems to want to do nothing more than scream at you. Not in anger. No, just this continual, vocal outpouring is something is wrong and why haven’t you fixed it yet!? And, of course, you’ve tried–but absolutely nothing you’re trying works, and she won’t eat, and she won’t nap, and she won’t chew on a teether, and she won’t play with her toys with you, and…

(We’re also pretty clueless with kids, so I have to assume we were missing the Right Thing. Hell, I can’t even remember what I did and didn’t try, and your brain doesn’t work right when it’s continually being off-railed by the something’s wrong! shouting. But either way, it wasn’t working.)

…so, yeah, I didn’t get a lot of writing done this weekend.

That said. There is a good end to the story!

The part I just mentioned above pretty much only happened quite like that for about half of Saturday, until my husband came back from work and decided that we were going to chill out at our friend’s house. The one with seven kids. For whatever reason, as soon as we got to the alternate location, she started acting okay again (if not like her normal bubbly self), and all was okay.

And Sunday we were invited to a birthday party for a sixteen-year-old, where no one at the party seemed to have a sibling younger than eight. So the baby, once more, acted like a completely reasonable person (though, again, still not quite her normal self) as the teenagers passed her around like some kind of neat status symbol and cooed over her incessantly.

And then, on Monday, a return to normalcy.

*phew*

Toying with mood-icons.

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Getting Your Head in the Game

I’m having hideous trouble getting into my next book. And, unsurprisingly, it’s partly because I’m having trouble getting out of the last one.

That’s the whole point of writing short stories in between first draft and edits of the novel, mind–why it was always what I’d planned to do. Because the work just finished–the one I’ve been working on since March, if I recall, which is a big deal for someone who tends to pick up a project for a few weeks and then drop it–doesn’t want to let go, and it doesn’t feel like it ought to after four months of occupying main brain space.

(Yeah, it was a long time. It was my first. I’ll get quicker.)

And it’s not as though I’m even done with pre-editing work–for various reasons, within the next two weeks I need to compile all of my book-chunks (located in as disparate places as a composition notebook on my kitchen table, the drafts folder of one of my myriad e-mail addresses, and… well, anyway, they’re scattered, and not even all typed yet) into a single file. So that’s a pretty good reason not to banish it yet.

But I do need to get into my short.

Of course, I think that an even bigger part is that my toddler is teething, I’m transitioning to a new position at a new company for work, the house is in shambles and I’m incredibly behind on my social obligations. Getting my brain onto fictional worlds at all is tough, much less a new one.

But, y’know. I’ll persevere.

Here’s a picture of my initial concept of my main characters. Mimi Medium, a 25-year-old woman who’s been able to talk to ghosts since an accident stopped her heart (temporarily) when she was a child. She runs a low-key ghost-talking business out of a yoga studio in downtown [undecided city]. And then there’s Jake, a college kid whose parents hired her after he died under mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, he’s not talking hows and whys… and even worse, he won’t go away, even after the seance is over!

Mimi quickly realizes that the only way she’s ever going to have peace and quiet again is to get to the bottom of Jake’s death. But how can she do that when he’s doing everything in his power to keep it secret? And after getting to know him for a few weeks… does she even want to?

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I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t have much of an idea of where it’s going. But it seems like a cute idea, and if I can get to the point where I actually introduce him, I think their interactions will be a lot of fun.

…maybe that’s the answer. Just skip to when she actually calls him. Yeah…

Trusting the Experts

One of the most frustrating aspects of a lawyer’s life is that he doesn’t control his clients.
This may be a little hard to believe, given the difficulty involved in doing anything. And it’s always lawyers cited when some new silly restriction comes up–“Well, y’know, the lawyers are making us do it this way, we don’t want to be sued.”

And oh, I doubt there’s a lawyer in the country who has never wished he could make the client do what he was told. But it’s just not a power lawyers have. All they can do is advise, and then watch in horrified fascination as the client does whatever the hell he was planning on doing anyway.

I saw it in a divorce case, once, with the lawyer I interned for. I never got all the details, but I was sitting in the audience in court while the judge was hearing the case. The client had made an awful lot of money before the divorce started. He’d gotten arrested somewhere along the way, and was still serving. (Though he’d gotten changed into a nice suit for court.) And the fight, naturally, was over division of assets.

The judge spent a hell of a lot of courtroom time literally yelling at this guy.

I forget what most of it was–the guy was kind of a self-impressed jackwagon, and the judge wasn’t really much different. But the big explosion was when it turned out he’d hired another lawyer specifically for the purpose of handling (which I, and I suspect the judge, read as “hiding,”) the money.

Ohhh, that tirade lasted for ten minutes. “And instead of feeding and clothing your children–YOUR CHILDREN–you hire A LAWYER…!”

So, let’s just say that the judge was not happy with the client, which is never, ever a good way to start.

And then everyone went to chambers. Or, well, my lawyer-boss, the wife’s lawyer, and the judge. They may have even brought the wife in with them. The husband stayed outside with his guard.

And finally, after what seemed like forever, my boss came out with some terms they’d all come up with. Emphasizing how she really thought they were more than generous, and better than anything he was likely to get after a trial.

His response: She didn’t earn any of this, she doesn’t deserve any of it. I’m not giving her !@$%.

My boss tries another time or two to sell the deal. “You need to know,” she says, “that if the judge feels like any of your actions have been beyond the pale”–she used the actual legal term, I just can’t remember it–“he doesn’t have to stick with the equitable division formulas. He can force a split much more beneficial to your wife.”

!@#$ that !@#@#$. I’m not giving her !@#$@.

It was a train crash in slow motion. Given his position with the judge already well determined, and the fact that he was doing things with his assets that weren’t just paying regular daily expenses (kind of a gigantic frickin’ no-no when you’ve got a divorce in process–or even suspect one to be coming soon)… this wasn’t going to go well for him, at all.

So what did my boss do?

She nodded and brought back his refusal to the juidge.

(Final result? The decree of divorce was granted, the division of assets would continue to be litigated in the absence of an agreement. There weren’t any more court dates with that internship, so I never got to see it play out the rest of the way.)

And the thing is? I agree with this. It’s not the role of a lawyer to make decisions for his client. It’s the role of the lawyer to give his client all the options, and to pursue the client’s best interests to the best of his ability–as defined by the client. And thank God for that, because you wouldn’t believe how often lawyers get the best interests of the client just wrong.

You don’t believe me? I understand. Best interest is a really straightforward thing, and lawyers are smart people. How can they get something like that wrong?

Probation.

It seems that every criminal lawyer in the world wants to get his client a nice deal that involves however many years of probation in lieu of jailtime. Which sounds pretty sweet, right? Rather than spending six months in a holding cell, for instance, all you have to do is keep your nose clean for two years and you’re home free. Keep going to your job, hugging your kids, whatever. Who wouldn’t want that?

Well… screw-ups. (Which happens to account for a lot of the people getting arrested.)

When you’re dealing with a screw-up–someone who’s not going to stop drinking, won’t refrain from a fistfight if they feel like they’re being disrespected, or even doesn’t have reliable transportation to visit his probation officer (or enough of a clue to make arrangements)–you’re not giving him two years of restricted freedom instead of six months in a jail cell. You’re giving him two years in a jail cell after he blows his probation in two months. And I don’t know if it’s just being eager to get cases off their table or if probation looks better in their defense-lawyer statistics, but it just doesn’t seem like anyone gets that.

(Please note: I’ve actually not interacted with criminal law at this level, so I haven’t seen it myself. But I’m loosely acquainted with enough screwups to have heard the stories a lot.)

So. Here’s where I get to the point of all of this.

The Guardian–ever a bastion of respectable journalism (*ptui*)–recently posted a column called “The Charlie Gard case is heartbreaking, but society can’t shun its experts.”

And I’m not going to fisk it, because it’s an absolutely infuriating bit of writing that I don’t want to pore over closely enough to give it the treatment it richly deserves. It’s a ridiculous, toxic combination of the premise that society breaks down if we dare trust our own judgment instead of those uplifted souls qualified to make decisions for us, and the premise that sometimes it’s just necessary to kill children so that they don’t risk suffering.

(I debated between “kill” and “let die,” but in this case–where they’re actively preventing any of the several potential outcomes that result in continued life–“kill” seems more appropriate.)

And it’s bullcrap. Because that’s not what experts do. And more to the point, a philosophy that does erect experts to the level of head decisionmakers in the lives of the plenty… well. You ever wonder how you get societies with so little respect for human life that they fill mass graves with the living instead of wasting bullets on so many condemned? Or, to go a tad less extreme, individuals like Josef Mengele or Shiro Ishii? That’s where it starts, the idea that people are widgets to be moved around and controlled, rather than actors with any agency themselves.

You can call it populist all you want, insofar as the term has any meaning whatsoever. But the fact is that experts work for you, whoever it is that actually needs something done. They are facilitators. They are helpers. They get you closer to your goal.

They do not decide what your goals are for you and then dictate how you’ll get there.

Now I need to go drink heavily.

Today’s sketch is just playing with hatching and textures.

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