Sunday, December 29, 2019

Wrapping up the decade.

What are we calling this decade, anyway? The '10s? The Teens? I'm partial to the Aughts for years 2000-2009, and the '20s sounds just right for the upcoming decade, although whether we'll have a recurrence of the Roaring '20s remains to be seen. But this decade -- the one we're bringing to a close at midnight Tuesday -- I dunno. I guess I'll refer to it as the Teens for this post and see how it feels.

I hear the pedants out there: "There was no Year Zero! The first decade started with year 1 and ended with year 10! We won't be done with this decade for another year!"

I hear you, I say, but I don't care. For me, 2019 marks the end of several cycles. I turned 62 this year, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, which means I'm eligible for Social Security. This year was also my 20th year at the day job, which means I've worked as a legal secretary for 20 years. And more to the point for this blog, The Maidens' War was published in 2010 -- which means I'm in my tenth year as an honest-to-goodness published author. (This blog, hearth/myth, won't be ten years old 'til August 2021. Mark your calendars now...)

2019 is also going to be my last full year in the DC area, as I'm planning to retire and move away in July. But now that the calendar is actually kicking over to 2020, my long, long period of anticipation is nearly over and some anxiety is setting in. Where will I live? How will I live? I'm pretty sure I'll need a part-time job for a few years -- where will I get one? What kind of work will I be doing? How do I tailor my resume for job hunting in the 21st century?

I spoke with someone this week about the job hunting stuff. I told her I might want to go back to journalism, but it's been -- all together now -- 20 years. "How do you feel about networking?" she asked. With people I haven't talked to in 20 years, and in a market I've never worked in? I'm not even sure where to start.

Then there's the topic of decluttering to move. Our last move was less than two years ago, so I shouldn't have to dump too much stuff. But with this move, there's also a sense of turning a new corner -- of starting a new chapter. So some old habits need to go.

For years, I've had a habit of picking up crow feathers. I'd amassed quite a collection, and many of them were looking tatty. So I decided today was a good time to get rid of them, and that Great Falls Park would be a good place to do it since I wanted to go out there and pick up a National Parks Senior Lifetime Pass anyway. I set aside the nicest one and counted the rest: 20 feathers to return to nature to kick off 2020.

Today was rainy but not cold, with a high in the low 50s. I layered up and headed out to see the falls. I'd intended to drop the feathers in the Potomac, but I never got that close. Anyway, it's done. And I got some cool atmospheric photos, too. (I mentioned in Rivers Run that kayakers sometimes run the rapids at Great Falls. I wasn't surprised to see none out there today.)

All photos copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019

Happy New Year! Here's hoping 2020 will bring you nothing but good things.

These moments of atmospheric blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (10 years, 24 books published -- whew!).

Sunday, December 22, 2019

An Elemental holiday.

The problem with this time of year is that every religion's holiday celebration is on a different day. The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah (which isn't really a major holiday, but has become one as Christmas has become commercialized) is probably the most well-known -- it's determined by the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar. That means Hanukkah can begin any time between the end of November and the end of December. This year, it starts tonight.

Most Pagans celebrate the winter solstice -- the shortest day of the year. That date, too, moves around, although not as dramatically as Hanukkah: the solstice can occur on December 20, 21, 22, or 23. This year, owing to time zones, Yule was yesterday for North Americans, but it's today for those on the European continent (while Down Under, they're celebrating Litha, the summer solstice).

And of course Christmas is always on December 25th, which this year falls on a Wednesday -- a highly inconvenient day for those who like to make three- or four-day weekends out of their holiday celebrations.

So as I write this on Sunday, December 22nd, the Jewish readers of hearth/myth are just getting their festivities underway; the Christians are in their last-minute buying/wrapping/baking/cooking frenzy; and here at La Casa Cantwell, we're in post-holiday relaxation mode, having had our Yule feast and gift exchange yesterday.

As you know, I've been writing a series about Elementals all year, and it's my opinion that Elemental spirits -- to the extent they celebrate holidays at all -- would mark the solstices and equinoxes. So my gift to you this year is a ficlet featuring a winter solstice observance in Raney's world.

So I’ve mentioned that we moved around a lot when I was a kid. Like, a lot. Every time I turned around, Mam was packing our bags and hustling me out the door to somewhere new. She had to keep a step ahead of my father and his desire to recapture her – an actual undine – for his collection of unique things. Of course, if he caught her, he’d also have me. And while I’m only half-undine, my other half is his DNA, which made me unique in a whole different way.

Anyway, I was forever the new kid at school, having to deal with a new group of schoolmates. Sometimes the kids would be nice and sometimes they’d be jerks. On a few occasions, we didn’t stay long enough for me to find out which they were.

So by the time I hit high school, I was heartily sick and tired of living on the run. I literally could not wait for the day when I would turn eighteen and blow my mother’s weird, furtive popcorn stand forever. It’s not that I didn’t love her. It’s that I longed for permanence: a place where I could unpack and settle in. A place where I could relax, fear-free. A place nobody could jerk out from under me.

Eventually I got my wish. After I became a TV star, I bought a beach house in Malibu. It has a soaking tub and a pool overlooking the Pacific, and it’s mine, free and clear.

But when I was in high school, my reality was packing and running, packing and running. So when I came home from school for winter break one year to find Mam packing our clothing in a box, I exploded.

“You can’t be serious!” I wailed. I wailed a lot back then. Human hormonal changes wreaked havoc with my ability to keep my emotions in check – which was never very good anyway, thanks to my undine half.

Mam looked at me in surprise. “Dearest,” she said, cooing, “it’s not what you’re thinking.”

“‘It’s not what you’re thinking,’” I said, mocking her. “Every time we move, you say it’s the last time and we’ll never have to move again. And then you pull out the suitcases, and I know you’ve lied to me. Again!” I was fuming and crying at the same time. “We can’t leave now. I can’t let the dive team down! And I’m signed up for tryouts for the school play next month!”

“I know,” she began.

“And you said we could have a tree this year. A real Christmas tree!”

“A solstice tree,” she corrected.

“Whatever! You said we could have one!” I was full-on ugly crying now. “I just want to be normal!”

Mam waited a moment to make sure I was done yelling. Then she said, “We’re not moving. We’re going on vacation.”

My tears dried up immediately. “What?”

“We’re going on vacation,” she repeated. “I’ve packed your winter coat and boots. Where’s your hat?”

“In the drawer with my scarf,” I said automatically.

“Go and get them,” she commanded.

“Are you serious?” I said, in quite a different tone than I’d used when I first got home. “We’ve never been on vacation, Mam.”

“We are now,” she said with a small smile. “We’ve been invited to a celebration. And it’s going to take several days to get there, so hurry up – I need to get this box of clothes to the post office before they close.”

I peered in the box as she spoke. Along with our coats, she’d packed all of our warmest sweaters. “Where are we going?”

“Somewhere cold, obviously. Go on!” She flicked a hand toward me, shooing me away.

“Okay, okay,” I said, and ran to find my things.

We left the next day. The house we were renting was on a big lot that bordered a creek. We ran down to the water’s edge, stashed our clothes in the cubby where we always put them when we went in the creek for a soak, and dove in. Immediately, we both dissolved, and as always, I reveled in the caress of the water as it cleansed every fiber of my being. But nothing could take away my excitement. Vacation! What an amazing concept!

When Mam had said our trip would take a long time, she wasn’t kidding. I followed her essence down the creek to the river, from the river to the bay, and from the bay out into the wide Pacific Ocean. I was entranced by everything: the dolphins that raced us, chattering; the schools of fish that tickled as they cut through my watery molecules; the pod of whales that circled us as if serving as our honor guard.

We moved north and farther north, until several merpeople met us and escorted us into a bay where houses fronted a frozen beach. When we emerged from the water, it was dusk, and bitter cold. “Where are we?” I asked, as the merpeople hustled us into a warm cabin next to the water.

“Alaska,” Mam said. “Above the Arctic circle. Dry off and get dressed. We don’t want to miss the party.”

Alaska! It seemed impossible that we’d come so far. “What day is it?”

“Today is the winter solstice. We’ve been traveling for three days,” said Mam. That seemed impossible, too.

When we emerged, it was full dark. But the lights in the little village were blazing, and so too were the lights above the village. We Water Elementals sang and danced and feasted under the dancing Northern lights. I’ve never been to a more magical party.

That vacation kicked off a magical year. We got the solstice tree Mam had promised me. Then I won firsts in all of our dive meets that winter, and I got the part I was hoping for in the school play. That summer, when Mam told me we had to move again, I almost didn’t mind.

These moments of bloggy reveling have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Wheel keeps turning.

I'm feeling pretty good about our holiday preparations here at La Casa Cantwell. The tree is up and decorated, as I mentioned last week; the shopping is done; and most of the baking is done. I have one more batch of cookies to make tonight, and a gluten-free option or two later this week. And I still have to wrap all the gifts. But I feel confident I'll have everything done by Yule, which this year is Saturday the 21st in North America.

What a contrast to the current drama just up the road in DC. In case you've been living under a rock, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Trump this coming week. The vote is scheduled for Wednesday, and it's a foregone conclusion that the House will impeach Trump. Then the drama moves to the Senate, which is obliged to hold a trial on the impeachment articles. A couple of the folks in charge -- namely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham -- have already made it clear they expect to speed through a sort-of trial and vote to exonerate the president.

This is not a political blog, so I won't express my opinion on any of that here. (I already spend more than enough time posting about politics on Facebook.) But I expect you guys have gathered my opinion of President Trump anyway. And like a lot of other liberals and progressives, I find it hard, some days, to be upbeat about it all. Some of my friends are wondering why the House is bothering to impeach Trump when the Senate is going to clear him anyway, thereby giving him carte blanche to keep doing what he's doing. It's easy to fall into a pit of despair, especially since the House vote is coming just after Britain voted to keep their Conservative Party in power, which means Brexit will happen now for sure.

It's easy -- and profoundly depressing -- to agree with Medium blogger Umair Haque, whose post last week was titled, This is How a Society Dies. He compares the death spiral of the Soviet Union to what's happening today in the United States and Britain, and suggests that we may never recover.

When the Soviet Union fell apart, it did seem to happen overnight. One day the USSR was the Red Menace, the Communist global superpower that could take us down as soon as look at us; the next, they were a third-world country with nuclear weapons, and we, the United States, were the lone global superpower left standing.

But in the years since then, income inequality has hollowed out our middle class, and our poor never had a chance. About a year and a half ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared the United States has the highest income inequality in the Western world. Forty million Americans live in abject or extreme poverty, according to the UNHRC report, and 40% of us couldn't come up with $400 to cover an unexpected expense.

We're the only developed nation without universal healthcare, and yet any proposal from the left to rectify that insanity is met with criticism from the center and the right about how it's too expensive and anyway it doesn't work as well as those deluded lefties would have you believe. Never mind that it was the health insurance industry that wrote the arguments against universal healthcare.

So is the United States just a third-world nation with nuclear weapons? Some days I wonder. Some days it feels like the smartest thing to do would be to escape -- to emigrate to some other country, maybe somewhere sunny, with a stable government and decent healthcare, and hunker down 'til it's all over.

I brought up Yule for a reason. John Beckett wrote a lovely column this weekend about the solstice being the real reason for the season. People on Earth have been celebrating the turning of the seasons since the Earth itself began turning. In the Northern Hemisphere, the days have been getting shorter since June. In North America, this coming Saturday will be the culmination: the winter solstice. The longest night. In ancient times, people would sing, pray, and light bonfires and candles to beseech the sun to return.

And it always does. The Earth turns, and the days begin getting longer again. The singing and the candles don't have anything to do with it -- time turns, and the Earth turns, and the sun returns.

A lot of Pagans rely on the Wheel of the Year for their spiritual observances, but I think time is really more of a spiral. This coming spring will and won't be like last spring. Summer 2020 will be like all the other summers we've ever had, and yet it will be its own thing.

Maybe Trump will still be president then and maybe he won't. When President Nixon faced impeachment, the smart money was on his removal from office -- until he quit. Maybe Trump's impeachment will be like that: he won't leave office until he does, abruptly. And he'll probably let us all know by tweet.

Bernie Sanders tweeted this last week:
It's far from the first time he's said it. But it rings especially true for me, in this season, when the Earth is turning and the sun will soon be returning. We can run, or we can stay and do what we can to make things better. I know which one feels right to me.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have one more batch of cookies to make tonight and they're not going to make themselves.

These moments of Earth-turning blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Time passages.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I'm in the home stretch of my career of working full-time for someone else. In mid-November, I clocked 20 years with my employer, WilmerHale. And yesterday, I turned 62 -- old enough to begin receiving Social Security benefits.

I can't quit yet. For one thing, I haven't applied for Social Security yet (and everything I'm hearing indicates it's a good idea to apply sooner rather than later, as the government has been known to screw up paperwork -- hard to believe, I know). Also, the lease on our apartment runs through July, and I can't afford the rent here without the current job.

But hitting that 62nd birthday is a milestone, even if it's mostly psychological right now. I've been counting down to the date for a few years. I even installed a countdown app on my phone so I could keep track as the days dwindled down.

Of course, hitting a milestone isn't the only effect of passing time. We got our Yule tree today, and while decorating it tonight, I weighed whether this ought to be the final year for our three elf ornaments.

These guys have been hanging on our tree every year since I was a kid, which makes them at least 50 years old. Originally, the wide-awake fellow's costume was a bright green. His has faded the most, but all three of them have lost some of their vibrant color. And the red guy has nearly lost his head several times over the years; we've braced his neck with toothpicks and glue each time, but what if, next time, there's nothing left to brace?

And what if I decide not to bother with a tree next year? By the time I went off to college, I was mostly in charge of putting up the tree. I'd assemble it, Mom would put on the lights -- those old-fashioned C7 lights with the sockets hooked up in series, so that when a bulb blew, the whole string went out -- and then I'd put up the decorations and she'd do the tinsel icicles.

Eventually she let me do the lights, too, but she didn't trust me with the tinsel. She let me do it one year when I was in junior high, I think. I put it on in handfuls instead of strand by painstaking strand. She took one look at my handiwork, yelled at me, and went back to doing it herself. That tinsel is out of fashion now, and good riddance.

Anyway, by the time Mom hit 60, she was over the whole Christmas tree thing -- and now that I'm there, I can kind of see her point. It's a lot of work.

On the other hand, when I turned on the lights tonight for the first time this year, I let out a little gasp of pleasure. They're so pretty.

And those elves are still cute, even if they're faded. I guess I'll pack them away again when the holidays are over this year and see what happens.

These moments of timely blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Retconning the Elemental Keys.

Part of the fun of writing a series of novels is making sure events in the current book follow logically from events in the last book or books. Or as Stephen R. Donaldson once said, "Internal consistency is a bitch."

The quote came to me several times while drafting the fourth and final Elemental Keys book during NaNoWriMo. Fun fact: NaNo concluded yesterday, but thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I was able to reach 50,000 words on Friday. The book is tentatively titled Astride the Wind. I have a cover image in mind but it needs some work -- I'll post it soon.

Another fun fact: It's December, y'all. How did that happen when I wasn't looking?

Anyway, back to NaNo. Several weeks ago, I posted a question here: If you had to envision a Tool of Ultimate Destruction, what would it be? You know why I asked? Because at that point, I didn't know what the Tool of Ultimate Destruction would be, let alone what form it would take. I'd written three books in which my characters went haring off after a villain who was after a Tool of Ultimate Destruction, and nobody knew what it was, least of all me. And I was supposed to be driving.

Here's another secret: Before I started writing the five books of the Pipe Woman Chronicles, I meticulously plotted each book's overarching theme and place in the cosmos. By book 3, I had the final showdown half-written in my head. Did I develop a similarly meticulous overarching theme and stuff for the four-book Elemental Keys series? Haha, nope. The whole thing amounted to, "Let's go on an adventure!"

I did draft an outline for each book, and I hit the high points of the outline in each book, but not necessarily in order, or in the way I initially envisioned doing it.

So when I started writing Book 4, I knew I would have to clean some of that up. I found myself spending a lot more time than usual going back to scenes in the earlier books to make sure I had the details in this new book right. And when I finally fleshed out the scene for the final showdown, my brain did sort of a half-gainer and changed up a few crucial things, which made the ending make better sense but which played havoc with stuff that had happened before. I actually wrote in my notes at this point, "So let's retcon this revelation."

Retcon is short for retroactive continuity. It happens a lot in comic books, but it has migrated into other types of longform storytelling. Basically, it's when the creator of a series inserts new information about a character or situation that gives a different interpretation to earlier events. For example, retconning is how we got the most recent Star Trek reboot. (TV Tropes has an article on retconning that goes into more depth.)

In the case of Astride the Wind, I had to explain why an assumption that everybody made at the end of Rivers Run wasn't true. I won't say much more than that, because spoilers. But keep in mind that in Treacherous Ground, when the River Nore told Raney, "It is our understanding that you are meant to stop the door from opening," the river spirit's understanding could have been wrong.


I realized after I won NaNo that while I was rushing headlong for 50,000 words on Astride the Wind, I left a couple of things out. So I need to fix those before putting the book aside to ripen. I'm thinking February or March for publication. I'll let y'all know.

These moments of bloggy plot twists has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.