Getting wrangled

Cuinn Cattledog (Dec 20110

Assistant author wrangler Cuinn Cattledog in her puppy days: I knew her when.

Back in May I announced that I was going to breathe new henki into Henkimaa by resuming blogging. A bit premature, turns out: a reread of that post makes clear how hesitant & unready I was, the burnout from my former reluctant political blogging not quite burned out yet.

Well, I’m here to say differently now.

A few months back — when was it, Sian? June? July? — my Australian friend Sian & I picked up a collaborative work we’d started way-a-whole-long-time-ago, that had fallen by the wayside, a casualty of Life Stuff Getting in the Way.  But it sometimes came to mind, & last whenever-it-was we went delving into the dusty gutters of our email archives, found all of it that we could, organized it into Scrivener (don’t know what Scrivener is? find out here), & started writing it again.

Then, just two or three weeks ago, we found ourselves an author wrangler.  Or did she find us? Nah, that’s nonsense: we already knew each other: Rachel is the other Brisbaner besides Sian that I visited on my four-week trip to Australia in December 2010. Curious about our resurrected collaboration, Rachel asked to read some of it, & next thing we knew had volunteered to help keep us on the track to completing and publishing it.  And girl do we need it!

Ably assisting Rachel in her author wrangling duties is assistant author wrangler Cuinn Cattledog, whom I met when she was just a pup in December 2010.  She’s grown a mite since then, and she is herding us strong.

Not gonna say too much more about what the collaboration is about just yet, other than that it’s more-or-less science fiction/fantasy, & that while there are male characters both good & bad, it’s women at the forefront of the intrigue & action. We haven’t arrived at a title yet, though we’ve had a variety of names we’ve called it informally, my favorite being what Sian used to call it back in 2003, Little Green Tree Frogs.  But mostly these days I call it “the collab,” & that’ll do for me until we arrive at a name we can agree is fitting.

For the time being, this sidelines my other writing projects such as Mistress of Woodland; & unlike every other National Novel Writing Month that I’ve taken part in starting in 2007, this year I won’t be spending NaNovember writing in my Cold/Long Dark story universe, but instead on the collab.

That’s okay.  The most important thing is this: I’m writing. And I’m doing it in the company of some of my favorite people.

Cuinn Cattledog

Assistant author wrangler Cuinn Cattledog as a puppy, with the feet of Main Mum (Sian in purple Doc Martens) & Other Mum (Rachel in red sandshoes, because they don’t call ’em sneakers in Australia).

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It’s Friday & I still have cats





One hundred thirty-one (131) Fridays ago, I wrote about the progressive political blogger Kevin Drum’s tradition of Friday cat blogging. He still does it today.

I must have intended to follow the same tradition, but forgot to. Sorta like how I forgot to blog altogether.  But now that I’ve remembered the one, I might as well remember the other.

So here to reintroduce my two children kittens who have lived with me since May 1, 2012: Kuu the tuxedo cat whose name means moon & her sister Laulu the tabby cat whose name means song.  As mentioned 2-1/2 years ago, their names come from the Finnish song “Mitä Minä” (which I learned off the Hedningarna album Karelia Visa) which goes like this: “Mitä minä laula / kun kuuta laula” — “What do I sing when I sing to the moon.”

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Breathing new henki into Henkimaa

Me with a beer, New Year's Day 2015Because henki of course means breath.

And after much semi-consideration — mostly just random maybe I should over a long bit of time — but always quickly countered by tired thoughts wherein the maybe just didn’t have the oomph to actually inspire an exhale….after all that burnout from political blogging occasionally here & lots elsewhere…& a few losses over the past coupla years….

…maybe now I just have the wherewithal to say a thing or two.

Nothing programmatic.  It’ll be what comes to mind.  Lately, what’s been coming to mind has a lot to do with the race stuff that has been appearing in our headlines, like all those young Black men dying at the hands of police.  But other things too. Like, maybe I can come out of whatever cave had caught me up for the past several months again & write again.  And random thoughs. And stuff.

And pictures too. I still take lots of pictures.  Besides. Cats.

This is my quiet reentry, then, into active blogging.  It’s also likely that I will do a little refurbishing (& also refurbishing of Bent Alaska in its archival form) (& also, adding to the archives here cross-posts of stuff I’ve written that’s been blogged elsewhere, or at least references to same).

Anyway. I’m back.

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Growing up Green

Still growing up Green. (This was my halfway prize from my municipal liaisons for passing 25K words for NaNoWriMo last night.)

This was my halfway prize from my municipal liaisons for passing 25K words for NaNoWriMo last night.

Yesterday’s writing: inventing a government for Mars.  It’s a parliamentary representative democratic republic with a unicameral parliament. And it’s got parliamentary sovereignty, too: it’s a committee of Parliament that determines the constitutionality of laws before they become Law, so there’s none of this screwing around with unconstitutional laws until someone has the wherewithal to sue it up to the Mars Supreme Court.  And Mars laws are written and enacted with build-in feedback loops for quality assurance (yes, I got this idea out of a book), so that they’re evaluated to see if they’re effective, and are amended or tossed if they’re not.

Those are just some of the features of Mars Government.  I spent lots of words on it.

There wasn’t a Dr. Seuss prize book for growing up Geek.

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It’s Friday, & I have cats

Kuu & Laulu, 3 Mar 2012

For several years, I’ve off & on (“on” usually in the couple of months before a presidential election) followed the progressive political blogger Kevin Drum, currently at Mother Jones.  He has a tradition called “Friday cat blogging.”

Great idea.  It’s Friday, & I have cats too.

Pictured above: my two sister kittens Kuu (left) and Laulu (right). Their names come from the Finnish song “Mitä Minä” (which I learned off the Hedningarna album Karelia Visa) which goes like this: “Mitä minä laula / kun kuuta laula” — “What do I sing when I sing to the moon.” (I used to sing it to my cat Väi as “Mitä minä miaow-miaow / kun kuuta miaow-miaow”.) You can hear the song here.

Kuu = moon. That’s the tuxedo cat sister. Laulu = song. That’s the tabby. They came to live with me on March 1. The photo was taken two days later.  I used it as my first “cover” photo on Facebook for several months.

Here there are more recently, on September 30.  They’re a little bigger now, but just as cute.

Kuu & Laulu, 30 Sep 2012

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An Americano in Australia

A long black at Theobroma Chocolate Lounge, Southern Cross Station, Melbourne.

A long black at Theobroma Chocolate Lounge, Southern Cross Station, Melbourne.

Bit of trivia: My coffee order of choice nowadays when I’m out café writing is an Americano, but December before last during my month in Australia, I discovered (unsurprisingly) that Australian barristas don’t serve Americanos. They do serve something very close, though: the long black.

Sometimes, though, I’d still have trouble ordering: I arrived in Oz fresh out of completing NaNoWriMo 2009, & kept asking for a Long Dark.

Long Dark: interstellar space

Long Dark: interstellar space


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Reading (& writing) spacy

Spacegeek bookshelf

Here are a few of the books that I consult for the Long Dark/Cold story universe that I’ve written in since NaNoWriMo 2007, and which I’m writing in again this NaNovember (along with a few that have to do with a different long-term project, Mistress of Woodland — MoW for short). (This photo was cropped from this one, which shows the shelf above too.)

Most of these books are about various aspects of space exploration, with a heavy emphasis this bookshelf on Mars, the first home of one of my most important Long Dark characters, Esti Gusev. A few of these books (e.g., We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy and How to Make Collaboration Work) have been instrumental in helping me to further develop the type of governance followed by my fictional Consensus of the Outer System. And then on top of We the People are the three Crossed Genres publications where two of my Long Dark/Cold stories have been published (one of them twice).

Needless to say,

  1. I have lots more books.
  2. I haven’t read all of even the books shown here.
  3. I’m not reading any of them now, because I’m writing instead.

But maybe, once NaNo’s over, it’ll be time to make a plan about not just reading, but also notetaking, on the stuff important to me for this story universe. What a wide range of stuff it is, too — space tethers and “artificial” gravity through use of centrifugal force, controlled ecological life support systems (CELSS), gravitational physiology, types of propulsion for sublight interstellar ships, how to terraform a planet….  It’s not all just space stuff, either. Two of the important locales for the Long Dark material are Consensus embassies on Mars and on Earth, so I’ve even got books (mostly on Kindle for iPhone/iPod) on the U.S. foreign service and the different kinds of personnel who keep our diplomacy running.

But again, I’m not reading now — I’m writing. The stuff up above is just to illustrate what a complete geek I am. Someone last night at the NaNoWriMo kickoff asked me if the science fiction I’m writing is hard science fiction.  Well, no, not really. Hard science fiction is defined by Wikipedia as

a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.

— whereas for me, the scientific accuracy issue has more with verisimilitude — building a realistic and (as best I can) “scientific” story universe in which to ground and stage the human stories I’m trying to tell.  Most “science fiction,” especially the stuff in movies & on TV, could be more accurately terms “science fantasy” because so much of it plays fast & loose with science fact.  Not that I have anything against science fantasy — I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, after all — but it’s not what I’m trying, here, to write.

Granted that howsoever geeky I get (to which there’s a limit: I’m not a scientist), I’ll still be making some leaps into “fantasy.”  The more I read, actually, the less certain I am that we’ll be able to completely solve the problems it would be necessary for us to solve for long-term human survival and sustainability in outer space. And the more I appreciate the free and abundant gifts that our biosphere of Earth provides us — gifts we are squandering.

Okay, to that other point again: I’m not reading right now, I’m writing. Last night, from the stroke of midnight to about 2:30 AM, I wrote about 1672 words — just over the 1667 words per day I need to keep up if I want to be on schedule to write all 50K by the end of the month.  I’ll be writing more tonight, though.  Getting ahead of the game, that’s my plan.

So far so good.

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Hallowe’en: The night my writing is raised from the dead

Bloodshot eye

Happy Hallowe’en.

Don’t be frightened by my bloody eyeball. That was just from a burst blood vessel I got courtesy coughing my guts out when I was sick with a bad case of skankthrax in early October.

(Skankthrax is what my friend Gretch called a nasty series of colds I suffered from a few years ago. It’s even more fitting to how sick I was for a good part of this month. Except — & this is an important disclaimer, so pay attention! — I am not a skank.)

This post is about how nearly three months after I wrote this

Writing here is part & parcel of heeding that stuff that’s been begging for my attention.

So I’ll be writing here again.

NaNoWriMo 2012— I’m actually gonna follow through with it now.  It’s part of the writing gig.  It’s part of the fact that Hallowe’en is about a whole lot more than kids wandering the streets begging for candy: Hallowe’en is also NaNoWriMo-e’en.  At the stroke of midnight, it will be NaNovember 1, & I will join a host of other writers in Anchorage and throughout the world diving into the headlong hurry of National Novel Writing Month & it’s 50,000+ words.

So earlier today I announced at Bent Alaska, where I am editor, my intent to take a semi-hiatus from Bent in order to pay attention to Writing. My. Own. Stuff. And tonight I’ll be joining a bunch of other Wrimos — as NaNoWriMo writers around the world style themselves — for the Anchorage NaNoWriMo 2012 kick-off.

"Cold" appears in Crossed Genres Issue 12, the LGBT issue (November 2009)rossed Genres Yyear 1 anthologyOf the five NaNoWriMos I’ve started before, I’ve completed four of them. (I had to stop in 2008 because of some personal crises at the time.) My very first day’s writing of my very first NaNo, in 2007, was published on the 2nd anniversary of its writing — on November 1, 2009 — in issue #12 of Crossed Genres, and is still available for online reading at the Crossed Genres website. “Cold” is about two young women on a planet in the late stages of terraformation (that is, making the planet habitable by Earth-evolved beings like us.) The story was also selected for inclusion in Crossed Genres’ Year 1 anthology.

Subversion: Science Fiction & Fantasy Tales of Challenging the NormMy short story “Pushaway,” which came out of characters and situations developed during NaNoWriMo 2009, was published in the Crossed Genres anthology Subversion, on December 5, 2011. “Pushaway” is the story of how a girl subverted the abusive religious community on Mars in which she grew up by taking to heart the lesson that they forever after tried to beat out of her: “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

Both stories take place in the same “Long Dark/Cold” story universe, which I’ve been developing throughout my five years & counting of NaNoWriMo participation. I’ve written about it on this blog a number of times. The story universe spans around a 300 to 400-year timeline, beginning with the inhabitants of the asteroid belt and gas giant moons of our own solar system who built the ships that traveled the Long Dark between stars that brought the terraformers of Cold to their planet. I’ll be writing more in that story universe through November.

Here’s my NaNoWriMo profile (yksin).  Here’s my author profile at Goodreads — where I’ll also be spending a bit more time.  Here’s my Facebook wall. And here’s me in my brand-new NaNoWriMo hoodie drinking some of the fine homemade Power Lemonade (lemons, garlic, ginger root) that I’ve been quaffing to fight off the return of skankthrax.

Happy NaNoWriMo-e’en.

Mel in NaNoWriMo hoodie

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Sikhs are often confused for Muslims, but no one should confuse that neither is deserving of murder


It was during preparation of the langar, the free kitchen which welcomes all without exception, that Wade Michael Page strode into the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin yesterday to kill.

From Wikipedia:

Langar (Punjabi: ਲੰਗਰ, Hindi: लंगर) is the term used in the Sikh religion or in Punjab in general for common kitchen/canteen where food is served in a Gurdwara to all the visitors (without distinction of background) for free. At the langar, only vegetarian food is served, to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals. Langar is open to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.

The institution of langar is an expression of the deep Sikh valuation of the equality in the eyes of God and the God-minded of all people.  It’s a common meal in service to humankind: a practical and daily act of Sikh believers throughout the world, prepared and served to all comers regardless of any of the myriad differences of faith, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, caste, social status… anything.

The Washington Post on the murders:

Late Sunday, Tirlok Singh walked alongside Gurmel Singh, the grief-stricken head priest, whose brother-in-law was among the dead. Tirlok Singh gave raw voice to what many Sikhs said has been their predicament. “Tell the people we are not Muslim. We are different. We are Sikh. I want you to convey this message,” said Singh, who is also one of the temple’s priests.

Shiveharn Ghuman, 59, was among the Sikhs who rushed to Oak Creek from the Chicago area, about two hours to the south. The retired electrical engineer has a turban and beard, and in the aftermath of 9/11 experienced the taunts. “They said, ‘Hey, Osama. Go home,” he recalled.

From an AP article about the white supremacist murderer:

Potok said there’s no research showing white supremacists hating Sikhs, indicating that Sunday’s attack was almost certainly an example of someone mistaking Sikhs for Muslims.

No, Sikhs are not Muslims.  But whether Muslim or Sikh, whether any other religion, or of no religion at all, etc. etc. — no one is deserving of murder. Besides, I agree with the fictional Will McAvoy of the HBO series The Newsroom:

We weren’t attacked by Muslims. We were attacked by sociopaths.*

It’s said that love is blind. No offense to blind people, many of whom carry within themselves the most discerning of hearts, but I reckon that what’s really “blind” is hate. Maybe Wade Michael Page didn’t know the difference between Muslims & Sikhs, but in the end his hatreds obscured all differences except his own differences from whomsoever he chose, in hate, to differentiate himself.  In the end, it didn’t matter to him who he killed. It mattered very much to those he killed, & to their families, to their friends, to anyone who truly cares to love.

But if you truly care to love, please think of this: we as a people, a nation, a humanity, should hold every bit as much outrage & sorrow in our hearts if the people Page walked in to kill had been Muslims.  Of course, we’ve been busy killing Muslims — many thousands of innocents as well as the “guilty” — from the moment we started the shooting wars in Afghanistan & Iraq. How little sorrow we typically express for that. Acting in blindness, we share in the guilt.

Here is what love is:

Rakkaus on ankara ja lempi kova,
siihen juolee seisaalleen ja silmät jää auki.

(Love is severe & devotion tough,
it kills you on your feet & your eyes remain open.)

(Finnish. Of course.)

Honor the lives of those murdered yesterday morning  in Oak Creek, Wisconsin by a man acting in closed-eyed weakness & hate: five men and one woman, Sikhs all, believers in the common humanity of all:

Paramjit Kaur, 41
Sita Singh, 41
Ranjit Singh, 49
Satwant Singh Kaleka, 62
Prakash Singh, 39
Suveg Singh Khattra, 84

So much to their credit, I see already the toughness of those the killer targeted, who continue in spite of their sorrow to commit themselves to the severe and conscious discipline of loving with open eyes and hearts.

My deep condolences to the Sikh community of Wisconsin who lost family members & friends, people closely loved.  May the tragedy lead truly to the messages of love, compassion, & social justice that the gurus of the Sikh religion taught and continue to teach through the Gurū Granth Sāhib and the devotion of everyday Sikhs to its truths.

The God-conscious being is always unstained,
like the sun, which gives its comfort and warmth to all.
The God-conscious being looks upon all alike,
like the wind, which blows equally upon the king and the poor beggar.

Sri Gurū Granth Sāhib, p. 272

Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

* * *

* The longer Will McAvoy quote from The Newsroom episode “Bullies” (1.06), from which the asterisked McAvoy above is excerpted — McAvoy is debating with a “Christian” anti-Islamist on the topic of a Muslim community center at Ground Zero:

Okay. Here are some things done on American soil in the name of Christianity. The Ku Klux Klan burned down black churches, raped women, murdered civil rights workers, murdered children and terrorized communities for over a century. The neo nazis all acted and continue to act in the name of white christian supremacy. The army of god fatally attacks abortion clinics and doctors across the country. The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord targets local police and federal agents. The federal building in Oklahoma City. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the successful assassinations of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, and Abraham Lincoln, all perpetrated by Christians. Miss Greer, we weren’t attacked by Muslims, we were attacked by sociopaths, and I for one would join you in protesting a community center for the criminally insane, but no one is suggesting building one.

Photos: (1) Langar. Taken by GNNSJ at their langar hall and gurdwara, 13 December 2005. Via Wikimedia Commons.  (GNNSJ is Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, a Sikh organisation based in Leeds, England with activities throughout the world. It has several gurdwaras in England alone; the source who contributed this photo to Wikimedia does not specify which gurdwara is shown in the photo. At the SikhiWiki’s article on langar, the same photo is said to have been taken at Spain Forum 2004.)  (2) Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the holy book and eleventh guru of Sikhism. Via SikhiWiki.
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Power source

Chester Creek

Last week the power supply on my work computer went out, & I had to use another computer that lacked the full panoply of software I use on a daily basis, until IT got a replacement power supply & my regular computer was up & running.

Turns out that “burnt out power supply” is a pretty good metaphor for where I’ve been personally these past few weeks.

Actually, longer. One sign is the neglect I’ve given to Henkimaa, what with the vast responsibilities to Bent Alaska, of which I am editor & chief contributor.  And even Bent has been suffering from lack of attention lately, as the power supply has been sputtering out.

Okay, I’ve written about this before, dammit.  I have a fairly lifelong history of what, for convenience sake, I’ve referred to as “depression.”  I’ve been moving back away from that term because its narrow & distorted use in psychiatry has entered too far into the public realm (leading generally to people always wanting to push drugs on me). Therefore, I have my own terms for different states of what I experience — the pit or black hole, which is the worst state, a state of despair; the grey, functional but dead inside, hence still highly unpleasant; the cave.  The cave can have days of grey in in, but it’s not in itself “bad” per se: it’s when I little will or desire to communicate, at least in any written form. Everything’s directed inward.

In the past month I’ve gone through a series of greys — three of them — some tinged with the cast of the pit, and most of it surrounded by the cave.

Something’s begging for my attention. I’m pretty sure it’s me.

This past Saturday, I figured it would do better to get sorted than to let things go unaddressed & continue the series of greys.  I reckon the cave is because I need that internal time to evaluate & reevaluate stuff.  I’m in the midst of some sort of sea change, at the nexus, at the crossroads. So, back to sources. I’m sitting down with the gods again, my own little internal pantheon, to do that.

I’ve found so far that if I pay attention to this work, it keeps the grey (&, more importantly, the pit) in abeyance.  Especially if I also pay attention to another important piece, which I first learned backwhen from people in Twelve Step programs: HALT, an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, tired — eat right, get enough rest, don’t “isolate,” don’t blow a gasket.

But also I find that if it’s a cave I’m in, “not bad, per se,” there’s a good chance that the roil & clamor of everything feeding into the grey could feed some really huge good stuff instead — especially if I’m talking with the gods.

Sea change…nexus…crossroads… whatever. Crossroads conveys in an image the sense of many things coming in at once, a confluence of roads roads feeding in, many potential routes out, from which I must pick what I’ll actually be tracking down.  A quote I like that I found some years ago in one of my important books (Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde):

The bottom of the mind is paved with crossroads. — Paul Valéry

I learned some many years ago, when I first learned how to really sit down with the gods, sometimes as below / so above.  That is, the movements within me arising from my deep metaphorical considerations with the gods down in the bottom of my mind, are more often than not matched by positive movements in this Real World of consensual reality that we all share — in all manners of ways, personal to me as well as of a wider reach.

And who in hell do I mean by the gods?  More detail on that later.  For now, suffice it to say that they’re my source, like the groundwater that feeds Chester Creek, up there in that photo I took Saturday on my way home from figuring some of this stuff out.  And they live within me, in the place called Henkimaa, of which this blog is, sort of, a representation. Writing here is part & parcel of heeding that stuff that’s been begging for my attention.

So I’ll be writing here again.

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