Amid the haze, a sense of taut calm

September 14, 2020

Not too much to report on the writing front. I am trying to increase my submission quota but I am working on some longer stories so it is slow going. And my state, Oregon, is on fire this past week so it’s been hard to focus on much of anything.

The above picture was yesterday’s sky. It was nice to see some patches of blue sky, but even that is deceptive. The air quality index has soared to the 300s and sometimes close to 500. Oregon has had some of the most hazardous air quality in the nation recently. It’s like a double lockdown situation. I usually only leave the house to go for walks and hikes, but I can’t even do that now. I don’t want to breathe that air out there with the haze clogging the sky.

We have set up air filters, which do help circulate the air indoors. But my lungs still burn, I taste copper and smoke in my mouth, and I am always fighting the beginning traces of a headache. I’m trying to drink more water.

Before that, the color of the sky was an ominous bronze color. It looked like something out of a dystopian novel. I took a picture of my street below, but of course it is difficult to expose properly for how it looks in the real world. It’s not very photogenic if only because this still isn’t quite what reality was like.

Waking up in the morning, the sky has been gloomy and overcast, and the light looks like wintertime. A thin film of ash covers the sidewalk, our cars, the vegetable plants in the garden, even the dandelions. Sometimes it seems like a volcano erupted somewhere.

My town is a pocket where stagnant air hangs, surrounded by hills going out to the coast, and not in an evacuation zone, but fires all around all the same. I used to be a reporter for four years in the Santiam Canyon, about an hour and a half drive away, and it makes me sad to watch the canyon smolder. Mill City, gone. Rosie’s Mountain Coffee Shop, gone. My friend who runs the radio station in Gates, his house is gone.

My parents live in Clackamas County and they haven’t had to evacuate, but they had to be prepared to do so. Three levels of evacuation preparedness, something else I had to learn. My mom was going through her old photo albums and recipe collections. My dad was figuring out what to do with the vintage British motorcycles that he restores, and his string basses; he plays jazz and classical. Even I have thought about what I would take with me, should the order come. It’s quite sobering, and scary.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been disassociating, but I’ve been trying to focus my energy on other things, because it is grounding to work on self care. I do my exercises nearly every day, either yoga, or my new stationary bike, and weights. The adrenaline rush from the exercise lends me calm and a sense of purpose. This is Day 38 sober, and I’m still grateful to be so. It helps in the long run more than a beer ever would. I am doing most of my writing on the weekends now in binges. I am also working on my meditation in the evenings; my evening routine also includes now my skincare routine again. Repetition helps lend normality and structure to an abnormal situation.

On the writing front, I am currently working on a gothic sci-fi short story that I am hoping to end at 5,000 words. Next in the submission-line up: a Christmas Eve horror tale (Did you know that animals talk at midnight on Christmas Eve, according to some superstitions?), and more fairy tale retelling mashups. I am also intrigued by alternate history, good robots and supernatural creatures in their original sinister incarnations (dark fairies, for example). I am also forgiving myself for not writing every day, because it’s difficult to do anything in this smoke. “Hanging in there” seems a pretty accurate way to describe my mood. “Ruthlessly fine” is another version. I am not as angry any more. I don’t really know what I am. The anger has faded to cynicism.

My day job’s work-from-home situation was extended to December 31, so I am happy about that. That is one benefit from the pandemic. I really like working from home. I do not miss losing two hours of my day to a commute to an office.

I am also plotting a novella because I want to finish something longer than a short story. I have an idea for a solarpunk story. Solarpunk, in case you don’t know it, is a genre like steampunk that envisions an optimistic view for the future in light of present environmental concerns. I am thinking working on a hopeful story will help my mental space as well. I’ve had trouble getting started, though, so I’m considering doing National Novel Writing Month in November to push myself into full gear on it. I’ve never finished anything for NaNoWriMo, and barely even start most years; maybe this year could be my year.

Finishing 50,000 words in 30 days seems laughable, and writing sprints like that never really work for me that well, but maybe it could jump start my work on this novella concept, which has languished.

I have also started working on a neo-noir micro-fiction series called “Defiant Hemlock,” with supernatural elements forthcoming. I plan to publish 500-word installments every Wednesday to this blog.

In current reading, I just finished the brilliant and thoroughly researched “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larson about Churchill’s first year presiding over the Blitz. I am starting on “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and so far I am blown away. The prose is simply gorgeous. I don’t know why people keep calling this book magic realism, because it really is a classic Gothic novel; there is a difference.

Not much else to add. I don’t feel like repeating yet again the usual doom and gloom; you can get that on the news. Happy writing and reading, friends. Self care is important. Self care will get us all through this.

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