and how far others must come at times

For the last few days, I’ve been dog-sitting, which really is to say that I’ve been on a paid writing retreat with a sweet side of dogs. It’s basically perfect, except for the dogs’ notion of what constitutes acceptable personal space when I’m trying to sleep.

too close 1too close 2

The house I’m in right now is in a cute little borough adjacent to mine, a bit further removed from downtown and a bit more rural. Over the weekend, I needed to put something in the mail. By the miracle of modern smartphone magic, I was able to locate the nearest postal branch, about three miles away. Being from Phoenix, Arizona, I barely registered the distance. That’s nothing by car in a city of flat, straight grids. That would practically still be inside my neighborhood.

I proceeded to follow the disembodied robot voice’s directions for those almost three miles – down backroads, between hills, under bridges, across three towns each smaller and older than the last – finally to a small blip of a borough that literally consisted of little more than a steel factory, a very interesting Eastern Orthodox church, and the brick post office. With every wooded downhill bend past yet another sign welcoming me to the township of _______, I felt ever more acutely how far I am from the place that spawned me. It wasn’t a feeling of homesickness, exactly, because I very much do not want to be back there. But it was definitely a realization of just how far I am outside of what I’m familiar with in this place. A kind of environmental culture shock.

It was, in the moment I was able to articulate the nature of the weirdness I was feeling, surreal and disorienting. It was a moment I didn’t want to be having, my intense hatred for where I came from and my breathtaking relief to be where I am now coming at one another from strange directions and doing battle upon the field of my contentment.

I’ve been remembering that feeling at odd times since then, the sense that I am in a foreign land and just a little bit lost here, and reminding myself that I haven’t even left the country I was born in.

Defensive Softness

Ever since coming to Pittsburgh, I’ve been so excited about everything that it’s been a real bear not to write about it all the time. Did you know there are seasons here? And that there’s water in the rivers? Did you know it’s possible for animals that aren’t lizards, snakes, or skyrats to appear within city limits? That architecture can be beautiful as well as functional? I didn’t – certainly not from living in Phoenix! I’m finding out for the first time in my life that it’s possible to really love your surroundings and be pleased to be where you are.

Actually, I had a very strange moment of realization while taking the curve in the road that brings me out of the woods and onto the bridge toward home, when I became aware of the flutter in my chest and the grin on my face: what I feel sometimes as I’m getting to know my new home is the jittery glow of an emerging romantic love for a place.

There’s a coffee shop just on the corner (that sells really reasonably-priced tea, I might add) where I often go to do my writing or editing if I feel like stepping out for a bit. The attitude here is different from what I’m used to. I’d have to characterize the in-public atmosphere of Phoenix as capitalistic. You go in, you buy the thing, you leave. No loitering. Hanging around long after you’ve spent your money is rude. Here, it’s absolutely, Hey, pull up a chair, have a drink, stick around. You’re working on something? Check it out, that guy’s working on something too. Let’s all work on things together. On Wednesdays they have a rotating schedule of food trucks on the street outside. This week was baked mac-n-cheese with lobster.

In the fall, I watched the leaves turn for the first time. (That’s also a real thing that happens, apparently!?) There’s basically a forest in my back yard, thanks to the giant park and conservation area that’s within walking distance from my place. (Oh, also, it’s possible for things to be close enough to walk to. Another facet of reality one would never pick up on in Phoenix.) I get to walk to the forest any time I like to enjoy the leaves of autumn, or the winter snow. (Snow!) There are always dogs having their walks too. Actually, there are just a lot of dogs in general in Pittsburgh. It’s wonderful.

When I make my daily drive into downtown, the view of the Golden Triangle and the river and the bridges when it swings into view around that one bend is always breathtaking. It still makes me happy every time I see my elf tower. At night, the lights on the Monongahela are magical.

There are squirrels in the trees behind my building. On days when I do my writing outside on the porch, I am often witness to some pretty intense squirrel fights. They make this chittering noise when trash-talking each other that still takes me by surprise every time I hear it. I did not know squirrels were so intensely angry.

Moments of First keep happening all the time. My first snowfall was an indescribably beautiful one, alone in the silence of a world asleep in the hour before dawn.

And I’m learning, as I continue to discover how I fit within this new world, that I’m maybe not the person I’ve always thought I am. That maybe some – or most – or all – of my hardness has been the hardness of the desert, of defense. This might be a midlife crisis if I thought discovering softness within myself was something to be worried about. Ten years ago I would have. The human I’ve been trying to become has other concerns. I refuse now to apologize for my capacity to feel.

I love living in a place that doesn’t ask me to.

Delicious Divorce Cake

The internet certainly has changed the world we live in. The rules of social engagement are different now and still shifting. It’s hard to navigate them at the best of times, especially when you’re autistic; throw social media into the mix and everything I think I know about the correct way to handle people and the delivery of news is… possibly wrong? Maybe? Or maybe I’m a trailblazer in the quest to open up new ways for us introverts to talk to people without having to actually talk to them?

Ahem. Getting off track.

This year has seen some massive changes in my life. Massive. Whom do you tell first? To whom must you speak privately before it’s a gaffe to talk about it on the Book of Face? Which things do you talk about? Which are none of the public’s business? How do you write publicly about private subjects that you nevertheless feel you should be open about for the greater good? (Pause while you echo, “The greater gooooooood.”)

Which is all to say that, finally having satisfied the (I believe) expected protocol of letting my private feed in on some of the massive things I’ve been working on this year, I think it is now acceptable to speak in public spaces as well.

As I stated some weeks ago, I finally escaped my own personal Hell in Arizona. To put it delicately, that Hell consisted of more than simply the location. It was ruled over by a particular person with whom I am no longer legally entangled, as of this month. Consider the suggestion box open as far as what type of cake is most appropriate for celebrating Sweet Sweet Freedom.

Big things happened on the road to that escape; it’s been a busy year. The upshot is that I am in a much better place, surrounded by good people, I’m safe and happy, and I’ve just finished editing the w-i-p – which is now no longer a w-i-p! This final draft is ready to be shopped, baby.

Onward and upward.

This isn’t really a post

It occurs to me that I haven’t updated the blog in so long that people probably think I’ve abandoned it. Or that I’ve invented a one-way time machine, noped out of 2015 for a year when we’re finally not still debating over whether some kinds of people should be considered objectively and legally better than other kinds of people, and will never be heard from again. Or that every device with which I connect to the internet was eaten by giant bear-sharks.

Happily, none of these are the case.

I have, however, been having an extraordinarily busy and stressful few months. The busy is finally over and the stressful soon will be too. By the end of this month, I should be in a position to write an actual update and then get on with business as usual. By which I mean, poking the blog with a stick every few weeks (rather than months) when I realize I should probably remind people that I exist.

So consider this post a placeholder. More to come.

But in the interim, I can drop one piece of good news: I am now a resident of Pittsburgh, PA. The desert and I are no more.

A Day of Endings

As the calendar closed out on November, I knew it would be possible to finish my novel by the end of the year now that my personal Novel-less Non-Writing Month (NoNoWriMo – I think it has a certain ring to it) had passed.  I knew the finish line was in sight, and had been making slow but steady progress toward it since my breakthrough in September.

What I needed, I determined, was to force myself to write in sprints, and that was exactly what I did.  Madly.  Barring necessary days off for the various Christmas concerts I had to perform, I wrote pretty much continuously from the 3rd to the 15th with very little time allotted for non-essential things like food and sleep (and definitely none for housework.)  It got even harder to take breaks for human necessities after I’d written the climactic scene and its immediate aftermath and knew that all I had left was to manage a bit of denouement.  When I woke up from a jittery three hours night’s sleep on December 16th, it was with the knowledge that I had only one scene more to write, and I would have a completed manuscript.

I’ve talked before about the fact that it was The Hobbit in particular of all books that first got me interested in the idea of being a writer and inspired my love of the fantasy genre.  So it was beyond appropriate that I got to celebrate finishing my novel by attending the opening night screening of the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films.

My state going into the film was, I would have to say, euphoric.  Maybe a little swimmy, a little disconnected.  I hadn’t really eaten or slept the way a person sort of needs to for at least the previous week, and I was stumbling suddenly under the weightlessness of a six-year burden removed.  I lead with all of this because perhaps it contextualizes my response to the film in some meaningful way.  My state coming out of the film was something else entirely.

I’m going to try to get at why that was.  My thoughts are helped along by the fact that I have now been able to see the movie a second time, on the proper amount of sleep and sustenance and having had some time to come down from the I-just-finished-my-freaking-novel-after-six-years high.

My very spoilery thoughts about The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, such as they are, beneath the cut.

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