Friday, November 17, 2017

November Joys

This past week has been hard, folks.

Just in ultimately inconsequential, non-threatening ways though, so not worth detailing. The usual trifecta of work/family/sick.

As a result I'm a bit behind on my word count for NaNoWriMo, but the writing itself is still going well, and I think I'll be able to catch up. Doing NaNo has been an amazing experience, actually, but I don't want to jinx myself by saying too much about it yet.

Mostly I wanted to share a couple of things that have been bringing me joy or energy when I've needed it.

First, some music: Visualízate by Gente di Zona.

Related image

I've had this for a few months and keep listening to it, but it's been on almost constant repeat in the car and at work this week. There aren't videos for my most favorite songs on the album (Que Tú Quieres and Más Whisky), but here's another one I enjoy. Well, heck, I like all the songs on the album.

And then, for a completely different kind of rhythm and energy, some poetry: The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay.

The Black Maria (American Poets Continuum Series) by [Girmay, Aracelis]

Maria, in this case, referring to the mare, or "seas", that early astronomers thought they saw on the surface of the moon and Mars (actually craters). She describes this collection, "This cycle of poems focuses on Eritrean history, as this is a history I am somewhat familiar with as someone of its diaspora. But, of course, the history of people searching for political asylum and opportunity (both) is much larger than Eritrean history alone."

From luam - asmara:

No one loves the flies, their work,
their rearranging, marking us
with the light of other guests.

Religious world - 

if there are angels, they are flies
who hover over our privacies,
kissing us with mouths
that have kissed
other wounds.

What's been bringing you joy lately?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Scary Movie Month Part II

More movies, more books. A rush report - but I didn't want to get too much farther into NaNoWriMo without getting this out.

After the tension of Get Out we decided to relax a bit with Hot Fuzz, the second in the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy by Edgar Wright. I love this movie. I always remember how funny and sweet it is - I never remember just how well it's made (or how gory it is). Now I may need to rewatch the whole trilogy (also includes Shaun of the Dead and The World's End).

Then it was Slither by James Gunn. Funnier than I expected - and more gory as well. Nathan Fillian was being Nathan Fillian but that's always a treat so who cares. And I could probably watch Elizabeth Banks in anything as well. This was just a perfect horror movie, it hit all its beats and had some fun surprises as well.

Next we saw Split by M. Night Shyamalan. Oooo, this was heartbreaking. Fascinating. Completely drew us in and had us talking about it for a while afterwards. And now I have to see Unbreakable.

One interesting aspect of watching this movie was how The Dude completely missed elements of Casey's story that I got immediately. I can't say anything without being spoilery but it reminded me how easy it is to not know things about our society if you don't have to know them. And yet other people are profoundly impacted by those things, so to not see them or deny them is another form of violence.

Then Alien 3 by David Fincher (remember that we saw Zodiac by him?) Visually arresting, but, eh.

Halloween II, written by John Carpenter but directed by Rick Rosenthal. Another meh, but now I've seen it and don't have to again.

Scream by Wes Craven. Okay, I know this was considered a big deal when it came out, one of the first horror movies to get all meta on itself and reinvigorating the genre, attracting female viewers in big numbers for the first time, etc., etc. So, from the point of view of knowing my horror movie history, fine. But it really disturbed me. I know it's satire, and you aren't supposed to take it seriously, but I just found it scary and unsettling and even more so because you're supposed to be laughing. At a woman being stalked and gas-lit by her boyfriend and his friend, who also killed other women including her own mother the year before. Plus lots of slut-shaming. No, thank you.

It Follows by David Robert Mitchell was next, brooding, atmospheric, interesting to think about. Almost a little quiet and slow at times, but perhaps we were just experiencing scary movie fatigue at this point.

And then, to finish the month, Psycho. Well. I will just say that I was probably not in the right mood for this one, probably because while the movie goes to some length at the end (though the voice of the psychiatrist) to emphasize that Norman isn't transsexual or a transvestite, it doesn't effing matter because what you see is a "psycho", dressed in women's clothing, with no nuance in that particular depiction at all*. And all the critical explaining away I've read doesn't do anything to change that initial impact. So again, no.

I've exhausted myself just thinking about these, I'll finish up with the books in another post. Thankfully I also read a lot of good spooky/scary books!

Worn out on scary so now we're binge-watching Shameless,

*As opposed to the same in Split, where McAvoy's female personalities are portrayed as convincingly as the male ones and not for shock value. Leaving aside the whole problematic portrayal of dissociative identity disorder in that movie, of course.

Friday, November 3, 2017


It's National Novel Writing Month and a whole bunch of us writer types are signed up to write 50,000 words this month on whatever project we've gotten it into our heads to do.

There's an official webpage and all, and Twitter threads and Facebook groups, national and local, and oh, all kinds of ways to connect with other writers doing this. In good and bad ways.

My project this year is the rewrite of the novel I was working on over this past year. Over the summer I realized I needed to change the point of view it was in, and once I got over the heartbreak of seeing eight months' work wither and die, I got excited about casting a critical eye on it in regards to plotting and character goals/motivations.

Of course in that process some elements I'd previously seen as, oh, window-dressing, decided that they were integral to the story I really wanted to write. So basically it's a whole new novel.

To my surprise I've gotten a good start, hitting my daily word goals. Just a couple of days ago I thought there was no way I could do it, and if I'd kept to my previous work method I couldn't. But for this month I'm writing loose and easy, all long-hand - no editing! We'll see if I can keep it up.

This is gonna be hard, I'm not going to lie. But I'm feeling game. You won't see much of me on Facebook this month but these days I'm far more active on Twitter anyway and you can find me there @AEllisC, hanging out with queer romance writers/readers and other interesting cats. And actual cat photos. And foxes. And red pandas. Who knew?

May need a hand massage when this is through,

Monday, October 23, 2017

Did A Marathon Thing This Month

So, a recap. This was my fourth Chicago Marathon, and my fifth overall.

The first 8 miles were good. I followed my plan of 4:2 run/walk and that was comfortable, I felt I could keep going just fine. The pace allowed me to eat and drink as I needed to easily, and also gave me a chance to cool down each time I walked. I knew it would get hotter as the day went on so that was important.

And then, suddenly, my left ankle twinged. Loudly. Angrily. The same feeling it had given me six weeks before. Back then that pain wasn't what had stopped me (the foot bruising on my right foot was the ultimate culprit), but I recognized it immediately. I kept going, cautiously, but within a mile things were much worse.

Excruciating, in fact. Make me cry kind of pain. It was clear I wouldn't be able to continue for another 17 miles. I stopped. Hobbled forward. Stopped. Texted The Dude to let him know I was calling it. Just like that, my marathon was over.

Except I wasn't willing to wait at the side of the road, so I kept limping on to the next aid station. Only it didn't come. I kept going, stopping from time to time to rest, rotate my foot, start again. I reached the Gatorade/water area and asked about the aid station only to be told it was past all the drink stands, so I kept going...

And somewhere between the beginning of the water area and the end I realized my foot didn't hurt as much as it had been. In fact, enough so that I didn't look for the aid station and decided to go just a little bit farther.

After all, it felt lame to only be out there for two hours. Could I possibly do 3? Four? Could I get to 10 miles? Eleven? A half? Or even 16 (the length of my longest runs to that point and the place where I'd sometimes had trouble in past marathons)?

And underlying all that, I remembered what an online friend had written me early that morning:

I woke up thinking about you. Today is going to be a very good day because you will be open to possibilities- and I know in my heart that you will be a blessing to someone else on the course today, simply by being YOU.

Well. If Laurie thought I would be a blessing to someone - but I didn't know where, or how, or when - then I needed to stay out there on the course for as long as I possibly could.

I put on a podcast and kept walking.

I was resigned to not finishing - I figured I was going so slowly I would get scooped off the course when they needed to shut it down. But that was okay. That was out of my hands. All I could do was keep walking, and so I did.

At about mile 15 I thought I might try to run a little, walking was getting tiresome. Keeping my feet very low I tried a little shuffle run - and it was okay. So from there I ran a little (shuffled a little), walked some. Shuffled a little, walked some. Made sure I was still taking in enough to eat, to drink, taking my salt tabs.

I had never been so aware of the course as this time and it was glorious. In the past I had remembered some parts of it as being bare. Desolate, even, and I kept looking for that and couldn't find it. All along the way there was something to see, to remark on, to enjoy. I recognized people on the course - passing them, being passed by them - more so than ever before. This was a whole new marathon.

At some point I realized I could probably do it. My God, I'd already endured 10 miserable miles, what was another 8 really? And with each mile it became more and more within my grasp, even the possibility of finishing within the cutoff.

Make no mistake, this was rough. Painful. Tiresome. Hot. (I was doing okay on food, but I spent easily the last eight miles fantasizing about a cold Coke.)

And then it was 20 miles and I thought, okay, this is going to happen. Then 22, 24, and then there was the turn and the rise and the last stretch and I was done. Despite the pain, despite my disbelief.

And in (almost ) all my photos from the course, I am smiling.

Six hours and thirty-six minutes. Over the allotted time, so not an official finisher. But. I have my medal. I know what I did and what it took. And I wouldn't change anything about it.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Books of Long Ago

Don't feel quite ready to write about the marathon, but my mind has been full of books lately - ones I've read, ones I'm reading, the one I'm working on. A while back I started a list of my top books from 2016 and then never finished it - here you go.

A word on how I chose these books. I read a fair bit. Poetry, literary fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, urban fantasy, and at the top of my list, romance. For a book to make my top 10, rather than just receive a star in my book journal, it has be not only well-written and make me think, but it has to haunt me, to weave itself around my soul in some way so I can't forget it. These are books I might not be willing to lend out, and I'm usually pretty free in sharing.

So, in the order in which I read them, my favorite books of last year.

Voyage of the Sable Venus, by Robin Coste Lewis (poetry)
Voyage of the Sable Venus: and Other Poems by [Lewis, Robin Coste]

Difficult subjects, told beautifully. Each of these poems a story, complete in itself, but together a voyage.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition: A Novel by [Gaiman, Neil]

Rich, tender, fascinating. A lot of the same sort of material as in his Sandman series but I felt done even better (or I may just like the format more).

Wrenching yet also poetic, and totally mind-blowing.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by [Brooks, Max]

This book amazed me. It was chilling and compelling and utterly believable. I kept being drawn on and on into it.

Glitterland by Alexis Hall
Glitterland (Spires Book 1) by [Hall, Alexis]

Oh, this just pulled me in, the language, the characters, the situations. I loved watching them change and develop, was impressed with the depiction of anxiety and the aftermath of depression and how they both kept fighting forward. (Plus super hot, of course, as all his are.)

Signs Preceding the End of the World by [Herrera, Yuri]

There was so much packed in to this book, such inventive use of language while still absolutely, beautifully readable. (And an interesting translator's note at the end.) Dreamlike, haunting as a dream will, and also haunting knowing what we do about border policies.

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya

Oh my God, what a treat to find these in this edition. I started reading this series years ago, before it was done, and got overwhelmed with how many volumes there were to it. Still a bit overwhelming (there are 12 thick books of this and I'm about 2/3 through), but so worth it. The marriage of the story and the art - how there is so much unsaid that can be hinted at instead. Glorious.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudine Rankine (poetry)
Citizen: An American Lyric by [Rankine, Claudia]
Brutal truths, an incredible weaving together of the personal and the metaphysical. The form as jarring as the material yet perfect.

Duma Key by Stephen King
Duma Key: A Novel by [King, Stephen]

This was good, good, good, and then it got great. One of my favorites of his.

Sexing the Cherry by Jeannette Winterson
Sexing the Cherry (Winterson, Jeanette) by [Winterson, Jeanette]

How did I even think I understood this when I read it before (in college)? I don't think I did, I think I read it back then for the characters and the transgression of it, but certainly I didn't come close to understanding a fraction of what is going on. And of course her language is sumptuous.

Books in the running for top 10 of 2017? Though I read so much romance now it only makes sense to have a top 10 romance and a top 10 everything else.

   Pansies by Alexis Hall
   K. J. Charles - all of them!
   Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau
   A Boy Called Cin by Cecil Wilde
   Save of the Game by Avon Gale
   The Soldier's Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian

Everything Else
   Extracting the Stone of Madness by Alejandra Pizarnik
   Trash by Dorothy Allison
   Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
   The Romantic Dogs by Roberto Bolano
   Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
   The Vegetarian by Han Kang
   Thorn by Intisar Khanani

We'll see if these end up getting knocked out by others as I keep reading.

Happy reading,

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's The Return Of Scary Movie Month!

Marathon or no marathon, it's October and that means it's time for Scary Movie Month, where The Dude and I attempt to watch as many scary movies as we can possibly fit in.

This year I left the selection in The Dude's hands, I didn't much care what we watched - my mind was first taken up with the marathon and now with preparing for NaNoWriMo. Especially when we only ever see a fraction of what we want to anyway.

We always have some TV show as a fallback, for those nights when we sit down too late to watch a whole movie or one of us needs to go to bed early or when the movie up next isn't one we can reasonably split over two nights. This year that fallback is the third season of Buffy. I saw most of this season years ago by myself, up late with a colicky D, and once you get over the angst of the first few episodes it's one of my favorite seasons. So we've been working our way through that. Though I will say the older I get the less I enjoy it, I get too cranky about the immaturity on display.

Our first movie for the month was Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, we try to get one Hitchcock in every year. A classic, of course. I last saw this decades ago on a small black-and-white set in our kitchen - I hadn't even realized this movie was in color. Watching it now I was struck by just how creepy it is, there's behavior that is portrayed as matter-of-fact for that time period that would have red flags going up all over the place now. Brrr. But watching this made me want to visit San Francisco, for sure.

Then, spread out over three nights, David Fincher's Zodiac. There's a great article here with more about the film and why it might be considered his masterpiece.I'll just say that it was really hard to stop watching each night - it's put together so well and the performances are so compelling. I almost feel ready to start watching it again.

We gave ourselves a night off after the marathon to watch the Bears lose to the Vikings, and then watched Jordan Peele's Get Out. I'm trying to think how to respond to it without cursing in appreciation. It is so scary - in so many ways - and so well made - and so interesting, especially from a horror movie perspective - I just feel kind of dumbfounded. And I don't want to say anything that would give anything away or that would discourage anyone from seeing it. So, see it! And then we can talk.

I've been using this month to work through my to-be-read list for fantasy as well. So far I've finished the first book of Zoraida Córdova's The Vicious Deep trilogy (and just got the next two in the mail), and am almost done with Nnedi Okorafor's Akaba Witch. In theory I'm also working on the 2nd and 3rd volumes of Stephen King's Dark Tower series as well, but I have no expectation that I will finish those this month. I'm finding that series interesting but not as compelling as other books I'm reading or even other Stephen King I've read, so they're out and at hand if I've got some time to read and don't want to pick up a book that will be hard to put down, but not my first choice if I'm settling down for the evening. I'll be happy if I get through them by the end of the year.

Loving the cooler weather and dark evenings -

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Got A Marathon Thing Tomorrow

My iPod is loaded with podcasts, playlists, and albums.

My race vest is loaded with fuel.

My gear bag is loaded with clothes for after.

I've slept as much as I can this week, am as carbo-loaded as I can stand.

And I raised all the money I needed to.

Physically I'm probably in the worst shape I've ever been heading into this - mentally I'm probably in the best.

So wish me luck and we'll see what I can do!