Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Once Upon an Afternoon

Traffic was thick as cement this afternoon and the new route home tangled me up around a toll road so that I was later than usual to the turn not far from the arboretum. I was mentally rehearsing Monday's paperwork and plotting highlighter colors, building up the kind of internal Charybdis that sucks all thoughts to lightless depths. I had pulled out the fiddle CD and was listening to an NPR fund drive. I had wedged the writer closed with ancillary workplace drama and was beating her with pledge pleas. I was becoming cruel with impatience. Perhaps I would forfeit the lift that turning for home should bring because I was already navigating by habit.

Instead, the sun graciously highlighted a maple for me. A warm white smoothed out the greenish silver of the trunk and gave the golden undersides of the leaves, otherwise a thick matte green--the color of lawns or plain green crayons--an uplit shadow and sharpness. As the light incised the tree upon its surroundings, it reminded me of the abandoned arboretum and the way I'd given it up over the summer and then picked up something else to fill my fall days such that the maples on the pathway to the pond were strangers, if they had survived last year's drought and this year's reimagining of the trails.

I didn't seek out flower fairies in the nooks and crannies of the park; rather, I imagined queens disguised as maples among the pines. And when I became lost, one of them came looking for me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Waves of Nacre Empty of Pearls

I jammed a pen into the palm of my hand this afternoon, accidentally, while I was fishing it out from under the desk at work. For a second or two I thought I'd punched a hole in my skin. Instead, I had an effaceable scar, a slash of ink pointing at the divot that has since vanished.

I'd like to the think that all the frustration of the past few weeks--my sleeping instead of writing, my running away to RenFest every weekend instead of writing, my vivid nightmares instead of writing--has struck.

Instead, I'll have to blame the clumsiness on my slow adjustment to my schedule and my general lack of coordination.

Why, if I am so jealous of the vanished space (time) in which to write, am I playing City of Heroes again? Especially now, with only a month or so left until the entire game shuts down? That, too, has to do with writing.

I am chasing a particular kind of space in my brain within the game. COH has always been a cheat for evoking that kind of Saturday morning, cartoony dreaminess. I don't care about the exaggerations of violence and romance that pop through the average novel. I'm looking for the kind of suspension that a great poem or a flowing Tolkien passage gives me, the kind of sunlight-on-the-grass, bicycle-on-the-sidewalk, you-are-air, sunlight, and world-in-miniature feeling that I used to get just from being in motion. That rambling sense that you could find a passable wonder just over there just before your safe return.

For whatever graphical reason, COH sparks that in my head. It is, perhaps, a cheat; however, it is a cheat that gives me a sense of breathing room where formerly I had none and a good excuse to blast frustrations at the same time.

Perhaps I am too anxious a person to be a brave writer. Safety and suspension are great for swimming and biking but not so much for sustaining a plot. I would never jam a pen into the hand of my characters and they are the poorer for it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Well, this has been a bit of a sudden stop. Last week I had the opportunity to go back to work for a few days and, while there are many good things about that, the exhaustion and mental fuzziness that comes with shifting sleeping schedules and the stress of new situations pretty much sunk any writing I otherwise would have done.

I'm extraordinarily grateful, therefore, for my writing circle. I've been putting what has become a difficult draft out for comment and last week they came through with the kind of basic questions that shake out a plot and link you back to your original creative enthusiasm for your draft.

Not that I've done much about it. Instead, I've started having regular nightmares (4:30 am - 5:00 am) and walking around the house like a zombie while trying to reestablish functionality. This upgrade may have permanently disabled parts of my operating system.

Since drafting is at a standstill and I'm sleepy all the time, I'm finding that I'm looking forward to Halloween as a more-creative-than-usual break. I found myself last night experimenting with drawing masks on with eyeshadow (because why not?) and THAT has given me a why to hang on to shreds of creativity through the fuzziness. My characters need a more vivid visual establishment, both in the text and in my mind's eye. Right now I feel that I know them more as energies haunting the plot than as flesh-and-blood creatures recognizably moving through their world.

So, I'm off to find out what each character looks like--what Chaos might wear to her wedding to Decadence, what a minor Fate might carry to cut her own bindings and sip like a spider on wicked fairies in the garden of the witch, and what a dog transformed into an old man might find when he looks in a puddle.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Fast Reader Becomes A Slow One

My favorite used bookstore is expanding a bit into new books and therefore my recent trip there included buying a copy of J.K. Rowling's A Casual Vacancy. I'd heard/read nothing but good things about this novel and, while I was outside of the suggested age range for the Harry Potter series, I had read and enjoyed them. My mom did her best to make a Anglophilic reader out of me and PBS broadcasts of Dr. Who, Red Dwarf, and the Mystery series pretty much sealed the deal.

As you can probably guess from this above list, I'm partial to genre fiction...but not so much so that I don't read lit fiction.

As I began reading, however, I realized that this is one of those books that's going to have to go back on the shelf for some time before I pick it up again. Ms. Rowling's characters are flesh-and-blood and frighteningly mortal from the start and they get under my skin, uncomfortably so. She fillets the empathy directly from the surface of my heart.

The book settles in the part of me that is worried about what I've come to think of as my career amputation--this occurred over a decade ago when the Pumpkin King and I decided to move out into the suburbs to pursue job opportunities. I left a job that made me happy for one that turned out to be little more than drama and paranoia and that ended badly. After that, I floundered until finding a job that ended with the closing of the company just as the economy tanked. Since then...blankness.

All of sudden, I'm encountering article after article that shows people roughly my age with a raft of accomplishments behind them and now this book--which hangs a scythe over my imagination. It's just a mismatch of circumstance and reader; however, it feels like a condemnation.

But the book is really good. I promised myself I'd read one page a day until it was done. It is probably worth the discomfort. I should know sometime in July 2014.

Monday, October 1, 2012

COH, Anger, and Art

This is probably not going to be my last post on this topic; however, it's a perfect (cool, windows open, green grass candle flickering) time to start becaue that juxtaposition--real breeze, peri-autumn mood swings, and fake outdoor scent hints at the place NCSoft's City of Heroes game made for itself in my life. City of Heroes (COH) is an MMO in which you can play either a hero or a villian in the bustling metropolis of Paragon City, a beautiful municipality that attracts aliens, mobsters, gang members, soulless magical practioners, evil corporate henchpeople, scary carnies, psychic robots, and megalomaniacs like one of those sticky rollers picks up dog hair.

COH takes place in "the present" and is a fairly bloodless game with simple game mechanics and a plethora of costume options. As a former Barbie clothing addict, the costumes proved quite the distraction (and quite the PITA when it came to capturing images of my characters...more about that later). There are holiday events (rogue snowmen! wicked trick-or-treaters!), a relatively convivial team atmosphere, secret bases, and while the game is far from perfect, it is the closest equivalent I've found to spending some time living in a Saturday morning cartoon. It was also "safe" for the nephew during the time when that was a concern.

Then, NCSoft decided that it wasn't cool enough or profitable enough and announced they would be "sunsetting" the game, otherwise known as shutting it down and wiping the servers, at the end of November 2012.

It's just a game, right?

Since that time, I've spent days trying to pull character images off the various servers, take in-game shots of familiar landmarks, and pull down game history and storylines for the scrapbooks that I'm making for myself and my husband. He won't talk about the game, except to request the scrapbooks. Why go to all that effort for a game (let's just ignore sports and related nuttiness, merchandising, and devotion for the time being)?

COH became part of the rituals of our year. Just as the Pumpkin King and I drive around every December searching out neighborhoods with great Christmas lights, we look forward to blowing off steam each year in Holiday Chalet, trying to beat each other's times on the ski slopes and coming up with outrageous holiday outfits. We've long since aged out of trick-or-treating and yet October brings with it in-game trick-or-treating.

The PK isn't big on socializing, but COH allowed us to get together with coworkers and friends in a manner he enjoyed.

During this long stretch of unemployment, I've been fortunate to be able to get online every now and again and blow of steam or team up with others.

Just like a familiar drive, COH has become a good way to occupy my hands and the upper level of my awareness while allowing the creative bits to thunk around and shake loose story ideas, plot solutions, and general realizations that helped me move forward as a writer. On days when I couldn't face going to the arboretum or when I didn't want to waste the gas, COH was an escape hatch.

These are just my personal reasons why I'm sorry NCSoft is taking the game away from us.

Beyond that, I'm struck by the amount of effort and hours that have gone into designing the game and developing the storylines. Nothing could really take the place of the dynamic experience of playing the game; however, it saddens me that the craft that went into the game could just be tossed out.

This triggered an ongoing major reevaluation for me. Was the effort worth it? Does it deserve to be preserved because it existed? What should we do when commerce pulls the plug on a game like this? When will there be a kind of Internet museum for pieces like this? (This thought, in part, was sparked by some of the fascinating scenes from Ready Player One, which I will finish, eventually.) Why would I even consider COH art?

When I was making my simple scrapbooks of characters and costumes, I was in a single-minded panic to save the character creation stories I'd worked on from disappearing. I had only written them for the game and I hadn't bothered to preserve them elsewhere. When I was working on the PK's scrapbook, I found myself wanting to capture landmarks, the familiar images of a city that I know probably better than the one I live in (because who is able to fly over one's city just above the rooftops IRL?).

What I discovered was that COH provides one of those limbic backdoors to Saturday morning. To being able to lay on my stomach in front of the TV and then bike for hours around the neighborhood. To feeling a lift in my stomach when the cool air arrived. To believing that something really cool was possible.

COH provided, in addition to all the other things mentioned above, a gateway to a physical remembrance of myself. It provided a way to zone into an experience deeply enough to transcend and overlay the experience I was having of sitting in my chair, WASZing my character around buildings.

If COH provided both an everyday transcendence and worked itself into the social celebrations of our lives, I think I can call it art. Why then should it be thrown away?