A Vulnerable Year: Continuing Adventures in Cabin Fever

"Be sure when you STEP
Step with CARE and great TACT.
And remember that life's a great BALANCING ACT."
                                                   ~ Dr. Seuss

A bit over a year ago, I looked down at my feet, realized they were on the wrong path, and set out on an expedition to find my own kind of indie authorship. It was a vulnerable year, full of confessions, voyages, and creative experiments that I still don't fully understand. Having now taken a thorough tour of the brambles, I have opinions. (Note: I don't often have those, so this is worth writing down.)

What I Did, Why I Did it, and What I Learned:

  •  I removed the paywall on all of my material (wherever possible) to sort for myself whether cashflow had a negative impact on my creative mindset. By doing this, I've discovered that I may not be a very good capitalist. Disavowing money feels better than receiving it. Don't get me wrong, I have bills to pay and wolves at the door, but my gentler base nature is appeased in giving without expectation. It also feels defiant in a way that satisfies the sharper side of myself -- the punk rocker who responds to showering demands by stuffing flowers in her hair and telling detractors to suck it.*
Full disclosure: Some weeks, the idea of facing even a single
person was more than I could manage. On those days,
I found a public place to leave "orphaned" books,
where visiting kids might happen upon them. 
  • I promised to personally hand out every copy of the Sons of Masguard I had on hand. This turned out to be around 25 sets of the first two books. The goal was to physically face at least two new people each month, to push my agoraphobic arse out of its comfort zone. And I'm happy to say it had an effect. Peeking at the violence of the world from behind closed curtains, it's sometimes easy to forget that people are generally amazing. No one refused my fumbling attempts at gifting, and very few acted ungraciously. In instances where they did, it was usually a case of my own conversational ineptness getting in the way. Ask any anthropologist how people are inclined to react when offered something without conditions. They grow suspicious, and fast. Were I better at the whole "opening my mouth and making proper words come out" thing, I imagine the slightest explanation would have changed that. As it was, at least one encounter went down like this:**
"Thanks! I'll pass this along to my agent/editor/publisher."
"You're very welcome, but don't worry about passing it along unless you're anxious to get it out of your house. I'm not looking for an agent/editor/publisher."
"I'm really not big on leaving reviews..."
"That's okay, I'm not either."
"I'll buy your next book, I promise."
"Actually, if you want the next one, just let me know. I'll happily send you a copy."
"...Then what do you want?"
"...To give you a book?"
"You're welcome."
"I'm gonna slink away now."
"That's probably best for everyone."

If reincarnation is real and kind, it will bring me back as a butterfly who is never expected to carry conversation.
  • I tried to find new ways of letting creativity breathe without restraint. My particular concoction of disorders often leaves me crippled under manic levels of creative energy. Trying to focus it into a single outlet was hindering my process rather than helping it, as I'd previously groomed myself to believe. It's a general truth among typical writers that you ought to focus on writing even when you aren't in a place for it, and I don't disagree when the matter is one of discipline. But by forcing my brain into a mindset for stringing sentences when it was firmly planted in an area better lent to music or art, I wasn't allowing my atypical self to form the kinds of mental pathways I need in order to write organically. The long and short of this: by doing other artsy things, the art of writing got easier. I'm launching a new website, where those who wish to pay me, can, and those who enjoy reading free have a guaranteed platform to continue doing so. I'm also 50,000 words into the final story draft of a book I wasn't sure my brain or body would ever allow me complete. This is probably still behind what most people would prefer, but to me it's progress and wonderful news.

I'm finding my own way.

Slowly, but surely - my feet growing stronger with every step.

Sometimes being a creative person in a business-minded culture means backlash from people who expect a quid pro quo and a bottom monetary line. Sometimes it means feeling rebuffed for reaching out with raw emotion, which can be an indescribably painful and poorly balanced side of creative living. It means being slapped with the dollars you are or are not making, or the impact you have or have not levied.

But I'm finding I'm okay with those things.

I'm okay with just... making stuff and knowing that my stuff sometimes makes people smile*** -- a feat I can't often accomplish face to face. People are usually confused by me and the way I communicate. People usually look the other way. People usually leave. But when I wrap my mania in an adventure and pour my sadness into a metaphor, people understand.

Art is -- and will forever be -- how I choose to speak.

Thank you for giving me someone to talk to.

Gratitude and affection, people.
Heart and soul.

By the by, did I mention I have one more set of books remaining? If you'd like them, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter. I'll send them anywhere in the world. Gratefully, and without conditions.

"If it gets me nowhere, I'll go there proud." ~ Jim Croce (I've Got a Name)

*Hyperbolic, and whatnot. I'm a hippie, but a shower-loving one.
**If you're happening upon this post as a recipient of my flailing, please know that it was entirely on my head.
***No Giggity intended.

Keeping Crooked Things

Neglect a closet for a while, and an unfortunate sort of natural order begins to take effect. It starts with an atmosphere of acceptant convenience for a few worthy knickknacks. Before you know it, the shelves are straining under the weight of things you're "only putting here for a minute, really" - and bad things happen to innocent inanimates as a result.

Take, as no particular example beyond the hypothetical, an umbrella you bought on clearance forever ago that you've used maybe twice by generous estimates.

Though the working bits somehow survived closetgeddon*, the spine and handle came out of it somewhat marred. I had little reason to feel sentimental about it, beyond it being one of those things that "I've just had forever." Still, I felt a tad emotional over the idea of throwing it out, of ditching a perfectly functional tool for the offense of looking atypical.

At the time, I couldn't imagine why that might be. Now a few months have passed, and I think I may be onto myself. That, or I'm taking symbolism to super trite levels.**

Crooked Umbrella is a little bit bent.
A little bit broken.
A little bit spent.

Crooked Umbrella doesn’t open quite right.
Gets stuck here and there.
Wants to close herself tight.

She spent a long time in a corner, unused.
Her handle mismatched.
Askew and confused.

Her bones sometimes tremble, her cloth is threadbare.
She looks rather wrong.
But try not to stare.

For when she is open, she functions just fine.
She’ll fend off the storm.
She’ll still keep you dry.

She’s harder to hold. Broken things often are.
A test of your strength.
She’ll lean from your arms.

Most would have thrown the umbrella away.
She’s been through the rain.
She’s seen better days.

But somebody packs her away every night.
Carries her through the street.
Holds her upright.

Umbrella she is.
Just misunderstood.
So Crooked’s okay.
Broken’s still good.

*Really, it was just a few books falling into the wicker basket where the umbrella was stored. So dramatic.
**It's that one.

10 Reasons to Write About Talking Animals (Backed by Serious Film History)

"What if man were required to educate his children without the help of talking animals?" - Robert Brault

As an author who once tried to turn her piratey, talking animal bonanza into something more human-shaped, I can almost answer that question. 

In my case, the attempt to turn Marshall and McKinley into proper people was spawned by an industry that cautioned "No Talking Animals!" on nearly every submission avenue for children's publishing. The early draft of the story was already written, in all its anthropomorphic glory, and it would be more than fair to say my heart wasn't wholly in the work of altering my first novel into something so far from its original aim. 

I don't think anyone would have argued that the result was anything but disastrous. I couldn't connect with the characters as humans, let alone translate their plight into one worthy of a human teenager's interest. I've since written works of that very sort, but still find myself unable to cram this particular story into that particular box. 

It could be that most of us write from a place of absorbed culture. My childhood (and admittedly, thanks to a death grasp on the epicness of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my teenagerhood) was a sea of anthropomorphic faces. With Paddingtons and Poohs in my literature; Glow Worms, Care Bears, and Popples in the toy box; and Duck Tales, Donald, and Darkwing on the television... it's really a wonder I can have a human conversation without dumping a critter-like affectation into my voice. 

Lately, I've found a spot of mindfulness in idle sketching and often discover one or more of these influential characters at the end of my pencil. Or... you know... crayon. Whatever. I don't need to be proud. 

I do, however, want to make more of an attempt in 2016 to peek my head from behind the door. Today, I'm doing that with doodles, because I'm almost certain that thing about eyes being the window to the soul was originally regarding sketch pads.

10. The Pirate Cat (The Last Unicorn, 1982)

I admit. I feel obligated to begin the list with a character from The Last Unicorn. You know the movie you watched and re-watched and watched again until your parents begged you to find an interest in just about anything else? But you still watched it anyway, because it never failed to wrap you up in whatever emotion or transported world you needed, whenever you needed it? This was my Toy Story. It was my Frozen. It's still the thing I queue up on Netflix when it's three in the morning and I can't sleep. It's the perfect mix of magic and consequence. At no point does the script talk down to you, skewing a little darker in plot setting and in artistic style than most children's films, which made it the perfect vehicle for lessons of a deeper variety. It's very: Unicorn against Society; Unicorn against Nature; Unicorn against Self. With a healthy side of: Unicorn against Horrifying Red Bull.

The pirate cat has a very short stint on screen, but it's full of sound advice and the woeful gravitas of a weathered sailor. He even gives us a line that would almost certainly be true of every cat who ever lived, should they be granted the ability to talk:

"No cat out of its first fur ever gave anyone a straight answer."

I feel like.. if Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson
had a baby that was a cat, it would be THIS cat.
I don't know why that is.
Also, you know Jim Butcher was all up in this
character's head for Aeronaut's Windlass.

9. Dodger (Oliver & Company, 1988)

"Why should I worry? Why should I CA-A-A-ARE?" 

If you can walk past any reminder of this film without singing that line in your head, I'm not sure you and I can be friends. Billy Joel is to the street-savvy cool of 80s culture as short-legged mixed breeds are to a joyful world -- and this movie poured both of those things into a single character.

That move alone was boss enough for a mic drop, but Disney then went above and beyond by hiring Bette Middler to voice a poodle. 


Just go watch it again. You deserve to spend the rest of the afternoon singing, and this is the perfect excuse.

You would so adopt this dog.

8. Unico (Unico, 1981)

Proof that not all influences are happy and that some lessons are downright miserable, Unico aimed for the same fantastical blend of darkness and magic that turned The Last Unicorn into an instant fairy tale classic.

For any kid (or general human, for that matter) who might be disturbed by minor issues like abandonment and watching those you love devolve into lifeless gingerbread furniture for a homicidal psychopath... it kinda missed the "magic" mark and landed somewhere in evil acid land next to a cadre of kittens acting out the Manson killings. 

If you haven't had the pleasure of viewing it for yourself, you might think that dramatic. But give a read to what Gizmodo said about the glorious care given to Unico by beneficent-looking caretaker/assassin West Wind, who repeatedly "saves" Unico from execution by abandoning her in horrifying places the way a drunk parent "saves" a preschooler from germs by locking them in the cellar with the bubonic rats:

"The Wind disappears... and Unico just starts screaming. Understandable. This is five minutes into the movie. But don't worry, soon enough, Unico meets Melvin the Magnificat, who immediately starts punching the unicorn in the face."

The fun goes on from there. 

So why is this on the list? Suffice it to say, the film made such a mark that I spent the rest of my childhood blocking it out and much of early adulthood believing it was actually just a nightmare I once had BECAUSE NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND PUTS THIS SHIT IN CARTOON FORM. That alone makes it notable enough to merit a mention.

Besides, that is still one ridiculously adorable Kitten... Unicorn... Goat thing.

The cuteness is a lie.
Like the cake in Portal,
or a human kidney in Christmas wrapping.

7. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, 1975)

The not-so-humble humble champion of Kipling's short story, Rikki-Tikki was the most engaging version of David versus Goliath and the definite precursor for Redwall's celebration of honorable home defense. Black and white, hero against villain, we unambiguously supported that mongoose through snake infanticide and beyond because the violence seemed somehow practical, if not downright virtuous. As a parent, I look back on this product of older times with harsher realities and I can't help but find the idea of a pocket-sized protector with Rikki's tenacity rather comforting. 

What that says about me, I'm not entirely sure.

Turning children into bite-riddled squirrel tamers since 1975.

6. Basil of Baker Street (The Great Mouse Detective, 1986)

Basil had kids hooked on Sherlock long before Benedict Cumberbatch ever had a chance at setting the standard for the role. With an exuberance for puzzle solving that wouldn't be rivaled until Bill Nye the Science Guy appeared on screen many years later, The Great Mouse Detective translated the superhuman, deductive genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original character into something zany enough to cross the literary divide. Basil had an obsessive dedication to the mystery that made miniature gumshoes of us all. 

The mouse you'd definitely want on your side,
if you were also a mouse.

5. Peg (Lady and the Tramp, 1955)

No disrespect to Lady OR Tramp. But, for me, this film was less about nosing meatballs* and more about the stray queen and cell block lounge singer, Peg (as voiced by timeless treasure, Peggy Lee), crooning the theme song from behind Pound Puppy bars. Like Dodger, she embodied the carefree coolness of someone cast aside by society who has chosen to defiantly revel in it by way of song. 

Singing about serial hookups has never been cooler.

4. Bagheera (The Jungle Book, 1967)

Don't give me that look. You loved Baggy's tough love and helicopter parenting as much as I did. In the whole of the story, he's the only one who consistently had Mowgli's best interests at heart. Even better, in the book, he's basically the Indian Mufasa:

"Everybody knew Bagheera, and nobody dared to cross his path; for he was as cunning as [the trickster jackal], as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant. But he had a voice as soft as wild honey dripping from a tree..."

While Baloo acted as a safety blanket, Bagheera was the bona fide safety net who kept their shenanigans from killing them. Not to mention that he put himself on the line as sole protector in guiding Mowgli to a world more suited to his needs. This while an entire pack of wolves said, "Nah, man. Shere Khan's after him. We're not down for anything with the potential of random tiger." 

He was the nanny we all wanted, even if we couldn't reasonably be disappointed when the babysitter invariably showed up without a tail.

Baggy's so stunned by the comparison to Mufasa
that he lost his whiskers, poor guy.

3. The Unicorn / Amalthea (The Last Unicorn, 1982)

Yes, The Last Unicorn deserves two spots on this list. Yes, I My-Little-Ponified the proportions on this sketch after hitting the bottom of the page.

Even so. 

Peter S. Beagle groupie for life, ya'll.

The Last Unicorn: Home of America's best music.

2. Robin Hood (Disney's Robin Hood, 1973)

Robin Hood probably had more influence over the Secoran world state than any film on this list. The wit. The weaponry. The weird regard for clothing... but also, not. Roger Miller as a chicken. 

The Sons of Masguard may be a bit lacking in that last one, but it shares a landscape devoid of human culture, where scale is altered, and all of sentient history belongs to animals designed to eat each other who, for whatever reason, have decided not to eat each other. 

It's jolly good irreverence with super catchy music. Find me a kid who doesn't love Robin Hood and I'll show you a parent who believes in the power of the funectomy. 

The only woodland creature who looks better on a
Wanted poster than McKinley ever could.

1. Mrs. Brisby (The Secret of NIMH, 1982)

Say what you want, but the timid gal had timid grit. 

She was a mom, remember. And a tiny little field mouse mom, at that. But time and again in this film you watch her tackle every obstacle head-on -- often with eyes wide and every limb trembling as though it might fall off. Mrs. Brisby was a champion, not so much for the cause of overcoming fear as that of experiencing fear in its fullest and choosing to take heroic action anyway. 

As far as I'm concerned, she's the bravest of the lot, and earned her position at the top of today's humble list.

Who says you can't cry AND kick ass?

Regarding the Sons of Masguard as it stands today, when the question is asked -- Why did you decide to write them as animals? -- I usually bypass the long form, cultural immersion essay and respond with the more abbreviated story of the absent illustration that started it all; a colored pencil doodle drawn for its own sake, not unlike those pictured above. But the grander truth of why I enjoy writing about talking animals and why talking animals will probably always be a thing, is that they give us a safe way to create a nobler world without having to justify its superhuman decency. Love it or hate it, anthropomorphism is a brilliant medium for eliminating gender biases and cultural walls. Attempt the same with human characters and you may find yourself fielding complaints of activism when all you really want is to show a group of kids a world where superfluous differences are truly superfluous. Where heroic capability isn't determined by socioeconomic status, or even by species. Where the humblest creatures can solve the biggest mysteries and Billy Joel can coax all the dogs in New York into the most objectively awesome flash mob in entertainment history. 

I'm not saying you CAN'T do that with humans. I'm saying a pack of people crawling through the streets on all fours isn't such a welcome visual. 

What do you think? Do you share a particular affection for any of the characters listed here? If not, which talking animals tickle your nostalgia?

*Which sounds impressively dirty, in retrospect.

Today Instead

I don't want to be a person today.
Can I be a bird instead?
I'll perch beneath your eave and sing.
          Even if it rains, I'll sing.

I don't want to wear a face today.
Can I wear the snow instead?
I'll spider on your windowpane,
I'll dance you to your rest.
And you can warm me still, my dear.
          Warm me with your breath.

We don't need the words today.
I'll bake into the dust.
And hold the earth against your feet.
          And that will be enough.