the writer’s notebook

I’ve returned to making use of my physical notebooks–to writing down notes and thoughts longhand, and to thinking through projects, as well as taking notes from lectures or books that I’ve been attending or reading. My favourites are unlined notebooks with thick paper and while a lot of it is note-taking and recording of thoughts and possible scenarios, I also unabashedly include mundane lists for daily tasks or groceries or things to remember. I also like to draw diagrams because visuals help me a lot and that act of capturing something in a drawing even if I’m not great at it, helps me as I process through to what I want to say or write about.

I shared this process with the nibling during our once-a-week scheduled convo and as the nibling is a budding artist, I decided to send them a couple of journals like mine as I totally get how attention can drift when you’re listening to a lecture online and sometimes diagramming the lectures or drawing a weird head speaking the lecturer’s words will help make things more interesting.

I also showed them some of my awkward attempts at visualising stuff from inside my head which was funny and fun to do. As I said to them, I have all these images in my head, but I’m not good at drawing, so I write because I want to get them out of my head onto the page.

Anyway, the notebook is a hodgepodge. It’s not neat or academic. It’s more of a collection of all the things that catch my attention–things I obsess about–subjects I hunt down as I try to figure out what it is my brain is obsessing about.

I’m thinking again about Jeremy Kamal talking about how we may think we’re obsessed with the apple until we find ourselves obsessed by a fire hydrant or a firetruck and then as we track these obsessions we realise that what we’re really obsessed with is the color red.

It’s a thought I’ve taken with me in my process and the truth in those words is reflected in the search and the resulting pieces. For instance, in a recently completed piece, I thought I was obsessed with black holes, when in fact, what I was obsessed with was grief and saying goodbye. This is something that had me sitting back a bit as it’s something I still struggle with although it is true that time takes the sharp edges away.

What is personal to us or what comes from that place where our emotions reside can be scary, but as Kiini Ibura Salam in her book, Finding Your Voice, says it can also be the place where some of our strongest work comes from (I am saying it as I understood it). I am thinking of this as I work on various pieces and the notebooks help a lot as I find that creating diagrams of my thoughts or simply just wrestling with ideas using actual pen and paper does help me find some resolution or some direction when it comes to what I am working on.

I find myself thinking too about the instrument to body connection and what it represents or what it means for makers–writers, visual artists–all of us who make things. Perhaps, it’s this connection–the slowing down of process, the taking time to reflect and think and be in the moment with the work in progress that has made me feel less anxious and more capable of believing in what it is that I want to bring into the world.

During one of the lectures I recently attended, the speaker spoke of how what’s important isn’t having or finding all the answers, but rather finding the questions that we want to ask. This speaks too to what Jeremy Kamal has said about finding what it is you’re obsessed with.

As we enter the fall season, I’ve started working together with various makers. Writers and artists. Thinkers and creators whose work excites me and makes me see how the boundaries between the worlds of making are more porous than we imagine them to be. There is a lot waiting to be discovered and a lot of questions waiting to be asked. For the time I have been given and the opportunities that arise, I am truly grateful.

To you who are on the journey, don’t be afraid to ask questions. As has been said: curiosity is the mother of invention.

Some of my most recent notebooks. The smallest one fits easily in any purse, the purple one is already full, the open one is the current notebook but I am close to the end of it, so I have a new one waiting for when the current one is full.

Process: approaching the work

Am I still a writer?

In the time that has passed, I’ve asked this question on and off. I’ve wondered why I can’t just sit down and make myself write.

Sometimes, just the thought of writing is enough to make me anxious. I sit down and look at the page and wonder if what I write will be good enough. Will I be able to say what I want to say? How did I write before the world changed? And why must the world start up and go at full speed while I am still dragging my heels and waiting?

The work summons me. It calls to me. My gut churns. I want to throw up.

I know the work is waiting and even if I try to cover it up, inside my head, the work is already taking shape. It is simply waiting for me to sit down and write.

But when I sit down, my attention is led away by other things.

My eldest son must be reminded of projects he must finish if he is to graduate this year. Youngest son must focus and finish his homework. Paperwork beckons. We must make a decision on our house. We must speak to the insurance people. We must speak with the builders about the damage the last storm inflicted on our roof. We must. . . .

There is no end to the list of tasks.

But the work beckons and cannot be ignored and so, I sit and look at what I have written and think of how I will go on from here.

I think of loneliness, of displacement, of the world becoming empty and bare and of how the landscape changes and how we change.

When does the stranger’s touch become the touch of a friend? When does a lover’s embrace become a shelter? When does the foreigner become part of the landscape? When does the stranger start to call the foreign country, home?

How do we get there?

How?

I think of the world in its sad state and of how easy it would be to give in to despair.

I think of life and of being in a state of change. I think of the gaps between the spaces.

I think of what it means to go out on a journey, of what it means to leave everything behind.

I sit down.

The writing isn’t perfect. As always, it is flawed.

Updatery and such

It still continues to be busy. In some ways, it’s busier than it was. In other ways, it’s a bit more quiet. I like that I get to have alone time when I can do whatever I like but the house has its demands and there are things that need to be done.

This past month, I finished working on an essay I’d promised Maurice Broaddus. I think of the encouragement that comes to me in emails, in publications (Magnifica Angelica Superable was published on Lightspeed this month), and in conversations had with beloved ones. It may sound strange but I feel like I am coming back from a long way away.

I think of Laura telling me how deaths of those close to us change us. I think of one of our friends telling me that when his father died, the world narrowed down and became somehow sharper. Different.

I think of what it’s like to fall in-between cracks and how there is that moment between losing someone and being alive when it feels like the left behind are hovering somewhere in a place like indefinite limbo while the world goes on.

It feels just right that I am reading a Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Intelligent Rodents with my youngest son. Youngest son can read the book all by himself, but we borrowed this book expressly to read together. A bedtime ritual where he listens and imagines while I try to make the story feel as real as possible with the reading of it.

There is death in this book. In the past two nights, two of the intelligent rodents have died. Pratchett doesn’t turn away from those deaths. Rather he lays it on the page, factual and clear. It happened. A rat died. We stand still for a moment, thinking on that death and then Pratchett moves us onward–the story continues. It’s not that the death doesn’t matter. It does, but life goes on and characters move forward and think about what happens next.

On some days, it’s a dilemma. How to make it so that a child doesn’t sink into the quagmire of sorrow and despair.

Tearing a book out of Pratchett’s page, I acknowledge my child’s sorrow. It’s sad and it’s a terrible thing, but tomorrow is a promise. Let’s think about what we want to do tomorrow. Where do you want to go? What do you want to see? What about next week? What about next month? What about next year?

I understand very well that grief doesn’t ever go away. That grief is not a neat and orderly process but it comes in waves and flags and sometimes at the most inconvenient and untidy of moments. It is as it is. There is no changing the reality. But we go on. We hang together. And then, I find myself thankful and glad that I can still be here for my children.

Process: Fire and Life and Story

Wrote 1647 words to the wip yesterday.

Worked on that story that I let lie for a long long time.

I am sitting at my writing desk–butt in chair, eyes to the screen. I plan to write and I plan to keep on writing.

I think of conversations had with friends about the writer’s life and the act of writing. I think of stories and I think of fire and I think of how what is twisted and cold and hateful will always try to kill what is warm and passionate and alive.

Fire and life.

I think of how we come to story from many different backgrounds. Half-scared out of our skins because to write story is to bare yourself to the world. It is to make yourself vulnerable and open to possible derision, to possible shaming, to possible rejection, to possible pain. And yet, we keep doing it. Again and again and again.

While sorting through the business of paperwork and thinking through how I should go on, I told the accountant who was helping me to deal with the finance side of stuff that I was working on my first novel. She smiled and told me that it’s a rare writer who is able to make a living off of their writing. I know this. I know this very well.

Still, I write.

I write because stories are life. They remind me of hope and joy and of the passion that is so vital to life. I know what it’s like to walk in this world carrying worlds inside my body–to have that feeling of knowing a place that is beyond the space my physical self occupies.

 

Story is a fire. It is my job to open the door, to make the fire so inviting that the reader can’t help but come in. It is my job to make the world I carry inside me become just as real to the reader as it is to me.

There is enough killing hatred in the world. There are enough people who populate the world with killing words and killing deeds.

Words have power. (Fantasy reminds us of this.)

I write to remember that the world is filled with infinite possibilities, that there is still hope, that we have the power to change, that we can change ourselves and the world around us.

Blow fire into your story.  Keep hold of your hope. Be contagious.

The stories we write. . .

This year’s write-a-thon seems to be really good for me. In the past two weeks, I’ve written close to 10,000 words including words from two new short stories.

One of the stories takes place during a period of Ifugao history that is surprisingly well-documented. I’m talking of the period when American colonizers took a large number of Ifugao to the US where they were put on display as living exhibits. I remember visiting the Folk Museum in Seattle and seeing newspaper clippings about this period there. I wish I’d taken the time to ask for copies of these clippings but I was feeling quite upset at the time. I thought of growing up with men and women who were very proud of the culture and to see it being written about in a condescending manner– I had no words for what I felt. I still don’t.

This is one of the most intense stories I’ve written and I find that the more I delve into history, the more it becomes impossible to be unmoved by it. I find myself wondering what it must have been like.The years when we lived away from the mountains were like years in exile. Now I live in the Netherlands, but for all that I am surrounded by green things, I have moments when I feel very much like an exile. My personal narrative contains that longing for home and the desire to return. I suppose it’s inevitable that this finds its way into story.

The second story I wrote, which is still in full first draft glory, intersects with Alternate Girl’s life story. For quite sometime now, this character named Adventure Boy has been lingering in the back of my mind. I kept trying to write his story, but kept coming up with the wrong words for it. Then, last week, I sat down and in two days, the first draft for Return to Metal City was written. I need to do a bit of tweaking and probably need to do a major overhaul on one section, but aside from that, it’s the story I’ve had in my head for quite a long time.

Right now, I’m back to working on the Body Cartographer novel. I’m hoping to write at least 5,000 more words to it by weekend. I’m terrible at updating but I will post excerpts sometime soon.

publications and updates

It’s been a pretty busy and exciting two weeks with lots of things going on. On Saturday, I celebrated International Women’s Day together with the Filipina women of Stichting Bayanihan. It was a good day focussing on gender consciousness. Not too high threshold but with enough material to provide good food for thought. 

This week, I received news that the ISF 2012 Annual Anthology with my story, 59 Beads, is now free to download from the ISF site. I’d like to acknowledge Roberto Mendes and Ricardo Loureiro for putting this anthology together. 

I also received word that Decolonizing as an SF Writer, which first appeared simultaneously on The Future Fire Blog and Kate Elliot‘s blog, has been selected for inclusion in Speculative Fiction 2012:The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary. The list of contributors has been released and is viewable here. I look forward to reading all the pieces selected. 

I’ve also received the contract for Dagiti Timayap Garda, a short weird/horror story that I wrote which was inspired by the shapeshifting Tikbalang and monster stories from my childhood. I’m quite excited about this sale and look forward to when I can announce everything about it here. 

And I am completing work on a short story and am also completing work on the final draft of my novella. I’m really excited about both of these stories as they are both rooted in indigenous culture and in the case of the novella–very much inspired by Filipino history. 

I have an unexpected free day tomorrow and I hope to finish one of these two things by weekend. I think the short story first and hopefully the novella before Eastercon.

(crossposted to http://rcloenen-ruiz.livejournal.com)

The work-in-progress, Eightsquaredcon and blogs I read

It’s been ten days since I last updated here. I’ve been engrossed in the work-in-progress which is coming along quite well. When I wrote the first draft of this novella, I was very concerned about the war and how it would go and how it would end.  As I was working on the rewrite, I realized that revolutions aren’t just about the war and the road to freedom is more complex than winning a battle. Extensive rewrites are taking place and I’ve added another dimension to the WIP that wasn’t there in the first draft. I’m really hoping I finish this soon. But as with most of what I do, it’s going to be a lot more than just getting from point A to point B.

I’ve been catching up quite a bit online and I thought I’d share some blogs that I visit from time to time:

Decolonization:Indigeneity, Education & Society has lots of thoughtful and thought-provoking stuff. Go read.

For critical Dutch readers, I can’t stop recommending Roet in Het Eten.

And Tiger Beatdown always has thought-provoking stuff.

I’m also trying to catch up on my TBR as part of my preparation for Eightsquaredcon. I’ve offered to moderate a panel on non-western SFF and will be participating in several other panels.

There are regular updates at the Eightsquaredcon blog.