Living, afraid

I have spent a month or more being too afraid.

I’ve always been someone who fears things deeply, but that’s often when I have reason to fear; my fears go to the extreme, the worst case, envisioning how terribly it all will end, but they are not sparked at random. There are clinical terms for the things I don’t experience— social anxiety, well, I’m usually not afraid of interacting with people— generalized anxiety, well, I don’t think of myself as someone who curls up in a ball at just anything. I merely, “merely” struggle to keep calm under pressure. That’s all it’s been, until recently.

Something has changed in a strange way, so strange that it could almost be considered an annoyance. It wasn’t the knowledge that the entire global biosphere has just over a decade to be saved from potentially total collapse. That knowledge is painful, deep, abiding, and made the sadness of autumn and winter all the sharper, fashioning it into a real grief. But if anything, that all made me less afraid for a time. Why should I be afraid of obstacles in my daily life that are so petty next to apocalypse? Nevertheless, at the onset of spring I began to deal with something profoundly new to me: the cat I’ve had for almost eleven years was ill, and although he’s recovering now, there was a stretch when I thought I might lose him.

I prepared for it. I made sure to tell him all the things I wanted him to know, if he could ever understand, and I researched and decided what I would do with his remains if the moment came, and I even had a plan for contacting an at-home euthanasia service if his suffering was too great. While he may be on the mend, I’m coming off the end of many sleepless nights, and my tension from those has spread into other sources of stress. Now I keep winding myself up into a silent, heart-pounding frenzy, not at my cat, but at my normally dormant phobias. I am afraid of fire. I am afraid of illness in general. I am afraid of loud noises. Incidents involving any of these things, or the threat of these things, are making my blood burn. Flooded with cortisol.

It’s bad for me, and I want it to stop. I am exploring what I can do to make it stop, and I have already made certain resolutions. Right now, though, while I’ve had a few minutes to reflect again about all of this, I’ve decided to write here, because I haven’t written so fully on anything in my life for a while. I think that’s something I’ve lacked, something that could have even contributed to my fear. I’m going to try being brave now. I still remember what that felt like, and if it takes writing and writing and writing until I can get that feeling back, then write I must.

Here ends another dispatch from late capitalism.

Llywelyn Jones

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Overdue update time

It has certainly been a while since I updated here (again). This is not for lack of productivity. I’d like to let interested parties know that the mega-project Armes Prydein is still very much in progress, even though it remains largely within the worldbuilding stage. At this point, I would say that’s about 2/3 done, and then there will be some intensive character planning but I’m envisioning a serious, hardcore Writing Schedule™ getting underway before the end of 2019. This would mean that 1/2 of my estimated 5 year minimum project time would have been devoted to “not actually writing,” but I am increasingly confident that once the writing does begin apace, spending only 2.5 more years on it could be realistic.

I am mostly anticipating slowdowns if I get wildly distracted by some other creative endeavor… which is not impossible, because some recent events have made me very curious about getting back into music after an extremely long hiatus. But I’m not considering the risk too great at the moment; my music ideas require money that I shouldn’t rightfully spend for a bit, and it’s been enough of a headache lately to consciously manage writing logistics that I don’t know how music production could actually enter the mix.

In any case, while I continue this literary dungeon-crawl, I know I would do myself a favor by developing my writing career on other fronts, so here are some resolutions that I’d like to try upholding once I get back from a vacation in early May:

  • Post more Armes Prydein process updates here, even when they feel minor.
  • Post essays here to develop a portfolio for freelance work!
  • Yes. Freelance work. I’m going to try it.
  • Write at least one singular short story like “O Fortuna” again on the side, and start pitching it. Ideal publishing time frame before 2021.

How many of these things will I pull off? I don’t know. But I’m not getting any younger.

Llywelyn Jones

Poem: Heat

I’ve moved somewhere more rural, though still close enough to Boston that I can continue working there. I’ve already found that my new habitat is better at helping me write poetry, which relieves me because of how many years it’s been since I wrote any poems at all. Unfortunate, however, that this first poem is in response to a terrible disaster in the region.

It shall go with fire & fire,
as the water shall be still,
with the red and gold flowing bloodlike to the sky.
Not one safe home, every earth-vent open,
belching death from the hard hands—
we say hard from heartless,
we say not laborers but stone lords—
and ever there is much to spend
on starting fires,
and none for ending them.

Wood booming, breaking, ashing,
bodies sheltered from the home,
the home sent them out,
not wanting them gone,
for in the flame cries a soft voice
that there had been love.

When we go it shall be so,
with fire & fire,
all regret hoarse from smoke.

Llywelyn Jones

Upcoming publication: “O Fortuna”

2017 was a quiet year for writerly news, and I seem to recall saying I wasn’t going to put anything here unless I really felt so moved. Even after keeping this particular blog alive for four years, I still haven’t entirely determined what function it ought to serve, or what sort of person is reading it. Nevertheless, if there’s one thing that always belongs here, it’s publication announcements, and I’m thrilled beyond belief to make one now.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you already heard about this a few weeks ago, but let’s make this even more official: my sci fi novella “O Fortuna” will be appearing in Issue 6 of The Fantasist, with a publication date of March 15th! That’s less than a week away, and thus not too long that anyone can forget to check it out, wink wink. I have no idea how much to toot my own horn about this, but my astonishment and happiness stem from several sources. First of all, yes, I was a big award finalist four years ago and all that, but it was for a self-published work, so I have been trembling from the fact that I’ve finally gotten through the infamous query gauntlet— never before have I managed that for any work of fiction. Secondly, while I shy away from labeling myself as an “x genre” writer, the genres that feel like the closest fit are sci fi, fantasy, and horror, so I’m very gratified to break into the field. And lastly, I hadn’t given up hope for “O Fortuna” finding an audience, but I wrote it after coming to some very important conclusions about my own life. I’ve referred to it as my robot baby, and I can tell that baby has found a very good home in The Fantasist.

A little more about “O Fortuna”: inspired by the common but rarely sympathetic trope of the sexbot, this narrative focuses upon an android sex worker, Lux, who was once programmed to pleasure humans without thought for her own rights. Now living free, Lux has found that passing for a human with more legitimized employment also has its downsides; despite years of independence, she is caught in a quandary about what individualism means, and she’s searching for the person who can give her the life she really wants. Questioning the conventional wisdom about everything from sex and gender to future economies and the true role of AI, “O Fortuna” presents a nuanced, rebellious drama that draws a straight line from Frankenstein’s monster to the erotic dolls of some dystopian metropolis. This story’s future civilization does not glitter; it grinds, buzzes, screams, and cries.

That’s my official copy for it. I’ll also add that I’ve requested that the magazine include a content warning for implied sexual violence and discussion of sexual violence. The story isn’t a tragedy, but it’s not a walk in the park.

As for The Fantasist, the site link above should tell you a fair amount of what’s to read there, but one cool thing I’d like to explain about them is their innovative payment model for writers. If you want to read “O Fortuna” right on their site, you can go there as soon as Issue 6 is live on the 15th, and as far as I’m aware you don’t have to pay a penny. But if you would like to both support the magazine and my own future writing, you can also buy an e-book version of “O Fortuna” in their online store. Normally their e-books are $1.99, and from the 15th to the 22nd they’ll be on sale for $1.00 even (I earn the same cut either way). Furthermore, the magazine has a Patreon you can donate to, if that’s your thing; it would help them pay authors even more in the future.

I think that’s it. I’ve never released my own press like this before either, of course, so maybe I’ve done it all wrong. In any case, I’m very excited. Huge thanks to my husband and Sen Hardwick, who served as beta readers a while ago, and I’d like to dedicate this novella to Mary Shelley, Ursula K. Le Guin, and all the brave kinksters, inksters, weirdos, queerdos, revolutionaries, and cyborgs I’ve known.

D. Llywelyn Jones

This Latest Eclipse: A Record, Part 8

Last part of an eight-part series. Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7

The road. We were back upon it one last time, and we were passing through increasingly familiar territory, with home before us rather than behind us. Of course the road has its own mythos; even cultures that have forgotten nomadic life remain obsessed with journey narratives, transit narratives, the entering and exiting of places that serve only as middle points to the destination. A special part of that mythos, in this country but perhaps also in others, is the experience of liminal uncertainty on the highway system and in the spaces one encounters while traveling it.

I journeyed with my mind focused on such experiences for those remaining hours, perhaps because the less liminal points of interest on the trip had already been visited. The eclipse remained as vivid in my memory as it had ever been and as I suspect it may always be, but with three days past, I had to expend effort to open that psychic door— rather than feeling it constantly blow open. And Philadelphia and Greenville and Asheville and Gettysburg had been what they had been, but I was no longer with them. So on that Thursday afternoon I began the drive by watching the landscape of rural Pennsylvania.

On that stretch, the most iconic thing that my husband and I both noticed were the hex signs. These halfway abstract images were painted on many a barn. They are not Amish, or at least the Amish reject claims of such association, though they most likely have some pedigree from the Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch as a whole. To scholarly knowledge hex signs also have nothing to do with hexes, witches, or Germanic pagan practices, and the etymology of hex in this case is muddy. But due to the symbols’ ambiguous lineage, naturally people in this region have appropriated hex signs for any purpose from connoting local pride to building a syncretic visual language for spellcasting. Besides this interesting history, I also simply enjoyed the artwork.

Eventually we found a diner for late lunch, not far past the New Jersey border in New York. I didn’t terribly enjoy the food, but a diner seemed another requirement of the road mythos, and we hadn’t been to one yet. The middling meal almost seemed like a requirement, too. All of this opened a gateway to certain other elements once we reached Connecticut: a painful traffic jam at sunset, a few wrong turns taken in an attempt to avoid the jam. Our tempers had strained slightly by nightfall, and our stomachs were growling furiously once we slipped back onto I-90.

We ate a very humble dinner at a rest area. Then the last darkness loomed. Here we were, night thick over the highway, our headlights illuminating the dashed lines of the lane markers, which pulsed past us again and again and again. It was a night that the shadow of the moon alone could not have provided. Real night. Sleep-night. The lengthening night of an aged summer. Those lane markers carried us under green signs and eventually under the artificial glow of the small but glittering city of Boston. We made our dive into the Big Dig, we took the turn off the highway, we coasted along and up and suddenly stopped in our parking lot.

It felt just like driving home from a single day out. I should have been more tired, surely. But when I finally slept in my own bed, I slept deep and long, and I knew that I had seen something three days before that nobody in this city here had seen. I had been gone, and I had come back with an eclipse of my very own. And, unfortunately, a travelogue.

D. Llywelyn Jones

Here concludes this essay series. I may return to sparse posting for the foreseeable future, but this is not easy to predict.

This Latest Eclipse: A Record, Part 7

Seventh part of an eight-part series. Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 8

By daylight I found myself out of place in Gettysburg almost instantly. Our hotel served a free but limp breakfast in a fluorescent-lit room with a depressingly industrial tile floor. The other guests wore things like flag pins, khaki Bermuda shorts, and shirts in bright but poorly coordinated colors; none of them seemed younger than forty. Hotel management also held the mindset that the first thing you want to do in the morning is watch TV while you eat— watch any channel, that is— and so Today blared from an unnecessarily large screen on the wall.

Our ultimate purpose here was to see the Civil War battlefield. It had been my idea, and I wasn’t yet regretting it, nor would I. I have always been nearly as interested in the Civil War as I am in the American Revolution. Nonetheless, I failed to grasp at first that the Battle of Gettysburg did not really take place on just one field; the battlefield was the entire town, spread over multiple fields and hills and streets. And as a town Gettysburg certainly qualified as a tourist trap, crammed with souvenir stores, the architecture of so many façades ambiguous as to whether they were renovated historic structures or merely built to resemble such. If my family had taken me to this place as a child, I would have loved it. As for now—

My husband and I fumbled a little for what to see. I think I wanted to go somewhere quiet, meditative, where dead bodies lay. I certainly did not want a guided tour or to spend an inordinate amount of money doing anything we could just do ourselves. So although we drove to the visitor center for the national military park, we spent minimal time at that location. For a hefty sum we could have viewed a museum of war artifacts, a presumably impressive cyclorama painting of the battle, and a film; but even if we wanted to pay, time was also limited, and we surmised the film would be intolerably patriotic.

However, we discovered from the information desk that the whole town had signage guiding visitors to various key sites— in other words, there was a self-guiding auto tour option. This naturally cost nothing, so we started to give this a whirl. This, too, failed on account of poorly marked turns, but as the sun climbed higher in the sky we finally found the right sort of thing to see. We found the military cemetery.

When we parked and exited the car in the cemetery’s grass-covered lot, and as we ventured through a gate, initially I saw nothing remarkable. The first graves before us were not from the Civil War, instead serving as markers for soldiers from various wars, either killed in action, missing, or buried here as dead veterans. White, neat little stones with impeccably matched lettering and religious symbols. I knew these stones from a number of visits to Arlington National Cemetery, both for tourism and for the burial of my paternal grandmother, who was the wife of a naval officer. We had to walk for several minutes under the shade of many enormous trees before we found the place where the soldiers of Gettysburg itself had been formally re-interred a few months after the battle.

Somewhere in that vicinity, Abraham Lincoln had made a certain speech on the occasion of said re-interment, but we didn’t look for that site. We knew the speech and we also knew that Lincoln had suspended habeas corpus during the war and had only made the Emancipation Proclamation as a strategic maneuver after repeatedly insisting that the war only concerned secession rather than the practice of holding human beings as chattel. Lincoln begone. We walked to a gentle hillside where row after row of skeletons were laid beneath our feet. It was hard to read the names on the flat stone markers, but it was harder to read things like “412 bodies from New York.” In those cases the names had never been figured out. About 50,000 people died in Gettysburg over the course of three July days, a tally nearly equal to the amount of US deaths in the entire Vietnam War; I almost couldn’t believe how with 50,000 corpses in the same town even a tiny fraction of them could be identified, catalogued, and sorted by state. The ground where we now stood could not remotely hold all of them, either. I wondered how many bodies were never buried and simply rotted in the summer sun and eventually had their bones swept away, months or years later.

The trees nearby were still thick and tall and majestic. Some had to be old enough that the fighting which took place on this very hill also took place under the same shadowing branches. Growing up in New England, I had visited my share of battle sites where I had to confront the knowledge that blood was shed right where I stood, long before I was born. Growing aware of this whole continent’s exploitative past, I have often had to confront the knowledge that there are many places where blood was shed that no one has bothered or known to mark. But as far as I know, too, until looking at Gettysburg’s great trees and anonymous graves I had never stood in a place of old, catastrophic horror. I was standing somewhere that could have still swirled with screams and entrails and flies and powder burns and death stares. And it was silent, so silent.

In that quiet, my eyes welled from time to time. I took one photo, capturing some graves of New Hampshire soldiers, because they came from what I would generally call my home state. In the town where I was raised, the common had a monument to Civil War participants, and this monument stood from the perspective of a small Northern population whose children had enlisted or, just as likely, been conscripted into a faraway festival of slaughter. At long last, I was now walking upon soil where some of those children had met their ends, never going home.

I still cannot describe why I am grateful to meet those hidden bodies at their final destination, especially not after all the bunting and commercialism I had to endure for that purpose. But I was grateful. And then I myself did get to go home.

D. Llywelyn Jones

To be concluded in part 8.

This Latest Eclipse: A Record, Part 6

Sixth part of an eight-part series. Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 7Part 8

Let’s begin this by looking back at me, the narrator. I took this photo in the Asheville hotel. As my expression may indicate, my perspective after the eclipse and after witch country was increasingly melancholy. I was enjoying the journey, but I was tasting the end of summer, and the two minute apocalypse I’d witnessed on a Monday afternoon kept bringing tears to my eyes.

The next drive was the other long one. Once we left Asheville, we would stay on the road, aside from the occasional stop for food or gas or restrooms, until we were back across the Mason-Dixon. Though I remarked to my husband that our destination sat in some of the Klanniest country currently documented. Again, “the North” is no true sanctuary.

And the remainder of the South that we saw— this continued to steal my breath in beauty and pain together. GPS navigation sent us right up through more of the Blue Ridge, deep into the Great Smokies. I hadn’t even expected to visit Tennessee, but when we left North Carolina we found ourselves crossing that border as part of our transit to Virginia. The mountains were higher but greener, having just been blessed by recent rain, and low clouds clung as fog to the very tops, rolling down the sides in misty torrents. Smoky indeed. I could have walked in this land and mistaken it for an otherworld.

We saw more churches again in the mountains’ embedded hamlets, and we counted our last flags of Confederate war. I wished the total eclipse had touched this land; I wanted to watch an eclipse at such elevations; I wanted to watch an eclipse anywhere that shimmered with such a sense of its own place.

Eventually, the GPS promised we would be entering West Virginia. This came as less of a surprise than Tennessee, but it excited me in a certain way; this much maligned and mistreated state actually held a taste of the familiar to me. As a child I would visit there about once per summer, joining my parents and their friends at a folk dance camp tucked away in what some people might call the middle of nowhere. My memories of that camp were sacred, not because my parents were still married, and not because of the attention I received for learning the dances very well; instead, because of the site itself. At night most of all. At night I would sit on a hillside and stare down into the valley at the pavilion, the dining tent, the other cabins, and I would hear the last music carrying from a Hardanger fiddle, and then I would look at the slopes around me in the starlight, and then I would gaze at the velvet sky and the million gems of the Milky Way spilling all across. There was music and warmth and stars and the sweetest darkness and in those moments I believed myself an immortal being of grace and wisdom. Of course I was very young, but I felt old in better ways than I can feel old now.

That was West Virginia to me. It held stillness and wonder. And when we drove through it, there were too many lights on the highway and the land nearby was too flat, but I trusted in my memory. We stopped at an Arby’s for dinner and the people working there were young and diverse. The state is very much a state of miners, but if I may make one plea, please remember that there are also other workers, and all of them, the miners and the not-miners, they are people.

By the time we finished that meal, it was past twilight, and we progressed into a thin strip of Maryland and then beyond. This was the Klan-land I had warned of. Estimates by the Southern Poverty Law Center put the highest number of “hate groups” (a complex term) in California, the next highest in Florida, the next in Texas, the next in New York, and the fifth highest in Pennsylvania. Some reports I’ve read have indicated that the southern part of that state holds the most obvious activity although fascist membership certainly doesn’t confine itself county by county.

We saw no burning crosses, no hoods, and no swastikas, but as we turned onto smaller and smaller highways, going directly through various towns, many of the buildings looked run down, and the businesses on major thoroughfares carried a certain aura. Bars, gun shops, strip clubs, motels, often with failing neon signs or little signage at all. There were few streetlights. These may have been pleasant places to live— I couldn’t extrapolate anything like that based on such fleeting impressions— but at night the towns looked liminal, and certain modes of thought can spring up in such in-between topologies, iron-clad ideas that serve as anchor points for people struggling to maintain material roots. I wondered what an eclipse would be like here as well. It would be dark, but not as dark as this. I still couldn’t see the Milky Way, but as we drove out from under a patch of forest, I looked up and noticed dozens of stars that I hadn’t been able to see in years as a citydweller.

And with those stars overhead, easily ten hours since we pulled away from Asheville, we arrived in Gettysburg.

D. Llywelyn Jones

To be continued in part 7.