Done is Better than Perfect

So much of what I want to do gets held back by insecurity about how GOOD it will be. Reader, this is some bullshit, and I know it. I am slowly accepting that doing something half-assed is better than not doing it at all because it won’t be perfect.

Years ago, my dog chewed a hole in a crocheted pillow. I stuck it in my closet to repair, and would sometimes look at it and despair, unable to throw it away, but also unable to bear trying to fix it because it would never quite be the same. My gauge would be off. Crochet isn’t like knitting where you can deconstruct it in the middle; it’s a bunch of knots. I didn’t have the yarn anymore (it was just Sugar n Creme cotton). I couldn’t find the pattern. Finally, I sat down with three balls of yarn (but not the same dye lot) and said “fuck it, I’m fixing it or trashing it.”

I carefully ripped out the compromised parts, read the stitches kinda-sorta, and patched the thing. The colors are slightly mismatched bc dye lot. My gauge is off, should have used a smaller hook. The new part LOOKS new, not as worn as the other areas.

But it’s done. It’s not in my closet. It’s useful again. And perfection is not so desirable that functionality should be lost forever.

Let’s see if I can chase that.

How to Dig a Grave

Eventually, most of us are faced with the task of digging a grave. The scope of this article is only for animals – pets, livestock, wildlife that can’t be left to nature, etc. For human graves, please consult a professional. I cannot advise you on the type of professional.

If the pet was euthanized or died of contagious disease or poisoning, don’t bury them. Cremation is your path. You don’t want diseases or chemicals hanging around in your soil where other animals might get ahold of them. Same goes for animals that are too large to be buried without knowing the local water table, like a camel. For these animals, your vet can either provide cremation services, or give you a number for a guy who can move/dispose of bodies. (Be nice to this person.)

Check your local laws too. If you’re going to blatantly disregard safety regulations or flaunt HOA rules, you should at least know what they are so you can feel deliberately spiteful.

Step 1: Come to terms with the fact that you must now dig a grave.

This is probably going to involve some cursing, possibly crying. Even if this animal was a total bastard, there’s probably a reason you wanted it alive. And if it was a beloved pet, there is a horrible sting of grief, an initial spike of mourning that must pass, in whatever method suits you. As the first wave of pain passes, you will realize: your ass needs to dig a grave.

Or have a grave dug. If you are physically limited from digging this grave, reach out to friends, neighbors, a church youth group, etc. to find a young person who can. You don’t owe your pet a sprained back.

With a plan in place for who will do what, it’s time to gear yourself up for this unpleasant task. Gather a shovel and gloves; don’t give yourself blisters. Eat first if you haven’t eaten. Put on sunscreen, drink water, drink whiskey, whatever you need to do to be physically and mentally ready to dig this grave.

Step 2: Pick a spot

If you’re burying a hamster, this is not such a big deal. Grab a spade and plant it in the garden like a terrible flower, may it never bloom. (Mark it with a rock so you don’t disturb the spot later while you’re planting marigolds.) But if you’re going to be burying anything cat size or larger, give this some thought. Where can it lie undisturbed for at least a year or two? Make sure you know where your electric, sprinkler and other water lines are. Do not cut these, it’s bad, trust me. Pick a spot where you can easily dig down a couple of feet, so that if it reanimates it will have a hard time getting its demonic self out of the grave. Also do not put a grave anywhere that floods, and place it well away from any inhabited buildings. Again; just trust me.

3) Dig and Be in Pain

Using a shovel, point the tip down, and step on it with your foot. You might need something to brace against so you don’t fall, such as a sullen teenager. Getting through grass can be difficult if it’s thick thatch, just take your time. Use a hatchet if you really can’t get through with a shovel. Alternatively, your shovel might be crap. If it’s clay, and you can’t get through, try watering it.

Take a break and wonder to yourself why you have pets, because they don’t live forever and this is always so hard. Remind yourself that death is a part of life. Remember that you too will die, as well as your friends, family, enemies, even that sullen teenager that thinks they are immortal. Question God for even coming up with this stupid corporeal mortal existence. Drink some water.

Keep digging. It’ll take longer than you think. Don’t try to get too big a shovel load at a time, this is a marathon, not a sprint, and you don’t want to break your shovel. Rest as needed. Drink water. Grieve. Don’t cry yet, there’s time for that later and you need to stay hydrated.

4) Put the deceased in the grave

Hope for just a moment that you were wrong and they are not dead. Nope, they really are. Wrap them in paper or a shoebox or something if it pleases you to do so. I’ve seen others say to put them in a plastic bag, but that just prevents them from being decomposed into the soil, so that seems weird to me. I guess if you have a 50+ lb pet this is more applicable bc of the water table, but in that case you should have gone for cremation anyway.

Put them in the grave. Discover you have to bend their body around to fit because you misjudged the size. Feel shitty about it but remind yourself they’re not in there anymore. Begin filling in the hole. Fight back stomach bile creeping up your closing throat because putting DIRT on them just feels so wrong. Give up and let yourself cry as you fill in the rest of the soil. Mound it slightly because the soil will settle. Start to step in it to compact it down, have a flash of their body compressing in the ground, and take a few steps away to throw up just a little.

If you have dogs or a fence without a yard, put something on top of it for awhile – bricks, firewood, even a piece of fencing staked down. The last thing you need is for it to be dig up.

Congratulations, you have finished the grave! Sit down in the mud and cry and don’t care what you’re doing to your pants. You can let yourself cry now because the work part is over, and the sullen teenager has disappeared. Apologize over and over to the deceased, even if you did nothing wrong, because surely you are at least partly to blame. Resolve anew to do better for your other pets, even if they already receive outstanding care, and there is no level of care that could have prevented this one’s death, or indeed the eventual deaths of all living things in this world. Curse God. You’re done!

Sales and WIPs

I sold two stories recently, which has been very encouraging. Circlet Press bought “Corn Silk” as a microfiction for their website. I enjoy working with them very much, especially Jen. (The joke is that they used to have 3+ people named Jen editing there.) Riverdale Avenue Books bought “Sea and Hearth”, a reversing-tropes selkie story. I really liked writing Bay, a big bull selkie. He might show up in something else someday.

There’s nothing like an editor saying “this doesn’t suck” to renew my writing motivation. (That is not literally what they said. Hyperbole.) I pulled “Immortality for Beginners” out of its drawer again. Someday this thing will be a finished book. Right now it’s 66K, and I’ve woven in important stuff, stitched scenes together, and written a few chapters that previously had things like “[Something about fixing plumbing]” as placeholders. It’s good progress. Is this book publishable? No idea. But it’s words on paper, and that’s good.

I did take a left turn at about the 75th percentile and turned up the queer to 11. I might have to turn up the queer earlier and louder in the book, so it’s not as dramatic an escalation. I need to cross stitch myself a tiny decorative pillow that says something like “It Gets Gayer.”

Writing Villains + Bigotry = Bad, Y’all

I went to a writing conference recently and attended a number of lectures. Some were interesting, some were not as applicable for me as I might have personally liked. Two stood out, at either end of the spectrum. One, by Angelique L’Amour on writing about past trauma, was amazing. I had a lot of feelings. My face might have leaked a little.

The other that stood out was a session about building compelling characters. It was less a lecture and more a question and answer, so it already wasn’t going well because she was asking us to come up with her material when she ran out of slides 20 minutes into an hour session. But then. Oh then. She talked about her characters, two princesses, one kinda evil and one good and wholesome. She discussed making even your villains relatable, to give reasons for their behavior.

Then she said her evil princess was autistic, and couldn’t understand the good princess’ emotions.

Yeah I walked out of that. I was done. That’s ableist as shit.

A word to other writers. Don’t make your good guy a privileged group and your villain a vulnerable group, and have that difference – and the associated stereotype – fuel the conflict of your story. No greedy Jews vs generous Christians, no thug or drug-riddled POC vs wholesome white folk, no shrew women vs faultless men. No emotionally troubled disabled people vs stable able-bodied heroes. Especially if you are also Christian, or white, or a man, or able-bodied.

Someone out there is already saying “But what if” or “But my art” or “Freedom of speech.” No, stop that. No excuses. You’re not giving up anything significant by being a decent person in this respect. Your freedom to write whatever you please isn’t important enough to add one more piece of bullshit to the great big pile of bullshit already leveled against vulnerable communities. Besides, relying on those stereotypes is not great writing. It’s certainly not sacred. It’s lazy, and frankly you can do better.

Guys, we all give up tiny freedoms. We do not live in a truly free world. We never did, and we cannot, as long as there are other people in the world. We give up the freedom to swing our fist exactly where someone else’s nose begins. What you put out in the world can be a fist. You need to be aware of where others’ noses begin. Demonizing aspects of people that already makes them vulnerable to oppression, discrimination, etc. is an already-sore nose. You must refrain from hitting it. Don’t make someone else be the one to stop you, then whine about how you’re being controlled. Just be a halfway decent human and stop your own damn self.

Hearth and Harvest, V2.0

I recently revised and added to “Hearth and Harvest,” a collection of short stories from way back in the day. It is now available on Amazon as an ebook, and shortly, it’ll be available as a print book, so that I can push them physically onto people, and my mom can have a copy. And perhaps also so that people can buy it. I’ll be getting the proof copy any day now, so that I can either say “Yes it’s fine, print” or I can despair because SOMETHING IS WRONG. Fingers crossed for the former.

Look! Ain’t it purdy?

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Capricious, The Serial

Many of you are aware of my novel Capricious, in which a satyr in West Texas goes after a goat’s natural enemy, the chupacabras. And finds love. Not with the chupacabras. I’d call it “urban fantasy” but it’s more like “rural fantasy”. In 2014 it won the Best Bisexual Books award for romance/erotica.

My publisher, Circlet Press, is hosting it as a serial on their webpage. We’re up to chapter 14 now! That’s a good time to pick it up, you can read a nice sized chunk and be ready for the next one soon.

And if you don’t want to wait, and don’t have any money to actually buy the book (ALWAYS AN OPTION), you can listen to it on audio, narrated by Nobilis Reed. Nobilis is an outstanding audio artist, a talent I do not have in the slightest, so I am thrilled he wanted the project.

Last of all … the sequel is in the works. My working title is “Bleeding Hearts”.

Debunking the Base Model Human

There is this idea in mainstream fiction, in film, books, plays, all mediums – and therefore, to some extent, in our own minds – of a Base Model Human. The Base Model Human is, roughly in order of importance, male, white, straight, able-bodied, early 20s to late 40s, middle class, speaks English, of average intelligence, graduated high school and possibly college, is Christian or Christian-compatible … and the like. Any deviation from this model is seen as an add-on, like a feature amended to the Base Model to make them something else. For instance, I have heard some writers say that when they are developing a character, they may start with a Base Model Human and decide after the basic characteristics are set if that character needs to be a woman, or a person of color, elderly, poor, etc. More than one director has openly said they don’t strive for diversity, unless the story actively needs it, or there is an outside reason to make a character anything but a Base Model Human. This isn’t just an enormous logical fallacy, it’s substandard writing.First of all, let’s take a cursory look at what percentage of the population, just in the US, is actual Base Model Human. These statistics are from the US census in 2015, found here: https://www.census.gov . I am rounding to the nearest tenth. 50.8% of the population is female, so 49.2% is male. 61.6% are white and non-Hispanic. That gives us 30.3% of the total population that are white males. Now let’s take out anyone of the LGBT, nonbinary, nonheteronormative, etc. spectrum, which make up about 2% of the population, a conservative estimate. 29.7%. 60% of them are not minors under 18, or seniors over 65. We’re down to 17.8%. Able-bodied? Some estimates put disabilities or chronic medical conditions at 20% of the population – consider that disabilities include hidden problems like depression, bipolar disorder, autism, etc. But let’s be super conservative and say 10%, for the sake of argument. That gives us about 16%. Let’s stick with that number. And we’re not even taking into account people who live in crushing poverty, people without education, people of religions other than Christianity, incarcerated people – we’re being very generous with our numbers.

The United States has a population of about 319 million. That’s 319,000,000. 16% of that is 51,040,000, or about 51 million. That means there are 267,960,000, or nearly 268 million people, that do not fit the Base Model Human design. And yet, somehow, they are considered modifications on the default. To put those numbers into perspective … in a random sampling of the population of the United States, in a group of 25, there would be 4 Base Model Humans. They are a minority. They have just been billed by mainstream media as “the most normal”. But it isn’t true.

Humans DO NOT HAVE a default model, especially when seen in a global context, not just the United States, when the population of Base Model Humans plummets to a single digit percentage of the global population. There are three major reasons to make a disproportionate number of characters in any media – film, books, theater, documentary, whatever – Base Model Humans. One, active bigotry, naturally. Of course. Two, money – you think keeping your characters as “default” as possible will make it more popular and net you greater revenue. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” tromped THAT idea into the dirt. Three, ignorance: you really do believe in the Base Model Human. This is an indicator that you, as an artist, have not spent enough time considering the breadth of the human experience. 

The last one is surprising in how prevalent it is, which goes to show how widespread the impulse of the Base Model Human belief is. Happily, it is also the easiest to root out. When you create stories, watch for these trends in your own work. Are around half your characters women? Are some of your characters minors or seniors? Are about 1/3 of them people of color? Is there someone in your story who is non-heteronormative, neurodivergent, disabled, non-Christian, or some other manner of “different” from the Base Model Human? And most importantly: how do their experiences as a non-Base Model Human contribute to who they are? If you don’t know, then you need to get out into the world and find out, because you’re missing the one thing an artist depicting humans really needs: insight into the human experience. As the Major said in “Ghost in the Shell”, “A system where all the parts react the same is a flawed system.” And once you’ve retrained yourself to see the world in a more realistic light, you’ll stop having to intentionally diversify your cast. Your creative impulses will do it for you.

As an afternote … some people will say it is “PC pandering” or “unrealistic” to purposefully include non-Base Model Humans in their stories, or to assert that they should be allowed to create however they want. Sure, go for it, do whatever you like, no one’s stopping you. But your representation of the human experience will be more true to life, and will resonate more with a wider audience, if your cast of characters more accurately reflects the actual population. In short, when your writing is better. And, sorry, the numbers weigh out – only 16% of the United States is actually a Base Model Human. Your fictional population of characters ought to be about the same. You shouldn’t have to argue for diversity – that’s just what real life looks like. No, it’s character homogeny that is unrealistic and pandering, and requires an explanation.

Oh – and if you’re about to argue that for the setting you’re working in, like academia, government, etc., really does have more Base Model Humans than a random sampling of the population? Maybe you should consider why that is. It has nothing to do with the inherent superiority of the Base Model Human, and much more to do with thousands of years of systemic bigotry. You really want your art to be a part of that?