A Truant Disposition

"I must be idle."

On The Road With The Starman

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Feb• 20•18

A lot has been written about The Starman currently gliding through space in Elon Musk’s Tesla. Is this a rich man’s indulgence, an ad for his car company, and without real scientific value? Well, yes. But that’s not all it is.

There are so many interesting aspects to this that it took me a while (and some hours gazing at the live stream) to organize my thoughts. First, let’s deal with the whole “no science payload” thing, then we’ll get to the fun and interesting stuff. Could he have packed a small science experiment into the backseat of the roadster? Yes, but given the limitations of “car in space” that would’ve limited what could be included, and I’m not sure that anything he could’ve come up with would’ve added anything significant to our body of knowledge considering that the International Space Station is doing a mind-boggling amount of science 24/7—and has been for years. We’ve sent rovers and probes all over the solar system, so I’m not sure putting science in a suitcase for the Starman’s journey would’ve made much of a contribution to solar system science. Would it have been good PR to include a science package? Probably. For instance, on the ISS science experiments designed by school kids are always popular, so it would’ve been likewise if included in the Tesla roadster—but then Musk likely would’ve had to contend with complaints that he was “using kids” to further his own ends. Also, he admitted that he thought there was a fair chance the Falcon Heavy (remember that—the historic ground-breaking rocket science that actually launched The Starman?) would blow up or otherwise fail, so a really pricey science package might’ve been just burning money. Nobody puts science payloads into experimental rockets; they wait until the tech is reliable.

Yes, but The Starman in the Tesla roadster is still cheesy rich man self-promotion, isn’t it? Well, you can certainly look at it that way. But that’s not the only way to look at it, and it’s arguably the least interesting way of looking at it. If sneering at the Starman makes you happy, go for it. The rest of us will be getting our kicks in a different way. I live streamed The Starman in the Tesla on a 49” TV for hours. The resolution was amazing and the scene was compelling in a way I didn’t expect. The play of light and shadow as roadster’s orientation changed in relationship to the sun and the Earth was mesmerizing. Because this was at the beginning of the Starman’s journey the car is still shiny and I could see the reflection of the Earth spreading out across the body of the car in some shots. That smooth shiny surface which glows and reflects so well will deteriorate in space, becoming pitted by tiny particles and degraded by radiation, as will The Starman himself. So, if you want to see The Starman in the Tesla while they both still look good, sooner is better. Sooner is also better because at some point the Earth is going to move further and further away — assuming the various projected trajectories prove correct—and the lovely views of The Starman “driving” a roadster (“where we’re going we don’t need roads”) with the Earth in the background will go away, leaving The Starman cruising through the blackness of space, with less glimmer from the sun, and the Earth a blue marble in the distance.

In the meantime we have this surreal thing: a spacesuited dummy in a Tesla roadster, hand on the wheel, cruising around the Earth. It’s like some kind of grand art installation in space. Unlike the disco ball recently launched into orbit, it’s less likely to screw up astronomical observations all over the world because it’s not meant to be flashing and it’s not supposed to stay in Earth orbit (where it will actually end up is still a matter of speculation as of this writing). There is nothing very imaginative, delightful, or compelling about a disco ball, but the image of a spaceman in a snazzy open-topped car is the sort of thing that fires the imagination. It’s like an amalgamation of science fiction and fantasy. We have an apparent human in a space suit (science fiction) in a car (earth vehicle) instead of a spaceship. When Whitman wrote “Song of the Open Road”, cars had not been invented. Now we have a wandering Starman in a roadster. There is something compelling about that; perhaps it’s akin to the human desire to fly. As a species we want to soar, we want to go fast and far, we want to go where we have never been, we want to go where no one has ever been: we are explorers in our imaginations. Most of the people living on this planet in the 21st century are explorers only in their imaginations; getting somewhere, especially somewhere new or far is expensive, not to mention brain-breakingly difficult. Most of this planet has not been explored because most of it is under water. We only know bits and pieces of what lies beneath the surface of the blue part of our blue planet. We are learning more all the time thanks to technology, but the ability to go is so difficult that few people have ever been very far below the surface of our oceans, just like few people have left the planet and gone into space. It’s a very wow-ing thing and if it was easy we’d all cruise the depths of the ocean or zip around the solar system — and beyond. If only it was as cheap, safe, and easy as getting into a car, or onto bus. (I am so tempted to write a story about a bus tour of the solar system!)

The Starman in the Tesla roadster is compelling because we can see ourselves in that car cruising through space. We can’t as easily see ourselves in space shuttles, or other capsules — so called “tin cans”— that have been launched into space, or more modern modules launched to the space station. The space station is interesting, but it doesn’t look like home; it’s more like living inside a very big machine. The Tesla roadster is a car. Cars are familiar everyday objects. If you live someplace where you can livestream The Starman then you’ve probably ridden in a car. (There are people on Earth who do not live in industrialized societies with automobiles and tons of technology at their fingertips, but cars are pretty ubiquitous for most other people.)

I think we like science fiction not just because it lets us visit strange and wonderful places in our imagination, but because it makes it easy to do so, or if not easy, then at least something we can easily see ourselves doing. The Starman in the roadster is what we yearn for in our hearts; to be able to jump in the car and go, anywhere. I don’t mean we literally want to drive cars in space; we realize that is physically impossible. The Starman in the car is a powerful symbol, a metaphor, something that captures our imagination and lets us soar with it. We need to daydream, to sit back, relax, and cruise with The Starman. We need to feed our brains with this kind of imaginative image. Yes, there’s all kinds of practical stuff we need to do, there’s all kinds of technological stuff we need achieve. There is always something, and there always will be.  But we should take a little time to enjoy and delight in things that are wonderfully surreal, imaginative, things that make us smile, and dream.

Tune into The Starman. (Live stream) and if you want more, there’s a website, Where Is Roadster, that tracks The Starman and keeps a running tally of all kinds of nifty stats.

Distribution of Gymshoes Music

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Feb• 20•18

Just a quick note here to let you know about changes to distribution of my music, for those who haven’t heard already elsewhere.
Distribution of Gymshoes music to online stores will end in March.  For more info about this and what may happen next, you can click through that link to the post on my Gymshoes Music site.

This Year Will Be Different

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jan• 02•18

Last year was not a good year and I had no control over all the bad things that happened. I’m an optimist. Although it’s not impossible for 2018 to be as bad as 2017, I choose to believe otherwise. That choice may seem lame (particularly to pessimists) but it’s important because how I think about my life and view the world around me affects the way I experience it. It won’t help when friends and family die; I know all too well from last year that a positive mental attitude does nothing in the face of death. But a positive outlook can keep all the smaller things—and everything is smaller than death—from getting too readily lumped into the confirmation that it’s a bad year and that everything is going to shit. Everything is not bad. Most things are not bad. So, I’m plunging into the new year with enthusiasm, knowing I will have to take the bad with the good, but determined that I will not let the bad overwhelm the good. So. Here’s a peek at my writing plans for this year.

I feel really good about what I’ve got going. The sequel to If Wishes Were Spaceships continues to move forward. It’s all rewriting—which is in a way much tougher than writing—but the book is improving by leaps and bounds, which is very satisfying. I even worked on a couple of scenes during my December break, which says a lot about how good I feel about the book and how much I’m enjoying working on this book. I hope to complete the final draft this year. I don’t yet have a publication date—which is a good thing in that it allows revisions to be done in whatever time it actually takes, rather than rushed revisions which tend to be not as good. I can write fast or I can write well: only on rare occasions do those two things ever coincide!

This year will be to some extent what last year was supposed to be: finishing the sequel, writing more short fiction, blogging more (including contributing to the food blog), and writing a bit of nature-oriented non-fiction. I have all kinds of big plans for this year! Brace yourself because I’m going to be introducing you to some interesting characters and some fantastical fiction!

Wishing you all the very best new year! Let’s rock 2018! 😀

Dream It Up: Write It Down

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Dec• 01•17

This very short post below is something I posted to my writer’s group (a party in Habitica). After posting it, I decided to share it here, for the writers who follow my blog and the friends and fans who have been so supportive this year. I’m not the only one who has had a rough year, unfortunately…

I’m taking a month off from writing beginning tomorrow. This is my annual time to relax and recharge. I really appreciate the support you all have given me this year. It has been a rough year for everyone in this party. There have been deaths in our families (cats, dogs, humans), health problems, and employment problems. But we’re still writing. We’re still creative people. Bad things happening do not define us; bad things happen to everyone all the time. It’s easy to forget that. But we have imagination and the skill to create something out of our thoughts. It’s our super power. Writing is sometimes hard and sometimes sublime, but it is always something good that we can embrace. Even when we’re not writing, we are still writers. That’s an important point which shouldn’t be forgotten. We do what we have to do in real life; we cope with things as best we can. We can draw strength from knowing that our creativity and imagination is still there, intact, no matter what else may happen. We can string words together and create stories. Everyone daydreams, but we can craft our dreams into something less ephemeral and share them with the world. It takes skill and perseverance, but we have that. We have stories inside and we will write them. We dream it up; we write it down. Because that’s who we are. Writers.

It’s that (spooky) time of the year again!

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Oct• 11•17

It’s that time of the year again! With Halloween around the corner, I have to ask…Have you picked up my Halloween Soundscape yet? It’s available all year ’round, but this is really the season for it! (Oddly enough I often have a spike in sales in January, too. Perhaps evocative music for bleak winter days?) It’s good music not only for creeping out trick-or-treaters, but also for when you’re reading your favorite scary stories. The tracks were inspired by various classic stories. Check out the liner notes on my Gymshoe Music site for background on each story. This isn’t some cheesy sound effect album, but long ambient music tracks. Since price is usually based on number of tracks, and these tracks are long, this album is a good deal.

It’s available from iTunes, Amazon mp3, and other online stores.

P.S. Since the “season” for Halloween Soundscape is short so I appreciate you sharing links for the album, and writing reviews. This album’s success is largely dependent on word-of-mouth and social network sharing. I love seeing those shares on social networks! It makes things so much easier for me ’cause I’m not as comfortable flogging my albums and books as I need to be in the plugged in world. Thank you for your support— and enjoy the album!

On the Process of Draft and Revision

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jun• 28•17

My process changed when I started using NaNoWriMo to do first drafts. There are very good things about this, but it did create problems with the process of rewriting that I’ve become aware of recently. Perhaps it’s just a problem with this draft, but it’s potentially a problem with any “fast draft”. Let me start with how I used to write, the old slow method, then I’ll show you the “good news/bad news” about fast drafting.

Prior to doing NaNo my books took years to be completed and I can’t tell you how many drafts I did because rewriting was part of the original writing process. I’d start writing a book, and as I inched my way forward, scene by scene, I’d continually (often daily) rewrite material that had come before. This made forward progress slow and it took years to finish a book from beginning to end — and I still had to do rewrites on the whole thing after that. As cumbersome as this method was, it worked for me because I’m basically a discovery writer. I know a number of things about the story and the characters (especially the characters!) before I begin, but I discover a lot of things along the way that connect up aspects of the book and build theme. I enjoy the little ah-ha moments when I realize how what I’m writing fits in with other things. The story is built up gradually and, as I figure things out, I rewrite even as I’m moving the story forward, so continuity is managed easily. I do brainstorm story ideas extensively prior to sitting down to write a book and a lot of the “discovery” process takes place before I write the first sentence. I need a certain basic understanding of characters and the situation before I can explore it. This is still true. If anything, my discovery brainstorming sessions take place over a longer period of time and are more and more extensive with each book. But they sort of have to be because of the way I’m starting books now.

Which brings me to NaNoWriMo. I’ve completed it successfully every year I’ve done it (so far). There are some very good things about NaNo if you can make it work for you. One is that it affords you the opportunity to play with a story idea, thoroughly explore it, and decide whether or not it’s going to work out well. I’ve had some “good” ideas that I’ve discovered just don’t work very well and I’ve wasted years struggling to write a book that had such fundamental problems there was no way I could turn that mess into a good book. With NaNoWriMo I’ve only invested a month in the project. If, at the end of it, nothing hangs together and there are horrible problems with the draft I can set it aside and do something else, maybe come back to it with fresh eyes some time much later and see if it can be reworked to make a good book, or bury it in my files never to be seen again. At the end of the month I have a very good idea of what I’m dealing with, so I’ve developed a story with very little investment of time if it doesn’t work out. All first drafts need rewrites anyway; the difference with NaNo is that I don’t do much in the way of rewrites as I go. I may go back and mark stuff and add notes as the story develops so that I know specific things early in the draft that will need to be changed for continuity, but no extensive rewriting because, afterall, I only have a month to finish it.

And I do try to finish the book. The first couple of times I did NaNo I was working on stories that I didn’t finish. I knew the ending, but I just didn’t get there during that month. I wrote over 50K words, but the drafts weren’t complete. I’m still working on those books off and on, inching my way toward the ending and rewriting as I go just like I had before. The last two times I did NaNo I not only did the 50K, but I had another goal which was to finish the draft. So my drafts for the books were very thin. Instead of writing expansively and then cutting and rewriting, I wrote some scenes fully, but other scenes very lightly. I hit all the plot points and completed the story from beginning to end. Sometimes I was very much aware of material that was being left out because my goal was not just to hit my personal word count goal, but to get to the end of the story before the end of the month. I would drop in a note or a placeholder scene which described a scene I was passing over in general terms.

Unfortunately, the draft I’m working on now has a number of scenes that suffered from the “fast draft” method. For the second draft I went through and plugged the plot holes and continuity issues, filled in the missing scenes. So far, so good; I’d done that with the previous book and the method seemed to work well, but this book is more complicated and I’m plagued with “data dump” scenes in which nothing happens but I spewed (or had my characters spew) all the plot points that needed to be hit, and though I had filled in the placeholder scenes in the previous draft, now in the third draft I’m realizing that I have a number of scenes in which I just lightly skated over things that should have been developed more and better…they were essentially placeholder scenes, but not marked as such…and I didn’t realize that these scenes were a problem because everything is there. The book is complete, all the scenes are there. Everything that’s supposed to happen happens. But I’ve had to cut big scenes because they are dead weight and I’m still discovering small scenes that should be expanded because important things happen. Weight is really a good way of looking at the problem. Not every scene has the same weight in the book. Some scenes are necessarily small because they are transitional scenes, they bridge some pieces of the narrative, or they are useful for pacing and time passage. They are not substantial; they’re more like a prelude to something substantial, because the book can’t have nothing but intense exploding revelatory scenes. It’s a matter of pacing. If every single scene is cataclysmic the book is going to read like it was written by a highly caffeinated five-year-old. So there are big scenes and little scenes that lead to big scenes. But when I’m drafting during NaNoWriMo I don’t always weight scenes correctly; some days I just don’t feel like working out a very long difficult scene, so I hit the high points and move on the the next scene. I may not know yet quite how I want to handle certain things, so basically I write what I can day to day and I suppose that’s what I always do, but the pace of NaNoWriMo doesn’t allow me the luxury to step back, take time off, and just think about things. I have to move forward at a certain pace both to make the word count goal for the month and to reach the end of the story by the end of the month. So some scenes which aren’t very important are very fully written and some scenes which should be fully written aren’t.

Naturally, I felt like there was something wrong with the book, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it after I’d finished the second draft. I’d fixed continuity issues, back-filled all the missing scenes, and sent it out to beta-readers who found nothing major wrong with it. But it didn’t feel like the book I’d set out to write. It was all there. Everything was covered, scene by scene. It all made sense. I couldn’t find anything wrong in what I’d written (aside from the continual hunt for typos and an odd sentence here or there). I’ve only just now realized that I’d thinly written some scenes which, if properly written and given the proper weight in the overall book, would give the book that feel and balance that are missing.

NaNoWriMo sometimes can be good to get a manuscript off to a fast start, or to do a fast first draft to see if any idea will fly, but in terms of getting a book finished, rewritten, and polished, it seems like it isn’t saving any time for me from idea to book completion, at least not most of the time. I’ve got three books which started as NaNo projects that I’m still working on, including the book I started the first time I did NaNo. So far I’ve only gotten one draft that started as a NaNo project finished and published. All the others are taking a long time to finish and requiring extensive rewriting. I actually kind of enjoy doing NaNoWriMo —- I like the intensity and immersion in story — but rewriting takes way too much time, because the first draft is so very rough and uneven. I’m not saying I won’t do NaNo again — I probably will — but I need to do a better job of picking my projects for NaNo. Discovery writing a complex idea (even having brainstormed it beforehand) is not a good fit for the “fast draft” method. Of course complexity is in the eye of the beholder…I thought the book I’m rewriting now would be “easy”. [insert rueful laughter] I’m my own worst enemy; how much I love an idea has no bearing on how easy it will be to write. I tell myself all my books will be easy because I want to write them!

The Year So Far

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - May• 22•17

You may have noticed that I haven’t been on social media much this year; the reasons have nothing to do with politics, friends, or social media. A lot has happened this year.

First the bad news, because the good part of this post must necessarily come after the bad. In late December a routine scan of my elderly mother-in-law showed what could possibly be a return of her cancer. She’d had part of her lung removed 6 years earlier and been cancer-free since. The biopsy couldn’t be scheduled until after the first of the year, so it was a nervous holiday season for us. The biopsy came back positive for cancer. She did both chemo and radiation. It was daily outpatient treatment so family members swapped off driving her because the treatments made her too dizzy to drive. She had some problems and was hospitalized three times. The last time she ended up in ICU a few weeks after she finished the first round of treatment. The combination pneumonia and flu, on top of her existing COPD, plus a weakened immune system from the cancer treatment, and a weakened heart from a mild heart attack was just too much for her body to cope with. She didn’t respond to any medications. Eight days after being admitted and after a few days of being unresponsive, she passed away peacefully, surrounded by family.

That was a few weeks ago. I’m still grieving, but oddly enough I’m sleeping better because I’m no longer anxious about her 24/7, which is what has defined my life this year. Phone calls to her, taking her to her many doctors appts and treatments, texting with family constantly, having a knapsack packed and being ready to run to her house, to the ER, whatever 24/7. Flinching every time the phone rang. Staying close to home so we could be there if there was a minor crisis, or a major emergency, both of which were not just potentialities, but actualities. My concentration has just been shot this whole year. I feel tired and generally bad all over a lot of the time. Those of you who have had to deal with a major medical thing involving a family member will know what I’m talking about. My wish for all of you is that neither you, nor anyone you love ever has to go through this.

Of course, it has been impossible for me to get any substantial amount of work done on revising the draft of the next book, but I gamely tried to work around her appointments and work through group text messaging sessions during her treatment and hospitalizations. Things stabilized —briefly — after she finished the first round of treatment. I had whole blocks of crisis-free time with few appointments on my agenda. I began to make progress. But when she was admitted to ICU, I stopped working on the book. I did a lot of knitting. She’s had a lot of health problems in the past couple of years. I’m glad I took up knitting again because it was relaxing and socks are a nice portable project. After she died I looked at my knitting projects and did a count: I worked on six pairs of socks and one sweater in ERs, hospital waiting rooms, hospital rooms, and doctor’s offices, at assorted medical facilities. Now I’m knitting through both grief and anxiety for friends. You see, she’s not the only one who has cancer.

This book I’m working on now has had the nasty shadow of cancer and death hanging over it from the time I started brainstorming the idea of doing a sequel. At that time I had two friends in hospice, dying of cancer. I drafted the book anyway, but it was very difficult, and the draft was a lot rougher than most of my first drafts are. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have even started this book. I had almost a year to revise the book before another friend was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer, but during that year my own mother had a medical crisis that landed her in the hospital, and my mother-in-law had hip surgery and assorted other medical crises, so I still felt like I was just lurching from crisis to crisis. Then came the ominous scan that indicated my mother-in-law’s cancer had come back. Then treatments, assorted medical emergencies related to treatments, then the end. The same week as her funeral we found out another friend has cancer. Which really hit us hard. The funeral flowers were still fresh, but the scent had started to turn. Also, the friend with the aggressive cancer had a setback. 

With the exception of my mother-in-law, who lived a long and full life, all the other people with cancer are/were far too young to die. I think, as much as my mother-in-law’s death, this is what just breaks my heart into pieces. Anger is usually listed as the second stage of grief, and I don’t know if I will ever have enough time between catastrophes to get past that. At this point I’ve already been in mourning for over a year and a half. I need everyone I know to live—preferably for 100 years or so.

As bad as all this sounds, it hasn’t been all bad, all the time. Sometimes it just seems that way because death and grief and anxiety distort my sense of time. This year I went to Arbor Day at the Houston Arboretum, the Art Car Parade, and I Marched for Science. Though I’ve had my moments of exhausted collapse, I’m still moving forward. Errands, chores, and the ongoing struggle with the Squirrel Army for control of the garden…The dogs are assisting me with that as well as comforting me.

All my plans for this year have fallen by the wayside. I’d planned on writing and posting serial fiction, as well as a nature journal on Wattpad this year. The nature journal was started but updates stopped because I was spending too much time in medical facility waiting rooms and not enough time in the woods to keep it up. Fiction, even short fiction, was just impossible because all I’ve been thinking about for months were things related to my mother-in-law’s medical situation. I don’t know when I’ll get back to work on revising the book, which is a sequel to last year’s If Wishes Were Spaceships. Writing and revising take a lot of time, concentration, and energy. I’ve been going in high gear, with a highly disrupted daily routine, for so long now that getting back to normal work flow will take some time. As I told my writing group, I still feel a bit crash-y.

There have been times this year when I just wanted to quit, set the sequel aside permanently, drop out of my party and guild on Habitica, cease being a writer because there was just too much other stuff going on. But I know from experience that I can’t give up writing; I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work. It’s what I do; it’s who I am. I also know from experience that waiting until there’s a “perfect time” to write, or waiting until I’m less busy, or there’s less going on, or until some future time when things will be much more conducive to writing, that the “good time to work on a novel” will never, ever, come, or it will be so brief that I could not possibly finish a draft or polish a draft in that fleeting halcyon time. There is never a good time to write a book. There never has been and there never will be. There will just be times which are better or worse for working on a book. Everyone has to figure out for themselves under what conditions they can write and under what conditions it’s better to temporarily set a writing project aside—not until the world is right and things are good again, but until things are better, just “good enough” to pick up the work in progress again. I’m still figuring things out. I’ve been through enough in the past couple of years that I now have a passable set of guidelines. Friends in hospice; brainstorming is okay if my concentration isn’t yet gone, but actually drafting a novel, probably not. Elderly family member with chronic health problems that send her to the ER 1-3 times a year, yeah, I can definitely continue with editing and rewriting, just taking a day or two off as needed. Not sure if I could do a first draft under those conditions, though. Maybe. Elderly family member having outpatient cancer treatments and assorted hospitalizations, I definitely cannot write, nor can I do any major revisions or edits, though I discovered that I can do small highly focused edits and rewrites, setting myself a minimum of one paragraph per day, some days more, but never as much as a chapter. That’s how I’ve been working — when I’ve been working at all this year — literally one paragraph at a time.

I could not have done even that much if it hadn’t been for Habitica and my party of writers there. The To Do list functioned as a second brain for me because in the past five months I’ve often been so overwhelmed by details and a highly fluid situation that I was afraid of losing track of things, of dropping some vital thread. The Habits list encouraged me to keep to certain routines and good lifestyle habits as much as possible even though some days were borderline chaotic. I redid some of my Dailies to accommodate my more fluid and volatile schedule and deactivated others or moved them to Habits. And when things got really bad, as they did occasionally this year, I checked into the Inn, which stopped the game from accounting any losses I might incur. I tried to keep my time away from Habitica as minimal as possible because even when I was technically not active, I depended on my To Do list and other lists to help me keep some semblance of a life balance. Chores and errands were done less promptly, but they were done. It served as a reminder for important things I otherwise might’ve forgotten.

But most of all my party of writers there really helped me get through these past 5 months. One of them told me about the Calm app which was a real life-saver. I’d been trying to get back into meditating regularly last year before things got really bad, but once things got bad, it just seemed even more difficult. The Calm app helped tremendously. Other party members suggested ways of coping with an ever-changing daily schedule, and it was a relief and reassuring to have other writers to talk to about whether I should even try to keep writing. I felt guilty about not writing and felt like a monster if I kept at it. They were very insightful and supportive. They are the reason I didn’t just put the book away forever, drop out of everything, and disappear completely for a year or so. My party in Habitica was this little bubble of calm and happiness, even though I wasn’t the only one who was going through bad things this year. That’s an important point too: they need my support as much as I need their support. Life — and death — happen; there’s never a good time to write a novel. Writing is a solitary task and the work is brain-work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard, but there’s no one else who can write your book except you; it’s all on the shoulders of the novelist. That’s why it’s good to have other writers standing shoulder to shoulder with you. Habitica stresses “accountability” as being a big thing in its system of parties and guilds, but I think of it more in terms of community. I appreciate the support of real life friends right now, but having a virtual writer’s group composed of members all over the world has the advantage of being a (virtual) place that can be supportive and helpful—and be totally separate from whatever hellish thing is happening in real life. My real life friends are grieving with me: most of them knew my mother-in-law. My online friends are sorry for my loss, but they’re not wobbling under the burden of grief themselves, and that’s comforting to me in its own way. They’re still writing and wrestling with rewrites, and — eventually — I’ll return to work on my book, too. Because we are writers. That’s what we do. And we’ll somehow write our way through.

​Trash and trains: thoughts on metaphor

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Mar• 29•17

Recently my social network feeds were filled with posts about the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). One metaphor in particular struck me, partly because so many people were using the same language: “a dumpster fire”. That got me thinking about metaphors for “a disaster”. I’d heard “dumpster fire” before, but it seems to me that it’s a recent addition to the vernacular; I’m not sure I’d heard it prior to entering the 21st century. A common phrase used in the past when something happened that was chaotic, bad, and a total mess, has been “a train wreck”. I don’t hear “train wreck” much any more. I’m not sure if it’s because trains are less in the public consciousness than in the previous century, or if it’s because much more colorful phrases, rich in connotations, have supplanted it. Like “dumpster fire”.

I found myself pondering the impact and implications of “dumpster fire” versus “train wreck” in describing something that is an unmitigated disaster (in the view of the speaker). Surely a train wreck is much worse than a dumpster fire, but the use of these phrases doesn’t seem to take into account the real actual weight of the comparative events, dumpster fires and train wrecks. One would think that since the issue of health care is one that affects life and death matters for at least some people, that “train wreck” might be a more apt pejorative phrase since actual train wrecks are a matter of life and death to the people involved. Perhaps “train wreck” has become weakened in meaning due to overuse in the previous century and become a cliche, or perhaps people have decided that train wrecks are too heinous to be bandied about in casual usage, or perhaps trains just seem too archaic to have much impact to modern ears.

But what’s the linguistic allure of “dumpster fire”? Based on amount of usage I’ve seen lately, people like it. It’s an effective rhetorical device. Here’s why I think this phrase has a nice solid impact as a metaphor. Rarely have I ever been in proximity with a dumpster that doesn’t reek. Although some dumpsters have a lot of waste paper, dumpsters are —  in most people minds — associated with rotting organic matter like food and the accompanying bad smells. Dumpsters are unsavory; they are located behind buildings and in dark alleyways. They conjure up in the image in people’s mind of poorly lit areas, foul odors, a mixed lot of refuse, and unsanitary conditions. Some things just have worse connotations than others. “Train” doesn’t have an inherently bad connotation. “Dumpster” has unpleasant connotations. So, dumpster is a good word if you want to convey something is bad. “Dumpster fire”, however, takes it to a whole new level. Now you have something nasty and foul smelling that’s a conflagration, so “fire” acts as an intensifier to “dumpster”. Together, however, they bring to the metaphor a deeper level of meaning. 

As it happens, I’ve seen two dumpster fires in two very different circumstances. There are basically two causes of dumpster fires: stupidity and malice. The first dumpster fire I saw was next to the apartment where I lived at the time. The apartment manager told me disgustedly that someone had stupidly dumped the still hot coals and ash from their hibachi into the dumpster. At the time little hibachis were popular for patio or balcony cookouts in the apartment complex; so it could’ve been any one of my neighbors. (One thing I didn’t like about apartment living was that your home was only as safe as your stupidest neighbor; several families in the building next to ours lost their homes in a separate fiery incident of stupidity.) The other dumpster fire I saw was behind a building that was closed for a couple of days. They didn’t make food or sell anything flammable; the dumpster was probably full of paper or cardboard. The important point is that the building it was behind was not open for business, so there were no employees that could’ve accidentally caused it. In other words: the fire probably was deliberately and maliciously set. With fire, context is everything. Candles: good. Fireplace: good. Wildfire in the field behind your house: bad. Dumpsters: bad. 

Metaphorically, a dumpster fire is a very nearly perfect phrase to use to condemn something that’s an unmitigated disaster, particularly for a needless heedless act or event in which you want to convey connotations of: rubbish, foulness, stinkiness, shadiness, stupidity, or malice. I don’t know who coined the phrase “dumpster fire”, or how long it’s been in the vernacular, but I suspect the richness of connotations will keep it in use for a long time. 

Green Mind Seeing

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jan• 23•17

Green Mind Seeing

I’m doing something a bit different over on Wattpad; in addition to occasionally posting short fiction there, I’ve also begun a sort of nature journal, Green Mind Seeing. Short pieces with observations and thoughts on the natural world. Some pieces are fanciful, some natural history, some gardening. If you, too, enjoy green things, give it a look. This week I delved into my archive for “Orchid Reverie”, which provided the inspirations (after sitting in my mind for many years) for the “Cha Buddhism” mentioned in my most recent book, If Wishes Were Spaceships, and explored in more depth in the sequel I’m currently working on. If that’s a bit too mystical for you, last week I wrote about radishes. 🙂 If you’re only interested in sci-fi and fantasy, never fear, I’ll be posting more of that in the coming weeks as well. Unlike last year, I haven’t set a schedule to release material there. My writing schedule is taking some hits this year; sometimes real life has to take precedence over imaginary worlds. I’m still writing, mostly working on books, but I’ll be doing a bit of shorter stuff, both fiction and non-fiction, for immediate consumption. I’ve got three pieces currently in Green Mind Seeing, and will be adding more to that ongoing work, as well as adding new short fiction to Wattpad. The best way to keep up is to follow me on Wattpad.

Be A Hero

Written By: Ainy Rainwater - Jan• 20•17

I woke up this morning, inauguration day 2017, with “It’s the End Of The World As We Know It” by REM going through my head. No kidding. My first thought was that the parenthetical part of the title (and second line of the chorus) “(And I Feel Fine)”, of course, didn’t apply, but as I showered and dressed I realized that it did. I do feel fine. I feel strong and determined. Today is not the day for distress and mourning. We’ve had months since the election for that. Today the fight for the future of our great nation begins. We cannot afford to shrink away from the political conflict, to hide our heads in the sand, or — despairing — duck our heads, do nothing, and try to get on with our lives as best we can. It’s all very well to wave banners for our political candidates and ideals, but no good can come if, having lost the initial fight, we then pack our banners and ideals away to passively wait four years to engage the enemy again. Our country needs us now more than ever to be citizens in participatory democracy to stand firm for what is good, right, and just.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.”

Thomas Paine, The Crisis No. I (December 23, 1776)

We admire people who have stood up against tyranny and fascism, both historically — and also in popular culture. Our books and movies are filled with characters we identify with who band together and engage in the struggle against big powerful people, organizations, corporations, and oppressive and destructive governments. They oppose them at every turn and we cheer. We cannot afford to be merely spectators to our political situation; we cannot afford to be bystanders. Think about it for a moment, think about all those books and movies you love. Bystanders are victims. Only those who take action can have any hope of escaping unscathed.

Now is the time for us to band together and be heroes. I never in my life ever considered that I might someday live under a fascist regime — and I won’t because I will oppose it. If, four years from now, you can say, “it wasn’t that bad” it will be because people of goodwill banded together and did everything they could to protect this great nation from those who would tear it down from within the government for their own egocentric gratification and personal financial gain. This is still a democracy. We, the people, still have power to prevent the worst excesses of an intemperate government. It won’t be easy. As Thomas Paine said, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.” We can do it if we work together. So much that is truly good about this country will be under attack by the new administration; it can be overwhelming to think of all that could be systematically destroyed from within the highest echelons of government. Pick something that worries you most, something that will affect you the most, something that you believe in passionately, and work for that cause. This is our time. This is it. America needs defenders, citizen heroes, who will not stand idly by complaining and cringing, but who will step forward shoulder to shoulder, supporting each other and working for the good of the nation. Don’t be a bystander, a spectator and commenter on political mayhem, a “sunshine patriot” who comes out every four years like some sort of belated groundhog; don’t be a victim. Get involved and do something. Be a hero.