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The Beauty of Pain

 "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."
The Princess Bride

One of the greatest tragedies of our current culture, I think, is what is best described as the "cult of safety." I'm not sure how we got here, and I'm not sure it's new, but between technology and generations upon generations of first world societies getting better and better at avoiding death and domestic insecurity, we've somehow arrived at not just making pain our enemy (that's nothing new) but willfully shutting our eyes and putting our hands over our ears whenever the enemy comes close. Of not just projecting the idea of enemy onto groups of people and concepts and ideas (also not at all new) but wrapping that technology around it until we are truly blind and deaf not just to pain but sometimes to life itself. We lose track of self, of growth, of possibility, spending our entire incarnate existence trying to not notice what that existence is. But if there is one truth I'm willing to stand up for outside my own point of view, a root value and understanding I'm convinced unites me with all other humans no matter what they believe or desire, is that life, by its definition, is nothing but pain—and that this state is not a tragedy but a wonder to be embraced, celebrated, and above all utilized.

I am not really a theist. My spirituality is an eclectic mess of astrology, paganism, ritualism, Hindism, Buddism, natural law, and above all Christianty, as the latter is how I was raised. I borrow liberally from all those beliefs, but I won't subscribe to a single creed any longer. With great passion I believe in each individual's not just right but need to do the same, believing in one creed or many, changing his or her mind as necessary, converting on deathbeds or whatever must be done to achieve personal peace, and I believe with just as much zeal in shutting down any group's effort to stamp out the rights of others to follow their own creed. I find the struggle between these personal missions to be healthy and good, even though it can have ugly and painful consequences. The only cult I find truly disturbing is the one that advocates safety above all things. And it's a fine line between craving and worshipping safety. It's the metaphorical difference between owning a few guns because it makes one feel safe and a basement arsenal serving as fuel for single-minded focus on eradicating all possible enemies, key word there being "possible." It's using each stab of pain from life not as a lesson or personal struggle or simply an opportunity to meditate actively in impermanence or uncertainty but to retreat further and further into a determination never to feel pain again.

One of my favorite stories of pain is in the movie Gladiator. The hero works hard, maintains his personal moral code, struggles against heavy blows to it, endures great pain over and over, is used and abused as a pawn, and yet each step of the way he never loses sight of his self. He leads others to their own redemption by his unwavering sense of personal worth and purpose. He faces fear over and over again, and though it rips him physically and mentally to shreds, ultimately killing him, never does he lose himself. Never does he surrender to the fear and let it take him, rule him, suck him into the dark pit of despair. At the end of the movie he dies, but his death is not a tragedy. It is his reward, and he goes, as the film shows us, not into darkness or despair as the fear whispered to him but to the heaven he desires above all heavens, the reward for the life he lived he believes he deserves, and indeed does deserve.

Another movie which I don't exactly love but love parts of is What Dreams May Come. I love the idea of a heaven one creates, and I love too the idea of a hell one creates. That the hero's wife is lost because she could only see despair, that she cannot see heaven not because too many bad things happened to her but because she chose to give in to the bad things, that she lost sight of good and self and purpose and power and gave everything she had to despair in the tragic belief that it would keep her safe. 

This too is my cross. There is no safe. There is no certain path that can be found to protect my self; there is only confusion and pain, and I must make what I can of it—and accept, too, when I don't possess enough power to challenge it. My only quibble with what the world has tried to teach me is that there is a safe. That I can be good enough, smart enough, obedient enough, pretty enough, shrewd enough, removed enough, involved enough to achieve anything with surety. That there is no map, no list of rules, no secret ritual others have been shown which gave them happiness I have been denied. As with all things this was no active lesson. My mother and father didn't teach this to me, nor did my church, nor school, nor anyone or anything, not directly. To be sure, I actively supplied the part of the story where safety could be discovered. What I wish now I had been told with directness was that I could not find this. I wish more people and ideas had challenged me and made me angry over the idea that nothing was certain but the continued possibility of pain and loss and confusion, but that equally certain was the continued possibility of love and hope and success, and enlightenment. That life is a game to be played, not won. That I will find truths only to lose them, that I will rejoice only to find that joy turn to ash. That I will weep only to find that tragedy turned to beauty and new life.

Probably I got a lot of this and just ignored it. So really, I don't wish anything different, because my path is my path, and I won't trade it for anyone's, not a single step or breath of it.

I am not a theist, but I am a dualist. I love the myth of God and the Devil. I love pain and joy. I love uncertainty and illumination. I love that nothing can be known because we each see from the dark behind our own eyes, storing all within a self which can, not while living, truly unite with even a single other soul, and therefore even though we are none of us alone, we are all of us alone. I love contradictions. I love philosophies, especially the ones which by the time you get to the end of them turn themselves and you inside out until you can't even speak what you find. You must paint it or write it or sing it or construct it or perform it, and even then you know no one will ever see what you did, not exactly, only seeing your "truth" through their own distorted lenses. I love the mess that life is.

And above all I know that not a single moment of this strange dance would be possible without pain. Pain is what makes true love sweet. Pain is what makes an infant's survival to that squalling moment of birth a miracle. Pain is what makes a wedding contradictorily full of tears. Pain is what makes reunions and revelations such joyful exaltations of spirit.

Pain is the darkness within which joy shines.

Pain is our teacher. Pain is our opponent. Pain is the wall that keeps us away from our desires. Pain is what teaches us what our desires are. Pain teaches us our limits. Pain teaches us our strengths. Pain shows us where we are arrogant and wise. Pain is the fabric upon which all life is stitched, each beautiful shining strand.

Life is pain, and pain is life. Bless you, pain, and thank you, my sweet companion, my foundation, my challenger, my enemy, my lover, my life. You who love me so much to keep coming even when I despise you, you who is not my advocate but my antagonist. Bless you and may I learn better each day how to respect you, dance with you, and love you.



Buy it! Buy it! Send my kid to college!

Buy link


As a bisexual bastard born to a country stuck in antiquated mores and ideals, Charles Perry had learned long ago to set his sights low: all he wants is a drink, a dram, and a whore of each gender to share them with. But strange visions haunt his dreams, and now the ghosts are following him into his waking hours. Charles must seek help from an alchemist or risk running mad. Charles’s House blood makes him a high prize in magical circles, so he’ll have to be careful.

But what the alchemist discovers in Charles's blood turns the whole world on its head. And in the arms of an exotic male pleasure slave, Charles will discover a destiny so huge it doesn't seem possible, but it's true. Charles Perry, noble bastard, is the lost consort of the Goddess of All Creation. And as the forces of darkness converge on him, Charles must learn to channel his power to save the world--or risk becoming the pawn that destroys it.

Pretty cover:

(This is going to be another wrenching post. Writing it to the cat and for those who love him. Probably need a box of tissues.)

Dearest Blair,

Well, sweetheart, here we are. While I'm writing this you're lying on the couch beside me, miserable as all fuck, wheezing and weary. You haven't eaten for days, you can't fight this infection no matter what we give you, and our last options, uncertain as they are, stand a good chance of frying your kidneys, which god knows might be gone already anyway. We've fought cancer as long as we could, but today it can't be conquered. And so just like we did your sister last November, we're going to let you go.

Good lord, but you've been a high-maintenance cat, haven't you, love. As a kitten you stole english muffins and got into the fridge and pissed off Gulliver something fierce. You were always our "black bitey," our protester, always upset with the world and how it wasn't operating the way you wanted. As you aged you just got crankier and crankier, and you hated everyone but the family, and most of all you hated Sidney. We tried to explain you just made it more fun for him, but you couldn't take it. You peed everywhere. We had to tough love you like crazy. You were the Prozac cat. You were the cat for whom our vacations were a hell, and we had to move heaven and earth to be sure you were okay while we were gone, because you never made it easy. You took "hate the vet" to new levels. You wouldn't eat while there, wouldn't let them do a thing to you without full body armor, and you earned, I think, more highlights and warnings on your chart than just about anybody there. And through all that, Dr. Kendall has always loved you. God bless her. Well, today she's going to love you the best way she can and help you end this shitfest you've gotten yourself into. And we will too.

This is hard on your daddy. Really, really hard. Hard on Anna too, but Dan is bleeding out big time over you, because you were his first baby, and that isn't easy. He's going to hold you the whole time, hon, and he's going to love you right along with Kendall. Anna too, and me. We all are. 

But you know what, honey? Through all of this, we have loved you. Even when you were ruining floors and doors right and left and we were in hysterics over what to do. Even when we had to banish you to that crate Tom built. I know for a long time you doubted we did, and that before we figured out you had cancer it was a dark time for you. I want to thank you, though, for giving us another chance. For kicking tail last fall and coming back around to give us another six months with you. And have you had the life of Riley since then. Your own private meals, the first choice of everything, and ultimate protection from Sidney, who has lived a lot in banishment lately just so you could roam undisturbed. And you noticed, didn't you. You've snuggled more in those last six months than ever. And you and I have had a lot of quality time in my office, you snuggling beside my desk, in front of my monitor, on my lap, bugging me as I try to type. You've peed when you've had enough, and we've just cleaned it up, no scolding done. We've drugged you and borne your scrapes and gotten up early to make sure you get your meds, and we got a really good run, didn't we. You have had a pretty awesome twilight.

What I'll always remember most about you though is how happy you were when you were young. Before whatever neurosis in your brain took over and you enjoyed all of life without an anxiety. When you ran up and down the porch at Halloween enthralled with all the children who came to the door, chasing after them down the rail after they left as if to say, "Come back and play with the black kitten!" How you chased that red ball until you panted. How you ate bananas. How you still, until your last days, had to have a little mac and cheese when we did, and dearly loved a bit of butter.

Mia and Gulliver are waiting. Gulliver has been sitting up and watching, and Mia has come back from her flights of whatever she's doing and is sitting there waiting. I've seen them all weekend, getting ready for you. Don't worry. They aren't going to let you get lost. We're going to help you to the door, and they're going to meet you straightaway on the other side. Everything is going to be okay. And you aren't going to suffer anymore.

We will miss you. We will miss your snuggles, your head butts in the backs of our knees in the kitchen. We'll miss your pissy attitude. We'll miss your everything, hon. You leave a Blair-sized hole in us, and it's big. 

But go, sweetheart. Go in peace and love and be free, please, of pain and misery. No more neurosis. No more fear of the world, no more sickness, no more anything. But not to nothing: to love, to happiness, to ilght and sunshine, where you will do whatever you like, and hopefully wait for us or at least come back when it's our turn. Because we don't ever want to be apart from you, and even when we let your body go, we will never forget you, never stop loving you, never let go of our memory of you, our sweet boy, our misunderstood soul, our precious kitten, our beloved, wonderful, always proud Blair.

Play on, sweetheart. We're lifting the screen on that porch, and now you can chase after those kids, chase whatever you want, all the way into the bright, wonderful sun, all the way home. Love you very, very much. *kisses*



Charles has cover art

The Seventh Veil. Available Tuesday.

Blurb: As a bisexual bastard born to a country stuck in antiquated mores and ideals, Charles Perry had learned long ago to set his sights low: all he wants is a drink, a dram, and a whore of each gender to share them with. But strange visions haunt his dreams, and now the ghosts are following him into his waking hours. Charles must seek help from an alchemist or risk running mad. Charles’s House blood makes him a high prize in magical circles, so he’ll have to be careful.

But what the alchemist discovers in Charles's blood turns the whole world on its head. And in the arms of an exotic male pleasure slave, Charles will discover a destiny so huge it doesn't seem possible, but it's true. Charles Perry, noble bastard, is the lost consort of the Goddess of All Creation. And as the forces of darkness converge on him, Charles must learn to channel his power to save the world—or risk becoming the pawn that destroys it.

Excerpt here


Ranty McRant

 Right, so I haven't blogged all week, and that's because I've kind of been doing my own version of the Fukishima reactor. Not melting down exactly, but not in control either, and most of the melting down wasn't my fault, and yet there it is.

And I can't go into detail on most of it, and most of the rest I shouldn't, and so that leaves that I can say that the second cat in a year is dying, and I'm not mourning him so much as I'm so overloaded that at this point I sort of want it over just so that it's over, because if it's not now it'll be later, and I just want it done. I did most of my mourning for Mia in the last month as opposed to the actual time of death, so that's about par.

I just had a nice long session with Dan, cuddled on the bed where I cried and carried on and got mad and blamed the dirt and basically voiced all the shit I have been accumulating all week. So I suppose in the Fukishima analogy he was the seawater. And it worked pretty well.

And no, I'm not all better, but I do feel like the meltdown has been calmed. For now. The hardest part is being adult, of not picking one of the four thousand things and turning into the Joan avatar and screaming the full fury of being made impotent by forces beyond my control at one place, which of course doesn't deserve that rancor, and even if it did, it wouldn't help. Which is why we had controlled meltdown with Dan. I really do feel like a nuclear reactor this week, unable to function properly because of outside crap, unable to solve outside crap, upset about all the crap, and then cumulatively more lonely and angry and impotent.

Frequently when people interview me and have read my books they ask me who I'm the most like. I never hesitate. Randy. I am the living female embodiment of Randy. I was always Randy, but now that I've written him, whenever I get stuck he rises in my head. This morning we were both sitting at a poker table, and he pushed over a Dirty Whiskey and said, "See, this is why we don't do shit. This is why we don't reach for stuff, and why we just keep it all even and down-low and never invest." And I said, "Yeah, and that's why you were lonely and I was crazy." And he grunted, and we both drank, and then he wandered off to Ethan and I to Dan which, really, is the same fucking thing.

Everybody has their kryptonite. Everybody is a possible Fukishima. Mine is control. I hate being out of control. I hate losing control. And what I despite more than anything is having things that matter to me, things I really want, be dependent on other forces, people, or events, and those events are not as in control as I want. Which, as my therapist points out, is that I want the world to be so perfect you could dip it in bronze and preserve it. So that's a problem. Which is why writing makes me crazy, because my process always leads me into the wilderness and makes me doubt everything and freak out and lose my shit. And then suddenly a book comes out, and now I sell them. It's a weird living, but it will do.

So Randy and I are going to be over here sullen for a bit. I have a release out Tuesday. It's one I've been waiting to release for ten years. It has about ten snafus around it. They could all fix any second now, and probably will, and it's nobody's fault but the usual earthquakes. But Randy and I are having a hard time. So we're just going to go hang out with the pretty, sexy, beautiful boys who charmed us both and chew through several decks of cards until things straighten out. And we don't know yet how we feel about the cat, but we'll figure that one out too, eventually.

But there's a lot of whiskey in my future. Which is better than cigarettes, I guess. Maybe.

Date: Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 11:05 AM
Subject: Chat with Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan

Marie: Okay. I think I'm ready. What are we doing?
Heidi: We're going to have an interview, casual and hopefully cute/entertaining, to introduce your release. We'll start with the basics. What's your release, Marie?

Marie: Paris A to Z, which is the last story for Zach and Angelo, and really, the culmination of the entire Coda series where fans finally get to see all three couples together.
Heidi: Which is a good place to point out that for this book, unlike Strawberries for Dessert, you should probably have readA to Zand ... fuck, the other one.
It has a z in it.
Marie: The Letter Z
Heidi: That’s it.
Marie: Yes, this book does not stand on its own.

Heidi:  What was the most fun about writing this book?
Marie: Making Matt deal with Cole. Add Angelo into the mix, and it's all downhill from there.
Heidi: I love Cole. I was Team Ang, but now I'm Team Cole.

Marie: Yeah, Team Cole stole from the entire rest of the league.
Heidi: Should we give the backdrop? That this is Cole and Jonathan's wedding?

Marie: Sure, it's in the blurb.
Some people might be disappointed that they're not seeing Jon and Cole's POV of their own wedding, but really, they're just happy, gushy in-love. What's to tell?

Heidi:  Let's see. Another question. Worst part of writing this? Or most frustrating? Just the usual writing funnel? Or did something stand out as particularly challenging?
Ooh, the poem where you wanted to include the whole thing but alas, copyright.
Marie: Yes, the poem.
Heidi: But see, now you can link to it, or reference it or...something.
Perhaps I should stop talking over you and let you explain.
We go on for some time....Collapse )

Weekend Update: Whatever

 There's this urge to blog about the chaos going on around and within my life, to apologize for it and how it affects my interactions with others, on the Internet and otherwise, to vow to work to change that. In a few cases, yes, I will do that, because I've let a few balls drop in places I should not, whether or not I'm able to balance things correctly. But mostly, I'm just going to embrace the chaos and acknowledge that it appears to be the way things work right now.

Mercury is retrograde again. I find it interesting that we're getting photos back of it right now while it goes backwards. And the photos seem to be coming back just fine. LIke this one here. Revealing craters we didn't know where there, not those ones and not in those places and not in that magnitude. Apparently its lack of atmosphere is what makes it so vulnerable to meteorites. Which gives you a bit of pause, thinking we could be so ransacked except our atmosphere keeps us safe. 

It's too much to resist extrapolating this into "this is why, maybe, we get so screwed when Mercury appears to go backward, like we're getting all that bombarded energy." Except it's probably too neat, inaccurate and stuff. This is why I'm a writer, not a scientist. Little details like "truth" and "accuracy" are always in my goddamned way of making something pretty.

Anyway. Made progress on the story last week, especially after I whined about it being so un-progressy. This caused me to go myopic on everything else, which caused me to do all the other "things must be done" on Friday and all at once. Then yesterday was a great fiasco as we had the adventure of fetching new glasses for Dan. It was fun, but wore me the fuck out.

Today I'm trying to catch up on some posting (leading us to this) and online organizing, after which I get the most vital of things done I will probably move on to the same on the house. 

Though as soon as Anna and Dan come back from their park adventure, I'm going to enjoy some of this very nice day by taking a walk. (Have to wait until they return because someone must baby-sit the barbequed ribs I have slow-roasting in the oven.) And what shall I go take my walk in but my brand new and already beloved Vibrams shoes. Mine look just like these: got them at Jax here in town. Which was great because I got to try these strange beasts on, find the proper size (which was not what I'd have guessed) and get a feel for them. I don't think I can wear them all the time every day, but for me wearing them is a kind of therapy. It goes along with the kind of body and nervous system awareness my PT does with me (she wears them herself), and I can already feel my feet moving differently, especially my baby toes which have previously been content to be pretty much dead weight. They call the shoes "five fingers," which I think isn't about being cute but more about how your toes truly are a tool to take in the world.

So that's where I"m at just now. Embracing chaos as best as possible and doing more walking in funky-looking shoes. And trying to clean up.

How about you?


(We're just not going to address the epic fail of posting from Sunday until now.)

(Except for that just there.)

Due to this, that, and the other thing, there hasn't been much chance for writing in the last few weeks. I was busy building the Etsey website, editing things, watching other people's children, etc. And so it was with great delight I sat down Monday at last, ready to write. Surely I was refreshed and ready. Surely I would sail through it all.

Surely that was a really fucking easy setup.

Yeah, it's not refreshed, ready, or sailing. Trudging, yes. Slogging, absolutely. Clunking: frequently. Failing to click.  Sucking ass. Failing to interest me. Spawning at least six shiny alternative projects which I would LOVE to be working on instead of this. And add to that, now it's Mercury in Retrograde.

This is the It Sucks portion of the writing process. Mine, anyway. Pacing kills, every phrase is mundane or trite, every character feels cliched.  Ten minutes at the document makes me want to nap. Or clean something. God save me, anything but this goddamned manuscript. And meanwhile I have other stuff I really, really need to be working on, and I feel panicked and try harder, only to feel more tired and more frustrated.

Ah, writing. So much fucking fun.

To compound it all, I know damn well this is just a trap. It doesn't suck. The pacing is at best in need of a tweak. In fact, it's all probably really good or missing just one small piece or needing one removal. But it's absolutely true that I can't see it now and that I just need to keep going even though it feels like every note is wrong.

This part of my process always reminds me of making pie crust. I use my grandmother's recipe which always looks like it won't ever form the ball it's supposed to, and right at the point you become absolutely convinced that this time it truly won't is always when it magically conceals. Every time, almost as if that doubt is critical to formation. I tell myself it's the same with the story. I tell myself all manner of shit, in fact, anything to keep momentum going. I make bargains and set rewards. I treat myself that the whiny toddler I have essentially become, anything to get through to the next phase: Eureka. When the dough forms into a ball and all of a sudden it's a novel, just like magic.

Also accompanied at this point are requests by well-meaning friends who want to read it and tell me that it's fine. This is the equivalent of a crack pipe, by the way, so don't offer. I come close every now and again to asking Marie, but sainted woman, she never offers, and the wise part of me keeps my mouth shut. I broke the rule on Dance With Me because I was so fucked I couldn't see sideways, and it did help, but it wasn't what my toddler self wanted, which was cooing and adoration. It was "yeah, something's wrong," and then the wrong fix, which actually totally helped because it helped me find the right one. But normally, no, I need to keep this to myself. 

I suspect it's because what really happens at this point is that I become so deep in the story I can no longer maintain perspective in the global sense. It's the narrowing neck of the bottle, and it isn't until I see the lip of the opening that I really get that it's going to let me out, not circle back in like a handle. It's not that I've screwed up so much as it is that I have become necessarily blind, and I really hate to lose control. The blindness is part of the cycle, and for whatever reason, so is the fear and doubt. Maybe it really is the magic ingredient. Maybe that sense of OH SHIT is what fires the furnaces and gets us to The End.

Or maybe I just unnecessarily complicate things as usual. Either way, this is my road, and I'm going down it. Bitching and whining and kvetching all the way.


One more time: Vote please.

 Double Blind needs your votes one more time. Plase go here and click me. Or Josh. He's pretty awesome as well.

Am heading out in a few hours to sit for four kids, the cherubs of our dear Jan and Sarah. Probably not a lot from me until Monday. So I won't be able to do any hardcore vote pushing, which is okay. I'd rather play with the kids than do promo, and this is the perfect excuse.

Oh, family Friday. Um, a photo....

Kathy, me, and Caryle in 2007. I don't even remember what we were doing here. Being goofy outside of the old Wheatsfield. This was back when I had hair down to my waist. Braided it was less than an inch thick. Not much for the hair, me.

Caryle, will you tell Kathy that we fucking miss her?

(Caryle is the girlfriend of Anna's godfather and has been a friend since...well, 2007. And oh yeah, she's family.)
For the past few days I have been exclusively working on a project which you may now view in its just-minted and probably very rough form, www.etseynovels.com. At the moment it's a redirect to my Mobile Me site, but it's still a site, and holy shit, but it was WORK.

It started as a means to marketing but also became a sort of almanac to the book itself, something the editorial staff at Loose Id thought it needed, and I agreed. And so I have created this monstrosity of a website, which will be linked in the book (I think) and will also be featured in a greatest hits glossary there. I think.

It was fun to do, but slightly strange. It's a little creepy how easily I can map out the finer details of a whole world and several cultures between loads of laundry and trips to the store. Some of this I've known for a long time, but some of this only solidified in factual form when I sat down to extract it from story ether to website.  Sometimes I stopped and shook my head, wondering where in the hell I was pulling this shit from. And yet it's all so right there. Somewhere.

And so I present to you the world of Etsey, which you can't read about in fiction form yet but will soon. There is more crap there than anyone could possibly want to know. There's even a twenty minute sound sample of music I listened to while I wrote it. Why I felt this was so essential I don't know. And yet there it is.

Very likely there are mistakes in spelling and/or link organization. If you would like to point those out to me here or in email, I will think of you with great fondness and name a star for you in the Etsian sky.

(The guy in the icon is Ewan MacGregor, who in my head plays Charles Perry, the most delicious and wonderful hero who ever lived on paper.)