Good books and hope

Some people have lofty dreams: careers, higher education, to have a large, expansive family—I have dreams of writing a book. Many books. Any book.

When I read a book, a few things always happen (depending on if it is a good book or a bad book). 

2018-06-26 21.35.59b.jpg

With a good book—my imagination develops tracers: flashes of light that remain after something bright has burned in the darkness. Fireworks. Burning hot dog roasting sticks (sorry, my Montana is showing through). Tail lights in the distance, crunching gravel beneath tires. The story leaves a memory, an experience, a ghost that forever inhabits a part of myself.

A good story leaves the characters behind to stay with me forever; I can recall them at will. Not the entire story, my memory is far too poor for that, but I can picture the story and the characters clearly enough. They are forever suspended in my mind—sometimes in certain scenes or just impressions.

Talia and Kris alone in the waystation all winter (Arrow's Flight, Mercedes Lackey).
Sabriel in a bathtub blushing over the sounds of a giggling couple in the next room, while thinking it is Touchstone (it isn't; Sabriel by Garth Nix).
Tiger and Del arguing, fighting, laughing and much more (Sword-dancer series, Jennifer Roberson).

A good book, for me, leaves a scar. As a writer: it creates characters and worlds I can only stare at longingly. I can only kick myself for that 'Why didn't I think of that!' (Because I was 7 when that book was published, nerd). 

Memories aside—a good book reminds me that there are plenty good books left to be written and they make me remember that my contribution—once it happens—has value. More importantly, perhaps, they make me feel like contributing. I'm not saying that I detest writing or that I find it a chore, but I do find it very sacred. It's very precious to me and I often find reasons why the circumstances aren't write (hah) because I want to be in the perfect place when I do sit down to write. That isn't realistic, but—have we met?

Many of these characters, places and experiences that I have encountered while reading hold firm places in my mind. At any moment—I need only remember a book and suddenly the Sandtiger is grinning back at me or a bell rings out in the fog, and I know Sabriel is there, waiting. I can feel the cold water rushing around my ankles—I am transported.

A good book becomes a good memory and, I'd like to think, tries very hard to replace a bad one. A good book reminds us to dream, because it is often in dreams where novels and characters are born.

A good book gives me characters, places, styles, plot and guidance. As both a reader and a writer—I learn from reading as much as I experience it. I can acknowledge a book for the skill on a line level, for deftly penning a plot—and for giving me scenes that forever burn like embers in my mind. I can both learn from, and enjoy, the hard work of dedicated authors. A book is a gift from the imagination and hard work of one person, to the imagination of next.

A bad book is even worse for a reader-writer. Before I continue, let me explain: I am not insisting that anything I write is considered "good" nor can I claim to be involved with the making of a "good book" as I have not yet been published (or even survived the second draft). The following opinions spring only from my life experiences and what I, personally, consider to be a bad book at this point in my life. A bad book was quite different for me 10 or even 15 years ago and the same can be said for what I considered good in my youth.

I had an entire section on what bad books do to people—but I think I'll just let it go. We all know a bad book when we read/hear/experience it. And bad books can be found everywhere: self-published authors, New York Times Best Selling authors, even ourselves. They can be books written by terrible people (I once saw a beloved author be disrespectful about politics on Facebook and I can no longer read their books) or bad books written by people who refuse to accept any kind of feedback or criticism. We all have a certain way we want our books to be read and experienced: but full of typos, cliché names, weak-willed characters and mindless sex is never the answer (for me, at least). 

Bad books leave scars that only amplify the good books in our lives. Even bad books have lessons to teach us (as writers and readers) and characters to adopt—even if only to tape their mouths shut and throw them down a dark stairwell for their own protection. Sometimes I read so I can remind myself what kind of writer I don't want to be.

Right now I am about 20% through Clariel by Garth Nix. I am reminded that there are still stories left to be told, monsters left to banish (both in real life and in literary ones) and memories yet to make.

Read the good with the bad: learn from both. Spend the money on the editor. Don't write what you know: often we know only a life of cruelty and unfairness. Write to make the world better than it is, not to remind us of how dark and awful humankind really is. We already know that. What we need, more than anything as mortal creatures reading books, is hope.

Final disclaimer: this opinion of "don't write stuff with typos" and "only write good books" is an opinion I only recently embraced. See my earlier work for contradictions and furthur proof that I am far from perfect.

August – December 2017, a bulleted list in some order

  • SpoCon 2017 happened. Read about it here.
  • I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel for part of my Independent Study. It is now a strong #2 on “Michelle’s List of Favorite Books ever,” and I believe you should read it.
  • August 20th arrived and I turned 33. (Although my brain keeps insisting I’m 34, it seems to like the sound of that number more. Stop it, brain, I’m in no hurry.)
  • Fall 2007 semester at North Idaho College began. I was slated to take 12 credits and work part-time as a work study employee. Then I ended up adding a Poetry class and it became 15 credits… My classes included: English 102, Math 123, online Astronomy, Poetry and an independent study with my English teacher.
  • We bought a gym membership in August and have not returned.
  • I read Kraken by China Miéville. Eventually I had to switch over to the audiobook version because it became a bit too weird to read. By the end of the book, I loved it.
  • Somewhere during this, Mason and I watched two of three Star Wars prequel movies which names I cannot remember. I laughed a lot.
  • We signed up for MoviePass and have since watched Baby Driver, Spider-man: Homecoming, Blade Runner 2049 (we regretted seeing it), Thor: Ragnarok and The Man Who Invented Christmas in theaters.
  • I got 100% on my very first math test for math 123. To be fair, the test was probably only 11 questions.
  • We got Boo Boo a fountain he can drink from instead of the kitchen sink (which he still manages to do, anyways). My cat-loving friends will appreciate the significance of this.
  • Mason and I started rebuilding our lives together. We received two Christmas cards this year, one invitation to a Christmas Eve party which we’ll attend, and one for a New Years Eve party which we’d like to attend. That’s +2 parties more than we were invited to the year before.
  • One Tree Caramel Cinnamon is amazing, but expensive. Close to $8 a bottle. I’d rather pick up a 6-pack of Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple for that price (which I did: yesterday, to celebrate the end of the Fall semester).
  • Wild turkeys visited our back yard; the cat was not impressed.
  • We bought a Starfinder book and thought about playing.
  • My mother got a nosebleed that didn’t stop for three days. Four (five?) emergency room visits later, a lot of blood, and our visit to Montana wasn’t quite the same.
  • We looked at a piece of property hidden somewhere in Spokane and imagined living there in a manufactured home shared with my parents. The property has already sold.
  • Mason convinced me to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when it returned to theaters. I was not disappointed.
  • Mason and I attended Portland Retro Gaming Expo at the invitation of new friends. I spent an odd amount of time with a boy, who possibly talked more than I did. He wore a black velvet suit jacket and Converse sneakers. The boy is going places, not the least of which was straight for my heart. We played a lot of arcade games, and bought lots of old games.
  • I signed up for my first ever “Virtual Run” with a dear friend. Sometime around Halloween we walked around the mall while listening to a special episode of “Zombies, Run!!!” which seemed fitting, being in the mall. We received medals in in the mail for our completion.
  • We watched Stranger Things Season 2, The Punisher and half of Orville: all of which I loved.

"Ed, there are families down there." "I know." "There's probably a lot of single people, too."#TheOrvillepic.twitter.com/dBFIN3ZSgG

— Michelle Brumley (@BloodGateKey) December 7, 2017

In school, I heard author Lenya Krow and poet Ben Cartwright read aloud. Cartwright joined us later in Poetry class and read us poems inspired by the time he once lived in China.

October 27th, 2017 - my mother's birthday: she officially retired from Big Dog Coffee.

I expressed my dislike of “The Name of the Wind,” to no less than a dozen people. I still feel like I’m the only person in the world who dislikes Patrick Rothfuss. I also caught a favorite author being rude on social media about political ideas and am reconsidering how I feel about them. There is a term for this, I think? An association between the author and their bodies of work and being unable to separate your opinion of one from the other.

I bought and played 20 minutes of a Playstation 4 Kingdom Hearts collection. Silly me thinking I could play video games and do school stuff. I haven’t made it back to play since.

2017-11-04-20.58.51.jpg

Boo Boo learned how to knock Mason’s Star Wars books off his book shelf and on to the floor. Which he now does repeatedly. Since my sister Stephanie moved to Boston and left her Xbox One with her mother—we hadn’t been playing Minecraft like we used to. We attempted to play a few You Don’t Know Jack games, Starbound (on PC) for a round or two, an awful few games of Rocket League and Don’t Starve Together. We finally decided that Minecraft is the best game for the three of us to play, and so we’re back to Minecraft on Thursday nights and everything is right in the world: except I’m still considered a third-place friend on Facebook.

2017-11-07-20.10.38.jpg

One Sunday morning, Mason quietly stood by the bed and said: “Michelle, you need to wake up, I have something important to talk to you about.” Those are the words of someone who is in shock. I immediately woke up. “My truck is gone.” He went out to do laundry—and noticed his truck was missing from the parking lot. There’s no chance it had been towed: our landlady is familiar with everything that belongs to us. Mason’s truck had been stolen.

We helped with the second annual Northwest Undergraduate Conference in the Humanities. I was inspired by keynote speaker Dr. Susan Swetnam and her speech about public humanities. I also learned that Graduate School is “scandalous.”

Mason introduced me to Animal Crossing on my 3DS and I play it weekly. Stinky is my favorite character (he’s a cat with wrestling shorts on his head).

I think we ate a total of 30 pies this Fall Semester. I gained my weight back from the summer. I have no idea what happened.

I started (and am still doing the audio book version of) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I’ve never been more fascinated and repulsed by reading a book and I can’t stop reading… I’m learning things about craft and characters (from Station Eleven and Kraken also), things that cannot be undone. I was also supposed to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy but ran out of time.

2017-10-23-14.02.35.jpg

I sweated over every single paper I wrote for English 102. I respect all of my teachers for their patience, their attitudes, attention to detail and the care they bring to the classroom. Every teacher I’ve encountered at North Idaho College has handled me with care. This teacher, who I also call friend, carefully guided me through the class knowing that analytical papers are not my area of expertise (neither are commas). I can’t really claim anything as my area of expertise except for maybe sarcasm and destroying relationships. My teacher challenged me, and helped me meet the challenge; even if I ended up in a pile of “I can’t do this,” after my first paper. It’s just nice to know that teachers care—not just about their student’s grades, but their lives, and how they’re doing with classes. It’s encouraging when a teacher cares, and it really does make all the difference. The sweat and tears of frustration this semester could easily have turned to those of defeat—and they did not. Thank you.

A new friend tried to teach me how to knit. It did not go well.

2017-11-10-11.33.00.jpg

North Idaho College English Club took me on a brief trip to Portland to attend the biggest book festival I’ve ever seen. Some 10,000 people frequented the Portland Art Museum and surrounding areas for Wordstock. I got to see Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink (of Welcome to Night Vale), and they signed my copy of It Devours! 

Seeing the Editors Guild there really helped me to consider what I'd like to pursue as a day job once I have my degree.

I bought Mason a handsome rooster shirt.

2017-11-11-22.25.34.jpg

I encountered a public write-in by a Portland non-profit called Literary Arts. I wrote things but did not share. My English teacher wrote a poem about knitting (see above).

Eventually we asked a friend to run a Starfinder campaign and have been playing every Monday night for the last few months. It’s been lovely. Monday nights are nights to be dreaded—and we always end up rolling with laughter; our gaming group is a good one. It is a much-needed mending time.

  • At some point the truck was recovered, and our insurance company reimbursed us for our losses. We purchased a 2002 Volkswagen Passat from a mechanic (thanks to the sleuthing skills of another dear friend) with only 85,000 miles on her. She’s a beautiful car, a kind of pale gray-green and came pre-installed with a Powell’s sticker on the window. My Honda Civic gets close to 40 miles to the gallon, and this new baby gets somewhere around 25 so it’s hard to adjust to it. Mason and I plan on trading off driving her. We’ve used a club on her steering wheel ever since we brought her home.
  • We went to the first Poetry Night at DOMA Coffee in Post Falls. We discovered our new Passat has a randomly-honking horn.

    At some point during the semester, I learned of a class being offered in the spring that would allow for a trip overseas. My tenure at North Idaho College is about as high as it can get so I knew I’d be first on the list if I wanted to get in; and so I did. I’ve since gotten my passport, and paid my deposit for the trip. In May 2018 I’ll be heading to England, Scotland and Wales with two faculty members and 17 other students. Mason can’t come with me, and that’s the hardest part about this whole trip (aside from a 9 hour flight to London and no cat). I’ve only ever been to Canada before, and I’m terrified of flying. It hasn’t really hit me yet, you know?

    2017-12-04-21.00.33.jpg

    We had Thanksgiving with Mason’s parents and both of his children showed up. Nothing caught on fire, and I was even sober (I drank and entire bottle of wine but it was over the course of the day).

    We found a giant deck of UNO card and played with my parents.

    For the sake of Mason’s daughter—we watched Pitch Perfect. It was an OK film, funny enough, but too much gross humor for me. At his daughter’s insistence: we watched the second one, which was better. And, I imagine, we’ll see the third one in theaters in December.

    Last call, pitches

    .

    2017-12-09-20.58.48.jpg

    My grandfather passed ago a year ago in November. He liked playing UNO.

    North Idaho College had their first annual Book Flood inspired by an Icelandic tradition. I donated copies of Sabriel and Station Eleven. I managed to convince my English teacher he should read Station Eleven, and he said he did and that he liked it. I hope he also reads Sabriel.

  • I helped organize SpoCon’s first fundraiser at a local restaurant called Poole’s Public House. The food was delicious and the staff was kind. We made $94 to help with SpoCon 2018!
  • Christmas money helped us buy our memberships to both SpoCon and RadCon. We’re nerds with priorities. We also picked up Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, and Xbox One games: Star Wars Battlefront II (for Mason) and South Park: The Fractured but Whole (which should make you laugh every time you read that title out loud, just sayin’.) I’ve finally had enough time to sit down and play some video games and… holy goodness, but South Park makes a damn fine video game.
  • I’m semi-addicted to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.
  • Due to an epic typo, I’ll be working on a costume for SpoCon 2018 known as the “Cash Bard.”

    Of the 10,000 words I wrote for my Independent Study workshop, about 7,000 made the re-assembly draft. I plan on sharing it here eventually, I’m quite happy with it. My teacher (different from English 102) wants me to keep writing, and to check back on the manuscript around the 20k point to make sure the characters are going in the right direction.

    A squirrel wished me good luck before my math final.

    2017-12-13-09.58.21.jpg

    We watched half of The Force Awakens, and then saw The Last Jedi in theaters last night. No spoilers from me—but it is a great movie.

    2017-12-13-21.25.29.jpg

    We’ve got Mason’s Christmas party this weekend, and then a week-ish trip to Montana. We’ll be packing Boo Boo with us and having Christmas with my mother, Muskrat, step-sister, her boyfriend and two young children. I’ll be bringing alcohol.

    As Christmas gifts, I’m officially “that aunt.” I bought her kids books. My parents didn’t buy me books for Christmas to my memory (not their fault, just different priorities); but my aunts I remember getting The Dreaming Tree by C.J. Cherryh for Christmas from my aunts when I was young. Little did I know that I’d later live in the same city as Cherryh, but she also helped my favorite author Mercedes Lackey write her first novel: Arrows of the Queen.

    2017-09-16-19.55.06.jpg

    I’ll be applying to Eastern Washington University of Christmas break.

    Michelle writes poetry?!

    When my college adviser said that my "Creative Writing: Fiction" and "Creative Writing: Non-Fiction" credits would not transfer to Eastern Washington University unless I also took "Creative Writing: Poetry" I'm pretty sure my vision went a little red. (It's English 291 and 292 which is really Poetry and Fiction. Apparently Non-Fiction is a fake class that I took for no legitimate credit. I could ask EWU if it transfered; I didn't bother)

    A poetry class? I'll be honest: my first thought was along the lines of "eww, fuck that." I'm not a poetry snob--I just dislike reader response criticism, interpretation and that entire concept called symbolism. I didn't want to take poetry, damn it. I knew at some point in my college future I'd have to take poetry (and British and American literature) but I just wasn't ready.

    Thankfully, North Idaho College has a stellar English department in my experience. The teacher (whom I have seen in passing, and met briefly in my last 2.5 years wandering the hallways) was incredibly disarming and polite. So I dragged myself to my first poetry class (and saw that a friend was also taking the class: she ended up being the reason I didn't drop it entirely) and I stayed. And fumed, and seriously was nothing but angry, frothing-face for a good month straight.

    And then we started writing poetry, instead of just reading (and responding, ugh) it. I was forced to experience poetry, to read the work of others. To appreciate and be surprised by the work of my classmates. And there some moments where I was seriously "What the hell am I reading" for hours. And hours. And I'd send my friend a message: "OMG did you read that poem" and get the "WTF I know, right?" and we'd laugh. And then we'd talk to the poet, who gave us some insight about what the poem really was saying, and we'd change our minds--and look forward to the next.

    I learned how to read poems better; not to stumble or pause at the end of a line or line-break.

    I can't post the other poems from this class since they're currently being reviewed by online poetry publications and rejected!

    Once they're all rejected I can post them on the website.

    #

    Poem attempt number one:

    My Autumn

    I wrote a poem and
    now the world is ending
    7.4 magnitude earthquakes and
    too many hurricanes to bother counting
    school shootings and
    dust choked
    space heaters
    New purple leggings
    Divorce paperwork
    My autumn is not
    your autumn
    My anger is not
    your anger
    Mine infects
    Like a 24-hour flu
    going on 34 years now
    No matter how many layers
    of amethyst, mauve or lavender
     various shades of bitterness
    There is no forgiveness
    beneath these leaves
    Stop asking
    You’ll never get your answer
    unless I fall
    or you first
    One of us will be right
    in the end.