A few years back we had a rat problem. Someone had left a bag of rice at ground level and one of them found it, so for the next several months they prowled the house for any available foodstuffs. My housemates and I were never very clean at the best of times, so even if we took efforts to lock our food away, they could always find crumbs.
It's not like I learned that cyberpunk is a thing recently, or anything, but I'd never really written it before (except for a few stories on here that probably count, though I never really thought of them that way). I don't know why. It's pretty much made for me: an entire genre dedicated to ennui, social isolation, mistrust of technology and surveillance, and depersonalization. If that doesn't handily sum up my obsessions, I'm not sure what does.
The point is I wrote another story. This one is called Cadence.
It snowed last night while we were out. It was still snowing when I trudged back home, alone and more sober than I would have liked, and it kept snowing until the morning, when my sister dragged me out of bed at nine o'clock and took me to the little diner half a mile from the house.
Nobody was out, so the city still looked clean and new--a rare gift on New Year's Day. We were the only customers in the diner and the waitress told me we were the first ones she'd had all day, which was probably for the best. "I didn't even drink that much," I said, mostly for the benefit of my sister. "Why do I feel so gross?"
"Probably because you haven't showered all year."
"And because you woke me up at nine on New Year's Day. Why are we here?"
She didn't answer. Instead she stirred her coffee and asked, "Do you remember when we came here with a vegetarian who didn't know linguica was a sausage dish?"
"I'm not sure I follow."
"All right. You remember that guy who was always talking about the distinction between literature and stories that aren't proper literature, or whatever?"
"It doesn't have to mean anything to be beautiful. I see you, okay? Now it's your turn. Look. See." She pointed out the window with her spoon, dripping coffee on my napkin. "I wanted you to see something beautiful before we fuck it all up again."
"It still sounds like you're trying to impart meaning."
"That's what humans are for, dear sister," she said. "We see a series of coincidences happen on an arbitrary date and we say 'oh, that must mean something.' Meaning is a fiction we create. You're the writer. You should know that."
It's never that simple, of course, but she was probably right. More or less.
You can tell it's going to be good day when the first thing your coworker says when you show up in the morning is "You look like shit, El. Party too hard last night?"
He thinks he's everyone's friend, but despite that he's not such a bad person. "Haven't been sleeping well," I tell him. "Can you hold the fort while I go get some coffee?"
"It'll be rough, but I think I'll manage." Sadly, he also thinks he's funny. Sometimes I humor him and smile at his jokes, but not today.
The coffee helps me feel more human, but these days it also gives me an eye twitch. Fortunately it's the week after Christmas and business is about as slow as it gets, so I can't scare anyone off.
My coworker tries to make conversation. "Any big plans for the new year?"
"If this past week is any indication, curling up in the dark and trying not to think at all. You?"
"You getting existential again, El? It doesn't suit you."
"I can't help it."
"Gives you a twitch. Nobody should have an existential twitch."
"I thought it was charming."
He grunts. "You shouldn't care so much, El. It's bad for you."
The rest of the day I think about that. Do I care too much? I didn't think I cared at all--but here's me obsessing over it, so clearly I do. Can you even turn that off? Can you not care when you care about not caring?
It's been a while. Here is something. Might be the start of a new thing.
We walked home together after one of those Christmas gatherings for the lost and lonely, where people who can't or won't go home to their families meet up and drink champagne and celebrate in their own odd way. The streets were desolate in a way only city streets can be, and he, at least, was still in good spirits. I'd had a headache most of the night and the only thing I wanted was to take some aspirin and curl up in bed.
A secret: I've always mistrusted extroverts. In all that bustle I never felt like they really notice me--what I do, what I say, sure, but not my actual self. But, extrovert though he was, he noticed. He stopped in the middle of a story, halfway across the bridge, and looked me in the eye and said, "You okay, Ellie? You look tired."
I'd dreamed of this moment all night. I wanted to just tell someone I had a headache. I wanted to tell someone that the existential bullshit of the winter was finally catching up to me, that, in fact, holidays were depressing, and celebrating them just made me feel even worse.
Instead I said "It's been a long week," and I tried to affect a world-weary tone when I did. Then I smiled and said "I'll survive. I always do."
Sometimes I worry the reason nobody ever sees me is because I've gotten so good at hiding.
First, the announcement: my new magazine (which is now called Strange Constellations is officially open for submissions as of today, until August 31. I'm paying $30 for stories I accept. If you're a writer you should send me something.
So, since I announced I was starting a magazine I've had several people offer me advice and encouragement. When I started all I knew is I wanted to edit a magazine, and I wanted it to be Creative Commons. Those two things haven't changed, but a lot of other things have. I've changed the name, because while I still love Asterism Press as the name for a small press, it's not really a magazine name. So now it's Strange Constellations. I decided to start paying for stories, and I'm listing it on actual markets instead of just hoping that people stumble across it through dumb luck.
I think the biggest change is the format. It was originally going to be twice a year, with six stories every six months. I've switched to a monthly format, with one story per month. I'll start publishing in September and I intend to keep going until people stop sending me stories.
I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully you'll enjoy, as well.
I'd like to apologize for the radio silence. I've been directing my creative energies into some short stories, most of which I've linked to, but I've also been working on a new project. It's called Asterism Press, and it's a short fiction press for science fiction and fantasy, and it will feature a semiannual magazine collecting stories from all sorts of writers. I'd love it if you took the time to check it out and share it with your friends. I'd love it even more if you'd submit a story. This is a project I'm starting, but what I want is to make something bigger than just me. I think that's what I've always wanted.
I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do with this place. Do you know it's been eight years this month since I started posting these weird little morose vignettes? I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it then, either. What I do know is over the past eight years I've had lots of readers pass in and out of my life. I probably haven't ever properly thanked any of you for it, so here it is: thank you. It means more than I can adequately express to have had people reading these things at all. And to those of you who found this place through some odd twist of fate and who talked to me and became friends, even though we've since drifted apart: I think for every last one of you there's a story on here that I wrote just for you. Thank you especially for allowing our lives to brush against one another, however briefly.
I'll keep posting links to things that I'm doing elsewhere, and if the mood strikes me I'll put up more stories, but apart from this update, the radio silence may continue for a while longer. So for now, thank you again. And please consider checking out Asterism Press. With your help I'd like to fill it with stories I could never have told.
One year, spring never came. That is to say, the actual, physical season still came. The rains cleared up and the weather warmed and the sun shone as bright and cheerful as ever, but the flowers never bloomed and the grass stayed withered and the trees remained just as barren as they ever were. Everyone had an opinion on it, of course. Lay people said of course it was pollution and GMOs and global warming and the bees disappearing. Some people thought it was a sign from a vengeful god. The scientists on TV said they didn't know, and talked at great length about how they didn't know and what they didn't know.
For a while I didn't have any dreams. At night I slept peacefully and I woke up rested, with none of the detritus of half-forgotten dreams to cloud my mind. Of course you don't really notice that sort of thing while it's happening. Instead you just notice that you're happier and more productive, and why would you ever think to question something like that?
People used to tell me I had a lot of passion. I remember when I was still in school I had a professor praise the fire in my essays, the conviction with which I defended everything I held dear in this world--which, since I was young and stupid then (or anyway younger and stupider), I'm of course a little embarrassed about now. But around that time there was a girl who loved my convictions, too. She worshiped the ground I walked on, and sometimes I think everyone needs a little bit of that.
So, I said I'd probably link to the stories I was writing on here. I've written several, all set in the same fantasy world. I've been building this world in my mind for years, now. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. For ease of reference, here's a list:
We've finally reached the end of this weird, indulgent project I've been working on all year! It's been fun to have a definite goal. A lot of the stories I wrote here were part of a longer piece that got lost along with my netbook, which I lost when I made the mistake of taking it to a sketchy laptop repair place here in Seattle. It was very nearly finished, and I wanted to tell the stories without just writing the whole thing again. (I may still do so at some point, but not just yet.) This whole project has been about the stories we tell, how they change in the telling, how we contradict ourselves for the sake of narrative, or sometimes simply because we've forgotten what the truth is. I'd be happy if you read them again now that it's complete. So much of what I was trying to do relies on the contrasts between the various stories. I'm already happy if you read even one of them, of course, and even more so if you ever smiled, or thought about something differently, because of the words I've been stringing together here for almost eight years.
I think it was probably a New Year's party where I first kissed you, and even with midnight as an excuse it took far more absinthe than was wise to convince me it was a good idea. I'd convinced myself it would be no big deal, that we could continue our little game like nothing had happened.
For a while we just basked in the glow of the moment. Then you said something like "So what does this mean?" and everything I thought I knew shattered in that instant. Instead of answering I just lost balance and fell against your chest, and you smiled and said "You okay?"
And I wanted to say, no, of course I'm not okay, you stupid boy. With five little words and the entire world changed. Instead I just mumbled something vaguely about having too much to drink and you deftly maneuvered me over to a recently vacated couch, where we sat down and I leaned my head on your shoulder and vaguely nodded as you spoke.
I could see the face of the future. I used to run away because it was a game, and it amused me at the time. Now I'd have to run away because the alternative was to stop moving altogether, to settle down and let life happen. And as much as I hated how you'd changed the entire world just now, I hated the idea of a changeless life anymore. So I told you I was sorry, even though I hate apologies, and you smiled and told me it was okay, completely unaware what you were forgiving me for.
You only took me across the mountains once during the winter--home to see your folks for the holidays, allegedly, though we didn't actually spend much time with your family while we were there. You said you didn't like the cold, which was definitely true, but in the quiet moments where you were driving from place to place and you didn't think I was watching I could tell you were actually afraid.
And it made sense. I watched you change into a different person everywhere we went. Someone from your past, maybe, or just someone you thought was more palatable for these old friends-your demeanor and your mannerisms changed instantly and completely. Each version of you was slightly catered to whoever we were talking to. At least your laugh remained the same. I've always known you had your faults, but your laugh was always perfect.
I told you what a surreal time this whole trip had been once, and you laughed. You laughed at everything back then. I imagine it's the one thing about you that's stayed the same. Except this time I asked why you laughed, and you looked afraid again, then thoughtful. "It's easier," you said. "Every time I come back it's a reminder of how much everything changes. Even me. Especially me."
"Easier than what?"
"If you can't manage a sincere laugh at something that terrifies you, you're living your life wrong," you said. Then you distracted me with stories about the old place, about the life that you'd left behind. I could never tell if you were afraid of the past or the future, and it was only now that I realized it was probably both.
I keep thinking of this promise I made to Eris once, full of words like "always," and how I knew even as I was speaking it that it wasn't a promise I'd be able to keep. I keep thinking of how she smiled and kissed my hand and gave me a look that said she knew it was meaningless, too.
I convinced myself the thing I needed to fight was change: that the reason we both knew it was bullshit is we knew that we'd both change, that the world would change around us. Life is a storm, I thought, and I'd just have to be a rock strong enough to weather it for both of us. (It went without saying that the chaos of life would blow her about like a leaf in the wind.)
Even once the inevitable finally happened, after we'd both betrayed each other, after we made a half-hearted stab at reconciliation, I believed that change was to blame for everything. That maybe things could have been different. But I keep thinking of the morning I made that promise. How I'd known in that moment that she would always be alone with me. How I'd resolved to be steady and unchanging, when the one thing that might have saved us would have been a willingness to change with the leaves.
We already had problems by the first winter. I guess it's probably pretty obvious by now that we had problems by our first meeting, but I realized it that winter, when I tried to create a ritual to stave off the passage of time, staying up all night for the solstice. It had been such a beautiful thing in the summer, but now the days were short and the nights were cold. Things had already changed.
We were curled up together in front of the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate, because that seemed like the sort of thing we should make a ritual of. Somehow it all felt hollow, and the more it seemed that my plans were falling flat the more desperate I became. She saw that, of course. She's always the first to notice my flaws, and the first to point them out--because, she always liked to say, she values honesty above all things.
I said something like "I just don't want anything to change between us," but that was a lie, and I think I was mostly trying to convince myself. Of course I wanted change. I wanted things to be like they were in my mind, all whimsical and perfect. I wanted the world to change for me. I wanted, more than anything, to believe that I wouldn't be forced to run when I couldn't lie to myself anymore.
I came back to Seattle once, hoping to pay my sister a surprise visit--it turned out she was out of town that week, of course, because that's the sort of thing that happens. So, finding myself with a sudden surplus of free time, I wandered through the city, revisiting my old haunts. There's something comforting in the unchanging. Eventually I found myself in my old neighborhood, where the most important of my old haunts had been: a used bookstore next to a coffee shop. They were places I still thought of when I thought of 'home,' which probably explained why, for so long, I'd felt restless and irritable. It's hard to feel safe when home is thousands of miles away.
Except when I reached the block, the bookstore was gone. In its place was the hideous blue of a Chase bank, sitting there like a bad set from a sci-fi movie. It was as if they'd put it there intentionally to taunt me--as if to say "This used to be a place of comfort, a place full of knowledge and secrets and hidden treasures." How could something so beautiful become something so utterly soulless?
The coffee shop still stood, at least. I ordered a chai tea and didn't dare ask when the bookstore had gone. It would have been like asking when the earth had come unchained from the sun.