Someone on my route to work put up their Halloween decorations this weekend — something to make me smile as I trudged through the rain to the bus stop at 7:30 on a Monday. I’ve always loved Halloween. A bit of it is the costumes, but a lot of it is the upending of our usual approach to death and monstrousness. It’s the goth in me, or possibly even further back, the morbid little weirdo who decided that being a vampire would be a great life aspiration. There’s something fascinating about all of our stories about how to make death less permanent.
For most of the year, those stories and those monsters are shoved off into a dark genre corner, where most people don’t pay attention to them. They’re a niche interest, for people who wear too much black and think skulls make cool drinking vessels and who probably ought to be avoided on the street. Then October comes, and ghoulishness is everywhere. “Ordinary” people hang paper skeletons in their windows and drape the trees in their front yards with tomb-thick cobwebs. Ghosts and ghouls peddle things in the supermarket. The morbid becomes a source of play, with mock graves for Abby Normal and L.B. Bach planted in neatly mown lawns. For a few short weeks, being fascinated with the dead-but-not-gone isn’t abnormal at all.
So it’s doubly delightful this year that I have a story coming out in October that takes advantage of the opportunity. “Resurrection Man,” my contribution to Bump in the Night, is a story about a man with no fear of the dead — no fear and in one case an absolute (undying?) devotion. There’s horror in Josef’s story, definitely, but there’s delight, too. He’s doing the thing that our Halloween rituals reach for — taming death, making its barrier permeable, besting its last word.
These shivers aren’t from horror. They’re from thrills.
This week I have taken my writing procrastination to new heights: I have gotten involved in boutique perfume making.
No, okay, it’s more reasonable than it sounds. I’m friends with the lovely ladies who run ZOMG Smells (“Fine nerdy scents for fine nerdy people!”), and one of them recently had to leave town for a few weeks on urgent family business. So I’m stopping by the lab a few days a week to help the left-behind partner stay up to date on filling orders. Verdict: making perfume is so cool. I feel like an alchemist, searching through the dozens of dark glass bottles to find just the right one to measure out twelve drops into the mixture I’m currently compounding. All that’s missing is the mercury poisoning, and frankly I’m fine with skipping that part.
Because I’m pretty much always thinking about my various imaginary friends, yesterday afternoon as I labeled tiny vials I started thinking about what scents would suit my characters. Keliel, the elf from my Love Has No Boundaries story, is probably Four Seasons in Mighty Contention on Trivial Matters. Tavren, his human mage counterpart, might be The Melancholy Death of Nikola Tesla, or perhaps Magnacephalopoda Aesthetica (they’re not kidding about the nerdy part!). The main character of the novel I have out on submission begins his character arc as Bosie, and ends it Wrestling Tigers While Calling Your Mum Long-Distance. (But only because their catalog somehow doesn’t contain Burning Cities Down to Flee the Authorities. Maybe I should suggest that for next month’s limited edition.)
It’s a fun way of shifting gears, and thinking about characters from a direction I don’t normally while doing a productive thing entirely unrelated to putting words in order. Maybe that’ll help me get past the writer’s block I’ve been having lately.
And even if it doesn’t, hey. Alchemy.
I woke up this morning to both of my cats investigating me curiously, purring in the hopes of coaxing my hands out from under the blankets and into petting range. I got up and went to turn on the computer & make coffee. I stood there in the kitchen assembling my delicious caffeine delivery mechanism and I thought, “I really like my life.”
I really like my life.
It’s so good to have that feeling back. I have chronic depression; I’ve lived with it to more or less success for the last twenty years. I finally started managing it with medication when I was 31, and the difference it made in my quality of life was staggering. Suddenly I could spend all of my energy on doing things, instead of having to reserve about a third of every day’s processing power for just “no, we’re not going to give up.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started submitting work for publication the next year. All was going great, right?
And then I lost my job in November. I probably started going downhill within a few weeks, after the elation of “I don’t have to keep doing that anymore!” wore off. Looking at it now I’m pretty sure I was in trouble by the end of December, when I slept through a doctor’s appointment and then couldn’t summon the energy or the determination to call and reschedule. I missed a New Year’s party with friends because the idea of being in a room full of people made me want to cry. I felt like I wanted to sleep all the time, no matter how much I’d just been sleeping or how little I’d done since I got up. By late January one of my friends was asking if I’d considered talking to my doctor, since it was pretty obvious I wasn’t doing well. I kept telling myself it was fine, though, or if it wasn’t fine then it was understandable and I should just tough it out and it would get better. It was all in my head!
Then it got bad enough that I couldn’t write. My head was still full of stories and I had no problem coming up with new scenarios I wanted, but I’d sit down to turn any of those stories into words and just despair. Every sentence felt like I had to drag it through knee-deep toxic sludge just to bring it to the page. Being unable to produce words made me miserable. When my (extraordinarily patient) friend asked about the doctor again, I finally made an appointment.
I got a prescription for more exercise, more vitamins, and a little tweaking in my pharmaceutical assistance. And today? I’m awake, I’m pleasantly sore in most of the major muscle groups from my shoulders to my knees, and I really like my life.
Time to open one of those stalled documents and make exciting things happen.