Writing Time

I know I’ve mentioned schedules before. I also know how often writers complain about their day jobs and how much they’d get done in only they didn’t owe so much time to something else. Having now been on both sides of that equation, I’m here to tell you something.

It ain’t necessarily so.

Something always fills the time. Something always demands it. If it’s not the day job, it’s something else. I’m not going to be specific here because those “somethings” are going to be different for everyone. The point is, writing time always was and always will be time you’ve made for yourself. Odds are no one’s going to give it to you. I personally found that having a day job forced me to be very careful about how I budgeted my time and encouraged me to use what I had wisely. All that went out the window and for a while now I admit I’ve been flailing, thinking I had all the time in the world when that simply wasn’t true.

Took me a while, but I finally get it. I still haven’t totally worked out what I’m going to do about it, but I have some ideas I’m trying out now. One of them might even work. We’ll see. At least I’ve finally recognized the problem, which is the same one any mortal has, day job or no.

Time.

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Refusing to Rant For Christmas

Easy enough to do. Ranting, that is. And I really want to, except that it’s also the last thing I want to do. I have to believe things will get better. Despair helps no one except those who seek to inflict it.

So, in the spirit of the season, I wish everyone reading this Happy Holidays, whichever you celebrate. And if you don’t have a holiday, celebrate anyway. We’re pulling for you, and each other.

It’s a Seasonal Thing

Not quite late, exactly, though this is going up a little later in the day than I usually try to manage. Couldn’t be helped. As you all know, it’s now December, approaching—for those who celebrate, and even for many who don’t—Christmas. It’s hard to avoid at least and impossible at most. Those of us caught up in the orbit of the Yule Season have certain…obligations, shall we say, that go along with the annual celebration. Some of them are familial. A few are even spiritual. For some of us, however, they are more of a ritual.

It was time to re-watch “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” Well, it was either that or “Santa Claus vs the Devil.”

Sure, you could take the easy way out and go for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” but as far as I’m concerned that particular holiday joy is more in the line of collateral damage. It’s something you often end up doing or being done to, willing or no. Seasonal films like “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” usually require a little more effort. They’re not that hard to find, with the right streaming service, but as a rule you do have to look. And you have to know to look, which to me places them in an entirely separate category.

For one thing, they’re really bad.

As films, that is. As cultural artifacts? Priceless. The sheer cluelessness of  “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” is so absolute that it transcends into a sort of pure and beguiling innocence. You can’t find that just anywhere. And after repeated viewings, I still find new things. For instance, for a while I had it my head that one of the Martians was played by Jamie Farr, even though I knew the time frame was too early. Only later, when I bothered to check, I found that it was actually an actor named Al Nesor. Quite a resemblance, though.

And yes, I know it doesn’t take that long to watch “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” Only after watching it we stumbled across “RiffTrax: The MST3K Reunion.”

That took a while.

Worth it.

I Need a Schedule

Closeup

Or at least that’s the conclusion I’ve drawn. When I was working a regular 8-5, things were simpler. I’d get up around 7AM, get dressed, take out the trash, go to work. When I got home, I’d eat dinner (and usually cook it, too), spend a bit of quality time with First Reader, then disappear into the library and try to get some writing work done. It wasn’t a perfect system by any means, but overall it served.

Now that’s all gone. In theory, I have lots of time. In practice, almost none. There’s always something else wanting my attention. This summer I spent most days working on the room over the garage because we’re turning it into a studio. I estimate it’ll take half of next summer to get everything finished. Regardless, I make time. Plus house maintenance and yard maintenance, which I also must make time for. When’s my writing work time now? Snatches here and there. I always feels like I”m stealing it because, for the most part, it ain’t on the agenda.

This isn’t working.

I’m going to try blocking out the time after dinner. I have to be flexible on this, with an understanding that a disruption of the schedule is just that–a disruption. It has to be clear to me and to my loved ones that this is my time, and if I’m doing anything else, I’m not doing what I need to be doing.

Seems simple enough, of the face of it. We’ll see how it goes.

Review: In Calabria, by Peter S. Beagle

Tachyon Publications, LLC., 2017.

Let it be said up front that Calabria is a region of southern Italy, in the “toe of the boot.” There on a hillside farm lives Claudio Bianchi, alone except for his old dog Garibaldi, his old goat Cherubino, and three cats: Sophia, Mezzanotte, and Third Cat, which is more position than name, since Bianchi had never learned her real name, “as one must do with cats.” Other than twice-weekly visits from young Romano the postman, It’s a hard and lonely existence, which suits Bianchi just fine. The farm gives him enough of a living to live, plus time to read and sometimes write poetry, which he mostly keeps to himself. All that changes when the unicorn visits his scraggly vineyard for reasons that Bianchi cannot fathom:

“He would indeed  have taken it for an illusion, if Cherubino, anarchist and atheist like all goats, had not remained kneeling for some time afterward, before getting to his feet, shaking himself and glancing briefly at Bianchi before  wandering off. Bianchi knew the truth then, and sat down.”

He writes a poem about the unicorn, but the visitation proves to be more than a one-time miracle. The unicorn returns, and is apparently searching for something. The truth finally dawns on Bianchi: the unicorn is pregnant, and what she’s searching for is a place to have her foal…fawn? Bianchi isn’t sure. But when she makes her nest in a hollow near his apple orchard, the farmer begins keeping vigil, and it is there that Giovanna, the postman’s sister covering his route that day, finds Bianchi, and finds the unicorn. Soon she’s in on the conspiracy of silence, and essentially in the unicorn’s service as much as Bianchi, though he might not have put it that way, already is. The unicorn eventually has a difficult birth, and Bianchi is there to assist, and all is well, for a while.

Some secrets are impossible to keep, and the unicorn and her newborn are among them. It’s not long before reporters, animal rights activists, and unicorn hunters are snooping around and sneaking through and trampling  Bianchi’s farm, but the real danger arrives with the monster, a monster in human form, as the worst ones tend to be.

So that’s the plot. Trivial things, plots, or would be if one didn’t need a way to lay out what does and must happen in the course of the story. The bones, if not the flesh. Seldom if ever what the story is about. At its heart, In Calabria is a love story, and I don’t simply mean the contentious but real affection Bianchi and Giovanna come to feel for each other. There’s also healing. In time we learn why Bianchi is alone in the first place, and the tragedy that put him there. In Calabria is also a story of awe and wonder, and all that contained in a novella-sized package. It contains multitudes. Yes, I know. The monster must be defeated, the dangers averted, or else the story is about something else entirely. So let’s leave that part for the reader, where it rightly belongs.

If you already know Peter Beagle’s work, and you haven’t read this book, I don’t know what to tell you, other than stop wasting time and get to it. I’m already mad at myself for waiting so long to do the same. If  you don’t know Beagle’s work, then correct this error as soon as possible. Start with The Last Unicorn, or A Fine and Private Place, or The Folk of the Air, or The Innkeeper’s Song or...well, I really doubt it matters. No writer is for every reader, but if Peter Beagle isn’t for you, then I can only offer my sincere condolences. But it’s well worth your time to find out.