Have arrived safely in Arizona! Long flight, but good. Out at my Dad’s for today, tomorrow we’ll be touring some of the spectacular northern scenery, like the Grand Canyon, which Kevin’s never seen, and Jerome and Sedona, which are cool to visit.

I love my Dad’s place, since it’s just wonderfully surreal. There’s a huge koi pond in the backyard, with all the usual landscaping of water plants and bamboo, but since they also keep chickens, there are roosters wandering through the reeds, looking suspicious, and conversations are punctuated by the occasional crow of a rooster who has seen something that the world needs to be alerted about. The cats are in a state of low-level hostility with one another, but the dogs all get along. (One of the cats is very similar to Ben, in that overmuscled tomcat with nothing to prove sort of way. He looks a lot wilder, though, like if you went far enough back in his genes, you’d find a jaguarundi or something. Not that those can breed with regular cats or anything, but the shape of the head and the eyes and the short dense fur are very…feral.)

I’ve seen a verdin and a merlin so far, neither of which are lifers, but which are good fun birds to spot through a window.

Ahhh. Vacation good!

Wall painted, wall jewelry rehung.* Rearranged photos of Kevin’s kids. Glared at them. Cursed their cheap frames.  Rearranged again. Put multiple nail holes in newly painted wall. Glared some more. Vowed that if I ever found the electrician who put the lightswitch, power outlet, thermostat and…whatever the hell that one thing is**…in an irregular rhombus on the wall, carefully arranged so that no two items line up on the horizontal or the vertical, I would tear his head off and urinate in the stump.***

"Kevin! Come tell me if this arrangement is acceptable!"

"It looks fine…"

"The other alternative is to let me scan them all, convert to grayscale, print them out at standard sizes and put them in white mats with black frames."

"….are you feeling all right?"

My attempts to convince him that this would look much better actually caused me to use the phrase "bourgeois sentimentality" without irony, proving that I probably need this trip to Arizona a little more than I thought. (But it totally would look better. I mean, you stop registering the content of the photos within two days ANYWAY, so they might as well carry some design weight while they’re hanging there.)

*Two barong masks, four coconut masks, a World Wildlife Fund calendar and a clock shaped like a fish made out of brightly colored wooden bits.

**Square plastic box. Looks important. There are bits of wiring inside. Possibly a cow-detector.

***If you are of an artistic or OCD bent, you will probably agree that this is too merciful a fate.

Been in the throes of a weird restlessness lately…I want to paint, or write, or do SOMETHING productive, but inspiration isn’t coming. (Please don’t attempt to inspire me–I appreciate the thought, but trust me, that doesn’t really help. I’ve already run through all my usual–and a couple of unusual–methods, and I don’t think lack of inspirational thingies is actually the problem.) I think I’m probably burned out from the crazed rush through MFF, the last book, and the holidays, and yet part of my brain is going "You haven’t done anything remotely like genius for months! GET TO WORK!"

I sometimes think my brain has unrealistic expectations for the rest of me. Or possibly it’s just the new birth control pill.

However, regardless of source, all this energy has to go SOMEWHERE. The inside of my ribcage is itchy. Video games don’t help. I need to do something useful. I find myself going into the bathroom and spending twenty minutes scraping stray bits of grout off the side of the bathtub.

"Um," said Kevin, as I emerged, dusting grout from my hands. "I’m getting a little scared."

"You’re allowed to say "You’ve crossed the line and are displaying some kind of mania," I said, balancing with one foot on the nightstand so that I could dust the top of one of the paintings over the bed. "I won’t take offense."

"In that case, you’ve crossed the line and are displaying some kind of mania."

"Yes, I know." I crossed the bed to the other painting. "I’m out of painter’s tape. It’s ten at night. I really need an all-night hardware store."

"There’s Wal-Mart."

I considered this, while dusting the Venetian blinds. "Is going to Wal-Mart for painter’s tape at ten at night entirely sane?"

"We’ve gone out at midnight for pop-tarts before."

I started on the next row of Venetian blinds.

"How much does Painter’s tape cost?" asked Kevin behind me.

"I dunno…five bucks a roll?" I leaned back and surveyed the windowsill, which probablyneeded to be washed.  Or maybe repainted. Definitely repainted. Which brought me back to the need for tape again.

I heard a rustling nose. I turned around to see Kevin flinging bills at me. "Wait!" he said. "If this isn’t enough, I have a jar of quarters, too! For god’s sake, go get your tape!"

Thus apprised of my descent into madness I went to Wal-Mart and got tape, taped off one of the big downstairs walls, and did most of the edging in yellow before I finally ran out of steam.

The only possible moral to this story is that Walmart at eleven at night is a scary place and that you should probably always keep a spare roll of painter’s tape on hand at all times. And also that I need to stop blogging and go finish that wall, since I have to leave town to visit Arizona tomorrow, and I don’t want to come home to an unfinished wall.

Merry Dies Natalis Solis Invicti!

Kevin went off to a church thing with his kids. I cleaned my studio–we all have our particular religious observances–and conducted that most longstanding of family traditions–namely I went out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve.

Tomorrow there will be dinner with Kevin’s family and lunch with Deb, who’s family of another sort, and there will be ham and other Christmas foodstuffs and the various small gifts of the variety you give and get when you’re old enough to have already bought everything you really really wanted, and are mostly exchanging presents as tokens of affectionate acknowledgement. Tonight, though–tonight is takeout Chinese, as it should be, as it has been since I was about five and Grandma baked cookies all day, spooned the last jelly into the last thumbprint cookies* and wiped the sweat from her brow, and said "Heck if I’m cooking dinner too! What’s open, anyway?" 

I drove home munching on crab rangoon and now I have pork fried rice and a glass of white wine (I don’t know what wine is supposed to go well with Chinese, and honestly, I don’t much care.) There are people scattered around who love me despite everything, there is an unopened box of Russell Stover chocolates sitting on my newly cleared off desk and a video game paused right before the sudden but inevitable betrayal by my childhood friend and I have fuzzy socks and I am very happy.

May you all have most excellent holidays!

*Which frankly, I never liked, but she made every year because they were festive, goddamnit. It was red and green jelly, anyway. But she also made this fudge that had three cans of sweetened condensed milk in it…hooo mama.

So it wasn’t until I started seeing a fair number of "End of the Decade" lists on various sites that it occurred to me that this is the end of the…whatever the hells…and the beginning of the Screamin’ Teens (or whatever they’ll be called. I’d like to think "the Green Teens," myself.)

I tried to think of what I’ve been doing in the last decade, and it was too vast a scale. You only get seven or eight of those in a lifetime,* and you have to waste a couple on being housebroken and learning to drive. In my first fully-adult decade, I got married, got divorced, got a career, got depressed, got a second career, got laid, got tattooed, moved a lot, fell in love, held a number of jobs of varying degrees of suckitude, wrote six books,** did a webcomic, did–christ, over a thousand paintings? Really? (Really. I can only estimate, but there’s 672 on DA alone, and that only goes to 2002 and leaves out a whole bunch of work on commission and that I never bothered to post, and doesn’t include Digger.) ate a lot of good meals, travelled a bit, and took up birdwatching.

I can honestly say that looking back, I packed a whole LOT into the last decade. And I have very few regrets, most of which don’t linger much. From a rathole apartment in St. Paul, working at an insurance company reading handwritten claim forms, painting paintings that don’t look that bad unless you get up close and look at the brushwork, and praying the radiator didn’t explode and kill me, it’s been QUITE a change.

I have no idea what the Teens are going to look like, but hey, so far, so good!

*Unless you’re one of those ancient Russian guys who live on cigars and onions and vodka, and get a round dozen.
**Only two of which are on the shelves at the moment, owing to the length of lead time of publishing…

Hey, gang, a buddy of mine is auctioning off some of the unframed art she fears she will never get around to framing–a circumstance I am all too familiar with!–and one of my little Exclamatory Chickens is on the block!

If you’d like a chance to get one of the linoblock chickens, and missed it when I did the actual run, here’s your chance!

So I’m playing Dragon Age: Origins.

It’s a Bioware game, and I will play pretty much any Bioware game ever. When they do it right, they do it very, very, very right. (When they do it wrong, they do it right for about three-quarters of the game, then go "Whoops! Shit! Uh–rocks fall, everybody dies!" They are the game developer equivalent of a Neal Stephenson book in this regard.)

But it has made me Unbearably Happy, after a mere ten hours of play, because I have a giant wardog who is awesome and brings me gifts of random objects (favorite so far, soiled silk pantaloons) and furthermore, in every area, there is a Significant Landmark, and if your giant wardog cocks his leg on this landmark, he is granted a bonus for being the dominant dog in the area. Bioware knows the way to my heart.

I am fully aware that the odds are good that they will kill my wardog heroically later and make me cry like a little girl,* but I will play anyway.

*ISN’T THAT RIGHT, SAGACIOUS ZU?!

The check engine light came on in my car t’other day, and I finally got it into the dealer–it’s under warranty, so might as well.

So yesterday was spent sitting around my buddy Deb’s, commiserating over writing, working on Black Dogs on the laptop, and waiting for the mechanic to call. At last he did, informing me that there was a "major evap leak" (whatever that means) and they can’t pin it down. Ergo, I am now carless for the weekend.

It’s amazing how cavalier one gets when it’s under warranty, though…"Do what you need to do! It’s all good!"

So hopefully I’ll get it back Monday.

In other news, our deathly winter storm that was supposed to bury us all has left stuff soggy but unimpressive. I am sad. There was one really good-looking snowfall, the big fluffy flakes that want to accumulate, but it didn’t last long enough to get anywhere.

However–and more importantly!–Biting Pears are in! They’re being processed by the good people at Patch Together right now, and hopefully will be mailed out soon! (Woohoo!)

Finally knuckling down and working on editing Black Dogs 2. (See, I told you it existed!)

It’s hard.

Editing something I wrote two months ago is hard enough–editing something I wrote an entire DECADE ago is seriously brutal. My younger self had no sense of humor and seemed to think that you could solve all ills by throwing enough commas and adjectives at it. (Okay, it’s probably not that bad, it just seems that way because I’m hip-deep in it.)

I’m not sure why it seems harder than editing Book 1 back in 2006. Possibly I am a far different (and I hope, better!) writer now, certainly I am a far different person. Possibly Book 1 was simply more tightly plotted, possibly…I don’t know. Black Dogs was the first novel I ever wrote, and enough people have told me that they really enjoyed it–and my publisher has faith in it!–so I will keep slogging through the edits. But standing here on the other side of…lord, most of Digger* and four Dragonbreath manuscripts and a couple of novels in various stages of not-done-ness, it’s very strange to look down on Black Dogs 2 and have to drag my mind back to these people and this world and these things I thought I understood at twenty-one, some of which I was even right about, which is scary in its own way.

I have learned a lot about writing since then, and they aren’t things I can fix in this manuscript without rewriting it from the ground up, which isn’t in the cards, and which wouldn’t work anyway, because this is a book for the people who liked Black Dogs 1 and want the rest of the story.

Well, It is a flawed and awkward and earnest work in many regards, but there are people that want to read it. And probably some day I will say the same about Dragonbreath and Digger and Nurk and all the rest of my works that I am so proud of today, and probably I’ll be seventy and have written a dozen books and people will bring me Black Dogs to sign and I will apologize to them profusely for the adjectives and be immensely flattered that they liked it.

And none of this is getting more stuff edited. Back to work!

*Which no one on earth will ever call "tightly plotted."