2020 was my best year in more than a decade and I don’t know how to feel about that

Unless one or more of my loved ones drop dead in the next 48 hours, I can say with certainty that 2020 was my best year in more than a decade. I published three books of poetry and a short story, wrote fiction every evening, created a complete tarot deck, and relaunched my Etsy shop. I also took my first ambulance ride in January after a nasty fall, and then contracted a two month long illness after a weekend in Seattle in late February. Since said illness, I need 11 hours of sleep a night to function properly, have memory problems, and when I eventually emerge from quarantine I expect to be crowd-shy and stranger than ever. My mental health has never been better.

On paper, 2018 and 2019 looked like they were great years for me. I published books, I visited with family in Switzerland, I walked Camino de Santiago, went to Hawaii and on the JoCo Cruise and then to Hawaii again. I made new friends and hosted parties and went on road trips. I was also at my most dangerously depressed and anxious, both from family emergencies, climate emergencies, and the culmination of years of self-loathing. 2018 and 2019 were not my years, mostly because I was already living in a 2020 reality, fearful for my family, myself, and the world.

On top of that, I felt alone in this reality, knowing that my fears were a mixture of madness and inconvenient truths. I sobbed my way through the summer of 2018, the first year of truly terrible air quality for my region. As the majority acted like everything was fine, my partner acquired asthma from wildfire smoke and another friend with lung troubles had to fly across the country to escape. Caught between my own mental illness and being gaslit by corporations and politicians, I felt like I have often felt: alone at the end of the world.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve been living with the end of the world since my teens. I’m sure there are plenty of other millennials that can say the same. Though born in the fortunate, water-rich Pacific Northwest, I’ve had the apocalypse on my mind more than most Bible-Belt preachers. Chemically anxious and raised on caution, science, and science fiction, I was constantly barraged by World Oceans Assessment Reports, climate change events, and speculation about what the next pandemic would look like.

Speculative fiction teaches us to think about different worlds. It asks what if a thousand times over, sometimes with happy endings, often with dire consequences. We can learn, through fantasy and science fiction, to reach for far better worlds. We can also learn to expect worse ones. The creativity with which my reading and my anxiety outlines possible Armageddons is certainly part of the reason why 2020 hasn’t hit me as hard as it has some, but it’s not the whole truth. Speculative fiction and science literacy taught me to expect changes to the world — sometimes positive, sometimes disastrous, but always unnerving. They didn’t teach me how to handle them. For that, I needed therapy.

My crowning achievement of 2020 is not self-harming even once. I quite literally do not know the last year I could say that about, partially because for much of my life I did not consider my type of self-harm — hitting my head — to count. As far as teenage and early twenties me was concerned, I was just relieving stress in a somewhat whimsical way. Though I understood the seriousness my problem for the past few years, I did not manage to quit until my most extreme incident in 2019, in which I gave myself a small concussion during a crisis.

At that point I’d already been in therapy and on an SSRI for months, but circumstances and years of habit conspired to make me give myself a brain injury. Albeit, a small brain injury, but still an injury to my favorite internal organ. I won’t call it a wake-up call, as I was already fully aware of my poor mental health, but it was a moment of truth. Instead of just going to therapy and taking my meds, I started to take the situations I put myself in seriously. I enforced boundaries and changed my schedule as much as I could to stop my self-harm triggers from building up. I got kinder with myself even when I don’t believe I deserve it. When 2020 hit, I was prepared in every way that truly mattered.

I cried this year. A lot. Honestly, about the normal amount for me, but in more concentrated doses, especially when I was sick. I had some barn-burner fights with family members about proper quarantine safety. I yelled and raged and sang and screamed and punched pillows and felt very, very scared, and I didn’t hurt myself once.

I saw a post going around by someone like me, talking sheepishly about how 2020 isn’t even their worst year to date, and I felt a little less alone. I’ve felt almost embarrassed by how okay I’ve been. I know I’m lucky, and privileged, and my anxiety whispers that my luck can’t hold forever. My privileged section of the world hasn’t quite caught up to my off-med nightmares, but there are plenty of ultra-rich people raring to make my worst dreams come true. I expect I’ll have worse years than this one, and worse years even than 2019. The future is a big, scary place where a lot can go wrong and a lot can go right. I’ve known that since I picked up my first sci-fi novel. Now I’m learning how to experience it all.

If 2020 has been your worst year, or one of the worst, if you feel off track and hit over the head by depression and stress like you’ve never expected, if you’ve done nothing but cry, nothing but mourn, nothing but feel like a failure for reacting badly to events you can’t control, I’m here to tell you that’s okay. I’m so proud of you for surviving this year. I’m also furious on behalf of the people who didn’t. I’m mourning them and I’m not going to stop anytime soon. We all deserved better than this. We all deserve a future that’s not completely terrifying, where we have agency and hope and community. No matter how this year went for you, no matter how you reacted to events beyond your control, you deserve to heal from this trauma. While you’re healing, you will learn from it, and you’ll be more prepared for the next time the future comes knocking with a big old stew of fucked-up. Keep learning, keep healing, and keep working toward a far better world.

Happy New Year.

https://www.crisistextline.org/spread-the-word/

Crisis Text line

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish. Learn more

800-273-8255

This baby can fit so much queer yearning…

Occasionally, a story is best told through poetry.

That’s what I found in the case of this love story, which has been living in my head rent free for at least a decade. The particulars have shifted through the years, dreamtime details vanishing with the moon, but the substance is always the same: a self-proclaimed villain and a self-effacing hero meet in battle and fall for each other. The consequences ripple down the ages.

Love Songs for the Sun is for capital-R Romantics, people who can’t get enough enemies to lovers tropes, and anyone who has experienced an excess of queer yearning. It’s out on November 20th, and up for pre-order now.

Will you teach me to fly?
If I teach you how to dive
to unknown depths
where only madmen dare descend,
will you pull me in a spiral
toward some burning star?
Can we ruin each other
for mediocrity? 

If you’re interested in a free review copy of Love Songs for the Sun, you can sign up to join my review team here.

What kind of ghost are you?

It’s spooky season, so let’s find out what kind of ghost you’ll be.

Pick a vacation:

a. A tropical cruise

b. Visiting your hometown

c. Disneyland

d. A romantic tour of Europe

e. A road trip across the country

Pick a hobby:

a. Fishing

b. Martial arts

c. Theater

d. Reading

e. Bird watching

Pick a flaw:

a. Uncommunicative

b. Grudge holding

c. Attention seeking

d. Morose

e. Flaky

Pick a cryptid:

a. Nessie

b. Mongolian Death Worm

c. The Jersey Devil

d. Mothman

e. Bigfoot

Pick a Halloween costume:

a. A costume so obscure no one knows who you’re supposed to be

b. Zombie Richard Nixon

c. A terrible pun like “cereal killer” or “eye pad”

d. A ghost, but just one made out of a bed-sheet

e. A slasher film monster

Mostly E: A Vanishing Hitchhiker

Vanishing hitchhikers are a common ghost phenomena in North America. Certain rural roads are famous for apparitions which hitch a ride, then vanish from a moving vehicle.

You love adventure, but you’re constantly forgetting to tell people where you’re going or what you’re doing. Your carefree attitude is contagious, but can make life dangerous.

Mostly D: A Lady in White

Ladies in white are often associated with manors, castles, and graveyards. Some of the most famous ghosts are ladies in white, who are often identified as historical figures with tragic ends.

You like the finer things in life, and believe that classics are classics for a reason. You have a keen sense of drama that can sometimes be a double-edged sword.

Mostly C: A Poltergeist

Poltergeists (noisy spirits, in German) are named for not staying quiet. They like to throw objects around and generally make a ruckus. Poltergeists are traditionally known to follow specific people, but they are occasionally linked to a location instead.

You need to be the center of attention, but you make up for that by being entertaining. You can be a LOT, but that’s okay. You know who you are.

Mostly B: A Revenant

A revenant, in its essence, is a haunted corpse meant to torment the living. In many cultures, these are restless spirits that were not laid to rest properly and need to be dug up and dealt with via ritual. Most cultures have their own variety of revenant, be they vampires, jiangshi, or dybbuk.

You’re so stuck in the past, it might as well be quicksand. Despite this, there’s a physicality to you that people find charming.

Mostly A: A Ghost Ship

Ghost ships are ships found still afloat, with no living crew on board. These eerie reminders of the danger of life at sea have been reanimated into ghost lore, finding a new (un)life in maritime mythology.

People might call you mysterious because they don’t know what else to call you. You do your own thing, and you’re just fine with that.

So what kind of ghost are you? Let me know in the comments, including if you think there’s a kind of ghost that better suits you.

Help me choose which books to finish first

Here’s some covers for books I’m currently working on. I will publish at least two of these before the end of 2020, possibly with these covers or possibly with some design I like better and didn’t make on my phone while watching DS9.

First two: The two poetry books I’m the closest to perfecting at the moment. First is love poems written by a self-declared villain, for a hero, and the second is autobiographical and about being a queer townie during all this bullshit.

Second two: Gothic ghost stories set in the Pacific Northwest. In the first, a college student arrives for a summer internship at a museum in a small town on the Columbia River only to find that the curator selected her for a nefarious purpose. In the second, a woman takes shelter from a corrupt small-town sheriff in the ruins of an extremely haunted mansion.

Last two: Paranormal historical romance with queer characters. I give you: a witch in an arranged marriage to the reluctant heir of a vampire line, and a mermaid fleeing from sexy ghost pirates.

If you tell me which you’d most like to read, it may influence what I’m ready to publish first. But no promises, as I’m terrible at staying on task.

Demon Lover: Part Five

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.

My girl saw nothing of her lover but what she wanted seen. Love like that is an ideal camouflage, such that a monster cannot see herself for what she is, as caught up in the moment as her prey. The best deceit is wholly believed by the deceiver. 

She woke at 4 am frequently, extricating her legs from Elise’s, looking down on her girlfriend’s prone body with something between possessiveness and contempt. She often thought to herself, in those moments, that she was the only thing in the world keeping the girl alive. If Elise had ever woken during those moments, both of them would have mistaken that look for love. 

Perhaps Elise would murmur with a slight, sleepy quirk, a little “Vela, stay.” The nurse’s mouth would also turn up, perhaps teasing in theory, but so spiteful I could have drunk her like a fine merlot. 

“One of us has to pay the rent.” 

At first, their evenings were all tenderness. Elise would even cook, though the smell often turned her stomach. She’d spend hours in the bath, preparing herself. Vela wanted her, cherished her. She needed to prove herself worthy. 

Vela thought so too. If her new worshipper’s intensity did not increase with every supplication, she needed a reason. Was Elise lazy? Was she broken? Was she talking to her ex again?

Elise denied it with her tears and with her words and with her body. It was only Vela. Could only ever be Vela. Vela found her, Vela saved her, she couldn’t live without Vela. 

“You’d better remember that,” the nurse said, kissing down her convex of a stomach before scowling at her unruly mound. “God, can’t you at least wax? I’m tired of this.” She tugged at the dark, curling hair sheltering Elise’s clit, so hard my girl gasped. 

Elise went out the next day, and when she came back she was hairless from the neck down. I could taste her experience ⁠— professional women, crisp and uncomforting, had done the work. She might have enjoyed the pain, in another context, but not from a stranger. Not when she just wanted to be held. 

I was surprised Vela hadn’t wanted to do it herself. When she returned from work, her hands roamed my girl, sculpted and pale, a prize to be handled. Elise vanished into thinghood. 

That night, she dreamed that all her hair grew back, and kept growing, until she was covered. Her arm, her knees, her back, her stomach. Her hair grew so long that Vela couldn’t find her. When the nurse got near, screaming her frustration, she choked on Elise’s thick, dark hair. Blinded and confused, Vela reared back in disgust. 

In the quiet of the dark room, I curled around my girl’s heart and smiled. 

She woke shaking, telling Vela it was a nightmare. The nurse comforted her as if she were a child, her voice achingly patronizing. Elise fell into the sugar-coated words, pulling from my influence. 

By morning, the nurse was surly, blaming Elise for her lack of sleep, although I was the one who’d growled at her all through the night, long after her trembling girlfriend fell asleep. She snapped at my girl to help her make breakfast, overwhelmed by her lack of sleep. Her thoughts were clear to me ⁠— blame falling on the delicate woman beside her, who would never be good enough or strong enough for her. 

Still, she wanted Elise. She’d shaped her so beautifully, but there was more work to be done. My girl’s hands trembled as she cut the soft, crusty bread. 

“Goddammit, Elise,” the nurse snapped, grabbing at the knife just as my girl jumped, startled at the sound. 

The knife sliced open Vela’s reaching hand, the sound visibly red in the dim kitchen. Elise’s eyes widened, her mouth stammering out an apology disconnected from her mind. That was filled only with the sound of her hammering heart. 

Vela grabbed the knife with her uncut left hand, making an uncoordinated slashing motion toward my girl, who thought to herself that Vela seemed possessed.

As if I’d ever inhabit such a vessel. No, as Elise let out a mental cry for anything to help her, I slid into her body, grabbing the knife with my own strength. It cut into Elise’s hand, but Vela’s eyes widened when I squeezed the knife, and it clattered to the kitchen floor, bent. 

Who was the demon now? I didn’t pause to gloat as I would have in any other case, but moved Elise’s feet to the bathroom. She locked the door herself, crying as she held her cut hand.

It took Vela mere minutes to rally. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” her voice came from the other side of the door. She was calm and comforting as ever, totally in control. “I’m so tired, and I meant it as a joke, but I lost control for just a second. I’ll call off work and we can talk about it.” 

Elise shook her head, still sniffling. “Go to work,” she said, voice trembling. 

“I think we should talk about this now,” the nurse answered, sweet but assertive. 

“Go to work,” I growled from Elise’s throat. 

Vela stepped back from the door. I like to think that she recognized my voice. Finally, I smelled fear on her. 

My girl calmed as the nurse left, closing the front door quietly. She loosened her grip on her hand, and under my suggestion, found her way into the shower. The water slicked her fear away as she relaxed into its ministrations, blood dripping from her hand. 

“You need to leave,” I spelled in rivulets running red into the drain. 

I know, she thought. 

“I don’t know how,” she said. 

Together, I whispered directly into her brain. All alone, together. 

She bundled herself in a long sweater dress, her hand wrapped in gauze. A woman at the hardware store told her how to install new locks in detail, then slipped her a card for a woman’s shelter, along with her own cell number. 

“In case you have any questions.” 

We went home. Elise packed up Vela’s many territory markers, putting them in a box outside her newly impenetrable door. By the time Vela came back, pounding on the door and demanding to talk to her, Elise was deep into a dream of a dark forest, branches curling around her, protecting her from all other harm. 

Three long, red marks appeared on her arm. Even in her sleep, she smiled, her fingers tracing the interruption of her bare, already stubbling skin. The wild woman in her dream felt the sting from a branch, protective and embracing. The trees, she thought, have eyes, and claws. They are all energy. 

Already, hair was growing over the marks I’d left her. That, too, was me. She grew warmer by the second, wrapped in herself, and me. She didn’t know how to live in the wilderness yet, but as her hair grew, I would teach her, teach her everything she needed to live without shame or order.

After all, what is a demon, but an angel broken free?

Retelling Beauty and the Beast

Just because something has been done before, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing again.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling, and Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorites. The story form is rich emotional soil for drama and intrigue, be it Cruel Beauty, A Court of Thorns and Roses, or one of Robin McKinley’s gorgeous fairy tales. The tale as old as time does not actually get old.

In my retelling, prompted in part by rage at certain choices in a recent movie adaptation, I take a serious look at the viewpoint of one of the story’s villains. Originally published in 2018, this short story is now available for free on StoryOrigin. If you, like me, can’t get enough fairy tale retellings, I hope you’ll check it out.

Demon Lover: Part Four

Part One Part Two Part Three

Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.

A thing like me cannot be frantic. We are not made for frivolous impulses, even weak versions like I. Elise’s absence did not fill me with worry, merely frustration. I was trapped in her habitation until I rode a human out ⁠— and they would have to stay long enough to let me in, then live long enough to cross over some more fitting threshold. 

Moreover, I wanted her, not some convenient stand-in, like the awkward male coworker who gathered up a bag of clothes after a week of her absence. Elise existed in the most delectable state of shame, and had only grown more succulent by the day. She would taste so pretty, writhing in pain within my grasp. And now she was out of my reach, at a hospital somewhere, from what I could gather from the man’s murky thoughts as he shuffled through her closet. 

Had I pushed too far? Had I missed my chance at the kind of meal I hadn’t had since the Inquisition? Was she going to make it home in one piece?

Unmoored from my purpose, I sank into a sulky hibernation. I barely noticed the hum and flow of the maintenance man, the landlord, or the nosy coworker who kept coming by to gather mail. They held no interest after Elise. 

I woke properly in early fall day, to the footsteps of a woman wearing sensible clogs meant for long hours of standing. Tall, and nearly as thin as Elise, with a brisk step I’d only ever noticed in military men, she brought bags of groceries and soft blankets, rearranging the apartment to suit herself. 

A few hours later, my girl shuffled in. 

Elise was gaunt as the grave, and as I flickered through her memories, I could see that she’d been institutionalized — without me! I writhed at being denied such a treat as plaguing doctors with ever more unfathomable symptoms. 

But she’d brought one back. Our interloper, who busied herself with tidying and talk. She had the stench of death on her. A nurse, or perhaps a physician’s assistant. Elise looked at her with delicious agony, worshipful and eager to please. 

Their relationship had progressed beyond professional already. The nurse fed her by hand, waited with her for hours while she digested, then scowled at her beeping alarm. With a searing kiss, they parted. 

Deep love is hard to override, but sudden love is worse. My girl’s mind was full of thoughts of her new lover, swimming in endorphins I couldn’t trade in. I was locked out. 

She sang in the shower. She kept the lights on when she dressed. She ate and slept and exercised at her new god’s command. The woman didn’t move in, but she may as well have. 

I resorted to growling through the walls while they slept. There was more in the nurse I could have worked with ⁠— even through her haze of love, I could taste fear, and anger, and a need for control ⁠— but people like her were no greater victory than the resentful repairman who had been in and out of the apartment for decades. 

Still, she annoyed me. I watched the nurse watching Elise on rare mornings when they woke together. I wanted Elise, a line of light snaring her spine, as treacherous and narrow as a ladder out of hell. I wanted to line that creamy expanse with claw marks. The nurse didn’t think in those terms, but there was a baseness to her destructive urges that I recognized in myself. I hated the thought of myself in competition with a mere mortal. 

I would read it in her, the urge to destroy perfection. Unlike Elise’s former lovers, this one had no desire to marr her skin and hold her afterwards. Though my girl begged her for a bit of violence to take solace in, the nurse wouldn’t have it. She would snap and order and fuss, but it amounted to control, not care. She wanted the vessel to achieve perfection while the soul crumbled beneath her grasp. She wanted to inhabit an empty, pliant body. 

That was the first time I thought that the nurse should have been the demon, and I the lover. 

I could have taken the nurse. I could have slipped inside her in an instant. There was nothing in her to withstand me. It would have been so easy, riding that beast to freedom. Or I could have stayed, had Elise physically as I destroyed the nurse from the inside out.

And my girl wanted it. She panted for it, out of love and lust and loneliness. She’d happily agree, beg for it, enjoy it. The nurse didn’t want that, which I didn’t mind, but I still despised the idea of inhabiting the nurse. She was ever so base, and only wanted to hurt Elise in ways my girl didn’t want. 

Like I had. I told myself the taste looked worse on a mortal. It wasn’t supposed to be their nature, to want to harm each other. I was meant to make them want it.

Demon Lover: Part Three

Part One Part Two

Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.

The next night, Elise didn’t come home. Nor the night after that. I barely noticed the time slip by, but when she returned, she brought a man with her. 

She wasn’t the type to coddle living things. Most people like to have something living nearby ⁠— a plant, a fish, a cat, another human. I’d never seen another living being in her space. It was just her and me. 

Until him. 

He was chewing gum when he stepped across the threshold, his eyes following her as she vanished into the bathroom. He closed the front door gently, then stood in the pristine living room. 

Tabula rasa, meet tabula rasa. He was as well groomed as the apartment, concealing a bit of pudge and a mountain of uncertainty under a pressed and tailored shirt. 

“Elise, where’s your garbage?” he asked, his voice too loud for the space. 

He could barely understand her answer, but found the trash anyway, taking the gum from his mouth with his fingers, which he did not wash in the sink. 

Was this her someone to talk to? It didn’t seem so. She emerged from the bathroom in only knee high socks and a loose wool sweater. Nothing they said after that held any meaning. 

She didn’t let him take the sweater off her, although she allowed him to peel off the socks with a reverence most would reserve for church. He failed to please her, so she pleased herself, not bothering to hide what she was doing as he collapsed next to her. He left a few hours later, after they’d both fallen asleep. 

She did not invite him back. 

I waited. Seasons changed. She didn’t speak to me again, and gradually, I reintroduced my calling card: three long and inexplicable scratches on her arm. The new scratches, once again discovered in the shower, did not result in another one-sided conversation. When her fingers lingered over them, she smiled fondly, drawing on some memory I couldn’t reach. 

She left for a few days after that, packing a small overnight bag filled with lace dresses and long silk nightgowns. When she came back, it was with starry eyes and a chest full of vapid sighs. 

When I crept under her covers that night, ready to slash at her other arm, I found her body covered in long, thin marks. Someone had gotten there before me. 

I hovered centimeters over her skin, halfway to being offended. There was nothing to do but leave my own marks anyway, but it hardly seemed meaningful. I wasn’t even sure she’d notice three more marks on her pale, covered arms. 

For good measure, I ripped through her dress. Let her try to ignore that. 

Yet, she did, discarding the nightdress into her laundry without a second glance, humming in the shower, stroking the lines on her arms, legs, and stomach. Whoever her new paramour was, she had no space in her head for wondering about demons. 

That suited me perfectly, even if it meant I needed a new plan. 

Her absences lengthened with the sun’s reign. I would have followed her, given the opportunity, but without a vessel I moved as slowly as a glacier. She wasn’t ready yet, and if she kept ignoring me and absenting herself from her own living space, she never would be ready. I would exist only as a concept until some other poor fool moved in. 

She was too fond of my favorite kind of physicality. I needed to change my game. 

One night she came back weeping, mascara running down her face. I felt her emptiness from the moment she came in from the street: heartbreak, plain and simple. That was a memory I could touch. Unhappiness fell within my domain. 

I saw it all as it ran through her mind on repeat ⁠— her lady was leaving, called to work in a far away city. They’d only known each other for a few months, but Elise hoped, then begged to be taken away with her. To be worthy. 

This I could work with. Her intensity of feeling finally made her easy prey, and once she cried herself to sleep, I ripped into her dreams. I became her lady, a beady eyed, heavy set woman of no particular grace. Elice had only cared about how her lady covered her in praise, each strike accompanied by an ode to her uncertain beauty. Afterwards, her lady would hold Elise, glowing, and she would vanish into the soft pink cloud of warmth and safety. 

In the dream, I did all of this, just to snatch it away. 

“You’re too much to take with me,” I told her, shifting my hefty body to lean over her. “Don’t worry, pet. I’ll put you to sleep.” I put my forearm over her throat and bore down. As she began to choke, I showed her my truest face. 

She woke gasping, the memory of my form already vanishing, but the rest stuck like tar to her soul. Sleep didn’t find her again until dawn. 

Let no one convince you that human unhappiness is varied. After a few eons it all runs together like snow-melt to the sea. Hers was no different. She bundled her self-worth up in new dresses and old tears. The dreams I sent her barely made a dent in her nightmares, so plentiful were her naturally occurring fears. It seemed to her that her lady had lifted her from mediocrity. She would do anything to not descend again. 

Limes replaced the grapefruit in her fridge, accompanied by rare treats of melon. She soaked up the torments I sent her.

After a month, she disappeared.