I have learned (often through hard-won lessons) the importance of developing a personal code, a customized Bushido, on my journey through life. This private list of 19 rules ranges from the seemingly insignificant (I never have coffee on consecutive days) to the outright cautionary (I don’t drink on consecutive days, either) to outward self-maintenance (I commit to regular physical exercise) to taking the time each morning to evaluate how I’m feeling, getting a read on my mental and emotional topography and addressing issues as I need to.
I’m not talking about Rain Man-like commitment to unchanging routine. Quite the opposite, in fact: a recognition that life is intrinsically about change, and that adjustments and course-corrections in behavior and outlook are sometimes in order.
Writing can be stressful. Being a writer can be stressful.
I’d been noticing my sleep patterns starting to come undone, like a tapestry unspooling due to forces tugging on some dangling threads. Maladaptive thought-patterns, those Dementer-like self-wrought entities, building up like gunk in an engine. Blood pressure unusually high.
So in May, I changed things up. I went on a museum crawl.
There is something about being inches away from 4,000-year-old cookbooks, gameboards, letters, and epics that has a way of purging the stresses that may have accumulated in our minds. A reboot, courtesy of doing things we love and getting some perspective.
For me, that means restaurants I enjoy, hiking trails I love. Aquariums and seaports and libraries and road trips and spelunking and… the glory of museums. Peabody Museum has a new (as these things go) Mesopotamian exhibit. I made it a point to drop by.
Visiting Peabody Museum, even now, still retains the magic of turning me into a kid again. A trifecta of triceratopses, an excellent stegosaurus specimen, the original Age of Reptiles and Age of Mammals murals by Rudolph Zallinger, a pair of velociraptors depicted in lethal mid-leap, and many more of the snazzy Triassic-Cretaceous gang.
Stepping outside of one’s well-trodden paths isn’t just the fundamental definition of creativity, but of keeping the mind and body limber, avoiding calcification, and driving off the Dementers as if with talismanic citronella. I’m a behaviorist, what can I say? As my 4th grade pencil stated: Thought is a guide to action, not a substitute for it.
I also jaunted off to Bermuda for a week, leaving cold Connecticut behind. Old victualling yards converted into pubs and shops that manage to retain their colonial character; genuinely friendly locals; charming port cities looking out on waters the shades of turquoise, lapis, and sea-glass; shipwrecks still peeking from the waves; calcite caves with surreal stalactites; and cobblestone roads threading beaches and centuries-old converted military barracks. “Welcome to Bermuda!” a young kid on a bicycle says to me, smiling warmly, as he rides past on the narrow road curling through a nature preserve above the sea. That unexpected moment seems to exemplify the island culture.
And there’s 400-year-old fort walls with replicas of cannons facing the sea. Pop songs from the lost ’90s play on steel drums. A few Rum Swizzles at Gombey’s Bar and I’m feeling better. Jagged precipices overlooking reefs populated with sea critters of every stripe and scale. It’s all a sponge that pulls out the darker thoughts. You can’t help but become the Emersonian transparent eyeball (hey, I’m not just a behaviorist, but a New Englander, and so my bloodstream has a few drops of transcendentalism.)
About a week ago I sold my horror story “The Dark Lord of Silk” to Shock Totem. Set in Victorian England and in keeping with my stated intention of–if I’m going to do horror–writing something unique. Warmed-over ghosts and zombies and vampires aren’t really my cup of undead tea. My story involves a sinister evil operating behind the veil of orderly London society, conspiracies, and some of the more ghastly scenes I’ve written for short fiction. I’ll post a link when the story is live.
I’m also hip-deep in two books, working on them on alternate days. The sequel to Ten Thousand Thunders is solidly underway, moving the story from the blue birthworld to Mars and beyond. The other book is a grim urban fantasy that I think partially has been responsible for my gloomier mood as of late. Two other professional sales closed this month, but I’m waiting for the contracts to make the announcements.
Oh, and my schedule for SoonerCon is now live.