I stopped in to my old stomping grounds in NW where much of Murder of Crows takes place. It felt strange to be sitting down to crepes at Café Vivace almost fifteen years after the conception of the novel. Back then (2004) when I was writing the first incarnations of the drafts, I’d write at Café Vivace, or McMenamins, or Tara Thai, or any of the businesses along 21st, 22nd, or 23rd that would let me linger with my laptop at a corner table out of the way. When one shop closed or got busy and needed me to free up a table, I’d pack up, and walk to the next open spot. I sat at the park, and on sidewalk benches, and spent countless hours walking up and down the alphabet blocks writing scenes in my head. I did the loop up and down NW 23rd from Burnside to Thurman hundreds of times over the course of several years.
My trip to town after being gone for four years was both nostalgic and heartbreaking. The bistro where I’d fictionally placed The Glade Café is gone; torn down to be replaced by a big, square, gray and lifeless building. Also, New Old Lompoc has moved, and with them my favorite bowl of mac and cheese in the city. Even Uptown Billiards is closing its doors. Much of the quaint, patchwork charm of twenty-third is now branded and uniformly sterilized by corporate creeping in. Alas. They call it “progress”.
The ultimate irony is that my last corporate job, the one on the Oregon Coast that I quit a couple of years ago, recently purchased a block of building one street over from Café Vivace and gave the whole corporate headquarter make-over to the site. So as I was noticing the corporate creepage onto a neighborhood that once supported art, creativity, and community that was once very much about discovery and collaboration—I could almost see the toxic company I walked away from and their new headquarters from my old writing table.
Two years ago I gave a speech at the book launch of Sinnet of Dragons about the standardization of corporatized thoughts and behavior patterns that suffocate creativity and innovation. My series about the Muses reborn into this world to save us from the new Dark Age is a not-so-sly commentary about corporate creepage and sterilized imaginations. It’s not lost on me that, company X, that I walked away from in order to keep writing this series about the dawn of a new creative age—now owns the block next to my original writing spot-where the series was first born over a decade ago. The irony is as thick as their cheese.
Just like them to be riding a wave that crested a decade ago, trying desperately to soak up the creative juices of an area that once flourished with arts, collaboration and creativity—but the artists, and much of the originality and fresh voice of those businesses have been driven out by the property price hikes caused by corporations eager to cash in on the richness and novelty that once inhabited the scene.
Expensive condos, development and blanched business models now own a large patch of the NW trendy-third quarter. Codos are so expensive that even the middle-salary workers from the corporations at the heart of this gentrification wave can’t afford to live in them.
There are still some spots, though, such as Café Vivace where, despite the property price hikes and statistical failure rates of cafes and restaurants—they have survived (probably because they have had to hike their prices to keep from being driven out as well). They were my first Nanowrimo outing, and my go-to spot for years when I was on the NW side of town. During that Nanowrimo the seating capacity for the write-in was to host 75 writers—but 200 showed up. There were people sitting on the floor of the café, and in the original clawfoot bathtub upstairs (before it was made into a salon business). We were crammed into tiny spaces, sharing the steps and standing along the walls as we all wrote furiously on our novels. The baristas could barely keep up with the orders.
Coffee flowed like imagination. Friends were made, stories collaborated on, and writing problems solved by total strangers. And when the clock ticked to close—two hundred writers packed up their gear and dissolved back into the city. If you looked closely, you could almost see two hundred tracer lights of pulsing imagination weaving back through the night to feed the population with tales of escapism, romance, fantasy, theological essay, poetry, erotica, and all manner of nourishing literature.
How strange it is that cities, populations, whole nations forget the absolute necessity of creative arts and collaboration as the foundational nutrients of innovation for entire civilizations. These nutrient rich clusters of originality and output drive spiritual evolution, human connectivity, and yes, even form the basis of modern commerce. We would not have a financial infrastructure without innovation and creativity.
Fifteen years later the books I wrote while in that magical window of shared creative and kinetic energy are on the shelf, and the bones of that refuge are being picked clean by big business and giants moving in with a need to refresh and invigorate their starving imaginations. Too late. Worse, they employ the very tactics that cause their own shortage of creative energy, and apply those tactics to the inventive community they’re trying to sponge from. Soiling their own water supply, as it were.
The Pillars of Dawn has dozens of scenes that take place along 23rd, and Thurman, and the alphabet quarter of NW. Those scenes are frozen in time. They take place in 2011, and 2012. The old bus routes, the old walking paths, and along business fronts that may or may not still exist.
Progress, as it’s called, happens. The cycle of arts communities making property valuable, then being driven out by price increases, then gentrified to the point of the property and community losing its voice and its energy—oldest urban development story in the book.
This may all sound harsh. Embittered, even. Nostalgic for the loss of a time and space, a once-upon-a-dream. It may sound like I’m trying to stick it in the eye of a former employer. That may all even be true- but it doesn’t change the reality of the data. Businesses that can no longer imagine for themselves will feed on energy where they can find it. Profiteers will always raise the rent as those businesses come searching for creative resource. Artists and creatives, and small businesses that support those imaginations will always be driven out by this feeding frenzy. Hundreds of years of urban development stories around the globe make for a compelling study of economics chasing after ingenuity.
The oasis becomes a dust bowl.
The part that I find heartbreaking is that it is entirely a preventable situation. Let me be frank. Times will change, and social priorities will change. Businesses and communities will come and go. Always evolution. Always change.
BUT---it IS possible to have both the richness of creativity AND the flourishing economic abundance of big business. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can be symbiotic if encouraged and allowed to be. Few large business models incorporate artistry as a functional and bolstering place in the matrix of employment culture, employment wellness, and even community connectivity. Even fewer businesses hear and accept input from creatives on strategy and development. Bloated businesses built solely on profit consider the creative edges too risky to glean from, even though the statistical reality shows profits will follow innovation and creative ingenuity. Instead they wait for the trend to show, then once others have risked the edge of the known product world…only then do they try to catch the wave. By then it’s too late.
Be there ahead of the wave. Even better, hire the creatives to build the wave for you. Spare the neighborhood the picking over. Spare the artists colonies from having to pick up and leave. Build them INTO the plan…and everyone wins.
I’m writing The Pillars of Dawn because I believe in the kinematic energy of creativity. I believe in its dynamic power to evolve lives, humanity, communities, business, and even economy. Will I be able to express that clearly in my work? I don’t know, but I will keep trying. Mostly, I hope to write stories that provide an escape, some entertainment, and a little food for thought.
Because I believe creativity has the ability to save us…and we are in desperate need of saving.
Scold of Jays appeared on shelves last week with little fanfare. Barely a notice. I’ll admit, by the time the launch date came I was so strapped for energy and cash, I did absolutely nothing to promote, market or celebrate. I was just that worn down. Still, I’m loving the soft launch approach versus the big events and huge energy drains of marketing and such. It’s been really nice to just push the “publish” button and go have a drink at the beach. It’s also been rewarding to see and know that longtime supporters are getting the book first and at the discounted digital rate before the big launch later this summer.
Small victories, I suppose.
In other news my new colony of bees arrives Saturday. I spent the morning yesterday re-positioning the hive bricks, and leveling the new location with sand. I’m not super thrilled about having the hive so close to the deck and rose garden walkway—but last year’s hives were in constant stress due to the other proximities of activity (dust from the road, falling trees, smoke from the burn pile, etc.) There’s just not a better place to keep them safe, so I’ll have to manage this year with the hive in a more protected spot—but closer than I’d like.
We’ll find the happy medium eventually. Still, the boxes have been cleaned, and the foundation leveled. Bees arrive this weekend, just in time for the salmon-berry and apple blossoms.
The garden is showing signs of early life. The raspberries, freshly pruned, are bursting with new leaves, and the blueberries have bright green new growth. The rhubarb is curling out of the winter layer of leaves, and my sprouting trays and cups are quickly outgrowing their nursery beginnings. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands in the dirt.
The restaurant season is ramping up which means much of my writing and creativity work will be put on the third burner until autumn. I’ll be in summer season of tourism and working the grow site so my winter world of publishing will go dormant for a while. This always makes me a little sad, but there’s some relief in knowing I work hard during this season so I can afford to shut everything else down and focus solely on writing and creativity through the autumn and winter. It’s a trade off. It’s currently my only way to support the artist lifestyle—so forgive me if I’m less available than usual during the “make hay” months.
In all, I’m still in recovery from the last book and launch. I’m still struggling with a little bit of burnout and the need to transition the way I’m interacting with my daily events. More specifically, how much I’m investing in jobs and habits that don’t return in expectation or investment. It’s a work in progress.
In final news, I’ll mention again that I’ll be closing my Patreon account down next month. I just don’t want anyone to be surprised when it goes offline. It was a difficult choice, because I’ve really enjoyed being able to interact with supporters and patrons, and be connected. I’ll be working on a new supporter option with subscription-based patron tiers, and a portal for contact and interaction through my website. Hopefully this rotation won’t take too long, but it is entirely at the whim of access to the internet and time to sit and build out the site. In short, I’m closing the door on one method of interacting, and opening another soon.
Here’s to spring and the preparation for summer. Next time I check in, I’ll be knee-deep in gardening soil and hopefully recovered from the launch burnout.
Happy Spring, everyone!
There’s a lull that comes right after the hard push to release a new book to market. I was surprised when it happened with my first book, Ghosts of Seattle. I’d thought I’d be deliriously happy. Thrilled by the final product after a year of extreme difficulties. Instead, I was maudlin and tired. Later I blamed it on the disappointment of the traditional publishing process, but then I self-published Murder of Crows and went through the same post-launch pits. I wept a lot, and slept a lot. It took several months to recover from the burnout.
Sinnet of Dragon’s post launch lull was less catastrophic. I felt the exhaustion, knew there had been strain but I was also in an unusual position in that I’d just left my corporate job and was in the beginning of a new personal Renaissance. My schedule allowed me to sleep as much as I needed, and eat healthy food, and sit by the river. So the recovery from that book was fast, just a couple of weeks of low energy and I was back to full speed.
This time around I prepped for it. The exhaustion is close on my heels. I can feel it. I’m keeping it at bay with caffeine and sugar, which is not ideal, but I need to push it off a couple more weeks until I have a window to take a solid three days to a week of down time. I’m compensating with poor diet now, but during that window I’ll be able to switch over to healthier food, and de-stress by the sea and by walking through the woods, or puttering in the garden.
I don’t know what it’s like for other authors. I can’t speak for the post-launch process for others, but I can say it’s been a rocky road of discovery regarding the emotional rollercoaster of commercially publishing art and creative outputs.
Whether it’s the sleepless nights and hard pushing to break through the final edits, polishing, services wrangling, uploads, battling the impostor syndrome, financial strain, formatting problem solving, working a bill-paying server job, starting a new state licensed grow business, meeting the monthly patron rewards and requirements, and prepping the cottage stead for spring planting—well, it’s understandable there’s be burnout nipping at my heels.
I hate to say it, but, I’m going to say it anyway… many of the authors I know who are able to put out a book a year, and not go through a post-launch dip are being supported by a partner or a publisher. Having that support net allows for a faster recovery and/or less of a drop after the tension line is released. Even still, many will suffer some sadness that the journey they’ve been emotionally invested in during the creation process is at a kind of end.
So how to combat the sadness of transition, and the exhaustion of having pushed so hard to complete a deadline?
My recovery process involves a lot of water. Drinking a lot of water. Soaking in a lot of baths. Sitting in the swing by the riverside, or by the sea. Water is a medium for me, and I don’t know why. I have very little water in my chart, which is mostly fire. Maybe that answers it, after all….
Rest doesn’t always mean sleep, at least not for me. This year has been stressful to say the least. My brain has been on hyperdrive for the last few months of grow operation planning and work, and server work, as well as scheduling and wrangling the final publishing needs for Scold of Jays. This means my thoughts are always burning away, even when I’m trying to sleep.
Rest is a quiet mind. Sleep is important, but rest is even more important.
No problems to solve or chew on. No thirty-step prep to plan for any failure or worst case scenario. No ruminating on failures and cycling on negative energy or patterns. No coulda/woulda/shoulda. Just…quiet.
A quiet mind is hard to learn at first. It’s easy to let a quiet mind be filled with debris and worry, and circular thoughts of wrongs received or committed. But once you can get to a quiet space in the brainpan…well, rest happens so much faster, and recovering physical energy is faster.
A quiet mind sounds like a fiddlehead fern unfurling in a damp forest. A quiet mind tastes like the smell of morning dew on the strawberries. A quiet mind feels like mist settling on the lower pastures with a sunbreak over the creek.
Sleep will happen as it’s needed, but a quiet mind I have to work toward until it sticks. Until I can unwire the spinning top of thoughts, and replace them with the sound of running water. It sometimes takes a few days of staring out the window with my tea in hand.
When do I know I’ve reached recovery from burnout?
When I wake up before the dog needs to go out, and I don’t need three cups of coffee to find my legs…I’m on the right track.
When I find a quiet place in my mind, find peace at last…and out of nowhere new story ideas start to populate the quiet space. When imagination comes unbidden, then my mind has rested as much as it needs from the previous burnout. It may take three days, or three months—but it will happen.
When my body craves salad, fresh fruit, and clean water—and my cravings for starch, sugar, and caffeine are gone. Then I’m on the right track.
When I have an itch to explore, go for a drive to a new location, pack my day bag into the woods, or wander into the city for new adventures—I’m fully recovered. Adventure doesn’t call to me when I’m too tired to answer, it only calls when it knows I’m ready to engage, and I’m prepared to discover something new…then write about it.
And when I’m ready to write, my spirit is back where it belongs and my Universe is as it should be.
There’s no point in pushing creative work before that time. There’s no point in berating myself for not getting more done, or for not breaking into a new chapter when I have an hour to spare. There’s no point in wishing I could be the kind of person who launches a book on a Monday, then starts a new one on Tuesday. There’s no point in trying to rush the re-boot. Just set the stage with water and restfulness, and it will happen in due time.
Do you go through post-launch blues or burnout? How do you cope or rebuild?
As Scold of Jays is about to sneak onto shelves, I’m setting up the plans for this year’s garden.
The work season at the restaurant is ramping up, so this year I need a new watering plan. Last summer I worked such long days, I didn’t get home in time to water, so my garden stunted around July.
This year the plan is to put in barrels with soaker hose lines. I’ll be able to run the auto-water to the barrels, which will dispense through the soaker hoses throughout the day.
A sprinkler system would be awesome, but of course, I’m on a budget, AND my property plan is really spread out and disjointed. The new garden beds will be going in behind the house next to the creek because my light is best there for corn, tomatoes, the figs, roses and grapes. The bees will also be in the sunny locale. The actual gated garden is slowly being filled with beans, potatoes, squash, herbs, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, and cucumbers. The chicken coop will be extended this year, and that will eat up another chunk of the gated section. As the gated section has partial shade in the second half of the day it can’t do the heat/sun loving tomatoes, BUT the blueberries, some flowers, and the potatoes do great. Those raised beds also have the best soil as it’s been tended and amended.
So, the watering will be a trick of which areas need the barrels, most of which can be filled by rainwater from the roof spouts, and the other patches of watering with barrels that need a slightly more acidic addition. (Can’t water the blueberries with the same barrels for the beans as I’ll be adding acidic amendments to the barrels for blueberries, potatoes, and roses with the same ph range. Corn/beans/cucumbers will all be on a different water tank, see?)
I am not a gardener. I suck at growing anything, really. But I get better every year. This will be my third year with this garden, and I feel like I’m finally getting a handle on the soil ph, the light patterns, and the critter containment.
However, whether it’s the type of some plants I’m choosing, my inexperience, or the failure of the type of crop—I’m having fairly inconsistent results. My first year I just planted a bunch of stuff from seeds off the grocery shelf. (only the potatoes made it)
The last year, I went for a combination of starts and hybrids (some GMO seeds designed to work in my environment).
I did better – BUT—I didn’t like the flavors of the cucumbers (hybrid GMO), I wasn’t a fan of the starter lettuces, also hybrids, and I couldn’t make my peas grow more than a few inches and they gave stunted weird peas. Plus, everything sort of tasted, well, blegh. I began to realize the “dummy versions” of starts and GMO seeds were flavorless, and also not fail-proof, even though they still did better than the off-shelf grocery seeds.
Don’t grow anything I don’t want to eat. (That seems stupid obvious, but in the beginning, I was just trying to grow anything that would grow—then give it away.) So I made a list of types of foods I like to eat, cook with, preserve, and share.
When I really got down to the nuts and bolts of what I put in my body that I can potentially be responsible for—I was shocked.
I don’t actually like modern hybrid corn. I’ll eat it, but I’m not a huge fan of the cardboard nutrition-less, flavorless staple. I’d been trying to grow corn because I remembered doing it as a kid. (I do like corn on the cob with enough butter and garlic). I don’t eat radishes, but they’re in nearly every garden seed set. I began to realize that the expected staples of gardening were not the usual foods I’d go out of my way to prepare or work with.
I only eat green beans in casserole or when I’m on a keto diet. I only like peas when they’re fresh. Nothing beats fresh sugar snap peas off the vine. And so on and so forth.
Part of the problem with my avoidance of these foods is also that I am a huge flavor profile eater. I EAT FOR FLAVOR. And many of the store-bought, canned, overcooked, modified, and nutrient-deprived supermarket versions of these foods just don’t turn my crank anymore. Why waste the calories?
Since I’m not currently gardening for survival, why don’t I garden for curiosity and discovery?
Game changer for the newbie.
Because I have an interest in high flavor foods, AND I feel a responsibility to heirloom practices, AND I have a stake in stewardship of this land I decided to split the difference.
I would choose 1/3 new seeds and plants from heirloom, and odd, weird breeds I’ve never tried before to see if I like them better than their hybrid GMO counterparts. (atomic tomatoes, purple Brussel sprouts, black maize corn). I’ll experiment with the plant growth, and with the product to see if it’s a win for my lifestyle. I’ll also give away in seed share the heirloom varietals to see who has better luck in the growing process.
For 1/3 of my produce I’ll add tree stock, both fruits and nuts. (I currently have hazelnuts and apples, but will be adding cherry, fig, peach, and pecans)
For the last 1/3, I’ll do starts from nurseries and providers I’m familiar with for plants I know I’ll still eat, and need a fast, easy crop (herbs, peppers, and pumpkins, and strawberries).
Once I narrowed it all down, the garden beds needed to be shifted for companion planting, and the watering schedule. I felt so stupid that I’d never plotted the garden out by what I wanted to eat before. I’d only plotted and tried to grow based on what seeds were on the supermarket shelf, and what I thought might sprout.
Rare and heirloom seeds have been ordered from Baker Creek Seeds. Stock plants for tomato trees and such have been shipped from Burgess. New stock from Four Seasons is queued up, and my starter tray list is ready to go from the local nursery.
My new bee colony should be here the third weekend in April. As I was cleaning out my bee hives to get ready for the new colony, I discovered one of my hives had molded. Talk about super bummed. It was an old hive, bought cheap as a hand-me-down, and so likely needed extra special treatment I didn’t provide through the winter. I certainly can’t put a new colony in it, so it went to the burn pile with a dozen frames. I was so mad at myself that I hadn’t thought to check them sooner or find a dry place to over-winter.
The materials for the new raised beds and watering system will be ordered in May. This includes the frames for all the climbing plants, and the stakes for the giant tomatoes.
The raspberries are pruned, and half the winter deadfall is cleared, though there will be a bonfire of epic proportions for the dead tree and some big debris as soon as it dries out enough to keep a flame. (I think this means I need to be planning a BBQ menu for that day as well)
The garden beds are plotted, and ready to be turned, and the chickens are absolutely ready for a new coop this summer. That they haven’t mutinied on me is a miracle. They are not fans of the small run with the bird netting roof. But they are back to laying eggs and ready for a change in diet.
I have no idea if the rare and weird Chinese snake python bean will grow out here, or if I’ll enjoy cooking with it—but I won’t know until I try. I don’t know if purple Brussel sprouts will be more flavorful than store-bought greens, or if the atomic tomatoes will make good pizza sauce. But I’m looking forward to building a garden that produces interesting, repeatable (heirloom) produce that I’ll want to grow again and again; food I genuinely want to cook with, and products I’m delighted to share.
Now that I’ve plotted based on curiosity and flavor, it’s the most excited I’ve ever been about gardening. That’s my simple little life in a nutshell. I’ll post as I’m able through the summer. Hopefully by the time fall rolls around I’ll be launching my new online storefront (books/merch/cottage goods) patron program, and membership platform. Stay tuned!
Have a wonderful spring, folks.
P.S. Right before I posted this a coworker gave me a pack of cucamelon seeds… Can’t wait to see how those turn out!