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New York, New York

Here’s a thing people who have been gone for five months maybe don’t understand:

The sirens changed. At the beginning we heard ambulance sirens wailing constantly. I mean, constantly. They didn’t stop, just charging back and forth between hospitals and homes trying to cram people into hospitals. And then tent hospitals. And then refrigerated trucks when the morgues were full.

This was two months? Three? Of wailing all day and night, like the city was mourning itself.

In June the sirens changed. Suddenly they meant that the police were screaming up and down avenues, chasing protestors, terrorizing them, scattering them, trapping them. The sirens of riot vans ducking and diving through the endless beating of helicopter blades. Night, after night, after night.

Do you understand what it does to your mind when you’ve felt a particular pulse of grief, countless times every day, from hearing sirens—but now that same sound means that people are being hunted? The terror if (for the sake of argument) you’re alone in a one-room apartment about two blocks from the epicenter of the protests, and you can’t go anywhere, and you panic every time you cough, and you panic when you think of the people who are marching, and you don’t sleep for weeks?

I’m not even going to talk about the fireworks.

I’m going to go out in a tiny thin quivering limb and propose that this is why NYers are becoming somewhat heated when people who were not here for most of that time make sweeping declarations about New York. I’m also going to propose that it is, at best, tacky to say that a place is “dead” when its citizens have been walking past refrigerated truck morgues for months.

As for NYC being just a place, or not caring about you, or being the same as any other city, let me tell you a story.

Actually, wait, let me give you some backstory first. I have lived in Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Texas, and Florida. I’ve spent a significant amount of time in Cambridge (UK). I have visited Cambridge (USA), Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Paris, Zurich, Florence, Rome, Montreal, DC, Dallas, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Nebraska City, Minneapolis, Punta Cana, Rochester, Panama City, Florida, La Crosse, Wisconsin, East Haddam, Connecticut, and Honolulu, Hawaii. I have also taken many roadtrips across the Deep South, the Gulf Coast, north Florida, and the Rust Belt. I have lived wayyyy out in the woods and in a couple of different suburbs. I have lived in a hotel.

I’m not reciting all of these places to riff on a Johnny Cash song, or to show off—I am very aware of how lucky I am to have traveled so much. But this is the frame I’m working from when I say: I have never lived anywhere that felt like New York. I have never visited another city that felt like New York.

One day I was riding the train home from a job interview. I had been offered a job that I knew I didn’t want—but I also knew I needed the money. I was making a list of pros and cons in a notebook. There were two white guys sitting on either side of me. I heard one of them say something. I can’t remember the exact words—I wish I could—but it was something along the lines of “You shouldn’t do it if you don’t love it.” I looked up, and realized that this man was talking to me, and that he’d looked at my notebook.

Now, there are a lot of ways this story could play out, right? And most of them are not fun. But the way this story plays out is that the two guys, who did not know each other, went down my list of pros and cons, and talked through each of them with me. They listened to my reasoning, and they shared stories of jobs they’d had—not just with me, but with each other. They were polite and respectful to me, while also teasing me at points in a way that I can only describe as “New York Big Brother”—which maybe sounds creepy? But it wasn’t, is the point. We were three strangers sitting on a train together talking about how much work can suck, and how important it is to look for meaning, or at least fun, at your job. When we got to my stop I thanked them for listening to my worries, and they wished me luck, and as I got off the train the two of them were still talking with each other.

I took the job, it was a mistake, I got through it, the shittiness of the gig has (mostly) faded at this point. What hasn’t is the fact that two strangers took the time to talk me through a stressful moment in my life. Given time, I could rattle off story after story of New Yorkers helping tourists navigate the train, people helping each other across streets, bodega guys putting bagels out for pigeons after snowstorms, restaurant workers sharing food during blackouts, the way people tolerate (and sometimes, yes, enjoy) Showtime kids and mariachi bands. The sheer number of people who have risked arrest, beatings, tear gas, terror, because they’re fighting for a better world.

Is New York a place? Yes. Is it sometimes a harsh and difficult place to live? Obviously. But it isn’t fucking Midtown. It isn’t how Wall St. is doing. Have I had terrible experiences? Sure. But those are overshadowed by the times I’ve seen people help each other, and form communities for each other—the bad times are a crumbling brownstone standing in the shadow of the Chrysler Building. New York is not a place, it’s the collective spirit of its people, and you can’t find it anywhere else.

Forky from Toy Story 4

You Look Like the Kind of Person Who Wants an Extremely Late Hugo Nominations Post

The Hugo Award nominations are open until March 13th! I’ve rounded up a few of my 2019 articles that could be considered for a Best Related Work nomination.

First, my favorite. I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but the piece I’ve referred to as “The Forky Article” summed up the churn of my brain more than anything else I wrote this year. So here you go: “Used Sporks in the Hands of an Angry God: Toy Story 4The Good Place, and What it Means to Be Trash.

Now if you want an article that tries to encompass The State of SF/F/H Now, might I suggest “2010-2019: A Decade of Change in Science Fiction & Fantasy”? This is a long, emphatic, often very loud discussion between my colleagues, playwright and Tor.com contributor Natalie Zutter, Tor.com Publicist/Books Editor Christina Orlando, and Tor Books Senior Marketing Manager, Renata Sweeney, and me, and it may have been the most fun I had all year.

Do you like in-depth literary analysis? I wrote about how erotica author Chuck Tingle gives some incredible writing advice—along with solid tips on how to find love with a billionaire T-Rex. My review of J. Michael Straczynski’s mesmerizing memoir, Becoming Superman, also focused on JMS’ journey as a writer. And I looked at the way Katherine Addison’s fantasy, The Goblin Emperor, and Jo Walton’s magical coming-of-age story, Among Others, are both telling stories about processing grief.

Do you like odd pop cultural pairings? Might I interest you in my attempt to discuss Avengers: Endgame as an example of Rapture Theory? Or maybe the post where I put The Tick in conversation with Joker?

Finally, I wrote about the magnificence of The Twilight Zone—a lovely excuse to binge Rod Serling’s classic, and I’m proud of the resulting article.

I think those are the crema on my writerly espresso this year! Thank you for reading, and, as always, Hail Forky.

Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts

A Residency at Kimmel Harding Nelson!

Once again I realize it’s been about a billion years since I updated this space! But I am excited to pop back over here to say that I’m leaving in the morning to begin a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. (You can see a spiffy picture of me at their site!) I’ll be there for a month wrestling various fictional characters.

I expect to lose most of the matches, but if I pin one of the bastards I’ll call this a success.

 

 

Hugo Nominations Post: 2019 Edition

Hugo LogoThe Hugo Award nominations are open! From now until March 16th, if you are eligible to vote for the Hugos, and you like my stuff, you can throw my hat in the ring by considering one of my Tor.com articles in the Best Related Work category. (Or throw the hat of one of my gorgeous Tor.com colleagues, if you prefer? THROW A HAT, is my point.)

Here are some pieces of mine that I came close to liking and not wanting to rewrite from scratch. Nearly all of them are about religion in some form? It’s almost as if the ongoing moral horror of the last few years has driven me into thinking about Big Questions even more than usual?

Be the Angel You Want to See in America: The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois is a review of The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America, an oral history gathered together by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois. It’s a remarkable work of theater/queer/intellectual history, and I used my review to get slightly more personal that I usually do about how Tony Kushner’s work has shaped my own writing and philosophy.

All of the Tor.com staff writers collectively lost their shit when The Last Jedi came out. As it often does, my shit-losing came in the form of a fairly academic essay: The Evolution of Religious Iconography in Star Wars.

In 2018 a miracle occurred, and Easter fell on April Fool’s Day. I took advantage of this by writing about the moral philosophy of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Over the summer I did a crazy swan dive into the history of the U.S. space program, the Russian space program, Cosmism, and pretty much every ding-dang movie with an astronaut in it. One of the results was Religion and Rocketry: How German Theology and Russian Mysticism Shape Our View of Outer Space.

The Tor.com crew took a field trip to see Harry Potter and The Cursed Child on Broadway, and I, well…I wrote a whole bunch about religion. Again. I can’t help it when J.K. Rowling is just going to poke C.S. Lewis in such obvious ways! Here’s Moral Kombat: How Narnia and Harry Potter Wrestle with Death and Rewrite Christianity.

Finally, we celebrated the release of The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition with an Ursula K. Le Guin-themed week, and I contributed A Heroic Journey Inward: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Farthest Shore. I discuss my own history with depression while looking at how Le Guin deals with depression and despair in the context of a quest narrative. This one, being more personal, was a bit tougher to write than the avalanche of academia and historical weirdness above.

Thank you as always for reading!

Less!

I promised myself I could read Andrew Sean Greer’s Less as a reward for getting through New York Comic-Con, and it took me an extra month but I’ve finally gotten to it! It’s as funny as I hoped it would be, but it’s also not afraid to be tenderhearted, and Greer makes some life observations that are simply fantastic.

Here’s one of my favorite passages:

…he looks out at the city: the Empire State Building, twenty blocks down, is echoed, below, by an Empire Diner with a card stock sign: PASTRAMI. From the other window, near Central Park, he sees the sign for the Hotel New Yorker. They are not kidding, no sir. No more than the New England inns called the Minuteman and the Tricorner are kidding, with their colonial cupolas topped with wrought iron weather vanes, their cannonball pyramids out front, or the Maine lobster pounds called the Nor’easter, hung with traps and glass buoys, are kidding, or the moss-festooned restaurants in Savannah, or the Western Grizzly Dry Goods, or the Florida Gator This and Gator That, or even the Californian Surfboard Sandwiches and Cable Car Cafes and Fog City Inn, are kidding. Nobody is kidding. They are dead serious. People think of Americans as easygoing, but in fact they are all dead serious, especially about their local culture; they name their bars “saloons” and their shops “Ye Olde”; they wear the colors of the local high school team; they are Famous For Their Pies. Even in New York City.

It’s pretty rare for a comic novel to win a Pulitzer—there are comic elements in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but I’d argue that both of them find the foundations of their stories in tragedy. The only other novel that I think could be called truly comic is A Confederacy of Dunces, which is also shot through with sadness, but it’s a smaller, human-scale sadness, not the genocide that shatters the lives of the de Leons and the Kavalieris.

I might be slightly invested in the reception of novels that aim for comedy, since Manifolds (if it works) is a skewed comic campus novel, and As-Yet-Untitled Novel #2 will probably be comic-picaresque-historical-theological-fiction.

Probably.

I got yer Winter Light right here

I promise I am also writing in between walks in the woods, but when the light is like this? It would be a moral failing not to go wandering.

These low stone walls criss-cross every hill, which is hilarious to me since I just reread the first few Earthsea books.

Following deer. Not finding any damn deer.

BLUE.

There is no describing the particular quiet of a pine forest.

Once again, BLUE.

Berries!

I mean, come on.

Come on.

In the studio!

Here at I-Park. My fellow residents are all fantastic—startlingly talented and genuine. Currently sitting in my studio listening to Sufjan, snow melt, and wind that occasionally kicks up into a whistle in the pines around me. Here are some pictures!

The pond:

 

A sound sculpture:

 

Tim Norris’ The Journey:

 

My studio sign:

 

Light in the dark!

 

Stove and books:

 

I’m not entirely sure I brought enough books?

 

My studio in the snow!

 

Snow on the skylight!

 

And inevitably, my desk:

Ganesha and coffee will remove all obstacles.

[Not pictured: imposter syndrome.]

[Pictured yet ineffable: Sufjan Stevens’ voice gently suggesting that perhaps I should be a better person.]

A Residency at I-Park!

I am so happy to say that I’ve been invited to be an artist-in-residence by the I-Park Foundation! As of today I will be in the woods, writing as hard as I can.

Here’s I-Park’s Mission:

Nurturing artists and the creative process – in the fine arts and in nature.

I-Park is both an open-air and a closed-studio laboratory for individual creative pursuits in the fields of music composition/sound art, the visual arts, architecture, moving image, creative writing and landscape/garden/ecological design. From insights developed in the laboratory setting, it also develops and sponsors specially-themed cross-disciplinary projects of cultural significance – and brings these discoveries to light in the public domain.

I-Park supports these individual and collaborative investigations through its international artists-in-residence program, the aesthetic engagement of its natural and built environments and with on-site exhibitions, performances and collegial exchanges.

Since its founding in 2001, I-Park has sponsored over 900 fully-funded artists’ residencies.

I will try to track my progress (or at least provide photos of all the fauna I encounter) but I think at this point it’s clear that I’m terrible at updating my own blog? I’ll do my best.

Buy my book, won't you?

Ten Years of Tor.com in One Handy Place!

Tor.com turned 10 years old on Friday, July 20, 2018! Over the decade, we’ve published 30,000 articles, covering everything from the Silmarillion to the importance of coffee in Star Trek to the wonders of centaur digestion. To commemorate this momentous occasion, we’ve assembled Rocket Fuel, a free collection of some of the best feature articles from Tor.com’s 10-year history—which you can download for free right now at this very moment.

I am honored to have two pieces in the collection: “Sometimes, Horror is the Only Fiction That Understands You” and “Preparing Myself for Death with Joe Versus the Volcano.” Of everything I’ve written for the site, it seems fitting to me that my two most personal articles were the ones voted in, and I am ecstatic that my work is standing alongside some of my favorite people and writers.

So, in conclusion, download our book?

Hugo Award Nominations Are Open!

Hugo LogoThe Hugo Award nominations are now open! If you are a Hugo-nominating-type person, please do me the honor of considering one of my Tor.com articles in the Best Related Work category. Of all of my work last year, there are two pieces that make me particularly proud:

This Fantasy Might Save Your Life: Tony Kushner’s Angels in America” was an early entry in my column, TBR Stack. I look back at Kushner’s groundbreaking epic on its 25th anniversary, highlighting the play’s status as a fantasy and looking at its lasting emotional power. This article is one of the most personal pieces I’ve ever written.

Giving History a Better Ending: Marvel, Terrorism, and the Aftermath of 9/11” delves into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s relationship to the iconography of terrorism. This one took a bit of research, requiring me to re-watch all the films in the MCU, plus all of the (pre-Defenders) Marvel/Netflix shows, while reading their uses of imagery and exploring the way they use collective grief to tell a giant, interlocking story.

Thank you as always for reading!