When I was a child, I watched with great and regular passion a show called Are You Afraid of the Dark? In it, a group of teens calling themselves The Midnight Society would gather around a fire in the woods at night, and one of them would share a scary story. They'd say submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, then toss a handful of "midnight dust" (wikipedia informs me it was Coffeemate) on to the fire, making it flicker and smoke before they named the evening's tale. Then the episode itself would be the tale.
Some of the stories had recurring characters, and my favourite of these was Dr. Vink, "with a vuh, vuh vuh." I remember all the ones with him in them best, but his first appearance has stayed with me longest. It's an episode full of riddles, which I was obsessed with in the wake of The Hobbit, and the first of them exploded my tiny mind:
Q: How far can you go into the woods?
Because after the halfway point, you're going out of the woods.
It's on my mind, now, as August 15 recedes into the distance, and as I've found myself feeling the usual inward wrestling that comes with the tail end of summer: how can there be so little of it left, I wail, while my spouse gently tells me that there are still weeks of it, reminds me that September is no longer the looming behemoth it used to be when I was struggling to make a life in academia.
So: it isn't that summer – that August – is over. It's just that we've stopped going into it, and have started going out.
This is also on my mind because Terri Windling posted a beautiful, warm video on her Patreon (which I urge everyone to support), talking about going through difficult times and how those difficulties intersect with our ability to make art; how, in the past, art pulled her through those hard times, but presently, she finds herself unable to create. She says,
I've always been able to keep creating. I've edited manuscripts and written from hospital beds... I've turned it, through the alchemy of imagination, into something of beauty through the power of art. And, to go through a stretch of time where that alchemy didn't work for me... Was shocking, distressing. It's made me really think about what we need to get through those dark times. Those mythic times, when you go into the underworld, and need to slowly come out again. Go into the dark of the forest, meet the monsters there, and emerge... At least intact, if not triumphant.
I'm dwelling in the question, wishing I had more immediate, actionable wisdom of my own to offer, but Terri's not soliciting a solution so much as a conversation. So in that spirit, I offer this memory of a child answering a riddle in the woods, remembering – even while lost in them – that you can only go in halfway. After that, you're on your way out, back into the morning and the light. As true for pain as it is for pleasure – we are always sometime arriving, and always sometime taking our leave.
Wishing you all the best,
- Come see me in Charlottetown, PEI on September 17! My very dear friend Caitlyn Paxson and I will be in conversation at the Beaconsfield Carriage House, under the auspices of Bookmark and The Wild Threads Literary Festival. (Bookmark and the Wild Threads sounds like a fantastic title for something, gotta keep that one in the back pocket.) I've only been to PEI once, on a roadtrip with my sister, and I'm really excited to get to visit again!
- I had a new column go up at the NYTBR; after 8 books' worth of unmitigated raves, I was due some disappointment, and I'm still wrestling a little with the expression of it. There's so much more I wanted to get into, especially with The Archive Undying, to unpack and explain what frustrated me while speaking more fulsomely to what kept me reading, but I did what I could in 300 words.
- I was interviewed by Read the North in their most recent episode, which includes interviews with Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books (first 14 minutes) and Kerry C. Byrne of Augur Magazine (14-27 minutes), on the topic of defining genres. My section starts at 27:30, but I encourage you to listen to it from the beginning, as the hosts have done a great job of building up a topic that's more than the sum of its parts. I'm usually reluctant to have "what's the difference between SF & F" conversations because they're so often plagued by tedious grognards (not you, you're great), but this is a really fun stitchery of perspectives that harmonize in their difference, from a (former) bookstore manager, a magazine editor, and an author/critic. That said, it was recorded back in February at a time when I was very, very tired, and I can sort of ... Hear that, not least in how many times I say the word "expansive" in ten minutes. Enjoy!
- Can*Con has posted their updated COVID policy for 2023, and I'm very glad to see it. It's my local Ottawa convention and I love it very much, and am looking forward to attending it again for the first time in years.