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2014 in first lines.

Can it be? 2015 is just an hour away! Here is my year in first lines.

January Hello, beautiful human, and welcome to 2014.

February ¡Estamos en Barcelona!

March About ten years ago, I became a zombie.

April Writers’ Bloc returns to the Edinburgh International Science Festival for The Culture Collider, an exploration of weird science and stranger arts.

May For the month of May, I’m back to meals for one.

June I didn’t post in June, so here’s something from 9 years ago that I just found at random … “Halsted, someone is collapsed in the women’s restroom downstairs,” is a sentence I never wanted to hear my coworker say.

July My story “Paper Turtles” has been published in Innsmouth Magazine: 15.

August Thank you to everyone who attended my Story Shop reading today at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

September Be soft.

October I meant to post this on The Morning After but got waylaid by my workweek, and then everything seemed saturated with the rawness of reaction so I put it off.

November Stevenson Unbound is this afternoon!

December One of the best presents in the world is an autographed copy of a book.

Happily, half of these are writing- or performance-related. I really liked that about 2014. Another thing I liked was joining HabitRPG, because it made me focus on taking action instead of dithering. As a result, I took some solid risks this year that paid off well. I also reached out to family and friends more often, and pushed myself to be more social than I have ever been.

There were things I didn’t like about 2014, especially spending two months of it without FunkyPlaid. I also lost my running mojo this year, which is sad because I miss it so much. And the referendum … well, I’m trying not to bring it up because I know it is a sore spot, but it was a momentous and difficult time to be here with so many people I know experiencing the gamut of emotions about the run-up and result. And I inadvertently had feelings about it too, even though I tried not to have them, even though I felt I did not deserve to have them.

Some people I know are saying good riddance to 2014, but I’m pouring 2014 a dram and smiling wryly at it as we toast. It deserves that much, at least.

Happy New Year.

Treasure in the Grassmarket.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

I’m not much of a shopper. Browsing endless racks of clothing, trying to find something in both my size and style, is something I avoid doing whenever possible. So holiday shopping becomes a game I play with myself: how quickly and painlessly can I find things I would want to give friends and family?

When I heard about the popup market in the Cowgate a few weeks ago, I thought it might offer me an easy way to do much of this shopping at once. It was sure to offer unique items I wouldn’t be able to find on my own, and all concentrated in one place. Problem solved.

Well, not really. I did find a few things there, but most of it wasn’t in the style of anyone I know. (Except for me: I did not know this about myself before the popup market but I am fascinated by bizarre taxidermy, especially of small animals wearing spectacles.)

I was lucky to be wandering around the market with a patient friend, who was also up for checking out whatever was going on in the Grassmarket. (Another market! In a market. Not shocking.) And as we were strolling and chatting our way through that second market, I spied one of the things that even a non-shopper such as myself has learned means Cool Stuff Might Be Here: the wooden-sided glass case.

These glass cases are usually filled with an odd assortment of costume jewellery, rusted pocket-knives, old tins of long-dried unguents, commemorative coins commemorating things no one cares about anymore, and pens. Yes, pens. Usually dented metal ballpoint pens, but still: pens.

So I have to look. And I hate shopping, and I hate browsing for things that I might buy, but I still look.

In this particular case, something caught my eye that wasn’t a dented metal ballpoint at all. It was a plastic box with gold lettering and something was inside it. The gold lettering read “Esterbrook” and I gasped as I read it.

Because I was not raised by wolves, I asked the stall owners if I could open the box and look at the pen. As I was trying to play it cool, my tone was somewhere between desperation and apathy, a teenaged boy’s mumbled squeak.

I would like to tell you that my hands weren’t shaking. After all, vintage Esterbrook fountain pens are not uncommon, and they’re not even all that fancy. But recently I became a first-time Esterbrook Dollar Pen owner and when I fell, I fell hard. So my hands were shaking, a little, as I removed the pen from the case and inspected it. “Mint condition” is too generous but it was certainly in good condition, and I’ll save you the nerdery around the specifics there.

Because I’ve been collecting pens for a number of years now, right about the time I am fondling a pen hard enough to consider buying it, a number pops into my head. That number is the most I would pay for the pen. Another thing pops into my head: the first word I would write with that pen, if it were mine, but that’s less relevant to the actual transaction portion of the experience.

So as I turned this cream-of-tomato-soup red pen over in my hands, the number popped into my head, and the word too, and then I realised there was also a number on a sticker on the plastic box the pen was inside and that number, that number, was a deliriously low number, the type of number not even as high as the number on a menu next to a fancy hamburger. And that was when I knew that this pen, this pen, was mine. The rest was a formality.

The word? Serendipity. Because shopping, as awful as it can be, can also contain moments of serendipity like this one. Plus “serendipity” is just one badass word to write with an Esterbrook M2 fountain pen.

All I want for the mandated festive period is ...

www.youtube.com/watch

I will post an actual Holidailies entry soon, but I just had to share one of my favourite pick-me-ups.

Adore yourself.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

There was a recent spate of graffiti near one of my work sites. I liked this one. The sentiment is good, of course, but if you’ve watched more than a half-hour of television here lately you have also seen this particular advertisement often. And it is as insipid as only a perfume advert can be. I like Charlize Theron’s acting but I’m not sad about this graffito at all.

Random moments, catching up on the past eleven days (whoops) of Holidailies:

  • It is really boring to hear about how ill someone has been, so I will save you that part of the update. But I can assure you of one thing: it is even more boring to be the person living it.
  • The fireplace gets fixed tomorrow! Lately I have deep appreciation for my hot-water bottle, electric blanket, ratty old bathrobe, fleece infinity scarf, and cats, especially at bedtime.
  • Suddenly getting choked up in the Tesco Metro upon hearing "I'll Be Home for Christmas" is one way to make a new friend, or at least to test the customer service abilities of a patient cashier.
  • Never underestimate the restorative power of Skype calls.
  • I finally get why you are all raving about Serial. But do you get why I continue to rave about Judge John Hodgman? (Note: these two podcasts are about as different as podcasts get, but they're both outstanding.)
  • Adore yourself for exactly one minute today, no more and no less. Then you can go back to self-loathing and crippling doubt about your place in the world.
  • Never mention the referendum at a work holiday party, not even in passing, not even as a side comment you were making about something else. "Too soon" doesn't even begin to cover it. I surprised myself at the mistake, and it went quickly from "oops" to "o god what have I done" to "please someone set off the fire alarm so I have an excuse to run out of here". And then the fire alarm went off. But it was only a drill, and we all stayed seated, and it never got any better.
  • To settle my roiling stomach, I drank an entire can of ginger ale. It was weird, but not entirely unpleasant, and I think I have finally gotten over my distaste of carbonation. Also, that trick really works!

And a teaser for next post, mostly to tease myself into actually writing it: I found treasure for only £7 in the Grassmarket on Saturday.

Waking up the cats.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

The cats are cold. I’m cold. We’re all cold. Zen was born in Alabama, and Torgi in California, so they aren’t used to it, but I really have no excuse. I was born in the snow belt of the northeastern US and lived in Chicago, and somehow I’ve lost all ability to function in not-even-freezing weather.

I am wearing fleece trousers over leggings, a fleece jumper and scarf, and a bathrobe, and I’m still cold.

We’re all cold and because we’re all cold we’re all sleepy, all the time. But that’s no good, see, because then the cats are wide awake at five in the morning and at that time Torgi has taken to shoving his paw into my ear canal as far as it will go as his way of saying, “Hello, I am hungry now.”

So it is my job, several times a day, to wake up the cats. I do it gently because they are old, more fragile than they used to be, and waking up from purr-lined, fur-lined sleep is a cruel enough experience.

Today I read on Facebook that a friend lost her cat in the most horrible and violent way I could imagine. In fact, I have imagined something similar, whenever we leave the cats in someone else’s care. And I am not a fool; I know that there is a big bad world out there full of nasty things that can steal our loves away. But the reality of it, even removed from thousands of miles and to someone else’s cat, was gratuitously awful.

I woke up my cats this evening whispering into their fur, “Thank you. Thank you for being okay.”

So we are cold. But we are okay. And today that’s enough.

Edinburgh at Christmas.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

I wasn’t feeling particularly creative today, so I went with the Holidailies prompt, which is: “What are you most looking forward to this holiday season?”

You likely already know that I am FunkyPlaid-less this holiday season. (I am also currently Internet-less, which is nearly as dire.) Right now I am not looking forward to much about this holiday season.

Shortest. Blog post. Ever.

No, no. There are some things I am anticipating. And I think I can kickstart the holiday mood by spending more time at the European Christmas Market. FunkyPlaid and I went once the night before he left, and had a wonderful time hanging out with our friends and drinking hot glüwein. That night I was in the holiday spirit. And if I was there once, I can get there again. I just have to work at it a little.

Writing from: the drafty lounge. Listening to: “American Pie” in the background, glitching out so much it sounds more like a horror film. I guess the TV signal is going soon, too …

Gift of significance.

One of the best presents in the world is an autographed copy of a book. I was reminded of this just last week. My friend V and I Skype regularly and the last time I was telling her that I’m not in the best mental health lately. No stranger to dips in mental health, I have lots of coping mechanisms, and one of them is re-reading a collection of Ray Bradbury’s essays called Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity. I have a cheap Bantam paperback that I dog-ear and mark up to my heart’s content, and it is cathartic, this reading and mangling of pages, over and over again. She wrote the title down because she was feeling a bit out-of-sorts as well, having just moved to a new home for a new job and learning to establish a new social circle and the rest.

So last week we had an unexpected parcel delivered, which is a strange occurrence because on the rare occasions we do receive parcels we are expecting their arrival. But inside this parcel addressed to me was a copy of the Bradbury collection. It was a nicer edition than my own and in excellent condition, but I was perplexed: I thought certainly someone I had recommended this book to had made a mistake and accidentally had it shipped to me instead of themselves. Then I opened it to the title page: Ray Bradbury’s autograph, which made me gasp, and dated 6/26/1996. 1996 was the year I left everything I knew and moved to Alabama for a guy I met online, a significant pivot-point in my development as a person and as a writer. V didn’t know that about the date, I’m sure, but she opened the door for that lovely coincidence.

Two Bradbury Collections

I’m struggling this year to find gifts of significance instead of convenience for the people closest to me, and I had forgotten the power of an autographed book until now, gripping an old paperback to my heart with tears filling my eyes.

Writing from: a very chilly lounge, as the fireplace is currently broken. Listening to: SomaFM Christmas Lounge. Yes, it’s Holidailies time once more, which means with any luck you’ll be hearing from me every day this month.

11 Reasons why you should go to Stevenson Unbound

Stevenson Unbound is this afternoon! Here are 11 Reasons why you should go to Stevenson Unbound, courtesy of writer, musician, spoken-word performer and event mastermind Andrew C. Ferguson. (I’m reason #7, fancy that!)

More on Facebook.

Angry bunny.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

This character was staring up at me on my walk to work this morning. He does not seem pleased to have been discarded, and on such a wet day.

Is he a famous character that in my cultural ignorance I am missing? I hope so. Otherwise it is just an angry bunny, and who wants to dress up as one of those?

The puzzle of peeling one's meal.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

Friends had us over for a lovely dinner last night. Our first course consisted of soft-boiled quails’ eggs, mayonnaise, and sea salt. Delicious! There is something quite satisfying about the puzzle of peeling one’s meal.

No wooden sticks left.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

In retrospect, this is a fairly innocuous sign. It just seemed so dire when I saw it as if it had been a statement on all the wooden sticks, anywhere, ever.

Golden darker days.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

I wish I had an inspirational quote to go with this photo. Something that said how life sucks sometimes and then all you have to do is look through the light through the trees and you have the hope to go on, something fantastically cheesy like that. It’s a nice thought, that life is comprised of moments captured in photos and clever sayings.

But really life is the rest of it.

Looking up while riding.

I hadn’t meant to take a companion photo to yesterday’s, but after a long workday and a rainy ride home, I was a bit enchanted by the view from the top deck of the bus.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

Looking down while walking.

I spend too much time looking down while walking. It’s bad for my posture and for my perspective. But I do occasionally find things down there that make me smile.

www.flickr.com/photos/cy…

(Flickr doesn’t let me embed a slideshow here anymore – I remember when Flickr was an actual photo-sharing website, imagine that – but you might be interested in these photos.)

Scotland As an Xbox Game by Andrew C. Ferguson

I meant to post this on The Morning After but got waylaid by my workweek, and then everything seemed saturated with the rawness of reaction so I put it off. Is it safe now? I hope so. Or maybe I don’t …

This is Andrew C. Ferguson reading his poem “Scotland As an Xbox Game” with a teeny contribution from me. Tell us what you think in the comments.

[soundcloud url=”api.soundcloud.com/tracks/16…” params=“auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=“100%” height=“450” iframe=“true” /]

Be soft.

IainThomas_BeSoft

For more from Iain Thomas, see his blog: I Wrote This for You.

(Photo credit: Katie of Domestiphobia.)

The First College in the U.S. to Open Without Any Books in its Library

io9.com/the-first…

Funny, the thing that bothered me the most about this story was the renaming of the reference desk.

The First College in the U.S. to Open Without Any Books in its Library

io9.com/the-first…

Funny, the thing that bothered me the most about this story was the renaming of the reference desk.

Inside the Spiegeltent.

Thank you to everyone who attended my Story Shop reading today at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It was an unforgettable experience. Once again I was reminded of how wonderfully supportive the Edinburgh literary community is, and I was especially grateful for everyone who took a moment out of your day to let me tell you a story.

I hope to tell you many more!

The full text and audio excerpt of my story “Leftovers” are available on the City of Literature Trust’s website.

My publications and other appearances are listed on my “Fiction” page.

Intrepid as the bee.

[caption id=“attachment_11036” align=“aligncenter” width=“687”]2014-07-13 14.38.55 Edit Intrepid as the bee, indifferent to an indifferent world.[/caption]

There is more writing news on the way, but today I am just thinking about bees.

The biggest issue with equating the library with a Netflix for books is that it sends a false message that libraries are worth little more than $8 or $12 or $20 a month. That the services offered in libraries are little more than options to which people can subscribe, rather than actual services anyone can utilize at any time.

When the library is made to be seen as a business, rather than the heart of a community or a fundamental service made possible through citizen-approved tax dollars, it makes the library expendable. That expendability then moves down the chain: staff salaries get cut, then staff withers, then more programs and projects that benefit the community — books and movies and CDs and magazines and newspapers and wifi and computer access and database subscriptions and programs for all shapes, colors, and sizes of people — disappear, too. It detracts from the unique aspects that make a library what it is: a place for all, rather than a place for some.

Libraries reach out where Netflix reaches in.

from Libraries Are Not a “Netflix” for Books.  (via catagator)

The biggest issue with equating the library with a Netflix for books is that it sends a false message that libraries are worth little more than $8 or $12 or $20 a month. That the services offered in libraries are little more than options to which people can subscribe, rather than actual services anyone can utilize at any time.

When the library is made to be seen as a business, rather than the heart of a community or a fundamental service made possible through citizen-approved tax dollars, it makes the library expendable. That expendability then moves down the chain: staff salaries get cut, then staff withers, then more programs and projects that benefit the community — books and movies and CDs and magazines and newspapers and wifi and computer access and database subscriptions and programs for all shapes, colors, and sizes of people — disappear, too. It detracts from the unique aspects that make a library what it is: a place for all, rather than a place for some.

Libraries reach out where Netflix reaches in.

from Libraries Are Not a “Netflix” for Books.  (via catagator)

Story Shop 2014

I am thrilled to announce that I will be reading my story “Leftovers” for Story Shop 2014, hosted by the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Story Shop is a series of daily 10-minute flash fiction and short story readings by local emerging writers.

My reading is on Wednesday the 13th of August at 4pm in the Guardian Spiegeltent. Drop by for a free story!

"Paper Turtles" - a story by Halsted M. Bernard

My story “Paper Turtles” has been published in Innsmouth Magazine: 15. An earlier version of this story was written for performance at my first Writers’ Bloc show for Halloween 2012. I am so pleased that my weird little tale about animal ghosts found a home in the last-ever issue of Innsmouth Magazine.

[caption id=“attachment_11011” align=“alignright” width=“187”]InnsmouthMagazine_Issue15 Cover illustration: Anja Millen[/caption]

Innsmouth Magazine: 15 is available for purchase in print directly from Innsmouth Free Press as well as Amazon UK, Amazon US, and Barnes & Noble.

Innsmouth Magazine: 15 is also available in digital formats. The ePub can be purchased through Smashwords for 50% off through the 31st of July with the code SSW50. The Mobi version is in the Kindle UK and Kindle US stores.

If you enjoy it, please share it on your social media sites of choice. You can also add Innsmouth Magazine: 15 to your to-read lists on Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Shelfari.

Why the death of net neutrality would be a disaster for libraries

www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the…

Isn’t this obvious? Worth a read anyway.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.