When pandemia became all the rage on Planet Earth in 2020, I took stock and decided I didn’t really need to be around for most of it, so I saddled up the unicorn and trotted off to the Land of Make Believe.

Joe Abercrombie kept me enthralled for many moons of the journey. I’m not sure how I have lived this long without knowing about his First Law Series. There are three books in the series, and I’ll be honest, I don’t recall what exactly happened in which book of the series, so lucky you, I won’t bore you with ALL the details –just the ones I think are important.

The Blade Itself (Book 1)

Abercrombie lifted the title of the first book of the series, The Blade Itself, from a line in Homer’s Odyssey:

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.

As you might guess, the whole series has a lot of dudes in it and if they aren’t having skirmishes, battles, epic battles, sieges, or wars, then they are either preparing to fight or trying to figure out who they can get away with killing next. Ordinarily, this sort of thing reads like a bunch of “blah-blah-blah” to me, but Abercrombie writes fight scenes with a choreographer’s sense of body awareness that appeals to the dancer in me. Movement details are vividly described, remarkably entertaining, and often hilarious.

Under questionable authority figures, soldiers in the series are as likely to go bumbling and clanging about with “dirty faces, but clean armor” as they are to actually engage in serious combat. Their leaders also tend to be incompetent, often entrapped idiots, who suffer from a range of issues: excessive drinking, lack of authority, plain old heartburn, and poor fashion choices. It makes you wonder what kind of man would go to war dressed “not a uniform, but bedwear with a military motiff”? and also…”if the measure of a man was the size of his hat, then these were great men indeed.” Rest assured, it’s not all fashion faux pas, there are also intense fight scenes that are every bit as disgusting and gory as one might expect. Abercrombie’s world is as brutal as the second book’s title suggests, coming from a quote by Heinrich Heine:

We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.

Before They Are Hanged (Book 2)

Personally, I did not come here for the fighting, but for the fun stuff — the magic, drinking, gambling, revelry, and story people! While the characters are somewhat stereotypical (there’s an ancient, enigmatic wizard of course, and his apprentice, a bunch of inquisitors, a former slave warrior woman with devil-blood, and a sorceress), they come alive through the dialogue, action, and description. The Northman, Logen Ninefingers, was one of the most endearing. He’s a big, bad-ass berserker and battle-hardened member of the Bloody-Nine. He speaks with these little primal spirits, which admittedly sounds pretty lame, if not emasculating, as I write about it now, but somehow Abercrombie makes it all seem like a super cool and perfectly manly thing to do. There is also Major Collem West, in the Union Army who “sometimes felt as if he was the only man in the union seriously preparing for a war, and he had to organize the entire business on his own, right down to counting the number of nails that would hold the horse’s shoes on.” Major West is a bit too full of his own importance to make him likeable, but he has a sister Artee, who is lots of fun with all her sass. She is the kind of woman who gets sloppy drunk at 10 a.m., just because she’s bored and then she reads novels full of “knights with mighty swords and ladies with mightier bosoms.”

Last Argument of Kings (Book 3)

Social commentary is scattered throughout the pages, much of it as relevant and applicable to the mundane world I was attempting to escape as it was to the story’s action. That is just civilization, as Ninefingers muses, “…people with nothing to do, dreaming up ways to make easy things difficult.”

The last thing I have to say about it all is that I experience the series via audiobook. Steven Pacey is the narrator. His wonderfully rich, deep voice and English accent is the sort one may sit and listen to contently for hours. I did, for 71 hours and 58 minutes to be precise, though not all in one sitting, of course. When the series was over, I knew I immediately had to get another book by Joe Abercrombie, which I did. But that’s a different post for another day.

Today’s offering in celebration of Earth Day: Precious moments aboard this beautiful planet with a reading of my favorite poem by e.e. Cummings, #26

“Whatever we do or whatever we do not do, we are practicing mudras, so it only makes sense to understand what is it we are doing.

–Indu Arora

So, about that job interview…

…You know, the one I wrote about in my last post?

…You know, the one with all the gravitas and questions that made me ponder how I do the work?

Well, I was offered the position! And I accepted it!

And I took all the unicorn smarts and BIG IDEAS (!) to someone else’s office,

where I sat at a computer

with all the e-mail,

and all the systems,

and all the passwords,

and all the plans,

and all deadlines,

and all the importance, day after day,

after day,

after, day,

afterday,

afterdayafterdayafterdayafterday

…like any normal person might!

(I really, really wanted “normal person” to work for me in this instance.)

And that went on for 11 weeks until I realized:

No!

and also:

whycoloured worlds of because 
do not stand against 
 YES
which is built by
 forever & sunsmell

(thank you e.e. Cummings)

…and then I quit.

Nearly everything.

All at once.

I recently went on a job interview that was conducted with a considerable degree of gravitas. It was an affair that required metered parking, a conference room, and an entire assembled committee present to ask questions. This is exactly the sort of thing I have been doing my best to avoid for the last decade of my work life. Yet, there we all were sitting at the table with all the questions. One of the questions posed in the interview was an unexpected delight:

How do you do the work?

That’s it.

That’s the whole vague and fantastic question.

At the time it was posed, I was confounded. I had never given voice to my process. How I do the work has been a very long and winding road across time and country, over the river, and through the woods. While the answer I gave summarized that journey, there is something about that question that has been revving and honking (with a Klaxon-like “AHOOGA!” sound) at me ever since it was posed. That question feels like a tiny clown car that I could get inside with twenty friends, and we could go anywhere in it.

So today I am here still mulling over that question with the intent to share some thoughts and scenes from my everyday work life that may help shed additional light on the answer as it continues to unfold. As Rainer Maria Rilke has written,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

How do I do the work?

First off, there is a generous supply of silliness in my work, and that is by design. I have to do quite a bit of work on myself on a regular basis to get my mind-set right. That work begins with Shakti-building exercises and intentional goal-setting to keep me a happy, healthy human. I guess other people would probably call this “planning” or maybe “self-care.” Anyway, the way I do it looks like this:

Big plans

Having the right mind-set prepares me to deal constructively with the obstacles and menacing hindrances that inevitably present themselves as I’m going about the work, whatever that work may be…

Laundry Day Impediment

When working through problems and I get stuck, allowing time for conscious play, or blending the lines between work and play does wonders for unsticking the stuck.

The Building Blocks exhibit at the National Building Museum

A lot of the work I do is setting the stage with the right props and providing the space, time, and encouragement necessary for other people to play and learn and express whatever it is they want to say. Serving as a witness for this self-discovery is one of my favorite things about my work.

there were so many story starters in this little friend’s mind

It isn’t all fun and games. Yesterday morning’s work was a frenzied internal battle to get idea from brain to paper. When the dust settled this was the scene that remained:

Shrapnel from the War of Art

There have been times I have been crushed by the work and fellow passengers pulled me from the wreckage. Other times, Good Samaritans have come along to fluff me back up when I’ve gotten deflated. Never underestimate those singing spirits of the world who hide right out in the open.

~*~

How do YOU do the work?

What questions are you loving and living?

“The star that gives us light has been gone awhile, but it’s not an illusion…”

~ U2, Iris ~

Last weekend I left my house and went to an actual theater to see a movie. It felt like a bold and daring move, bordering on reckless debauchery. This is what the world has come to. The movie was Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos, and it was so significant that a week later I’m still thinking about it. I’m not sure why it stuck with me all week, but like the title says, I got some ‘splainin’ to do, mostly to myself, so I can figure it out and move on with my life. There will likely be spoilers in this post; consider yourself forewarned and prepare accordingly.

Much of the action in Being the Ricardos takes place over the course of a tense week in the personal and professional lives of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnez (Javier Bardem) on the set of I Love Lucy. Deviations from the production week timeline occur via monologue from the writers Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, and producer Jess Oppenheimer (played by Linda Lavin, Ronny Cox and John Rubinstein, respectively). Serving collectively as a narrator, each one reminisces from a vantage point decades later, about the off-screen drama. Thus, they set the stage for pivotal moments, like when Desi and Lucille first meet on the set of the movie Too Many Girls. They also provide details about the couple’s relationship, with quips like, “They were either tearing each other’s heads off or tearing each other’s clothes off,” which is followed by a scene in which the couple does both simultaneously. The story weaves back and forth through time creating a patchwork effect.

Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of the smart and savvy businesswoman behind the character of Lucy Ricardo was brilliant. Javier Bardem’s performance was equally as awesome — he dances, he sings, he acts! The whole cast was just fabulous. I was so lost in the story I couldn’t even tell you if the black-and-white scenes were the original footage or remade by the present-day actors. And I don’t even care. So there.

It was fascinating to see how Lucille and Desi persistently pressed the establishment to accommodate their personal lives and to expand the broadcast of basic human life to the public. In their day, of course, married couples did not share beds on TV and children were apparently brought into the world by stork. Yet they eventually convinced the network to televise a pregnant Lucille/Lucy on national TV at a time when such things were considered much too risqué for general public consumption.

The story was structured in such a way to explore the dynamic tension between fantasy and reality, practice and performance, public politics and private life. These tensions are as relevant today as they were then. The individual parts were jumbled, but recursive. By the end, the pieces came together to create a unified quilt-like whole, even as the couple was being torn asunder.

The linguistic nerd in me was gratified by all the dialogue surrounding the concept of “communism,” which demonstrated how abstract ideas come to have vastly different meanings depending on one’s personal experiences. The treatment of communism reminded me of Trumbo, another interesting movie set around the same era when all the cool intellectuals who hadn’t actually experienced the particulars and practice of communism were being accused of thinking it was such a great idea.

I wonder whether the movie would have been as salient if I had not seen it in a theater. Could it be the need to sustain attention for two hours straight that kept the movie with me for a week? Or maybe there is just something special about the ancient ritual of sitting in the dark experiencing a shared story with other people.

purr, purr, purr

There is a “study” by a big tech’s advertising department that claims the human attention span has dropped below that of a goldfish — to mere seconds!

How dare they infer that our attention span is a problem because we don’t salivate around their hook.

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