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Chicago Spring

spring2015

Once again, I've fallen behind with blogging. The year began cold and chaotic. Winter lingered and lingered. We had a few brief breaks of warmth and sunshine, but far too many grey, blustery, snowy days in March for my liking.

In Chicago: City on the Make, Nelson Algren wrote, "Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring."

It's true.

Chicago does seem to have a reluctant Spring--as if the season is too delicate. Chicago appears to want to go straight from the gray grit of Winter to the sunny swelter of Summer. BUT there are usually a few rare days in May when Chicago's Spring is glorious and green.

I'm waiting.

The first few signs are appearing: pussy willows have their catkins, the magnolia buds are bright white or pink against still bare branches.

The sight of blossoms against the sky calls to mind one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, E.E. Cummings. Here's a part of it:



"here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)”


I'm going to attempt to blog with greater regularity as part of my revamped writing routine--a few minutes to warm up and then leave the day behind before shifting into one of the two books I'm working on (more on that later).

I've got things to catch up on here, but if I write a bit each day, I should get caught up pretty quickly.

Here's to a day of catching up. I hope that your Monday is peaceful and productive.

My 2014 Rhysling-Eligible Poems

If anyone is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, Rhysling nominations are open until February 15th, and I would be honored if you'd consider nominating my work.

My Rhysling-eligible poems for 2014 are:
“The Mermaid of Lincoln Park Lagoon,” Strange Horizons (November 2014)
“Deepwater,” Mythic Delirium (August 2014)
Daughters of Melisseus,Abyss & Apex (January 2014)
Singing the Dirge,” Fickle Muses (January 2014)

* * *
Instructions on how to make nominations are here.

Thank you.

~Valya

Remembering Don

My father-in-law, Donald Lupescu, passed away on the morning of February 6th. He had gone into the hospital on Friday evening after a fall, and they discovered severe bleeding on his brain and an infected valve in his heart. It proved too much for his body, and he became unresponsive on Saturday and slowly slipped away, giving family the chance to sit with him, talk with him, and say goodbye.

One of the last things that Don did before he was taken to the hospital was pick out a birthday card for me that Eleanor later passed down. On the front it reads:

“Any woman can be a daughter-in-law. But it takes a certain spirit, an openness, and generosity of heart to make the “in-law” part drop away, leaving that comfortable word “daughter.”

In this same way, from the beginning, Eleanor and Don were Mom and Dad. They welcomed me into their family with so much love and generosity of spirit. Together we enjoyed long conversations over leisurely dinners and glasses of wine as we got to know each other and discovered mutual interests like travel and wine and excellent restaurants…and books.

In my family, it is no secret that I’m the odd one—the nerdy dreamer with her nose in books. With Don, I found a kindred spirit. He loved comics and science fiction novels, and he had raised his boys to do the same.

LiamChristening2005

With Maya, Liam, Lana, and their cousins, he had a new crop of Lupescus to initiate into the world of technology, toys, and all things geeky, from Super Hero Squad to Star Wars to the Spectacular Spider-Man, and other storylines that I could not keep up with.

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Don started recording superhero cartoons and passing them down to us on dvds, classics and new ones. As the kids’ personalities developed, he knew the best new toys for each one. He would peruse the shelves of Targets to get all the Cars movie characters or the best new Wii game. It was not just that he had a shared love of these things, Don was always thinking of others.

Mark and I were talking earlier about his father, and he said that his father will be remembered by the way he treated people, by his many acts of kindness. It’s so true. Mark’s father and mother have always been some of the kindest people I have ever known.

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I was looking back over my many emails from Don today, and so many of them were thanking us on behalf of him and Eleanor for a visit or a dinner or photos sent. He was always appreciative and always thinking of his children and grandchildren. He would see something animal-related and share it with Maya, or something car-related to share with Liam. He knew my love of music, especially folk music, and he’d record Bob Dylan special that had aired on PBS, or dozens of other concerts and music-related tributes for me, because he knew I would never have the time to do it myself. During the years when the kids were babies, I would not have seen any films if it were not for those shared by Don. He knew our tastes, and they were movies I usually ended up loving but would never have seen otherwise.

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Don and Eleanor would come over and play with the kids a few times each month, and the kids loved that time. I’m so grateful for the many good memories that we have to hold onto. The kids treasured that time with Grandpa Don and Grandma Ellie, as did we.

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After dinner and dessert, when the kids would run off to play on their own, the adults would sit with our coffees and chat—about episodes of Lost, or the newest Doctor, or the penultimate episode of Battlestar Galactica, or the latest Hobbit movie, or who got killed on the Walking Dead.

Other than Mark, Don was the only one in my family who read Neil Gaiman’s comics and books (and got a chuckle at Miss Lupescu in The Graveyard Book). Don was one of very few I knew who had read Gene Wolfe and understood his importance as I was planning the Fuller Award to honor Gene.

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For those years when we were living back and forth between Chicago and Germany, when the kids were babies (and I was sleep-deprived and not very social), Don was one very few people with whom I could discuss the geekier things in my life. He was not just supportive of my writing, he also understood the continuum that I was a part of: those writers who came before me and shaped the stories I am now trying to tell.

Don was someone who loved a good story—in a book or a tv show or a movie. He was someone who delighted in clever plots and characters, and he enjoyed talking about them. He was a kindred spirit who questioned and wondered and imagined.

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There are many other people, friends and family, who can speak with greater authority about Don’s life: his childhood in Chicago, his education, his service in the Army, his career at ComEd, his marriage to Eleanor and life with his sons, the things he accomplished, the places he traveled, the lives he touched, the people he loved and those who loved him.

I only had the privilege of knowing Don for 15 years, but in that time I got to know a man who was intelligent and creative, clever and playful, generous and appreciative, and so thoughtful. Don opened his home and his heart to me, and I am a better person for having known and loved him.

I’m grateful that the kids had a chance to see him and say goodbye on Wednesday, even if Grandpa Don was just lying there peacefully through it all. They each held his hand, and they told him they loved him and would miss him. I had explained to them that hearing is one of the last things to go when a person is dying, and I truly believe that Grandpa Don could hear them and his spirit was present and close, even if body gave no sign.

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Don had a beautiful singing voice and loved music in a way that we love music, and so at the hospital, the kids wanted to sing a song for him.

In that tear-filled moment, they could only think to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the slightly altered version I have sung for them before sleep since they were babies:





Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high,
there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue.
That’s where I will go tonight when I dream of you.




Dreams have always been important in my family, and I like the idea that the dead can visit us in our dreams. I feel like my grandparents connect with me in that way, as well as my friend Myron and occasionally others.

I like to think that Don will do the same, that in my dreams, we will have a slice of chocolate cake or a Swedish Flop and coffee with some sweet-flavored creamer. Then we’ll talk about the newest X-Men movie or Doctor Who episode. I’ll ask him about death, and first he’ll make a sarcastic remark about the actual state of the Pearly Gates, and I won’t quite know that he’s joking until he grins at me (Lupescus and their sarcasm). We’ll talk about the kids, and he’ll listen with a bemused grin as I ramble on about my latest writing project or travels. Then I’ll give him a hug (because he was also a good hugger).

And I’ll tell him what he already knows—that we love him and miss him, and he will never ever be forgotten.

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We already miss you, Don. Vichanaya Pamyat (“Eternal Memory”).

You just might find, you get what you need

Last night I had the pleasure of listening to Neil Gaiman read a story he had begun in 2004 and finished last year, "The Return of the Thin White Duke." Neil was originally asked by artist Yoshitaka Amano to write a story to accompany Amano's sketches for a fashion spread featuring David Bowie and Iman, but only the first half was published in 2004. Neil completed the piece for his upcoming short story collection TRIGGER WARNING (to be released in February 2015).




David Bowie, by Yoshitaka Amano


David Bowie, by Yoshitaka Amano


The inaugural reading coincided with the closing of the David Bowie exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. I had the opportunity to view the "David Bowie Is" exhibit a few weeks earlier when Brooke Bolander was in town, and it was wonderful--provocative and inspiring.





David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR


David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR


While I have always enjoyed Bowie's work, I had not previously encountered the full scope of his creative vision. Taken from his personal collection and accompanied by corresponding Bowie songs, the exhibit included storyboards and relics, books and sheet music, videos and photographs, and so many exquisite clothes.




David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR


David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR


All of them came together to create a portrait of a man who seems to delight in creating new experiences for his audience--reinventing himself, challenging expectations and norms, using his persona and music to affect change.





David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR


David Bowie Is at MCA, Photos by Evan Hanover for MPR


Neil's reading closed out a steady stream of Bowie admirers and cultural icons who have graced the MCA stage over the last four months to celebrate Bowie and his influence.




Neil Gaiman reading from "The Thin White Duke" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, on the closing of the David Bowie Is exhibit.


Neil Gaiman reading from "The Thin White Duke" at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, on the closing of the David Bowie Is exhibit.


I adore Neil's writing, and his short fiction in particular. He is a master storyteller. Whether set in primeval oceans, Elizabethan pubs, wolf-infested walls, or alternate dimensions, the worlds Neil creates are vivid and populated with characters who feel authentic. When Neil reads his work aloud, it all comes crashing into life, words like waves washing over an audience who will raptly follow him anywhere.

During the Q&A, Neil talked about the challenges of writing historical characters that remain "true" to the reality of the person, in particular those who are still alive. In "The Return of the Thin White Duke," Neil has captured something of the enigmatic yet almost archetypical essence of David Bowie. Rich with the "fantastic," yet grounded with carefully selected real-world details, "Thin White Duke" feels like something that could easily exist in one of the multiverses of Bowie's mind, snaking its way into his songs and sketches.

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Neil talked about how when he was young, Bowie's songs presented him with doorways that in turn, led Neil to new information and ideas, things that inspired him. Interesting that while standing in line and waiting in the auditorium, I heard the same thing said of Neil and his work. So many people talking about the influence that Neil's fiction and tweets and blog entries and comics have had on their work, their art, their lives. Neil, like Bowie, presents us with doors. It's a creative continuum, ripples from artist to audience, and artist to artist, and so on.

Sometimes a story provides us with a welcome escape; sometimes it opens the door to a new world; and sometimes a story gives us exactly what we needed to hear.

"The Return of the Thin White Duke" is a beautifully crafted Neil Gaiman story inspired by another risk-taking artist who continues to challenge us to "turn and face the strange."

I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say it is a story about transformation and sacrifice, a story about the ways we reinvent ourselves when we try to get back in touch with our heart--and these things at this moment in time resonated with me in a way I did not expect. It was a gift of serendipity, and another kind of door opened.

"You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need."

Rolling Stones, You Can't Always Get What You Want

Beginnings and Believing

A new year--the way we name one cycle of the earth's orbit around the sun.

So the old year comes to a close, and we collect the major events of those 365 days. We review them like a catalog or a library or a photo album. The years do seem to take on personalities, smaller characterizations that pertain to our selves or our circles, a larger Zeitgeist when we attempt to look at the year globally, greater than the sum of our personal experiences.

Then we move into a new set of days. While I’m generally not a fan of the flashy side of the holiday, this is what I do like about New Year's Eve. When we end one thing, it creates a new beginning. That's a rather remarkable gift. It's permission and a challenge. A new year gives us the time and space for new beginnings, to pay attention to things we may have missed, to make something out of nothing.

Last year was not an easy year. 2014 had a lot of heartaches and challenges. Overall, I'm not sad to see it go, though there are moments of grace and beauty that I treasure.

To use a running metaphor, I feel like 2014 was a series of sprints. Professionally and personally, I moved in small, productive bursts, counting the days in between deadlines and holidays.

Last year had a lot of in between days.

In 2015, I'm shifting my focus to goals that may stretch a bit further into the horizon, to longer projects and novels, to seeds planted last year that require still more nurturing to come to fruition.

If 2014 was made up of sprints, 2015 will be a marathon. I hope to move through the new year with better organization and momentum. I think I'm a creative sprinter at heart, so this feels counterintuitive, but we'll see.

As far as the world and those I love, this is my wish for the new year:

May we treat each other with more kindness in this next circle around the sun. May we cultivate relationships with people to whom we can entrust our hearts and our dreams. May we find ourselves looking into the eyes of someone who truly sees us and believes. At the end of the next 365 days, I hope we are all paying closer attention, and I hope that somehow there is more love in the world.

Happy New Year.

Winter Light in New York City

WinterLight

I first heard about Yara Arts Group over a decade ago, when I read about its founding director, Virlana Tkacz, traveling to villages deep in the Carpathian mountains to record ancient pre-Christian winter solstice rituals and songs. In an essay about her experiences, Virlana writes:



"That day I heard a beautiful epic story about a dashing young man who rides a raven black horse around Kryvorivnia turning down gold and silver, but accepting the hand of a fine young lady. I also heard one about how the sun, moon and fine rain come to visit the mistress of the house. I was enchanted, but puzzled. What did any of this have to do with the story of Bethlehem? Eventually, I learnt that the koliadas are part of a winter ritual that now coincides with Christmas, but is much older in its origin, traditions and symbolism."


The weaving together of past and present, the magic of songs and stories passed down from generation to generation, the ways that myth and folklore resonate with current events...these are ideas I am passionate about and themes I explore in my writing, so I was fascinated with Virlana's research:



"I was struck by how many of the rituals we witnessed were attempts to bring together the present with the past and to create a greater community that would include all the living (both human and animal), the spirits of the ancestors and forces of nature. All would have to come together to create the next harvest and a bountiful future."


I have been wanting to see one of Yara's Koliada winter performances ever since. I was so excited when my trip to NYC last weekend coincided with Yara's "Winter Light" piece, which wove together Koliadnyky (winter song singers from Kryvorivnia, Ukraine), an 18th century Baroque Nativity folk opera, and scenes from the current crisis in Ukraine.

Photo by Waldemart Klyuzko
Photo by Waldemart Klyuzko

Created and directed by Virlana and performed by an excellent ensemble, the hauntingly beautiful vignettes blended the magic of the ancient winter rituals with the drama of recents events in Ukraine.

This montage (taken from different performances) will give you a taste of the music and songs from the Carpathians:


In 2015, Yara Arts is staging "Dark Night Bright Stars" at La MaMa based on the meeting of beloved Ukrainian poet/artist Taras Shevchenko and African American actor Ira Aldridge. In 1858, Shevchenko had been released after a 10-year imprisonment (his poetry was critical of the Russian Tsar) when he met Aldridge, who had left the United States to perform Shakespeare in Europe and Russia. The two men became close friends, and Shevchenko drew Aldridge's portrait:

The piece is described as "multilingual and is about communication beyond language." I love to see the ways that Virlana and Yara Arts breathe life into Ukrainian stories and traditions, and I hope to make it back to see the "Dark Night Bright Stars."

Gratitude

Thankful2014


"I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what's best in the person
we happen to be with at the moment, we're doing what God does;
so in appreciating our neighbor, we're participating in something truly sacred."
~Fred Rogers, Commencement Address, Middlebury College May, 2001

I've been called a dreamer since I was a little girl with her nose in books, staring off into space daydreaming. It's true. I was and I am, but I like to think that my optimism is seeing the world through the lens of the wonder-filled, the magical.

It's harder some weeks than others, when the world seems horribly off-balance. That's when I try to remember to look around me, to remember those in my circle who are close and far whom I love. They remind me that there are seeds of hope in the small, beautiful moments we spend together--so many shades of love--and I truly believe that love is our greatest experience of the Sacred.

If I have had the honor of spending time with you--sharing a meal, a conversation, a drink, a story, a moment, a memory, thank you. Thank you for the gift of your time and for sharing a part of yourself. Happy Thanksgiving. Cheers.

Blood and Bone and Magic

Music is important to my writing process, and I usually end up with a collection of songs for most of my stories, long and short. When I’m starting to write, especially a novel, I like to have a song that sets the emotional atmosphere. It’s exciting when I find it—that perfect collection of words and melody and rhythm to capture the energy. I add to the soundtrack as I go, finding a song for a character or a particular place, but that first one remains important, a touchstone. I will go back to it again and again.

This is all to say that I’ve found that song for my next work-in-progress. I’m in love with it—playing it over and over, trying out the words when I’m alone in the car, rereading the lyrics when I take break from writing. The song, Blood and Bone,” is a by Alt-folk musician Hayley Jane, who currently has a kickstarter campaign to produce her next album. It’s the only song I’ve heard so far, but I was intrigued enough to become a backer. Her campaign is nearly funded after only the first few days, and no matter what else the album holds, I'm grateful for this gem.

I listened to "Blood and Bone" all morning and on the way to a writing day at Mary Anne Mohanraj's beautiful Victorian home. Quietly typing away on our laptops atop bellies full of Mary Anne's always amazing cooking, Mary Robinette Kowal, Kat Tanaka Okopnik, Julie Chyna, Mary Anne, and I spent a few hours writing.

To my delight, "Blood and Bone" had made its way into my imagination, into my creative DNA. When I sat down to work on my opening scene, there it was—a musical-emotional undertow pulling me along, plunging me deeper. I wrote the scene quickly before having to leave to pick the kids up from school, the character and setting still fresh in my mind on the drive home.

I love those moments, when the Muse is in control, when the story washes over me and onto the page in waves. It's not always like that, but when it is, oh it's magic! And any day with magic is a very good day, especially on a snowy November Monday in Chicago.


Congratulations to Louise Glück

One of my favorite living poets, Louise Glück once called me on my cell phone to discuss permission for using a few lines from one of her poems in my novel, The Silence of Trees. I got the call from her as I was walking to the car after grocery shopping, and I got genuinely weak in the knees hearing her say, "Is this Valya Lupescu? This is Louise Glück."





Credit: Webb ChappellCredit: Webb Chappell


I had never before nor since had that kind of a reaction to communicating in any fashion with another writer or artist, but her poetry had been so important to me, and her words had taken root in my heart and imagination so deeply since I first read her work back in college in the early 90s. I managed to sit down in the car and have a conversation, my hands only slightly shaking from excitement.

I'm delighted to hear that she was honored last night. Congratulations to Louise Glück for winning the National Book Award for Poetry! In honor of her award, I'm s
haring William Giraldi's wonderful interview with her in Poets & Writers: http://www.pw.org/content/internal_tapestries



"I believe that. I used to be approached in classes by women who felt they shouldn’t have children because children were too distracting, or would eat up the vital energies from which art comes. But you have to live your life if you’re going to do original work. Your work will come out of an authentic life, and if you suppress all of your most passionate impulses in the service of an art that has not yet declared itself, you’re making a terrible mistake. When I was young I led the life I thought writers were supposed to lead, in which you repudiate the world, ostentatiously consecrating all of your energies to the task of making art. I just sat in Provincetown at a desk and it was ghastly—the more I sat there not writing the more I thought that I just hadn’t given up the world enough. After two years of that, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be a writer. So I took a teaching job in Vermont, though I had spent my life till that point thinking that real poets don’t teach. But I took this job, and the minute I started teaching—the minute I had obligations in the world—I started to write again." ~Louise Glück, from "Internal Tapestries: A Q&A With Louise Glück" by William Giraldi, Poets & Writers

Resistance

This was one of those days when I really did not want to go to the gym to work out.
I could give reasons: I hate working out at lunchtime because it's typically populated entirely by muscly men grunting and making the floor shake with their weight throwing, plus I was on a roll writing, have so many things to finish by the time the kids get home, only slept 3 hours last night, and so on.

Excus--er, reasons are not hard to come up with. But I know myself. If I stop, if I choose not to go without a good reason, it will be the beginning of the end; and after nearly 10 months, I'm not ready to quit. (Plus, in moments like this, I often think of my friend Kyle. I remind myself of the marathons he's run and his sport-related injuries.) So reluctantly I put on my favorite Pandora channel and off I went.

And after all that, I did feel better, and I was reminded of this Steven Pressfield quote:

“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don't just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
~ Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Back to writing. Happy Thursday.