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ConFusion

After more than a year away from the convention scene, I’ll be at ConFusion in Novi this weekend. My schedule is relatively light, which is probably for the best:

Saturday

  • 10 a.m. – Evolving Visions of Toxic Masculinity (with Jason Sanford, Marsalis, Kameron Hurley, and Brandon O’Brien)
  • 3 p.m. – Mass Autographing
  • 7 p.m. – Reading (with Cherie Priest and Anthony W. Eichenlaub)

My son is coming with my this year. I’ll probably be splitting my free time between catching up with all of my SF/F friends and showing him around the convention. My main goal is just for both of us to have a fun, relatively laid-back time. And of course, to catch up on more than a year’s worth of hugs from everyone!

Tattoo, Part Two of Three(?)

Went back to Eclectic Art on Friday to get the next round of work done on the tattoo. James had done the linework and initial shading at the beginning of December. This time, he started adding color.

It’s hard to say if this hurt more than before. Some of the thicker lines in December felt like pretty deep scratches. None of the coloring was that sharp, but he had to go over the same patch of skin again and again to get it all filled in, which wasn’t pleasant. And as I understand it, the needles are different for color and shading — more like a broad (but still very small) paintbrush made of needles, as opposed to the pen-tip style needle(s) for the lines.

None of it was too bad. But it was enough I couldn’t just doze off and take a nap 🙂

He set up a much more colorful palette this time, focusing on the colors for the grass and the dragon.

James' workspace, with inks

I paid a bit more attention to the tattoo gun this time. I’m fascinated by how it looks like a steampunked fountain pen. There are no ink cartridges or anything. He just dips into the color(s) he wants, mixing and blending as needed.

Tattoo gun

He started in on the dragon. At first, I couldn’t really see where he was going with some of his color choices. And it’s hard to watch someone painting your arm. So mostly I just laid there and played games on the phone.

Dragon, partially colored

Unfortunately, we had to cut things a little short. He had some family stuff come up, which I can understand. We’re going to try to do a longer session at the end of the month, but it’s possible we might need to do a fourth to finish everything.

Here’s what my arm looked like at the end of three hours of coloring. (This is the pic I shared on Twitter and Facebook.)

Dragon - mostly colored

I’m really happy with how it looks so far, but there’s a lot left to go. The tree will be getting watercolor-style foliage, and then there’s the moon and the night sky, along with finishing the dragon’s wings and the book and other little details.

But I love the colors and the lighting effects and the way the grass turned out and the shading… All of which makes me impatient to go back and get the rest done!

Aftercare is pretty much the same as before. There’s more oozing and seepage this time. Things look a bit gross underneath the bandage (a clear, breathable “tape” that covers the new tattoo, which is essentially an open wound). I debated sharing a picture, but nobody needs to see that. Let’s just say the grass looks more like mud now.

The one downside, aside from my impatience about wanting to finish, is that I need to avoid some of my exercise routine for a bit until it heals more. I may skip karate tomorrow night, too. Knowing my luck, somebody would decide it was the perfect night to punch me right in the arm…

The California Escape

As some of you know, my kids and I skipped town and went to northern California for a week over the Christmas holiday. In part, it was because we’d never been. Mostly, it was because we weren’t up for being here and trying to have a “normal” Christmas.

Aside from our almost-yearly trips to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this was the first real vacation we’d taken in … well, pretty much as long as I can remember. We’ve had a few weekend trips here and there, but not many, and not in years.

Looking back, I think I tried to squeeze in too many destinations. Next time, I’ll plan on slowing down and spending a little more time. But overall, I’m calling it a success. We all had some good experiences and some “wow” moments. My daughter got to see sea lions. My son got to pet lots of new dogs. I got to visit the Charles M. Schulz museum 🙂

For anyone who hasn’t seen the pics on Facebook, I’ve posted the California album over on Flickr as well.

Me sitting at Lucy's

We drove from the airport to Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa to Yosemite to Folsom to a different airport. There were whales and elephant seals and mountains and redwoods. We spent about half the time with some close family friends — family in all but blood, essentially.

I had plenty of moments of sadness, thinking about how much Amy would have loved this, and how I wished we’d done it when she was alive and healthy. But I also know she’d have been happy to see me and the kids getting some enjoyment and wonder. Especially the kids.

Sea lion

That was the best part for me, too. Seeing genuine joy and wonder and happiness from the kids — especially my daughter. I know they were hurting sometimes too, having some of the same grief and pain and regret I was, but I think the majority of our time was positive and good for us all.

The kids inside the trunk of a giant redwood

And now it’s 2020. My son starts school on Monday. My daughter and I have both started back to work again. I opened up Terminal Peace and did a few hundred words tonight before a blood sugar crash ended that. (I’m fine. But dang, this disease is annoying.) Most of the time, the New Year seems pretty arbitrary and meaningless, but this year, I do have more of a sense of … not renewal or a new beginning, exactly, but a sense of starting to let go of a little of the pain and trauma of 2019.

Who knows if that will continue. Grief doesn’t just stop. I’ll never stop missing her or wishing she was still with us. But there’s hope that this year will be better — at least for our family. (I’m not gonna weigh in on events in the larger world quite yet. Son of a crap…)

For those who celebrate, I hope the holidays were good to you. And for all of us, I hope 2020 is a much better year.

Sunset

Tattoo, Part One of Three

Yesterday I had the first of three sessions for my very first tattoo.

I’d been talking about this for much of 2019. If I was going to do it, I wanted to go all out. I knew I wanted something that would represent my family, so I talked to Amy and the kids about what sort of imagery would best represent them.

Amy liked the idea of a tree: natural and outdoorsy, with strong roots and branches. For my son Jamie, a dragon was the obvious choice. And for Skylar, we went with a moon. I spent a while looking at artists online, scrolling through portfolios, before finally settling on James Hurley at Eclectic Art Tattoo in Lansing.

I went in to meet with him in August. We talked about what I wanted, and he sounded confident he could pull it all together and create something I was happy with.

Here’s the “Before” picture from yesterday morning — my last day ever of having a naked left arm. (Click on any of the pics if you want a larger view.)

Jim - Left Arm, Pre-Tattoo

James was finishing up inking the drawing to create a stencil when I arrived. This was my first time seeing his design, which made me nervous. What if I didn’t like it? What if I wanted him to make lots of changes?

I needn’t have worried. I peeked over his shoulder, saw what he was touching up, and loved it. It got the three elements I wanted, and the overall image is very on-brand for me 🙂

Tattoo - Drawing

He finished up, then photocopied the whole thing to check the sizing against my arm. He wasn’t sure if this would be too big, or if we should go a tiny bit smaller, but in the end we both decided to keep it as is. So the photocopy went through another machine to print the stencil. It reminded me some of the old dittos we used to get back in elementary school…

Tattoo - Stencil

Now it was time to prep my arm. I’d shaved beforehand, but he ran the razor over my arm to catch any strays and get rid of my arm stubble. He cleaned the skin and applied the stencil. He also sketched a bit with Sharpie, kind of marking where the foliage would eventually go for the tree, and giving a sense of the boundaries for the image.

For the first time, I got to see what this thing would look like on my arm.

Spoiler: I liked it. Purple ditto lines and all.

Stencil applied

Now there was nothing left but to get on the table and let James start firing a motorized needle into my skin.

He started with some of the smallest lines — the tufts of grass around the dragon’s feet — to give me a chance to get used to the pain. This was my first tattoo, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but my daughter had described it as feeling like a kitten’s claw scratching a sunburn.

That was pretty accurate. And as someone who’s gotten plenty of kitten scratches over the years, the pain wasn’t bad.

The inking begins!

He’d ink a few lines, wipe away the excess ink, and repeat, pausing as needed to dip more ink. Like a motorized fountain pen. (There was also a brief delay for equipment troubleshooting, since the he was using had a short.)

Here’s what his workspace looked like after we’d been going for a while…

Work space with tattoo guns, ink, water, ointment

All total, he spent close to four hours working on my arm, stopping for a few breaks for both of us. Two or three times, he’d spray me down in Bactine and wrap the arm in Bactine-soaked paper towels, which was heavenly. A few minutes of that took all the pain away.

Because by now, he was doing some of the longer and thicker lines. Some of those lines went into the more sensitive skin close to the armpit. Basically, it felt the same as before, but the sunburn was worse and the kittens had longer claws. There was a little swelling with the lines, and a few tiny spots of blood, but nothing bad or worrisome.

Bactine wrap

We had a little time left when he finished inking the last of the lines, so he started on some shading, talking about how excited he was at the lighting possibilities in the image, and all of the depth and development yet to come. You could tell he was into this, and genuinely liked the artwork he was creating, which is a good thing.

He also drew in some light gray lines that will serve more as guidance for the next round, but after that, he’d done pretty much everything he could do for now. He talked about wanting to start on the color just so we could see what it looked like, but that would have to wait. He wiped me up and gave me one last, lovely Bactine wrap.

We went over care instructions. I’d get a breathable covering that stays on for three days. After that, wash 3 times/day and apply a thin layer of ointment until it’s healed, which could be a week or more. (With me being diabetic, I’m guessing it will be more.)

I’ve got three sessions scheduled. Number two will be in the beginning of January. We’ll start coloring things in then. I’m not sure how much we’ll get done in that session, and what will have to wait until the end of January. This is a good-sized tattoo, and that’s a lot of skin to color.

Here’s what I looked like at the end of it all.

Tattoo after session one

It’s a bit sore —  again, a lot like a sunburn. I couldn’t sleep on that arm last night, but I haven’t been sleeping well in months anyway, so it’s not like it caused me any additional trouble.

I’m really happy with how it looks so far. I feel like James really got what I wanted, even though I couldn’t really visualize it in my own head.

I’ve been looking forward to this for many months. Now, I just can’t wait to go back and get it finished!

Oh, and people have warned me that this is addictive. For now, I think I’m happy just getting this one completed. But I won’t rule out the possibility of another one of these days, if there’s something significant and meaningful I want to add. (And once I’ve replenished the tattoo budget!)

I’ll post more pics in January after we finish the next session.

CyberMonday Book Deals

A purely self-promotional post, for anyone looking to drop a few bucks on relatively cheap ebooks…

Imprinted Cover Art

Goblin Quest: The first book in the goblin trilogy, and the story that launched my SF/F career. Humorous fantasy about an underdog goblin named Jig and his pet fire-spider Smudge.

The Stepsister Scheme: The first of four fairy tale-based adventures that turn Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty into kick-ass action heroes.

Imprinted: A Magic ex Libris novelette, set after the events of Revisionary.

NaNo and Personal Updates

As expected, I’ve fallen far short of the “official” 50,000-word goal of National Novel Writing Month. But I’ve written more in November than I did the month before, and I still have a few days left. So from that perspective, I’ve already gotten what I had hoped to get out of this. It’s all very rough, and will need more work, but it’s progress.

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As for my personal life, well … last week sucked. I’m not sure why everything hit me so much harder, but I’ve got lots of theories. It could be that it’s been a year since Amy first started showing symptoms of cancer, even though we thought it was just spine trouble back then. Or it could be that I’ve finished all of the immediate work I had to do in terms of cleanup and sorting through paperwork and belongings, and now I’m more aware of the emptiness. And of course we’ve got the holidays coming up, as well as her birthday…

We’re gonna be taking a vacation this year over Christmas. Better to get away and do something fun and new than to wake up Christmas morning and have to deal with everything being so wrong.

Side note: vacation planning is hard. But I’ve got flights, rental car, three different hotels, and reservations on activities that required ’em. I think there will be really cool things for all three of us to enjoy.

The whole time I was planning things, I was wishing we’d done this before, when Amy was still with us. But I know she’d be happy we were getting to go. I suspect a lot of things in the foreseeable future will be bittersweet that way.

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Friday will be three months since Amy’s death. I still think about her throughout the day, every day and every night. I hug the memories of being with her, and I wonder what life is going to look like in the future.

I think that may be another reason last week was so hard: the idea that this is it. This is what my life is from now on. Trying to be the best parent I can, to take care of my kids and justify Amy’s trust in me. I think I’m doing pretty well, but it’s exhausting. I’m behind on emails and other correspondence because I just haven’t had the spoons for it all.

I miss my wife, and I’m lonely. I’ve realized that the Venn diagram of these two things isn’t quite a perfect circle, which opens up other questions about whether one day I’d be ready for another relationship, and all of the complicated guilt and loneliness and hope and confusion that comes from thinking about that.

It feels like it would almost be a kind of polyamorous relationship. I’ll never stop loving and missing Amy. But maybe someday I’d be able to love someone else, too?

Or maybe not. It’s a bizarre thought to even poke at.

All I know is that right now, things are hard. They’ve been that way for a year. And I expect they’re going to stay that way for a long time yet.

Jim C. Hines