inasmuch as it concerns Nostalgia:
One who has survived childhood, so they say, has all the material one could possibly need for a lifetime writing career. And here I am.
Quick! To the Roller Rink!
- 38,744 wds. long
Today's topic: Why Niki Is So Effing Sore Today. (Don't worry -- this story is totally safe for work. All activities were legal and rated G.) It'll probably be a long post, or at least long-ish, so let's go ahead and talk NaNoWriMo briefly.
I'm behind again, but only tolerably so. Returning to my original 2k per day routine will get me to 50K on time. The real question is, what to fill those 2k per day with? I've gotten stuck on Bitsy and Camerie; the old man from the store shows up and drives them to the land of the dead, but what happens there and why it's so important that Bitsy go I'm not sure.
But the thought occured to me that I hadn't yet written a chapter in which someone tries to return an object to the shop. So I started in on that a few days ago. A 20-something computer hacker name of Lucille is waiting around for the shop to appear so she can do just that. She's got illegal access to all sorts of closed circuit monitoring cameras and a fancy battery of programs to automatically spot anomalies in the footage. And she finally gets what she's waiting for. The shop quietly appears during the predawn hours in what had been a blank gray brick wall:
"What do you want to bet," Lucille said to the open air, "that the pawn shop owner will swear this store was here when he moved in?" Or at least that it had been open for years upon years. Lucille knew how these things happened. She'd grown up on the stories of similar miracles. And this was the miracle she'd been waiting for.
She was alone in the room. She got no answer, and she expected none. But her phone did gently vibrate in her right hip pocket. She ignored it, watching the storefront shape itself into existence. She watched the door open. An elderly... person; Lucille could not hazard a guess towards the person's sex... stepped outside with a broom and a watering can. She, or he, calmly watered the flower box. Inside, anonymous green shoots were pushing their way toward the sky. She set the watering can down on the corner of the flower box then set about sweeping the stoop and the sidewalk. There was a stoop now; Lucille cursed herself for not noticing this small transformation. Yes, the person with the broom had to step down, sweeping first the top cement step then the next and then the next. Then they swept the sidewalk with brusque, practiced strokes that said I don't much care where the dust goes so long as it settles somewhere else.
Only once the woman, or man, had gone back inside, only once Lucille were satisfied that no further changes were forthcoming, did Lucille take her phone out and look at the message that had arrived. Anomaly: Camera 62, 04:16 AM. "No shit, Sherlock," Lucille said. Then she flipped the phone open and made a call.
"Yeah," she said. "Yeah, it's happened. Well, that's for me to know, isn't it? OK, fine, yes, just messing with you. Four-fifteen Davinger Street, right next door to the pawn shop. Yes, I know. Yes. That's the point, isn't it? It wasn't going to be like another frikkin' J. C. Penny's, was it? Right. Put on your wakey face and meet me there."
Lucille snapped the phone closed and held it to her cheek for a moment, thinking hard. Then she slipped it into her right hip pocket. From her left, she drew a small blue ring box. (Her pockets were huge. She liked cargo pants for their capacity.) She flipped open the box and gazed at the ring. It was inlaid all round with a pattern reminiscent of wind currents or perhaps ghosts passing down an empty byway.
"This is for you, Elizabeth," she murmured.
Then she put on her coat and left that place, locking it up behind her as she went.
I wrote that Tuesday. By today, Lucille had become part of a small cabal of people who have all lost family to the shop's questionable merchandise, and the plan is possibly to return the objects all at once together with a little bit of exploding lagniappe tacked on. Maybe. In any case, "Elizabeth" is Bitsy. Whether Camerie is still in the ring, I don't know.
Yesterday's writing introduced Ben Willingham, Martha's father. (Martha was the gal in the first chapter, the one who bought the vampire dress.) Yesterday's writing happened at the Baker Street Pub on 28th Street. And I got a bit of a wild hair. I decide I would rollerskate there. All 1.4 miles of the way.
Like I said on Twitter, this was probably my first time in rollerskates since well before the kids online started deriving terms like "lollerskates" and "lolrus" from the original acronym for laugh out loud. (I suspect "LOL" was already a thing when I last circumnavigated a rollerskating rink, but that the LOLcats phenomenon hadn't yet taken off. The original Happy Cat had not yet begun requesting Cheezburger.) I've ice-skated since, what with Boulder being possessed of a fine seasonal ice rink, but it's been a long while since I had wheels on my feet.
What brought on this sudden nostalgic wild hair? Well, a few weeks ago I got introduced to roller derby.
As you know (Bob), I've been following Havi's blog The Fluent Self. Havi Brooks is one of the most compassionate writers I've ever read on those subjects that bring out the self-loathing in me: procrastination, avoidance, the inability to "just let it go," and so forth. She is on a mission to eradicate, or at least reduce, that toxic societal tendency to find ways to blame people for their own suffering. I took her telecourse "The Art of Embarking" and it was pretty damn magical.
And then I read that she would be in Boulder. Very soon! For the Divide and Conquer Roller Derby Championships. Because she sponsors a roller derby team. So she was going to take the opportunity to teach a Shiva Nata workshop in Boulder.
I cannot explain Shiva Nata better than Havi herself, so go read the "sponsors a roller derby team" link and let her have her say.
It fell off my radar, and by the time I remembered it, it was all sold out. But I emailed myself onto the waiting list, and within hours a spot opened up. So on Thursday the 10th I walked down 30th Street to the Alchemy of Movement dance studio and spent two hours laughing, flailing, laughing some more, and feeling my brain go ping.
Really, that workshop deserves its own post, and this post ain't it. This post is about me getting inspired to dig my skates out of the closet. So. Actually meeting Havi for the first time and then spending two hours deconstructing patterns for their individual parts and putting the parts back together in interesting ways -- that all had an effect. Mainly the effect was to make my brain go "Why not?" at the least provocation. (It also had my brain completely overthinking the lyrics to the sea shanty Havi taught us in the last hour of the workshop. "Who are my 'rolling kings' and what are they 'heaving away' at?" Because that's what Shiva Nata followed by a 15-minute walk does. "Hot buttered epiphanies!" Indeed.)
So when Havi suggested we come out the next day and root for the Rose City Rollers, indeed, my brain went, "Why not?"
Which is how I ended up on a bus to the 1st Bank Center (formerly the Broomfield Event Center) for 2:00 PM on Friday, November 11th.
I watched the first three of the four bouts scheduled that day. It was awesome. I'd never seen roller derby before. I know this much about it: it involved women on skates, it involved physical contact, and, if Jim Croce was to be trusted, it involved an asthetic skewed less toward lingerie and more towards "built like a 'frigerator with a head." Apparently I was wrong in thinking lingerie would be entirely uninvolved; many participants wear fishnet stockings. But other than the occasional mention of a product for keeping your hiney shiny (what is this I don't even), the play-by-play announcers made no mention of body parts except when describing whose elbow slammed into whose side and who got a forearm penalty and who had just demonstrated phenomennal agility on their feet.
By the time the Rose City Rollers came out to play, Havi had invited me via Twitter to come find her, so I got to root for her team right alongside her and pester her with my newbie questions. "So, how exactly does one score points?" "What does the stripe on that one gal's helmet mean?" "What's up with the lines on the ground?" She was exceedingly patient. She was also totally rocking the purple wig and rainbow boa constrictor plushie.
Watching roller derby also had the effect of sending me on a trip down memory lane. Anyone remember the roller rink Phil's Big 8 in Metairie? Right under the clover-leaf ramp from Causeway onto Jefferson Highway? I went to so very many birthday parties there. I participated in all the floor games and won my share of free Cokes off the two-lap races. For the longest time, I thought the J. Geils Band song was called "Free Skate" because the DJ so often played it upon reopening the floor. During the free skates, I would zip through the crowd, zig left, zag right, and imagine myself in some competitive event in which I'd have to take down my opponents by clashing my wheels with theirs.
And there were these skates in my closet that I hadn't worn for at least a decade. Well... why not?
(I mentioned to Havi, "Watching this makes me think, 'Dude, I could do that!'" She said, "You totally should!" Then she introduced me to Juno, who was sitting next to her on her other side, and Juno introduced me to the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls Derby Days. As soon as NaNoWriMo is over, I am so there. My roller derby name will be "Fleur de Beast." Mwahaha.)
So this is why yesterday I got the bright idea to put on my skates. For, as I say, the first time in more than a decade. And to attempt to skate the 1.4 miles from my house to the Baker Street Pub. I was unreasonably optimistic.
I had this vision of me whizzing down 30th in the bike lane, texting to Twitter as I went: "Hee. I'm on my lollerskates. :)" NOT HARDLY. Being a decade out of practice doesn't just mean my endurance was no longer up to speed. My balance was also out of whack. It didn't help that I'd probably never skated with a backpack on before. There was no question of doing anything with my cell phone while skating. I windmilled and jerked and whoopsied my way down 30th, falling down at least three times and acquiring a gorgeous pre-adolescent-style skinned knee on the way, before putting my shoes back on at maybe the half mile point. It was a disappointing experience. I walked the rest of the way to the write-in in a bit of a funk.
But I couldn't help but notice that the newer sidewalk that starts around the big Barnes & Noble at 30th and Pearl and continues on past Walnut was so very wide and smooth...
On my way back home, I sat down on a parking spot bump in front of Karlequin's Game Knight and I put my skates back on. And I kept them on all the way home from there. I didn't fall down again, either.
It's starting to come back to me.
But that's why Niki's really, really sore today. Ow.
The Book Thief: A Literary Confession
When I was in fourth grade, I stole a book.
I won't say it's the only time I've been a thief. As a youngster, I once "borrowed" a few pennies from my grandmother's table when she and her daughters were playing penny-ante Boo-Ray. In fifth grade once I picked up fifteen cents, the exact amount of spare change you got back from a dollar from the lunch cashier at St. Catherine, telling myself that found change on the ground was fair game, even the ground right underneath the monkeybars right after classmates had been hanging upside down there. As an adult in the workforce, I've committed my share of "oops, I cooked too many hot dogs, these will have to be thrown out" and I've taken home the odd office supply item too.
But only in one case did I steal a thing outright, with no rationalization prepared, with no contrived justification in my head but only a blatant desire for a thing that wasn't mine. And it was a book.
There was this battered copy of Edmund Wallace Hildick's The Active-Enzyme, Lemon-Freshened Junior High School Witch amongst the random collection of middle grade books in my home room. It was on the bottom shelf, half-invisible due to the dog-eared state of its spine. Already a committed fantasy reader, attracted to stories about kids and magic, I settled down on the carpet to read as much as I could before my block of free time came to an end. I read it over several days, nibbling it and biting it and swallowing it whole over a series of free periods. I loved it.
I loved it so much I took it home with me and never brought it back.
Actually, depending on how you count vices, this book was the occasion of more than one.
Arrogance, for instance. Thinking that what I enjoyed must necessarily be univerally enjoyable, I eagerly brought it to the teacher's attention when she was next looking for read-aloud material. Shame and embarrassment soon followed when my classmates bored of it and the teacher abandoned it before the end of Chapter 1.
Then there's witchcraft itself, and heresy, and disobeying one's parents. This was the book that firmly cemented in my head the notion that casting spells was something I could really do, thus laying the groundwork for my discovery of witchcraft as part of a religion people actually practiced. Which the Catholic Church was probably not down with, and my parents definitely weren't down with.
See, unlike most stories of youngsters doing magic I'd read until then, this one was realistic. Hildick's protagonist, Alison, is neither spirited away to Narnia nor visited by fairies nor given supernatural gifts. Instead, she finds a book forgotten on a shelf and begins experimenting with the magic spells described therein. The synchronicity wasn't lost on me: I, too, had found a book forgotten on a shelf, just as though, meant for me alone, it were disguising itself against other curious eyes. And the spells Alison performs are clearly spelled out on the page, easy for a reader to try -- complete with Alison cavalierly substituting whatever came to hand when the grimoir called for things she couldn't find. And the author left the results of her spells deliberately ambiguous: coincidence, or magic? You decide.
Remember the furor over kids turning to witchcraft over Harry Potter? I found that ridiculous from the start. Any kid who tries to emulate Rowling's wizards will be disappointed on the first attempt. No, if you want a book that gives real-world-followable instructions on magic that you can convince yourself actually worked, and bears certain resemblances to modern-day Wicca, that's Hildick's book.
So. Fiercely wanting to hold onto my newly found witchcraft instruction manual, freshly convinced that I was alone in valuing the story, and worried that the teacher, having been made aware of its existence and its universal disapprobation (well, near-universal, but I was a known freak; I liked Neil Diamond and I was a girl who played with Transformers), might cull the shelves and make the book vanish forever... well, I simply preempted her, and performed the vanishing act myself.
I still have it today, even more battered than ever, squirreled away in a chest of precious things. I get it out and reread it periodically. It's a damn good book. Hildick died in 2001, recently enough for me to feel keenly the regret of never getting a chance to tell him how that book changed my life. And it did. The witchcraft thing? Superficial. I'd have gotten there eventually. No, there were more important effects. In that book, Hildick spoke to the pre-teen's constant undercurrent of frustration in a mature flowing language that challenged the young reader to competence. He didn't talk down to me; he understood me, and he respected me. In under 300 pages, in a book published three years before I was born, he conveyed to me what it was to be me.
Being a child means being surrounded by, ruled by, and often belittled by a sea of adult voices. Those adult voices said that if I thought I was being treated unfairly, I was wrong and it would all make sense when I was older. They said that if I was unhappy it was because I brought it on myself, usually by being disrespectful. They that if I was frustrated I must be overreacting. If A then B. QED.
But Hildick created the character of Alison, and from the first page her frustrations are respected even when they are overreactions. Her sense of injustice is validated even when no one really can be accused of being unfair. In writing Alison, he told me I was not alone. I wasn't a freak. Gods, it was good to hear.
Why am I telling this story now?
Well, see, I lied way up there in the third paragraph, about that being the only time I stole something outright. Sort of. I mean, had I told this story this morning it would still have been true. Um. Except not if I hadn't been very good Tuesday afternoon...
I confess. I have discovered in myself a disturbing tendency to wish to liberate books. Specifically, neglected books. Books being misused as decorations. While others steal coffee cups from Denny's, I'm tempted by the monogrammed blank hardbacks in the Banana Republic outlet in the Lakeside Mall. (Why does a clothing store have a decorative pile of books? And why not use real books from a library sale? And how cool would it be to use one of their blanks as my next dream diary?) The obviously valuable collectables getting dusty at the Dark Horse, those I don't think I'd touch...
...but this book that's now in my canvas tote bag, it was published in 1981, it has library markings all over it down to the shelving sticker on its spine, it was hardly a valuable collectable, and it wanted so badly to be read.
When I was at my cousin's pre-wedding cocktail party at a French Quarter restaurant, I stole a book...
How To Eat French Onion Soup
- 2,847 wds. long
- 6,000 wds. long
- 1,312 wds. long
Writing metaphors! They're not just for breakfast anymore! In fact, they're what's for dinner. Also lunch for the next three days, because we cook in quantity.
So on Wednesday John and I had our first Cooking Date of the year. We made French onion soup and insalata caprese. It was all a spectacular success, and, as implied above, I've had leftovers to eat every day since then.
Today at lunch I sat down with a freshly broiled toast-and-cheese top on a rewarmed crock of our awesome soup, and, apropos of nothing extraordinary, I finally figured out how to eat the dang stuff.
Pause. Rewind. Replay a Wednesday night in Metairie, Louisiana circa 1988. Maybe it was a Sunday, I don't know. Once a week, or maybe just once a month--memory is hazy here--a group of neighborhood ladies got together to sing barbershop harmony. They had hopes of founding a brand-new Sweet Adelines chapter. Mom met with them and brought me along, and this was when I first got pegged as a baritone. (Yes: I was a Type A at the age of 12.) But where I'm going with this trip down memory lane is down the road from the neighborhood home in which we rehearsed to the local Ruby Tuesdays for late night appetizers. Where I always, always, always ordered the French onion soup.
And I always made a mess trying to get through that toast-and-cheese lid. And Mom and all the other grown-ups enjoyed great and gentle amusement at my exasperated expense.
It's not simple! A spoon isn't sharp enough to get through that thick swiss cheese. And even if it was, the toast is floating; you can't very well slice it with a knife and fork. There's no leverage. Best I managed to do was poke at the edges of the cheese until I had a hole through which to sip the broth down to a less perilous surface level, such that mangling the toast and cheese no longer caused catastrophic overflow.
Even John asked the question when we sat down to dinner: "Now how do I eat this?" "I have no idea," I told him. "You just muddle through and make a mess. It's why I put the soup crocks on plates."
But today at lunch, I got it. If you just let the soup crock sit, all patient-like, until all components are cool enough to eat without burning your mouth, the soup will have soaked into the toast and softened it up. Then you can push... not too hard... very very gently... at the cheese-topped toast with the edge of your spoon, until it gives way. The cheese will try to glue it together, but once the bread breaks, the cheese will stretch thin and you can bite through it when you eat the broken-off bite of bread.
After that, everything's much easier.
So this was my discovery. And I thought, "That's another metaphor for writing, isn't it?" (Yes. I know. Everything's a metaphor for writing. Shut up, I'm making a point, it's an effin' marvelous point, it's bloody brilliant. Because I say so. Hush.) Of course I thought that. I was in the middle of my writing day, and I was trying to figure out how to get my mental spoon through the thick cheese topping that was keeping me from going deeper than babble draft into anything.
The plan was to spend a good hour moving an unfinished short story closer to submission-ready. Only I didn't know which one. "First Breath" was done and out the door (though it may yet see further revisions pending an ongoing conversation a colleague and I are having about its worldbuilding details). "Lambing Season" also hit the slush again yesterday. A number of stories are in the post-critique "almost perfect, but not quite" stage, but none felt... permeable, if you know what I mean. None felt accessible. I spent half an hour going through my files, looking for some half-baked idea from a freewriting exercise that might spark itself into a full-blown story. Nothing went ping.
Finally I latched onto a "scene" from the Daily Story Idea yWriter file. It had to do with sentient, human-sized Ants coexisting with humans. One of them goes into a coffee shop and orders a cappuccino. As story ideas go, this one was light and fluffy and funny and nothing at all like "First Breath," and it amused me to read it. I had no idea what to do with it, though. I didn't even know what to call it. ("The Ants Go Marching Latte-ward, Hurrah" is very much not a working title. It's an "I have to call this something and I mustn't take it too seriously this early in the game" sort of for-now title.) I set the timer for another half hour and attempted to figure it out where this thing was going.
I pasted that ridiculous excuse for a working title at the top and printed out the not-yet-a-story. Then I read it again, letting its broth soak in and soften things up. Then I got out a pen and began making notes as tentative as the spoon's assault on the toast-and-cheese. "Barista shouldn't be too enlightened; anti-Ant prejudice shouldn't all be big bad boss's." "Would Ant use mandibles for speech? How would Ants speak?" "What barista thinks but doesn't say parallels what Ant doesn't say but telegraphs with her antennae." Several of those notes put together became a solid story development idea, like a nice big bite of toast that lets you finally get your spoon into the soup. And after that, everything becomes much simpler.
Really, everything about writing that looks scary and impossible tends to seem less so once you take that first nibble. But then, isn't that the case for most scary and impossible tasks?
Of course I meant the Natchez, not the Creole Queen. It's the Natchez has the steam-powered calliope on top.
"N.O. Woman Tells of 60 Years of Visions"
Bares Her Life Secret To Members Of Dr. John Fletcher's Psychology Class. Says She Has Communicated With Spirits Of Other World Since She Was Five Years Old. Relates Her Shades Of Roosevelt, Gen. Grant, Mark Twain, Robert Ingersoll and Others Visited Her. Declares T. R. Urged Her To Inform World Of Her Experiences. She Was Once Governess To A Prince, She Says.The Williams Research Center is a quiet place of loveliness, from the front desk where the docent greets you and hands you the guest book to sign, to the beautfully-made lockers where things not allowed upstairs may stay securely for no extra charge, to the Acadian History exhibit with maps, paintings, and a glassed-in copy of Longfellow's Evangeline. And all of this is before you actually get into the records room.
The New Orleans Item-Tribune was a merging of the Morning Tribune and the Item, which I understand to have happened after my target date of January 19, 1930; but January 19 was a Sunday, and perhaps Sundays were different. In any case, once I had the JAN 1930 microfilm in the machine, I found that the heading on each page was indeed The Item-Tribune. I read, or skimmed, the January 19 edition from cover to cover.
It is very hard not to get distracted, browsing old newspapers of your home town. Everything is fascinating. Everything is recognizable. But the language of each story is almost fairy-tale alien, and I'm not just talking about the inevitable racist and xenophobic attitudes hard-wired into crime reports and population statistics. The details chosen to add color to a story, the adverbs and adjectives sprinkled over the top, the very choice of story material, these all reveal a very different world. I want to learn all about that world, because it gave birth by slow progressions to my world. I want to take the entire newspaper home with me and love it and hug it and give it cookies.
In any case, I thought I'd found something on the very first page, where a tenant's sudden death by, it is assumed, poison, is reported. The landlady heard him screaming in his room and called the ambulance. But the mention of this date in Gumbo Ya-Ya was supposed to be not another death, but "an account of this amazing instance of spectral assistance in making a financial success of a boarding house." So. Keep looking.
I think I struck gold on almost the last page of the January 19 edition, which was devoted in the main to the story whose headline I've titled this blog entry with. The woman in the story is "a 69-year-old French woman, who has lived in New Orleans for the past 10 years," and lives at 1429 St. Charles Avenue. Her name is Madame Marie Teresa Guizonnier. She "feels she is ready to tell about ... a strange double existence that she has kept secret for seven decades."
"Theodore Roosevelt has come and spoken to me. He has appeared in my room as I sat at my sewing; he has looked over my shoulder at the newspaper clippings and read them with me. He has told me things about the universe beyond that I think will startle the world," she says.Madame Guizonnier, a college-educated native of Alsace-Lorraine, first encountered spirits at the age of five. The description of her first visitation is reminiscent of Coraline's time behind the Other Mother's mirror. Seems she was punished for some transgression by being locked in a "chamber under the stairs."
"Houdini has stepped down to tell me of the unhappy time he is having adjusting himself in the spirit government. General Grant, always on his horse, has come riding from the clouds to encourage me in my messages with the spirits...."
"Suddenly I saw little girls sitting around me and holding dolls in their arms.Trying to link this up to the ghost story related in Gumbo Ya-Ya, however, is problematic. Here is the story's sole mention of Mark Twain:
I spoke to them and they answered. Soon I was able to carry on connected conversations with them, and I began to welcome the 'punishment' of being sent into the dark room. Later I could see the same children walking about the halls--even in daylight, and I talked with them too.
Mark Twain appears to her from time to time in a bed in which he continues to write, she says. He lies on his side and as he talks of his spiritual existence, he makes notes on paper placed on a little table beside his resting place.And as for "making a financial success of a boarding house," there is no mention in the story at all. In fact, her occupations are listed as "a nurse, a teacher, a governess to a Rumanian prince, a business woman, and a dressmaker." The occupation of landlady is mentioned not at all, though "business woman" might cover it. "Dressmaker" appears to be the current profession she practices at the time of the newspaper story, an occupation taken up to help her through a financial decline during her time in New York.
She moved to New Orleans in 1919 following the death of her husband, and was compelled to stay by her ghostly visitors.
"I did not intend to stay here when I first arrived. I have no further interest in the city. But whenever I attempt to leave, I find they will not let me. They demand that I continue to communicate with them."It's probable that the authors of Gumbo Ya-Ya conflated Madam Guizonnier's story with that of someone else, creating one narrative from a patchwork of dubious historical accounts. But I have time to read through a year and some of the newspaper every morning for the next week. And whatever I do find, there's story in it.
Hey, at least now my character has a name!
Quick Update From NOLA
Now we'll see whether anyone reads my blog I don't know about. Because I'm rather guilty of telling nobody in the area--including, with one exception, family--that my next stop after Chicago would be New Orleans.
Yes. Sneaky stealth French Quarter stay. John and I had a week with Interval International to use up, and John was out of vacation days, so it was up to me. I plugged a likely looking week into The Quarter House and called it an extended writing retreat. (It just happened to line up well with the annual Chicago crawfish outing.) Also a preview homecoming, given that I'm hell-bent on moving back to New Orleans someday, at least part-time. I mean, it's home, dangit. I ought to spend more time actually living there.
So why haven't I told anyone about it? Because... well, a week and a half can go by really quick if it fills up with visiting obligations and other unforeseen restrictions. And I just want this week and a half to myself, right? I'm allowed, right? Right?
So. If I get a phone call tomorrow afternoon with disappointed family members scolding me for this (or even saying "hey, it's all right, enjoy your vacation, just promise to visit next time"), that will be an interesting and possibly scary way to find out that Mom and Dad (or friends of theirs, or other family members) are reading my blog. If they are, I must beg them not to get mad at my brother, who mixed me this lovely, lovely Bloody Mary I am drinking. I swore him to secrecy on pain of pain. Blame me, not him! I'm the older one, right? I'm a bad influence, clearly!
OK, well, you can blame him for any typos. He mixes a non-trivially strong Bloody Mary. Vodka makes me insanely uncoordinated as far as fine motor control goes. I'm fixing the fat-finger fuxxups as I go, but I may miss a few.
Don't worry, gross motor control should remain trouble-free. This is important. I'm on my bike. Woo, Riverbend to French Quarter. Woo, past midnight.
This update is not turning out to be so quick. On with it.
1) Got here. Pleasant train ride. Interesting scenery, among which I will count the guy who was shouting at everyone who would listen that "They Blew The [17th Street Canal] Levee!!!" because "They" wanted to shut down the Lower Ninth Ward and needed a Cat. 5 Hurricane for cover. I think this particular theory has been around since before Camille, actually. Most of the times I hear it, it's attached to, I dunno, a canal with less proximity to multi-million-dollar neighborhoods like Lakeview. But whatever. He says he heard a BOOM, and Gods know there's nothing but dynamite can cause a boom, right? Like I said - interesting scenery on my train.
1)b. No free wi-fi in the W, and I refuse to pay when any number of fine establishments like Z'otz and Bruno's will give me what I want. Also the Royal Cafe, if I'm not feeling all that "woo" about biking to the Riverbend and I'd rather just walk about 4 blocks instead.
2) Nibbled at the short story WIP. Really, only nibbled. And not until I got into town and was having dinner at this little Vietnamese place two doors down from Camillia Grill. My nibbling gave me an ending, and it gave me an unforeseen backstory complication. I'm so proud of my little 650-word story! It's developing a back-story!
3) Will probably do more nibbling tomorrow, as well as a visit to the Williams Research Center for microfiche reading to buttress the verisimilitude of "A Surfeit of Turnips" (which will probably get a new title before it goes out again). Hey, when Gumbo Ya-Ya tantalizingly mentions a 1930 story in the New Orleans Item Tribune referencing the most bizarre ghost story I have ever heard, who am I to resist?
And that's it for now. Laters!
Planning A Picky Prompt Thing
Since writing yesterday's blog entry, I took a closer look at the write-up that came with the "2008 Beignet Waiter" collectible figurine that came with this year's King Cake. Apparently my little trip down memory lane was quite appropriate: Haydel's was, in fact, thinking of The Morning Call and not the Cafe Du Monde. (Here's Haydel's King Cake Collector Dolls web page. At the time of this writing, it hasn't quite caught up with the times. They're still showing the 2004 doll, which was a porcelain Pete Fountain. He's so cute!)
This tells me two things. First, that Metairie is not officially excluded from Mardi Gras history and nostalgia. That's a relief. I'm used to being a little defensive about my status as a Jefferson Parish native. (Welllll, I may yet have to be defensive. Calling it "Metairie's version of the Cafe Du Monde" is kinda wrong: its original location was on Decatur Street. It only moved to Metairie in 1974. That's pretty darn recent in terms of the establishment's 138-year history, but from my perspective, that's still before I was born. Plus the little slideshow on its web site's front page includes shots of the Metairie location's interior. So nyah.)
Second, since the write-up was in present tense, I'm gonna assume that The Morning Call is not as doomed as my last visit to the place made it seem. And hoo boy is that a relief.
Anyway. So much for that.
For today's thing, I'm reduced to writing prompts. That's right; I can't think of anything to write. So I went over to Writer's Digest's Daily Prompt site... and was immediately disgusted. I know, I know, I shouldn't be picky, the whole point of a prompt is to write stuff I wouldn't otherwise have written, but... I'm sorry, I can't bring myself to do it.
So instead, here's what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna do a search on Google, open up the first page of links (excluding paid advertisement) in tabs) and choose... let's say the 10th noun appearing on that page. That would be the main block of text, not the sidebar menu or whatnot.
Sounds like an appropriately anal retentive procedure. Only one problem:
What's my search phrase?
...I'll get back to you on that.
I Have A Thing For Beignets
Happy Mardi Gras! We had friends over to help us eat up red beans & rice, andouille sausage, cornbread, and ... oh, I'd say about half the King Cake that Mom sent. (John got the baby.)
Mom always sends me at least one King Cake from Haydel's bakery every Mardi Gras. Not only is this because I'm a homesick New Orleanian and she knows it, but also because Haydel's in particular puts a little collectable porcelain figurine in the package. This year's figurine is a "Beignet Waiter." You can tell because of the paper hat.
MORNING CALLSI used to bike to the Morning Call, which is the Metairie version of the Cafe Du Monde. It's about a mile and a half from my parents' house. Last time I biked there at two AM during a visit home, and it was closed. I ended up at the donut place at West Esplanade and Causeway instead. The people there told me its hours have been erratic since Katrina. (They also insisted that I looked like I was related to this other woman who just happened to show up and vouch for the fact that I was not actually her sister. It was surreal.)
Here: Praise for the man in the paper cap
and the matched streams of milk and coffee:
hot, hot, piping hot
and swirling before my spoon
even touches it.
Here: An ode to the hour, that the night has a case of
and I've no place else to go:
just here, amongst the mirrors,
amongst the cups of coffee
swirling with milk.
The world hasn't woken up yet
I haven't woken up yet
I'm dreaming these mirrors, the mirrors are dreams,
I'm dreaming this cup of coffee,
the milk, your paper hat.
I must have been sleepwalking
I'm awake now
Anyway. I want my Morning Call back. Dammit.
I'll check again in April when John and I come visit for the French Quarter Fest.
Day 14: A Musical Interlude
- 23,381 wds. long
I updated my NaNoWriMo profile recently. The bit where it says, "Favorite writing music," it always used to say "Blue Man Group: Audio" there, because I usually prefer writing to instrumentals. I've even got my computer set to start playing the album at 6:00 AM in the hopes that I will, upon hearing "TV Song," wake up and write. Generally this doesn't work. Generally I just hit the MUTE button on the outside of the computer and go back to sleep.
A couple of years ago I update that field to say, in addition, "FlashBackRadio.com." All '80s, nothing but the '80s, live DJ love for the '80s with listener requests and dedications. I recommend it. When I'm anywhere with internet and I'm not having a craving for anything in particular, that's what I put on. And then I request Rush's "YYZ," and I type "Greetings and departures" where the request form prompts for a new message subject line.
That has changed this year. This year sometime I was listening to a-ha's East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and thinking for the hundredth time that I really ought to get ahold of the actual "one-hit-wonder" album that everyone thinks of when they think of a-ha. The one with "Take On Me" on it. That would be Hunting High And Low. For some reason I finally acted on that thought this November.
And the two albums have been on infinite repeat pretty much since.
That will probably change soon, because I'm starting to get that weird dissatisfied feeling, a sort of almost physical ennui, where I'm still singing along and getting the songs stuck in my head, but it's not as fun anymore. It's not like I get sick of 'em. It's more like getting a surfeit of 'em. Like the way you start munching in response to a sweets or snacks craving and then after a while you realize you're still eating the yummy stuff mechanically but not really enjoying the experience. My sing-along voice is getting a little tired. It's getting bored of the melodies and even the usual harmonies. Some really improbable counterpoints are starting to come out.
There's an unusual amount of storm imagery on these two albums. It's rather striking when strung together into one big playlist. HH&L ends in a song called "Here I Stand And Face The Rain." After that, the first song on ES/WM is "Crying in the Rain." It has some nice rumbly weather sound-effects over the entrance of the main melodic line. The same sound effects accompany the penultimate song on the album, "Rolling Thunder," bringing the album full-circle so effectively that the last song feels like an epilogue.
And, y'know, all that storm imagery is sorta appropriate, isn't it, given the title and topic of the novel I'm working on.
No, I didn't just make that connection. But I was still embarrassingly late making it. Maybe I figured this out by Day 7, I dunno. In any case, I'm probably going to stick with this playlist throughout November, even if I do sometimes feel like the taste has cloyed.
There may be more connections to make, or inspiration to take, from some of these songs' cryptic lyrics.
I'm Not Stalking Anyone, Honest
- 1,535 wds. long
If you happen to live at 4335 Lake Villa Drive in Metairie, Louisiana, I promise this isn't personal. The fictional kids in my fictional story just happen to live on your nonfictional block, that's all. I just popped addresses into Google Maps until I got sort of the house I was envisioning, et voila.
I didn't want to set the story on the street where I grew up. That seemed too easy. Plus I've done it before. So I hit on using the piece of Lake Pontchartrain I'm next most familiar with: the area by the Suburban Canal. I rode my bike down there countless times as a teenager, sometimes hanging out under the gazebo with my writing notebook and my headphones, sometimes just tossing french fries to the seagulls. I guess I could have had my two fictional kids hanging out on the sea wall by the Bonnabel Boat Launch, but it's too late now. I've worked on the story long enough that, dammit, they live where they live, and trying to pretend otherwise would be dishonest.
Sometimes pieces of a story get ossified like that; they're no longer up for debate because that's the way it happened. What began as fiction sort of calcifies into, if not exactly reality, than an idea that my thought processes treat as reality. Katrina happened in '05, the New Orleans Saints won their Divisional Championship in '06, and Louise and Jimbo live on the first block of Lake Villa south of West Esplanade. I know one of those things isn't true, but my thoughts make room for it just as though it were no less factual than the other two.
Anyway... If you happen to live in the area, dear reader, I wouldn't mind knowing how your neighborhood fared. The story is set during November/December '05, and I want to be at least semi-faithful to what really happened. Was it like my parents' block, where all the damage came from holes in roofs, not flood? Was the street pretty empty during the months following, or did people come home fairly quickly? I didn't see too much full-body devastation last time I took a bike ride up Lake Villa from the pumping station to Veterans Memorial Boulevard, but then that was December '06 and all sorts of restoration could have happened since. And when did all that construction at the pumping station start? It's not the safe-house I'm talking about; that's done. It's all the cranes digging up huge chunks of levee that I mean. And when was that sea wall built in front of the mouth of the canal? I know it wasn't there when I was in high school some 15 years ago. How do you even begin Googling for that kind of information? Think the Jefferson Parish Library can help? They can certainly tell me about branch closures and reopenings after the storm, at least. Maybe I should check the NOLA.com message boards, or ask around the comment sections at Metroblogging New Orleans.
If you have info and feel like sharing, the email link is at the bottom right-hand corner of the page. Yes, it's a pop-up web form. I'm sorry. Deal with it.