“and if i should die
god forbid that i
pass away with ideas left in limbo
in creative purgatory”
Brian Vander Ark

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

i guess that's what i am
Fri 2017-03-24 00:52:47 (single post)

What was I saying, last post? Can't do everything in a single day? Right, well, I've have several "single days" since then, and some of them I haven't managed to do anything in. I think the problem is, no matter how cheerfully I say things like, "It's cool! If I just do nothing but write all day then I'll get caught up!" ...I still exert sufficient pressure on myself to shut me down completely.

And I'm still not sleeping right. What the everlovin' eff, body?

(I'm working on that. Getting up closer to on time every day, avoiding afternoon naps, avoiding caffeine past 5 PM, installing f.lux in hopes of making nighttime computer sessions have less impact on my sleep cycle...)

I caught myself using the phrase "working writer" to describe myself recently. Well, I used the phrase; I caught myself experiencing the impulse to qualify it. Y'know. Disclaim it. Belittle myself. "Well, lately it's more like 'hardly working writer'..." I caught myself in time not to speak from that impulse, though, because speaking from that impulse does me no good. For one thing, if I belittle myself, it invites others to belittle me--not that they would, right, the people I was talking to are supportive people, but if I tell them I'm "hardly working" as a writer, why wouldn't they believe me? For another thing, why wouldn't I believe me? Every time I belittle myself, I add another grain of negativity to the huge, heavy pile I use to constantly put myself down.

But if instead of disclaiming it, I own that term, Working Writer, what happens? Well, maybe I just wake up one Thursday morning and say, "Yes. I'm a working writer. So let's get to work." And I do. I get up 'round seven, yeah, and I go to work at nine. (Or thereabouts. Still working on the sleep cycle thing, like I said.) And then I don't just devote the whole day to a heroic but ultimately doomed heave at the overdue stuff. No. I give that stuff a shove, yes, but not to the exclusion of doing the working writer things. Which is not to say that my Patreon experiment, the Friday Fictionettes, isn't part of my work, it is absolutely part of my day job, but--look, I got into this writing gig in the first place in order to sell fiction to paying publishers. And last week the very last story I had out on submission came back with a rejection letter. Now I have nothing out on submission. I should never have nothing out on submission. So I took a half hour or so away from toiling up Mt. Overdue so that I could...

  • log that rejection in the Submission Grinder and on my personal database.
  • send the rejected story to my writing group for help in fixing it (it's been getting personal rejections with consistent feedback across the board, so it really does need fixing before it goes out again).
  • looked through my unpublished flash-length stories for a suitable candidate to submit to Fireside, who are open to flash fiction just for this week.
  • read some flash fiction that Fireside has published recently to get an idea of which of mine might be a good fit.

In other words, submission procedures. Which I decided a long time ago needed to happen every day. Which is why I made a line for it in my timesheet template. It's in the "morning shift" section, which is where I done put all the daily "gotta-dos." For a reason.

So. With any luck I will have both last week's and this week's Friday Fictionette published tomorrow. But whether I do or don't, I will be making time for submission procedures. Because I am a Working Writer. Dammit.

The Friday Fictionette for March 10 is ''Containment Breach'' and I hope it will be the last late Fictionette for a while. But you have heard that before.
service to resume following lengthy explanations
Tue 2017-03-14 23:52:52 (single post)
  • 1,244 wds. long

OK, so, here's the deal. I am one day into Operation Make Writing Daily Again, and I expect Day Two will actually be Thursday, not tomorrow. Which is not exactly daily, but it's a start.

Mild though it was, the knee sprain really jacked up my weekly round. It inserted a bunch of extra appointments into my life and subtracted a lot of energy. When it healed enough that I could return to roller derby at full strength, even more energy went down the drain because "full strength" is a misnomer. I mean, yeah, I get to do all the derby things, I'm not sitting out of any practice activities anymore and I'm fully participating in scrimmage, I'm going to be in a bout on March 25 and another on April 8--but the energy I'm used to having at my disposal simply isn't there yet.

There's a lot of factors. The injury happened very early in the season, so I missed out on the portion of our season-long schedule that was specifically devoted to building skates back up to competition levels of intensity. Then of course six weeks out of the game means a lot of strength and endurance still needs to be rebuilt. And then there's just the bare fact that roller derby is a contact sport, and it requires a high tolerance for blunt force trauma, both when you take it and then in the following days when you heal up from it. I seem to have temporarily misplaced the knack of bouncing back from a rough, bruising scrimmage and getting up in time for work the next morning.

Then there's the embarrassing fact that I took a rather big bruise near the tailbone about a week and a half ago (don't fall over backwards, kids, I do not recommend it). Now there's this knobbly lump of painful tissue where I'm used to having built-in seat cushions. Worse still, I keep falling on it or bouncing it off of other skaters (or having other skaters bounce off of it, depending on who initiated contact) at every. Single. practice. So that might be something that's sapping my ability to rebound.

(It was fairly OK tonight! I only fell on it once and I didn't even yell. I maybe said "Ow" when I tried to stop a jammer with that part of my butt, but I didn't start bellowing in short pain-management bursts like I did at last week's scrimmage.)

OK, so, excuses excuses wah. But here's the nasty follow-on effect: Because of this energy deficit and the attendant sleep-cycle irregularities, I am now behind in all the things. Seriously, it's been two months since I managed to release a Fictionette on the Friday it's due, I've still got both January's and February's Fictionette Artifacts to type up and mail, as of this morning I was just barely keeping up with the bills and other financial accounting simply from inability to find time to sit down to the task, and I still need to gather and organize materials for taxes, federal and state, the filing of.

So that's why I can't just say, "Today I begin Writing Responsibly for a Full Workday Every Day!" Because I still have to catch up on all the things.

Here's how it goes:

  • Yesterday I published the patron-only editions of the Friday Fictionette for March 10 (ebook, audiobook).

  • Today I published the free excerpts of same (on Patreon, on Wattpad) as part of a solid morning shift including freewriting, work towards March 17's fictionette, and one typewritten page of an overdue Fictionette Artifact. I did not get an afternoon shift of writing; it seemed more important to Do The Books - tally bank accounts, file away credit card receipts and statements, empty my inbox down to the bottom and pay all the bills piled up therein, especially as all this is prerequisite for dealing with taxes (most of the tax forms were buried in the inbox). But that I got a solid morning shift in, with solid strides towards catching up on overdue stuff, is worth celebrating.

  • Tomorrow I may not get to the writing at all, because I will be putting my tax organizer together and also getting ready to check into a bed & breakfast in Longmont.

OK, that last one's unusual. Here's the deal. A whole bunch of people will arrive by plane starting tomorrow. Some will stay here in our house, some will stay nearby. All of them will be playing games at all lodging locations all weekend long. It's sort of a small, private reenactment of Gen Con between a close-knit group of long-distance-friends. I love them all, but in order to preserve my sleep, my schedule, and my sanity, I will need to vacate the premises. My original plan was to visit my parents for the weekend. But after the hit my athletic abilities took due to injury recovery, and given the big games coming up so soon, I couldn't bring myself to miss practice.

So instead I'll be staying at the Thompson House Inn for four nights. It's a bit of a splurge, but not as much as I feared--the rate they gave me is cheaper, despite the breakfasts being no doubt better, than most name-brand hotels we've used for derby travel over the past few years, even considering that those involved an event-discounted group rate. It'll be quiet, since it sounds like they're pretty empty this weekend (certainly a factor in the discounted rate they offered me). It'll be right in downtown Longmont, so no worse a commute to practice than usual. I have the option of popping home and being social for a bit. Also I think afternoon tea on Friday or Saturday will be a lovely reward for getting my writing done.

I'm very excited about this! I've wanted to stay at, or at least investigate staying, at the Thompson House Inn since the first time that me and John and a good friend of ours dressed up to have tea there some ten years ago or more. Now I get to do it. I hadn't even thought about the possibility, honestly. But yesterday I parked the Volt to charge its battery at the St. Vrain Community Hub, and the B&B was right across the street. What the hell, I thought. Might as well walk on over and ask after rates and availability. They're probably booked and too expensive, but it's worth a try.

I told the proprietor I was a writer, and that getting up early for breakfast each morning would ensure I got right to work. She said, "Great! We'll make sure to put you in a room with a desk."

So. Awesome. But before 3:30 tomorrow I need to do laundry, pack, organize my tax documents, do the Wednesday volunteer reading, and attempt some pre-guest housework. This is why I anticipate Day Two of the New Daily Writing Initiative won't be until Thursday.

And now you know.

but i said i would update again so here you go
Wed 2017-02-15 23:13:43 (single post)

I am tired but I want to post because I'm supposed to blog every weekday and I am trying to get back into my routine and it doesn't work if I don't do the routine so here you go.

Update: Writing - Managed to do both fictionette work and freewriting today, and got back on the morning pages wagon too. If I can do that much every day for a week (and blogging too!), I'll consider it a good start.

I'm a little worried about the fictionette because, while I have the premise and the characters, I don't exactly have the shape of the plot. I don't have an ending. I don't even have a good cliffhanger faux-ending. So I feel like I spent today's session trying to perfect two paragraphs when I ought to have been more or less drafting the whole story. Hopefully I'll have a breakthrough tomorrow morning so that Friday doesn't turn into a panic.

In accordance with established Wednesday tradition, the writing took place at the Longmont Village Inn, a five minute walk from the mall's free public EV charging station. This is a plot point because...

Update: Skating - ...I did some. Yes! I got the good news I'd hoped for at my four-week orthopedics follow-up appointment. The PA actually seemed more excited than I was, and that's saying something. She manipulated my leg and enthused over how stable the ligaments were, she congratulated me on all the physical activity I was able to engage in recently, and she said she saw no reason I shouldn't strap on skates this very day.

So I did. I skated from the car (at the Village at The Peaks mall charging station) to Cafe of Life, which is about three quarters of a mile of sidewalks, street crossings, and parking lots. It felt great. I was cautious, of course, I went slow-to-moderate and I didn't do anything suddenly, but within those careful limits I tried out all the motions, deep carves and toe-stops and sculling and single-foot glides and backwards skating and everything, and nothing hurt. Not a thing.

Well, my glutes hurt from yesterday's exercise. I'll admit to that. But nothing injury-related. Not a peep out of the knee, not until I got home and curled it under me as part of crawling into bed and remembered too late that I still can't do it that way, not yet. But that is not a required motion for roller derby, so it's cool.

Yay! Good news. Now I go thunk. Good night!

The fruits of my non-writing labors
Cover art features original photography by author, who can't bear to throw away those tokens despite the video arcade that issued them closing down more than a decade ago.
when writing time turns into time invested toward making the future work better
Tue 2017-02-14 23:52:15 (single post)
  • 1,035 wds. long

Ahoy the actually writing blog! This will be a blog post that is actually about writing. Ok, and about other stuff too, but--writing! Yayyyy.

Friday Fictionettes: So the one for February 10 finally went up late Monday night, and I'm really, really hoping it's going to be the last late edition for a while. It's called "The Gold Drug" (ebook, audiobook), and it's about dragons and dragon-slaying knights and also how you should Just Say No. Cue the voices of Macgruff the Crime Dog, Nancy Reagan, and that voice-over that, while the camera zooms in on an egg frying in oil, intones, "Any questions?" But the wyrmlets never do listen until it's too late. It's enough to break a mama dragon's heart.

I didn't get much writing done today, but what little I did was a solid session on the February 17 release. It will be about... well, take Warehouse 13 but make it a pawn shop. There you go.

Here's the thing: It has been impossible to even hope for a full five-hour writing workday since I sprained my knee. Like I said, I'm still going to all my roller derby practices and Cafe of Life appointments; I'm also now going to twice weekly phsyical therapy appointments too. And the occasional orthopedist/sports medicine follow-up (my four-week check-in is tomorrow). And then there's roller derby events like the triple-header this past weekend and the New Recruit Nights this week. And unexpected naps because I still seem to have only a portion of the energy I count on having in a day. (It's getting better, though!) The only entirely unscheduled day is sometimes Friday, which falls apart under the pressure of "Ooh, an unscheduled day! Do ALL the writing OR ELSE YOU SUCK." (I'm sure I've mentioned before what a jerk my brain is, right? Well.)

So instead I'm just focusing on whatever needs to get done with the most urgency, and taking it from there. Today, that meant a short but solid session toward not being late with the fictionette this Friday.

I honestly thought I'd get more done. I had the time. I even had a sudden surge of energy! Which went toward... improving my living space and fixing things which were broken. Which, honestly, isn't time spent; it's time invested. It's so much easier to get work done when things are less cluttered, more pleasant to look at, and fully functioning. Even when the improvement is to something I don't necessarily interact with every day, but have merely been frustrated with now and again, knowing that it's been improved makes my brain a more pleasant place to be. So I went into the "distraction" with my eyes open. Sure, I thought, I might not get the writing done that I meant to, but I'm going to feel happier and healthier going forward.

Here's a short, non-exhausted list of things that got fixed or uncluttered or otherwise improved:

  • Restored my laptop's ability to send sound to the TV via HDMI, such that I can once again VJ Steven Universe marathons. Or whatever I want. This required rolling back the Intel HD Graphics 5500 driver on my laptop. The "Windows 10 Anniversary Edition" version that installed itself on Jan. 25 can take a flying leap from the nearest high-dive into a sewer, by the way.

  • Unpacked all my vinyl LPs and 45s (and accompanying concert program books, because apparently these go together) onto a freshly cleared shelf below the CDs. Recycled the now-empty boxes.

  • Unpacked the Ion USB turntable onto the top shelf above my desk so it can easily be plugged into my laptop. Stowed the box in the storage closet, along with a few other random objects I've been meaning to shlep down there for a while.

  • Digitized one of my 45s just to celebrate. (The Tubes, "She's a Beauty," 1983, in case you're wondering.)

  • Rearranged my CDs into four columns on a single double-tall shelf space. Placed a cardboard sheet under each column so I can slide an individual stack forward for ease of access. I am a genius.

  • Hung up five things that have been waiting to go back on the walls since we moved into this place back in April 2015. This represents a solid baby step toward emptying the box of wall-hangings that's been sitting in our bedroom since that time.

Now my office and the living room are both less cluttered, and I have the ability to play records in the office. Also it's easier to get to all my CDs now. Also there are pretty things on the walls! So. A sacrifice of potential writing time, but well worth it, I think.

Also, I'm still not on skates yet, but today at roller derby practice I did every single off-skates thing along with my team. Pre-practice warm-ups. Strength training hell. Post-practice yoga. Because it's exciting to be that physically capable again, and because I need to get those muscles back ASAP thank you. This is part of fixing what's broke and creating a happier, healthier future!

My roller derby team is totally my Valentine, y'all. <3 <3 <3

the car gets energized and i get ennervated because wednesday
Wed 2017-01-04 23:43:05 (single post)

I have a new Wednesday routine! It goes like this:

10:00 - Give up on the morning writing shift. Just get the volunteer reading done and uploaded so I can get out of the house. (True fax: I think I forgot to do the actual uploading, I was that much in a hurry to leave. DAMN IT.)

12:30 - Park the Volt at one of the electric vehicle charging stations at Village At The Peaks (used-to-been Twin Peaks Mall). Start that sucker charging. (Current state of car custody: I get the Volt if I promise to charge it, or if I have a Darn Good Reason. Otherwise, I get the Saturn.

12:40 - Ensconce myself at the Village Inn for a long working lunch. (I still think of China Buffet, because I am weak. But Village Inn has actual good food. Also coffee and wi-fi. And a shorter walk from the charging station. And a free slice of pie on Wednesdays. "Even if all you order is a pot of coffee, you get free pie!" Noted.) Get the daily writing tasks done. It's Wednesday, so I don't expect much, but do at least that much, yeah? OK. I did.

3:30 - Walk on over to Cafe of Life and arrive 10 minutes early for my adjustment and traction.

4:20 - Walk on back to the car, which is by now fully charged or almost so. Lament having to use some of that fresh battery capacity on driving home from Longmont.)

Ta-da. The car is charged, I have time to do a little writing, and I get to my appointment early (rather than late, which had been happening recently, because having a car meant the luxury of dribbling out the door at quarter-til-four rather than racing to the bus stop for 3:15). I like it. Let's do this again sometime. (Free pie!)

Derby doings this evening consisted of sitting on the BRAND NEW FLOOR and scraping old tape off the track. Obviously we pulled up the track boundary tape the night we emptied out the barn for subfloor construction, because there was a rope under there, but the rest of the tape we were in too much of a hurry to bother with. (The tape that used to be ten-foot hashmarks is especially hard to remove. The tape that formed our exercise ladder and jump-around crosses was fresher, less skated-upon, and somewhat easier. None of it was easy, though. Razor blades, chisels, paint scrapers, and rubbing alcohol were involved in the process. Which is not yet done.)

You would think this wouldn't be very tiring work, wouldn't you? Just tedious. We were all sitting down to do it, after all. But

  • my back doesn't like hunching over floor work so long, and
  • it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the time we were done, and it is possible to get exhausted from being cold.

Mostly I got exhausted waiting for the car to warm up. I was shivering so hard I was out of breath from shivering. I was also irrationally angry--at no one in particular, just generally rageful--that we weren't home already. We got home and I promptly dumped myself in the tub, wasting in hot water all the energy I saved in charging the car. I think. These calculations are not exact.

Meanwhile--

(emotion-wrangling beyond this point - I said I'd warn y'all, so I'm warning y'all)

--apparently all that recent Working Through Childhood Trauma stuff I've been doing lately, here and in my Morning Pages and in my brain when I don't wanna has been chugging away in the background, because I had a dream about it this AM.

In my dream, I was moving into Awful Abusive Asshole Uncle's house. It was empty of everything but furniture. I wasn't inheriting it or anything. It was more like, it was empty, so someone might as well move in, and the rest of the family thought I might as well be the one. Anyway, someone had unpacked a few art canvases that used to be on the walls, abstract multimedia collages as well as portraits. There was a portrait of one of my younger cousins, whom I adore; I wanted to hang it on the wall going up the stair where my memory in the dream told me it used to be, but the nail had been removed and the nail-hole painted over when the house got emptied. I'd have to hammer a nail into that wall myself to do it, but not right now, because I had to go to the bathroom something awful.

I really did, too. I mean, in waking life. I may have mentioned my frustrations with my bladder's suddenly reduced retention at night? At least it didn't start to bother me until time to get up anyway. Nevetheless, I feel like it had dream symbolism too. I would have to hammer my own nail into the wall, but first I would have to process and dispose of some nasty substances. Get it? Get it? OK, well, I do. At least, I'm pretty sure I do. There's probably more to get later. There always is.

Anyway, there was also a portrait of my asshole uncle. And though I recognized that the portrait was gorgeous as a piece of art--just a really fantastic portrait of him standing there on a French Quarter street and everything in vibrant, exaggerated colors and the lines of his face emphasized in a way that showed personality rather than reducing the portrait to a caricature--I could not bring myself to hang it up. I didn't want to look at his face every day.

So I decided I would take one of the empty ottoman/storage chests that was positioned as a footrest in the living room by the big L-shaped couch, and put the painting inside it, face-down, and sprinkle it with salt to neutralize its energy.

That's right. I made up a magic spell in my dream. I haven't made up a magic spell in waking life in years, unless you count the creation of writing-dedicated ritual space I sometimes do with a candle and incense and an Enya CD these days. But I just made one up in my dream.

It's a damn good one, too. Right up there with taking a photo of The Bad Guy and rolling it up and tying it with string and sticking it in the freezer. I may have to do it in waking life. I think I know the item that can stand in for the portrait, too. I just need to find an appropriate storage space.

...So. That's the state of the Niki tonight.

the hot tub and red wine method of novel planning
Wed 2016-11-30 23:51:29 (single post)
  • 1,328 wds. long

Tonight was another successful evening of novel planning. Yes, yesterday counted as successful--once I put away the laptop and got in the tub. This time I skipped the bit that didn't work and went straight to dunking myself in hot water AND I COUNTED THAT TIME TOWARD MY WRITING LOG AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME. Because it worked. There was about 20 minutes of soaking in the tub and talking to myself, and then there was about 20 minutes of non-stop feverish-paced typing to jot down what I came up with. We have a method, folks.

We may need a non-tub version, though, because once I get back to my own house, it might be prohibitively painful in the utilities bill. At the very least, I need a comfy place to lounge and complete solitude so no one will hear me talking to myself. But I'd prefer the wine and hot tub method any time I can get it.

Meanwhile, I got this book out the library, right, I got it yesterday, but this evening it TALKED to me about THE VERY THINGS I'D BLOGGED ABOUT YESTERDAY. Like the author knew. It's The Writer's Idea Book, which isn't entirely my cup of tea as it turns out--the author's sense of humor comes across to me as LOOK AT ME I MADE A JOKE, he has a tendency to make unmerited universal pronouncements ("Who, for heaven's sake, doesn't like Popeye?" Me, for one, but thanks for telling me how absurd and freakish you think that is) and the "prompts" are more like the Tasks in The Artist's Way than they are viable jumping-off points for my daily freewriting--but which is nevertheless full of unexpected gems here and there. Like...

...under the spell of The Author, that part of ourselves that sees every moment of writing as important and valid only if it leads to publication.

(Emphasis mine.) Which seems to speak directly to my insecurity yesterday that the time spent novel-planning was such a waste of time compared to, say, revising a story that's nearly ready to submit, or going back to consider an existing novel draft that's much closer to completion than this thing that still only lives in my mind. I'll also admit to chafing at my Morning Pages or daily freewriting sometimes for the same reason: THIS isn't publishable writing, why am I wasting part of my precious day on this? Despite knowing that they are both valuable exercises from both a craft and self-care standpoint.

And then there's the frustration that came from sitting down at the laptop to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, only to find that I couldn't make the missing knowledge appear just because my hands were on the keyboard.

Ideas don't respond to the force of our wills--damn them. We can't make them appear. That's why when we're feeling blocked it does little good to try to pound our way through. It won't work. We'll grow even more frustrated....

Getting ideas requires allowing our minds to yield....

YES. Or, in other words, relax and let them come. Let yourself off the hook. Don't try (so hard!) to figure out the novel. Get in the goddamn tub, drink your wine, and daydream about the novel.

Incidentally, another activity that has produced significant insight into this novel is thinking about it while falling asleep. Not coincidentally, my dreams have also played a part.

Anyway. During my successful novel-planning session tonight, what did I come up with? All the details about Delta's daughter and the broken contract that obliged her, Delta, to give up her name. Also an extra tidbit, related to that, which makes the tragedy in Michael's backstory not just a maudlin trope but PLOT-NECESSARY. Yay. I was worried about that.

And that's all I'm going to say. This novel is now far enough along that I can't keep blogging everything anymore because that would be spoilers. And that's kind of exciting!

The closer we get to the point where it's time to start writing actual manuscript, the more scared I get. Can I do it? Can I actually convert this novel in my head into a novel on the page? Emotionally, I'm all nooooo it's not possible I'll BREAK it I suck forever. But logically, I remember that I've been doing exactly this in short-short form almost every week for two years now. This is exactly what I'm supposed to be getting out of Friday Fictionettes: practice in, and confidence in, turning ideas in my brain into stories on the page.

Speaking of Fictionettes, I have released the Fictionette Freebie for November 2016. It's "The Witch on the Corner." Link goes to the HTML version, which now includes the first text. At the bottom of the page are links to the ebook and audiobook versions, or you can just click the links right here. Free for all! Enjoy! See what you think!

taking the guilt out of guilty pleasures
Wed 2016-11-23 23:56:58 (single post)

I still don't have the hang of Wednesdays. Their insistence on coming after Tuesdays is one problem--although, admittedly, last night's roller derby practice was much lighter than usual, so I didn't wake up feeling beat up. But I had another rough night of constantly interrupted sleep, which kind of killed my morning.

That, plus, I had dreams. They were compelling dreams. They compelled me to go back to sleep to remember them better. They resonated oddly with all the novel planning I'd been doing, especially the idea of a "company store" environment in which Delta, one of my protagonists, is trying, futilely, to work her way out of perjury debt.

OK, so, it goes like this: In Balvion, the country in which the novel takes place, contracts are not legally but inevitably binding. Inevitable, like gravity. When you sign your name to a contract, you are offering it up as collateral. If you fail to uphold the terms of the contract, you lose your name and identity. You can theoretically earn enough to buy it back under a new contract, but you need a job to earn money, and to get a job you need things like a resume and references and a work history--which you no longer have because your identity isn't yours anymore. You can't even claim your own high school diploma.

So what you do is this: You rent an identity. At ruinous interest. So you can work a crap job that pays less than minimum wage and play along with the fiction that this will somehow make it possible to scrape together enough money to buy your name back.

That's the situation that "Delta Echoes" is in. It's not her real name. We won't know her real name until later in the story. Meanwhile, I'm having nightmares of being beholden to shady corporations that will compromise me morally if I continue working for them but will seriously punish me if I escape their evil clutches. Fun!

Meanwhile, after my appointment at Cafe of Life, I went back to that terrible super buffet. I AM NOT ASHAMED. It was strangely less terrible this time. Even the green-lipped mussels and the so-called seafood pie were acceptable, although this is possibly because I was choosier about where in the pan I selected my portion from. But I suspect it really isn't about the food. It's about the routine, which I find comforting and comfortable. I completed one of my writing tasks over my first plateful of vaguely OK food items and a bowl of perfectly adequate egg drop soup. Then, as a reward for accomplishing that writing task, I picked my way through a bunch of crab legs while rereading a few chapters of The Goblin Emperor. (This included the chapter with Maia's nineteenth birthday, which meant a little bit of crying in public. I am not embarrassed. That scene is beautiful and wrecks me every time.)

(Also it is strange looking back at yesterday's blog post and my use of the term "brainstorm" while in the midst of rereading a novel in which that word is used as a synonym for a cerebral stroke.)

I will admit that sometime during the sleeplessness of Monday night I was attacked by an intense and specific craving for lumps of crab meat mixed into butter and eaten with a spoon. That's how long I have been looking forward to my Wednesday evening dinner at China Buffet. Have you met my brain? This is my brain.

And now I have discovered that they have ambrosia on their dessert table--you know, the chunks of fruit and the mini marshmallows in some sort of creamy matrix involving either sour cream or yogurt and also the unconfessed sins of childhood? They used to serve it at my school under the name "pineapple delight." I was routinely the only person at the table who actually liked it, so everyone gave me theirs. This is one of my ultimate comfort foods, and this restaurant has it, and I am no longer ashamed of returning. So there.

engage winter mode
Thu 2016-11-17 23:35:29 (single post)

It started snowing today. First snow of the season, at least down here in the (relatively) flats. Finally it really feels like November.

I was lying in bed looking out the window when it began. The linden tree has lost enough of its leaves that I can now reliably see the moon on its way down from zenith, but it still has enough that it's noticeable when any precipitation starts. I may not be able to see the raindrops or the snowflakes, but I can see them hit the leaves and cause them to bounce up and down on their stems. Not all the leaves at once, but one here one second and one there the next. It always takes me a moment, though, to understand what these random explosions of movement outside my window are, or what's causing them. But I get there eventually.

"Oh," I thought, "it's started to snow. Shit, I haven't brought the plants in yet!"

I brought in the plants. Just the ones that are in containers small enough to easily move. The chives, dill, and parsley. The kale in one of the big self-watering containers, hastily transplanted. The shade-tolerant plants from the front porch, which had been moved to the back patio at the end of September to make way for contractors scraping off the old deck coating and applying the new. (It's a little disappointing that now that I theoretically could put all the front porch stuff back out there, I actually can't, because it's snowing.) I also harvested all the cherry tomatoes that were anywhere near ripe and all the San Marzanos of any color and size. (The immediate future holds fried green tomatoes in tempura batter.)

It's fireplace weather now, but we're both too tired from tonight's scrimmage to manage it. (Also, the herbs and kale are on the hearth until I can find them a better arrangement.) No doubt because of the weather, we had only enough people tonight to run four-on-four, with one side having the luxury to sit their fifth skater. We all decided that increasing line-up time to 45 seconds was a good idea, at least for the first half. Very few officials made it out, too, so the skaters had to time their own penalties. We all tried to be gentle with each other emotionally, though not necessarily physically. A lot of learning happened on both the skater and referee sides of the track.

Despite the weather, it seemed relatively warm in the practice space. There will be worse nights, nights when it's painful to take off the outerwear in order to gear up. Tonight wasn't so bad.

I should be happy that it snowed. We've had a dry and extra-long fall. (Say it with me now: "We need the moisture.") But the first snowfall always brings with it a sort of deep and creeping depression for me, like, "Good times are over and everything is going to suck from here on out." It's the bookend paired with the first-rain-of-spring feeling, "Winter's over! Life begins anew! Hooray!" I'm pretty sure I have a little of the seasonal affective disorder going on, but mostly it's just that I don't like snow. I don't like what it does to the roads, or the limitations it puts on outdoor activity. (I dreamed about trail-skating this morning. I woke up to the likelihood of no trail-skating at all until spring. Unfair.) I don't like the cold, or at least the very cold. In that, I remain a southern girl at heart. I haven't truly enjoyed winter since moving away from New Orleans. What I like best is the fall, when the brutal heat of summer has been mitigated by gentle cool-fronts and the leaves turn amazing colors. The colors went on and on this year, but the weather stayed more or less in the summer furnace region right up until, well, now.

(Maybe I'm exaggerating. Selection bias is real.)

In any case, the first snowfall has hit and this household is going into winter mode. Right now that means getting in the habit of closing the blinds to keep the windows more insulated at night, and kicking off our shoes by the door so as not to track melting snow across the carpet. Probably also means less assuming that I can bus-and-bike to Longmont, and more frequent negotiations for car custody. What winter mode means for my writing routines I have not yet determined, but I'll be giving it some thought in the coming days. Will let you know when I figure it out.

because i am weak and it was there
Wed 2016-11-16 23:58:42 (single post)

There's this particular style of Chinese restaurants in the U.S. known as the "super buffet," which is exactly what it claims to be: an all-day all-you-can-eat buffet of about a bazillion different things upon which you stuff your face until your stomach begs for mercy. I have been to some very good ones. Recently, I went to a terrible one. I went back to it tonight. I'm still not sure why.

I was first introduced to the concept in my home town of Metairie, Louisiana. My parents took my husband and me out to Mandarin House on Severn Avenue. It was perfect, they said, because everyone could have what they wanted no matter how different their tastes. This was true. Dad filled plate after plate with spicy boiled crawfish (available year round, as far as I can tell), boiled shrimp, and oysters on the half-shell. I followed his lead, but made room for green-lipped mussels with dynamite sauce, black bean mussels, and sushi. Mom had a lot of some sort of fried chicken dish. And John had mac 'n cheese and mashed potatoes and dinner rolls.

(Mandarin House was the first place I ever had raw oysters, by the way. Up until then, despite priding myself on living up to the Justin Wilson joke about how Cajuns will eat "any damm t'ing", I'd never been able to make myself put that big, wobbly, unappetizing blob in my mouth. But I'd had a bit of a practice run with little raw bivalves at Legal's Seafood during a visit to Boston, so I gave it a shot. Thus the monster was created.)

Then there's the Great Wall Super Buffet in Lakewood, south of Denver, on Wadsworth just a little ways north of Hampden. I treated myself to a big lunch there coming home from a scrimmage with RMRG just before heading to playoffs. (Damn, I still haven't done the D2 round-up post. Seems a little anti-climactic now that Championships are done, though.) I was astounded at the extent to which their buffet contents matched those of Mandarin House. They even had boiled crawfish, although not, it must be said, very well spiced. If there is a spectrum that ranges from "picky eater" to "adventurous omnivore," if you'll forgive the American-centric description, Great Wall was a few clicks past Mandarin House toward the adventurous side.

Turns out that super buffets also exist on a spectrum from Must Eat All The Things to TERRIBLE, and in the latter end of that swimming pool is Longmont's China Buffet. I cannot bear to link to them for fear that they will read this. I feel rotten saying bad things about them, especially considering that, Gods help me, I will probably go back. Again. But I am afraid it's true. Their food is terrible.

The jalapeņo beef was tough. The salmon, swimming in its own juices on the steam table, nevertheless turned out to be dry. The green-lipped mussels were dessicated and their mayonnaise sauce had congealed. The "seafood pie"--sort of a mock-crab casserole, really--looked delicious, but its seemingly crispy-crunchy edges turned out to be made of leather. The hot and sour soup had a flavor I didn't care for, though that might have been the not-so-fresh chopped scallions I was fooled into garnishing it with. Even the little cream puffs on the dessert table were awful, the shell unpleasantly tough and chewy around a half-frozen filling. I guess they were defrosted badly. There were sushi rolls. Vegetarian, it looked like. Mostly cucumber. They were sitting under plastic wrap. I did not venture to try them.

I admit, the king crab legs were just fine. They were served with drawn butter that was also just fine. I cleaned out about five crab legs into a small cup of drawn butter and ate it all up with a spoon. That was just fine. My mistake was in eating anything else.

And I went back today.

The notion crept into my head as I was thinking about my appointment at Cafe of Life, and about how I needed to stay out and get some work done. I have not had a great start to this week, work-wise, because I keep screwing up my sleep cycle. I lost my Tuesday afternoon to food coma because I can't seem to keep from eating the whole serving of Five Spice Wok at Jin Chan Zhang. (Seriously, I have got to learn to either package away leftovers before I start eating, so as to blunt temptation, or just save Jin Chan lunches for days when I can afford the afternoon nap.) So I stayed up until 3 AM last night to get everything done. So I slept until noon today. So I really, really had to not collapse after my appointment. And one nice thing about a super buffet is, they typically don't seem to mind if I take up a table for several hours, nibbling leisurely and poking at my computer and not requiring much in the way of frequent refills or table-clearing.

I kept trying to talk myself out of it all day. Go literally anywhere else! Don't go there! You will eat a finite amount of meals in your lifetime; why waste one on bad food? These were good arguments. I agreed with them completely. And I still kept planning to go. Even as I was locking up my bike in front of the restaurant, the smart voice in my head was saying, "It's not too late. You could still go to Leenie's Cafe next door." But apparently not-smart me was in charge of the body today.

And everything was just about the same as it was last time. I tried items I did not try last time, and they were bad too. I employed strategy, by which I mean, I watched the kitchen doors for new trays to come out, hot and fresh and theoretically not yet dried out. The next fresh tray to come out contained a battered fried chicken. It was hot and fresh, true, but it consisted of a small, sad, bland nugget that rattled around inside a bready shell that managed somehow to be mushy and crispy at the same time. Strategy failed. (Also, I do not like fried chicken at a super buffet. It is simply not interesting enough to take up stomach real estate in an all-you-can-eat situation. Strategy failed twice.)

New strategy is to more or less just eat the crab legs and maybe one or two other items that might be improved by drawn butter. The stir-fried button mushrooms were OK that way. Also the flan did not seem to have come to any harm, so dessert was not a total loss.

The best strategy would surely be to not go back. And yet, I'm pretty sure I will. Because of nostalgia. Because of being able to get work done. Because they are right there and I'm stubborn. Because, despite all the reviews on Yelp that seem to agree with me, the place still gets busy around 6 PM--that many customers clearly see something worthwhile there. And because I guess all-you-can-eat crab legs for $11.99 is not actually a bad deal.

But you should probably not go there. This is not a recommendation. This is an admission of weakness. Don't be fooled.

data analysis and the testing of hypotheses
Thu 2016-10-27 23:59:00 (single post)

This is a blog post written in hope. Currently my blog isn't coming up at all--not the entries, not the composition form, nada. I'm not happy about this, but at 11:30 PM after double derby scrimmage I have no brain left for HTML/PHP troubleshooting. So I'm just going to write this post, because I saved time and energy for the writing of this post despite double derby scrimmage. I'll just hope that by the time I'm done, or maybe by the time I wake up, everything will be back to normal. Why shouldn't it? I didn't do anything to break my blog. With any luck I won't need to do anything to fix it.

I'm going to reference Rachel Aaron's 2K to 10K book again. I read it very recently, so it is the new shiny thing in my head. This time what I'd like to talk about is one of the sides of her "triangle" metric: Time. Aaron writes,

I started keeping records. Every day I sat down to write, I would note the time I started, the time I stopped, how many words I wrote, and where I was writing on a spreadsheet (to see an example, check out the bonus section at the end of this chapter). I did this for two months, and then I sat down with my data to look for patterns.

By studying this data, Aaron discovered that certain circumstances--times of day, locations, computing environments--consistently correlated with higher output. Thereafter she set about recreating those circumstances for her daily writing sessions. Lo and behold, her word counts went up.

There's a lot in common here with what Havi Brooks calls The Book of You. The practice is simple: Observe yourself. Take notes. What contributes to a good work/play session? What makes it easier to be happy? What makes for a sense of safety? What sabotages that sense of safety?

It makes perfect sense, and I can't bring myself to do it. I mean, in either context. I have so many excuses for this. For instance, I tell myself, I already keep a spreadsheet where I log my hours, and I already do Morning Pages; any further note-taking would be redundant, right? Except, of course, the point isn't so much the note-taking as the data analysis. Excuse: Neither timesheet nor Morning Pages are optimized for data analysis! How would I even begin?

Well, I did mention that I've been slowly rereading my Pages from January.

So, yesterday, I got home and keeled over. I'd meant to use my free evening to Get Shit Done, including all the shit I should have done by that time of the day but hadn't. Instead, due to being profoundly exhausted, I just slept until about 9:30 that night.

Some time after that I decided to salvage as much left of the evening as possible by reading a days' worth of Morning Pages and taking notes. January 7. And right there, on the page: a complaint that I'd meant to get work done that afternoon, but around 3 PM I got so sleepy, I had to nap.

PLUS CA CHANGE Y'ALL.

First I thought, "Self, this afternoon napping thing is a problem. Cut it out!" But that isn't practical or compassionate. Afternoon naps happen when, despite my best intentions, I get so tired that it becomes literally painful to remain upright. Telling myself "just stop napping" would be like telling myself "just work, all right?" on a Thursday night after three hours of roller derby practice and scrimmage. That's not "discipline." That's self-torture. That's an attempt to deny the body its physical needs. That doesn't work.

So my second thought was, "Self, afternoon exhaustion is a Thing That Happens. Accept it and work around it." How to work around it? "Damn well do your morning shift of writing, self!"

Because that's within the realm of the actually doable. The unfortunate habits of oversleeping and dragging through the morning don't come from the same sense of physical fatigue; they come more from a mental place of not wanting to face the day's work. And that's a place where this so-called "discipline" can actually be helpful rather than destructive. "Self, I know how much you don't want to get to work. I sympathize. But I promise you'll feel better about yourself if you do the work. You'll feel proud of yourself instead of guilty and unhappy. So just go ahead and set that timer... there you go! ...and start writing."

So even though the data analysis hasn't been comprehensive or formal, I did analyze enough data to come up with these conclusions:

  • Because I sometime lose afternoons to crippling exhaustion, I must protect my morning work session from interference. It may be the only work session I get.

  • Successfully working my morning session makes me feel proud and happy. This in turn makes it more likely I'll feel energized and eager to work my afternoon session.

  • Morning sessions are in danger from sleeping late and from taking too long of a break between each task. Thus: Get up on time, and work to a strict schedule.

  • Oversleeping stems in part from hitting snooze too many times (because "just fifteen more minutes" never feels like enough!), and then from a depressed feeling that I've wasted so much morning there's no point in getting up anymore. The latter feeling can be addressed by halting the initial snooze cycle. I can halt that cycle by arranging two alarms: one for the time I actually want to get up, and one for about an hour or so earlier, which is a long enough snooze cycle to feel sufficiently restful that I'll be ready to get up when the later alarm goes off.

I based this morning's wake-up routine and work session around those conclusions, and, lo and behold, I worked a righteous morning session. And a righteous afternoon session. And, during lunch and during my afternoon writing session, I got stuff done that had been hanging over my head for weeks.

Thus my hypotheses are supported by experimentation. Hooray!

Of course, even knowing that I'd gotten so very much good stuff done today, I still caught myself feeling stressed out at derby scrimmage because of all the stuff I just knew I still had to get done after I got home. Being stressed out can become a habit. It's going to take some work--which is to say, more successful days like this one--to break that habit.

Onward.

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