inasmuch as it concerns Routines:
Pen meets paper, fingers meet keyboard, nose meets grindstone, butt gets glued to chair. Y'know.
Communications Resume From 7,421 Feet
- 3,258 wds. long
Good evening. I'm hiding away up in Avon, Colorado for a week. It's my usual annual-or-so personal writing retreat. Let's hope it works.
Which isn't to say I haven't been writing at all since my last, very optimistic post. I finished the rewrite of "It's For You" and got some great feedback on it from my neighborhood writing group, for instance. But productivity has been sporadic.
Lately, I blame the state of the house for this. Though the Storm Of The Century (or whatever the kids are calling it) did not flood our building (we reside on the third floor, anyway), nor did it cut off our access to the necessities of daily life, it did exacerbate the existing Leaky Roof problem. We are now dealing with our leaking roof in a more active way than before.
First, we chased the leak with buckets as it colonized new areas of the house and multiplied therein.
Then, we repositioned furniture and belongings excitingly and rapidly while helpful maintenance-type people hacked out pieces of ceiling and wall. Also carpet. Anything that got soaked, maintenance hacked it out and carted it away in trash bags. The office got hit hard; it is now romantically attic-like.
Next, we had several days of phone calls with the appropriate people to coordinate the retrieval of all the Magic Fan Appliances Of +2 Drying-Things-Out. Until then, they were In The Way.
In the meantime, we had several visits from other appropriate people--on-site maintenance staff, homeowner's association board members, other HOA-related personnel--to survey the damage, make appropriately shocked noises (especially when they saw that after two weeks of sunny weather we are still getting about a pint of water per day in the buckets in the office), and go away with either purposeful or despairing looks in their eyes.
And just this morning, round about 10:30 AM, we had a surprise re-visitation by the helpful maintenance-type people, needing to take measurements toward replacement drywall and insulation. I am not sure what they are going to do with these measurements, seeing as how replacing the hacked-out stuff would be a waste of time, money and materials while the roof remains dramatically non-watertight. However, I am sure these measurements will be Helpful.
My point is, every day has seemed to develop a Dealing With The Leaky Roof component. Sometimes that component was planned. Sometimes it was an improvisation. In every case, it's left me drained and with about as much energy as it takes to log on to Puzzle Pirates and bilge until my eyes fall out for the night. Other than those things that were definitively scheduled and involved other people (roller derby practice, my weekly farm volunteer shift, cooking or cleaning so that friends could eat, drink, and be in our house, etc.), nothing was getting done.
So tonight is my first of 7 nights under a definitively non-leaky roof, away from my usual weekly schedule. Writing is going to happen, dammit.
Well, not tonight. Tonight I am exhausted. Tonight, regretfully, followed a little close on to today, and today included, in no particular order,
- Cleaning the fridge
- Packing an ice-chest full of fresh veggies to consume over the week
- Packing a suitcase
- Giving an alpaca-wool-spinning demonstration at McCauley Family Farm's "Family Farm Day"
- Playing a few songs on Rock Band before wireless drums decided to stop speaking with the Wii
- Cleaning up the towels used to clean the fridge
- Taking out recyclables, trash, compost
- Driving two and a half hours into Colorado's high country
That last one gets special emphasis for obvious reasons.
However, tomorrow is a new day. This week is a new week. If writing doesn't happen, I won't be able to blame anyone or anything but myself.
Not that there aren't non-writing temptations. Some of them even involve roller skates. And the in-room internet is much improved from my last visit, such that online gaming is always a viable procrastination tool. And the hotel's Wii game library includes Guitar Hero.
But I will be strong.
Practice Makes Permanent, On Skates and Off
- 2,670 wds. long
As blogged earlier, I was a RollerBull in this year's San Fermin en Nueva Orleans celebration. This was my second year participating, and I have every intention of going next year, too.
Last year, it felt like a huge big deal that I opted to skate from the Bourbon Orleans (roughly in the center of the French Quarter) to the Encierro starting line and central wrangling point at the Sugar Mill (a ways down Convention Center Boulevard). For one thing, it was more than a mile (or 27 laps as reckoned by WFTDA, for those of you playing along at home). For another it was more than a mile skated on unfriendly terrain.
I'm talking about the flagstones and cobbles around Jackson Square, treacherous to roll over. I'm thinking about grates and utility hole covers requiring unexpected sessions of careful toe-stop walking. I'm remembering how every bump and pebble on Decatur rattled right up my shins for blocks. And then there were the sidewalks that slouched down to the street at the curb, the curbs pocked with helpful raised bumps, the cross-streets where the asphalt broke up into holes filled with gravel and sand.
So, yeah, all that, and I was wobbly like a baby deer. But I got better over the course of that long Saturday. By the time I was hours deep in the Crescent City Derby Devils' "To Skate or Not To Skate" pub crawl, I was toe-stop hopping up curbs on Bourbon Street and skating backwards on Royal. I didn't fall down but once, and that was on a particularly rough curb-street seam on Rampart as I parted ways with the remaining pub-crawlers and headed back to my hotel room
Even more impressive was the improvement between last year and this. We are talking leaps and bounds here. Things I used to toe-stop walk over, I just rolled over without a second thought. Or I hopped over them. I started hopping over the street car tracks, y'all. Or cross-stepping over them at an angle, at speed. I climbed stairs.
Sure, you'd hope I was a more stable skater after a year of constant derby practice, right? If not, what would be the point? Still, it's improvement that comes gradually. Like the increasing height of a younger sibling you live with for years: You don't necessarily notice until you suddenly look up one day and realize he's taller than you are. And when it's a skill, you don't just fail to notice improvement; you actively deny it, because every practice is full of "I shouldn't have done that" and "I could have done better."
But then one day it's a year later and you watch yourself moving around downtown New Orleans on your roller skates like you were born that way. And you think, "When did that happen?"
During the afterparty after the Bombshells' July 6 bout, one of my earliest Boulder County Bombers trainers--now retired from the league though still teaching skaters in a different capacity--gave me a fantastic compliment. "You've come so far since last year," she told me. "You weren't looking at your feet at all. Instead, you were all like, 'I know where I want to be and what I want to do, and I'm gonna do it!'" I took that compliment and I hugged it, y'all, it meant that much to me. But it took all my street skating on San Fermin weekend to come to know it as truth.
It gets even better. During the CCDD scrimmage the next day, I barely fell down at all. None of this wiping out while trying to return to the pack after chasing the jammer crap. And even in the second half when I suddenly seemed to be every opposing blocker's favorite target, I didn't so much go down as get pushed around. Temporarily. Which is great, because I wasn't looking forward to catching air over that concrete surface. But it was surprising. This wasn't just "better than last year." This was "better than last week," including the July 6 bout. What gave?
What gave was, I'd spent the whole previous day staying stable on unfriendly terrain. The day before, too. You can't spend some eight hours on skates in a weekend and not be affected by it.
Practice makes permanent, as my old guitar teacher used to say.
So this is where I bring things around to writing. ("When I talk about derby, I'm talking about writing.")
That scrimmage was Sunday the 14th. Monday the 15th I got on my departing train. And Tuesday the 16th, displeased with having done precisely nothing productive during the New Orleans to Chicago leg of the journey, I devised a schedule of writing tasks to do while in transit from Chicago to Denver.
Item 1: 30 minutes of "story idea of the day" freewriting, starting as soon as the sleeper car attendent has finished with the "welcome to the train, here are your amenities" ritual.
Item 2: 60 minutes of short story revision, rewriting the ending of "It's For You" from the bit where Arista's phone starts ringing, starting an hour before my dinner reservaton.
Item 3: 60 minutes of novel planning, starting as soon as the attendent converts the seats in my roomette into a bed.
And then I did those tasks. I did them almost precisely to order and to my planned schedule. I went to sleep Tuesday night feeling quite pleased with myself. I thought, "If only I could keep this kind of work day practice up, it would become a habit. Practice makes permanent, after all."
Unfortunately, I have far more practice making permanent the habit of avoiding the work and fleeing anything to do with writing. So it's an uphill battle. I've gotten very little done between then and now.
But today, knowing my working day would end at 1 PM (Avedan was coming over for lunch and Spiral Knights!), and being kind of disgusted with blog posts like the one I wrote yesterday (whining about not writing, making excuses about not writing, anything at all about not writing), I still managed to do 30 minutes of freewriting, 60 minutes of revision work on "It's For You" (the bit where Arista discovers the mystery phone's location and takes steps to answer it), and 60 minutes of novel planning.
My next working day is Monday, and the work will begin after I get home from the farm. We'll see if I can't get a little practice at making healthy work habits permanent then, too.
I See the People Working and See it Working For Them
This past Sunday, I had to skate a lot of laps in a hurry. This was because, in the time since I took my WFTDA minimum skills assessment last year, they changed the standards for one of the skills being assessed. Now, instead of skating 25 laps in five minutes, you have to skate 27. So that's what I had to do.
The reason for the change is, 27 laps more closely approximates a mile. So you can say, "You must be able to skate a mile in 5 minutes." Except, of course, one of the tricks to skating X amount of laps in Y minutes is skating less distance. The longer you can hold the inside line rather than spinning out on the straightaways, the less distance you have to cover. So this whole "mile" thing is kind of a red herring.
Whatever. Those of us who tested up with 25 laps under the old rules have been obliged to clock an official qualifying time for 27 laps under the new. I was to do this Sunday.
I was not looking forward to it.
Don't get me wrong; I knew I could do it. In an unofficial capacity, as an endurance exercise during practice, I've managed as many as 29 laps in a five-minute sprint. I had no doubt I could do it again.
But I knew it was going to hurt.
Still, the time came, and my coach said, "You ready, Fleur?" and what was I gonna say? No? Pfeh on that. It had to be done, so let's get it over with. On your mark, get set, tweet!
Before I'd done even 10 laps, I was in pain. My chest developed this tight burning knot like someone driving her shoulder into my sternum. My legs turned into spaghetti and wouldn't quite do what I wanted. I remembered telling the Phase 2 skaters, just the day before, that "the lower you get, the deeper and more powerful your crossovers, the faster you'll be and the less tired it'll make you." Sounds easy, right? But I kept telling my knees bend, damn you! and my left foot push, you lazy thing! and they wouldn't. It was like this glass guillotine had sliced off the top part of the Good Skater Form graph: I could the positions I needed to be in, but I couldn't seem to get there. My knees bent so far and no farther. My left foot crossed under the right only so much and no more.
And, oh my goodness, the hacking. The coughing. The wheezing. It did not end until sometime after I'd gone to sleep that night.
So it hurt, just like I knew it would. But just as I expected, I succeeded. My official time on record for 27 laps is 4:23:29. That's a better time than I clocked for my 25 last year, so, things are as they should be. With time and practice, I've gotten faster and stronger.
"All right," you might say, "but, what about writing? This is a blog about writing."
And I will say, "Cut me some slack. It's a metaphor. Like Natalie Goldberg talking about jogging and meditation. When I talk about derby, I'm talking about writing."
Why don't I write when I know I should be writing? Because I know it's going to hurt.
Doing what I don't want to do, and thus not doing what I do want to do, sort of hurts, OK? Yes, it makes me sound like a spoiled brat to say it--I don't wanna! You can't make me!--but it's true, nonetheless. Pushing through the do not wanna requires a sustained effort that is distinctly uncomfortable. And though it's not the same physical pain as skating my fastest for five minutes straight, certainly it's the same emotional fear-of-pain standing between me and what I know needs to be done.
When I worked a 9-to-5 web development job, I experienced that same fear-of-pain when I arrived at the office. I'd put off the work for as long as feasible, puttering around the office kitchen to make myself iced tea or hot coffee, queuing up just the right playlist on my headphones, and, as a last ditch effort, arranging the windows containing the code I was working on just so.
But just like Sunday when my coach looked at me and said, "How about now?" I couldn't lastingly refuse. I was on the clock. I had responsibilities. This thing had to get done, and there'd be real consequences for not doing it. So eventually I stopped puttering and started working.
At this stage of my writing career, there are few external pressures like those to help push me through the do not wanna. Oh, there's disappointment in myself, the sense of failure, the fear that I'm wasting my life, wasting the gift of time my husband gave me when he agreed I could quit the day job... but those are less tangible, farther off. There's always tomorrow, after all. There's always next year. Like the monkeys in Kipling's The Jungle Book, I comfort myself with the wonderful things I'm just about to do, any moment now.
But just at this moment, it's easy to give up the effort to push through. It's easy to just never start at all.
So here's what I need. I need to convert my goals into daily deadlines I can't blow off, just like I couldn't blow off the deadlines at the 9-to-5 job. And I need to develop that voice in my head, like a roller derby coach, that says, "It's 6:30! If you're not on the track, you're late! Pace line, NOW!" On your mark, get set, tweet!
If I have to, I will buy an actual whistle and blow the damn thing myself.
Even RollerBulls Gotta Talk About Writing
Vacation is not a thing to pin one's hopes for productivity upon. Obvious exception: Writing retreats. But this is not a writing retreat. This is San Fermin en Nueva Orleans, and I am a RollerBull. I have the horns on my helmet to prove it.
(I have officially filed for a week's vacation with my roller derby league so as to get credited for some of the practices this trip is making me miss. So what am I doing while on vacation from roller derby? Roller derby, of course.)
Yesterday I attended a practice with the Crescent City Derby Devils in preparation for Sunday's mix-up scrimmage. We practiced for Saturday's "Encierro" (the Running of the RollerBulls) by performing drills that involved whacking each other in the butt with approved Fat Bats. This is really a good thing to practice. There is a right way and a wrong way to "gore" a runner. Dropped your bat? You did it wrong.
During that practice I was invited to participate in a super secret mini-run where a handful of RollerBulls would surprise the Voodoo Hash House Harriers during their Thursday night run... walk... hunt... pub crawl thing. This week's activity was billed as "Running of the Bullshit", after all. So that's what we did. We weren't on skates because of the threat of rain, but we had our horns on and we jumped out from behind the bushes and chased the runners and whacked some butts and everyone had fun.
Afterwards, we stood around chatting in front of the snoball stand. One of the runners, upon hearing I was a writer (look, it comes up, people ask you "What do you do when you're not doing this?" and there's your answer) got curious about the process.
"So how do you turn an idea into a story?" Er. I'm not sure? Mainly, I try not to disqualify ideas before I've explored them, I guess.
"Do writers just write it down as it comes to them, or take notes, make big outlines, or...?" Depends on the writer. Depends on the story, too. Every writer has their own process and every story has its own life-cycle.
"How long does it take?" That depends, too-- "I mean, think of, like, one page of a story. How long does that take?" Dude. It depends! "But how long--" UP TO 90 WORDS PER MINUTE, OK, YOU DO THE MATH.
And it turns out, I am a crappy explainer of process.
I've heard it said, though, that process isn't teachable. A writer might suggest things that another writer might not have thought of, but in the end every writer discovers their own process for themselves. So I guess while I could probably explain my process, at least for a given story or maybe for a given day, I can't explain What Writers Do. I could only give examples, one after another, at great length. And while my querant seemed persistently curious, I'm not sure he was that curious.
But so anyway that appears to be it for today's writing content. Don't expect much from the rest of the weekend, either. It's San Fermin en Nueva Orleans, y'all.
Need Moar Details
On the train ride back from the World Horror Convention, I kept saying to myself, "Once I get back into town, I'll get back into a good working writing schedule." And then, "Once I take a day or two off, now that I'm back, just to recover from the trip, I'll get to work."
Which of course became, "Once the July 6 bout is behind me, and I'm on the train to New Orleans again, then I'll get some writing done for sure."
Partially, I blame the three weeks between trips for being sufficiently hectic to make me loathe to give up any scrap of down-time. Between some aggressive roller derby practice to prepare for the bout, and fulfulling other roller derby requirements to do with the committee I serve on, and day-to-day household things, and of course preparing for the next trip, I just felt like once I'd checked off the latest stressful item I deserved some hours of play. Or reading. Or sleep.
(Also, I was frantically knitting as much as my fingers could endure to finish my pink Bombshell derby socks. I cast 'em off on the morning of July 6 and did indeed wear them in the bout, earning a compliment from a knitting/spinnning friend in the audience and a tongue-in-cheek growl from a fellow league member who's learning to knit. But I think I'll be ripping back the cast-off and adding another couple inches to the K2P2 ribbing when I get a chance.)
But I think the larger problem is, I never sat down and said, "When I write today, this is what I want to work on." So instead of, say, taking fifteen minutes to freewrite here or half an hour to work on a story revision there, I sort of lived with this great hulking vague monster lurking in the shadows of every room, and it was called WRITING and I could not bring myself to deal with it.
This is an ongoing problem. Failure to define the task beyond "I must write today!" results in a tendency to let the day sort of aimlessly dribble away. I wish it were as simple, as it seems to be for some of my friends, as saying, "I need to write 1500 words every day." Maybe it would be, except that right now I don't so much need to write new words as I need to revise and submit what seems like an endless queue of story drafts. And "Revise a story" is just as threateningly vague. I suppose a better approach would be, "At X O'clock, fix Y specific problem in Z specific story".
(This is one thing that Morning Pages are good for. Except everytime I write in my Morning Pages that "Today, I will do XYZ," if I then don't do XYZ, it's another rock on the disappointment-and-self-loathing pile that gets harder to shift every day. But that's another problem entirely.)
So here I am, posting this from Chicago. Did I get some writing done on the train? Why, yes, thank you for asking. I put an Examiner post up--there it is!--and I spent fifteen minutes freewriting. Which isn't as much, I think, as I could do during an 18-hour train trip. But it's a start. The Chicago to New Orleans leg will assuredly see more progress along these lines.
The Muse Distracts Me with Goblins in Omaha
- 0 wds. long
- 2,481 wds. long
- 6,000 wds. long
Yes, I'm easily distractible.
I was going to work on "It's For You" during today's Amtrak1 ride. That poor story has been waiting far too long, and I fully intended to move straight from submitting "The Seeds of Our Future"2 into finishing and submitting something else. That's what a writer does: Writes things, finishes things, submits things for publication, writes and finishes the next thing.
But the train was late. Instead of reaching Omaha, Nebraska in the wee semi-dark hours of them; morning, we got there during daylight, around 8:00 AM when I was diligently doing my Morning Pages in the sightseer lounge. And so I was awake and able to see outside the train when we paused at the station, affording us a fantastic and intriguing view of the backside of the Durham Museum.
That link goes to a Google Maps top-down view, which of course isn't quite the view I was treated to. What I saw was "...a convention center? It looks like a convention center entrance. But who'd enter across the gravel of an empty rail-yard? And why does it appear someone has attached a cattle car to either side of the entrance? Do those tracks actually run right across the threshold--? Yes, there appears to be a short ramp affording passage over the tracks and into the door. Also there is a smoke-stack. What is this building?"
Turns out, it's the Durham Museum. But that does not answer the question of why it has a gorgeous glass-and-steel entryway letting onto the rail-yard, or why there are tracks that close to the outer wall. My best guess is that the tracks actually function, and the aluminum-looking walls that reminded me of a cattle car are in fact garage-style doors which raise to allow a train to back up to the building and unload large exhibits. But still, those doors do not match that vast industrial gravel expanse.
So when I was supposed to be working on a rewrite of "It's For You" I was in fact thinking about how denizens from faerie might arrive upon steam trains appearing from nowhere at some point along the tracks and unload their wares, setting up a goblin market on the gravel. I was wondering how often this might happen, and whether it was according to a predictable schedule or a random one, and how such a market setting up in contemporary Omaha would differ from the one described in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. I was thinking about the inevitable child stolen away by the faeries, or perhaps one who chose to hire on with a market vendor, and why she might choose to do that.
I was contemplating how traditional parental threats of dire fates for misbehaving children would conform to the reality of itinerant faerie salespeople, and whether they might soften in the face of the threat's plausibility. It's safe to say "The boogeyman will get you!" or "I'll feed you to the trolls!" in the clear absence of boogeymen or trolls. But "I'll sell you to the goblins!" becomes a frightening threat in a world where the goblins might show up tomorrow and make your parents an offer. So the threat might soften, be said with a smile and a laugh. The child might respond, "What would you sell me for?" prompting the parents to answer "A far-seeing mirror, the better to keep an eye on you!" or "A magic feather so I could fly over and get you back!"
There are rules about the goblin market. There are ways you conduct yourself among the faeries. And in the stories, someone always breaks the rules or otherwise misbehaves, and they get into plot-causing trouble. But, I thought, surely the protagonist in the story can't have been the first person to break the rules, nor even have done so in the most interesting way. Despite that you should never, never accept a gift from the market, pretty much everyone in Omaha by now probably has a faerie gift on their mantelpiece.
Which means the whole town is in deep, deep debt to faerie.
Perhaps it takes a runaway (or kidnapped) human child every few decades to even the score.
OK, so, this is why I didn't do the work I meant to do. I was too busy noodling towards a draft of a story about a recurring goblin market in Omaha. But I'm not going to be too hard on myself. Much more important than having a particular writing project move is that writing happen at all. I'm trying to make that happen every day.
1 I'm writing this from the Corner Bakery at Chicago Union Station. (The big one outside on the corner by the canal bridge, not the little one inside the food court.) I beg forgiveness of all Chicago-area friends for not alerting you and seeking you out--the train was two and a half hours late, and I find myself with only enough time to catch up on The Internet (all of it!) before running back inside to board the City of New Orleans. (back)
2 The Fearful Symmetries open submission call used the online Moksha Submission System, giving all would-be contributors the option to check their submission's status in the queue. I have refreshed the form every day for the same reason you wander over to see if the pot is boiling yet. And with about as much utility; since May 31 I have moved from about 1048th to 1016th in line. There were a lot of submissions, y'all, and they can only be read so fast. I really should close that tab and forget about it.
I Distract Myself With a New Pen
My new fountain pen arrived today. I said to myself the other day, "I just had a birthday. I can totally spoil myself." So I visited Sheaffer's website, because of all the fountain pens I have tried at any price, it's been the Sheaffers that are consistently a joy to write with. Smooth action, no missed strokes, good constant ink delivery. And the price ranges from "That's very nice for under a hundred bucks" all the way down to "Eight dollars? For a vintage Sheaffer? HERE IS CASH NOW GIMME."
I ended up ordering the Sheaffer Agio. I picked the black barrel with the gold-plated nib in fine point. It comes with a screw-fill piston converter, just like I like, along with two disposable cartridges I will probably forget to use because they are disposable and also in boring colors. Likewise, the "Luxury Gift Box" is lovely indeed but will probably spend its days forgotten in a drawer; I carry my fountain pens around in my Big Huge Everything I Could Possibly Need It Is My Mobile Office bookbag.
And lo, it arrived today, and it writes as smoothly as expected, and I have filled it not with boring blue but with Midnight Blue ink that I got last year at Papier Plume in the French Quarter. It is shiny. Shiny is good. Shiny keeps my mind off other things.
(Like the fact that a friend of mine broke her ankle at derby practice tonight. She's no newbie to wheels and she wasn't doing anything weird, just one moment she was up and skating and the next she was down and screaming, and it just happened and that means it could happen to anybody. No matter what you do. You can work hard to eliminate a lot of the reasons for injury, you can build up your ankle strength and get out of the habit of dragging your toe stop for balance, and all that means is when it finally happens to you it won't be because of insufficient ankle strength or bad habits. "Freak accident" is always lurking backstage waiting to pounce and there's nothing anyone can do about that.
(If I ever managed to wrap my brain around that and really think about it, I might never put skates on my feet again. But when I put skates on there is nothing in my head except how right skating feels, and that holds true even during the very first exercise we all do right after watching our friend get wheeled away into an ambulance. Seriously, I did not think about it again until we were packing up and leaving the building--and then I just about melted during the drive home. I called John up: "Can you be home when I get there? I need hugs. A lot of hugs." Because of knowing it could as easily have been me and it still could be me, it could happen Thursday at scrimmage, it could happen. Because of how helpless I felt seeing a friend in that much pain and not being able to make the pain go away. And because I felt guilty over freaking out and crying and demanding hugs and comfort, I mean, I'm not the one with the actual injury, this isn't about me, it's selfish and melodramatic of me to freak out when I'm not the one in the hospital tonight. And because oh my Gods what if that happens when I'm the only one around who can take charge what if I go to pieces instead of doing anything useful what then what then what then?! And also because--how could I just stop thinking about it? How could I just go on to the next drill as though nothing had happened? How could the world just keep turning, the clock keep ticking towards 8:30, the practice go on as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened?
(But that's what you do. And that's what our injured friend would want us to do. Keep on skating. For her. Because she can't now, and someone's gotta. And Thursday, somehow, that miracle will occur again, as it does with breathtaking regularity: Despite knowing it could happen to any one of us, we'll all put our skates on and get out on the track and play roller derby.)
So my pen arrived today, and it was perfect timing, because shiny and distracting is exactly what I need right now.
Videos of cute animals being cute would also be lovely right now.
There's Always Tomorrow...
So today was not the productive, happy, high-energy day I was hoping for. It started with a headache and it dragged along in slow motion. Today did not represent any sort of significant step in the great plans I have for new-habit-forming and rut-reconstruction. But I promised I would blog, and blog I am indeed doing. So there's that.
Here's the deal: I am tired of getting nothing done. On any given weekday I've been as likely to stay in bed with a book until the early afternoon as I am to get up and write. More likely, in fact. It's pathetic. And while a full-time work-at-home writer can set her own hours, I find I never really get up to useful speed if I stay in bed past noon. I'm a morning person. (A morning person who can't seem to get out of bed. I know, it's weird.) Besides, I've got derby practice three days a week. I can't entirely set my own hours.
So recently I've been collecting strategies to combat that tendency. The best one, the main one on which all strategies depend, is to pattern my schedule after John's such that I wake up with him and then go in to work with him. Well, not with him at his office (though I suspect his coworkers would actually get a kick out of me coming in and taking over an unused desk once in a while), but with him in downtown Boulder. There are at least four co-working spaces set up in that area, and at least two more out on our side of town. I don't have a full membership anywhere, but most of them have a daily rate as well. For $15 or $20, depending, you can work there from 9 AM to 6 PM. And I've been doing that once or twice a week. I've worked a few days out of Scrib, I've tried out Co-Motion and BDA, and I've just about fallen in love with Fuse at The Riverside.
As it happens, the day I checked out Fuse for the first time was also the day John's company moved house. They were in the Colorado Building at 14th and Walnut; now they're in One Boulder Plaza. So after John and I walk to his office together, I continue on for one block south along Broadway. It's very convenient.
(And then, if it's Tuesday, we meet up after work and have dinner, then we both go back down to The Riverside because we're taking swing dance lessons in the event center space there.)
Thing about Fuse is, it's very much still under construction. But it is going to be awesome. It's already got rentable desks and an open seating work area and a creekside conference room. The cafe counter just got finished and revealed this week. Now they're working on the kitchen so that the cafe can actually serve food. And I can't wait for the library and wine bar downstairs to be completed. I'm really excited about what they're going to be. And I am this close to just plunging in and becoming a member and renting a desk. I want to support them. And there's value in getting in on the ground floor, so to speak. I sort of want to be part of the process of Fuse's creation.
But because they're very much a work in progress, they're still trying to build, or perhaps accrete, a community. It's like the physical version of the dilemma of starting a new online bulletin board: you need people to join in order to have a community, but in order to get people to join you need to have a vibrant community. So what they really need is people to be there, working or co-creating or conversing, filling the space with bustle and productivity and excitement, so that prospective members checking out the place see that instead of silent, empty rooms and construction dust.
So I committed to coming in twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That's twice a week that I'm absolutely getting out of bed, going downtown, sitting down at a desk, and working. So far it's been really productive. I have set myself a schedule -- fiction before lunch, "day job writing" after lunch -- and if I haven't adhered to it perfectly, well, I'm at least approximating it.
And I'm hoping that the way I work at Fuse will become a new habit that will play out on my at-home days, too. It didn't happen today. I partially blame the headache for that, and also having to put my skates back together and do stuff like that. But mostly it was just me falling back in that same old rut. It's OK, though. It doesn't mean my attempts to change things are worthless and doomed. There's always tomorrow. Tomorrow could be a productive day. And, at worst, Tuesday will be here again soon.
About Time We Cleaned Up In Here
How appropriate. It's Spring, and I'm cleaning things.
Pictured here like an exploded diagram of skate anatomy are my freshly cleaned wheels and bearings. It really was about time. Seriously. The wheels were honest-to-Gods squeaking. There was hair wound up in the axles, and the wheels themselves looked like the view through a funnel into Hell. Also there was this time about a week ago I found myself obliged to skate a block and a half in the rain. Not good from a rust perspective. (Nobody's fault but mine.)
There are eight wheels. Each wheel turns on two bearings (each of which are actually six ball bearings inside a donut-shaped case). Each bearing has two plastic shields. Also there are the wheels themselves and the nuts that keep them on their axles. That's a lot of cleaning. The metal things want a non-water-based solvent and the plastic things want soap and water. Me, I want a lot of hand lotion now, and to get the pleasant but strong smell of citrus solvent out of my nose.
And then there was laundry. All my derby clothes are now drying on the line. Thank goodness this week's snow storm ended yesterday and the daytime temperatures have risen into the short-sleeve ranges.
You know what else is getting cleaned today? My fountain pen nib. The good one. The Sheaffer fine-tip that writes perfectly, except that lately it won't "suck up" ink from its supply. It will just stop writing, at which point I have to fiddle with the screw-fill converter to force a little ink up the line. I think it's because there's a small clog somewhere. So the nib got a really good soaking this evening and we'll see how it's doing in the morning.
You know what else is getting cleaned up today, this week, this Spring? Me. Me and my habits and my auto-pilot routines. I'm gonna drive a fleet of construction equipment into the mental/emotional/psychological ruts in my life and perform some deconstructive surgery on 'em.
That I'm blogging tonight, here, is a direct result.
More tomorrow. Promise.
On Dailiness: Morning Pages and the Contents Thereof
Life has to return to normal sometime. So this is me, trying to establish a normal, work-a-day writing pattern. I have historically not been good at this. But it's a new year, one that's forced some life-altering changes on us right from the get-go. As long as I'm trying to get my feet back under me, I might as well try to put them down somewhere sturdy.
(Everything's changing around here. With Uno away into the great beyond, all our cat-having habits have no place and all the legacies left by our cats--which is to say stains, hair collections, and broken bits--can now be addressed in a permanent and non-futile fashion. Also, a second burner on the stove has given up the ghost. Suddenly we're shopping for large kitchen appliances, considering new flooring, picking out new bed sheets, and replacing the leaky shower head and the wobbly up-lamps and the toaster oven that hasn't had a working toast function in years.)
So, writing habits. Daily ones. Here's one I'm returning to, one that I both love and hate--or, rather, appreciate and dread: "Morning pages," a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Morning pages, very simply, are three long-hand pages of writing committed first thing in the morning. Cameron recommends doing them before anything else, especially before reading or writing anything else.
Ideally, I'd open up my eyes, roll over, grab my notebook, and do it. In practice, best case scenario finds me heading to the kitchen first for a fresh tea bag and water for the electric kettle. I also fiddle with my fountain pens a bit. That's what fountain pens are for: all the colors in J. Herbin's catalog, and also fiddling.
Less good cases involve oversleeping, racing through my morning, and eventually slowing down long enough to do my pages. If I ever get there. I'll be trying harder to get there this year.
So I appreciate and dread the practice for roughly the same reason: It forces me to confront the contents of my brain. It's a lot like appreciating and dreading hard exercise, like the off-skates workout that Give 'em Elle put us through at derby practice Sunday. I know it's good for me, but I know it's going to hurt.
Not many people really know this, but--I don't much like what's in my brain.
Still, what I don't confront, I avoid; and what I avoid, I tend to obsess over in the avoiding. Weird, right? Perverse as all get-out. (I'm telling you, my brain is out to get me.) But that's the way it works, so it's probably best to hit the nasty things head on so that they don't follow me throughout the day and get between me and the world. Or between me and the page.
That's the theory, anyway. I'm not 100% convinced it works. I mean, does journaling about nasty brain contents lay the ghosts, or does it just create new associations for them to haunt? Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes the other. I can never tell in advance which it's going to be.
Argh. Enough blog therapy. Moving on.
A significant few paragraphs of my morning pages tend to focus on my Plans for the Day. They are optimistic, my Plans. They aspire. And they impose a structure so that I don't lose my day in a wishy-washy haze of "Better write. Eek! Writing is big and scary and I can't do it!" Planning it out makes it something that I can, presumably, do. Unfortunately, my thoughts soon turn to how my Plans for Yesterday fell through (guilt! despair! shame!) and how I'd better adhere to my Plans for Today to prove myself (pressure! stress! more despair! more avoidance!).
This would be another of those love/hate aspects of the morning pages ritual. I'm kind of a mess.
Sometimes I spend a page or more working on a current story problem. This character needs motivation! What does these two characters mean to each other? Let's make up some character history.
Sometimes I spend a few lines noticing a handwriting habit I could fix. Then I write very slowly for a short while, repeating the letter combination I've been tripping over. I would like to have nice handwriting.
Sometimes I write down my dreams.
Sometimes I get distracted by the world outside the window. The deer across the street Saturday morning, just grazing their way around the senior living center's tiny dog park, were a particularly eye-catching distraction.
Sometimes I get distracted by sudden thoughts, which I mustn't forget. I try to just make a note of them rather than interrupt the writing to act on them. But I have to make a note elsewhere, because I generally don't want to reread my morning pages until quite some time has passed.
The thing about writing down the contents of my brain, it's like writing down a story's rough draft or thinking out loud. (I talk to myself a lot. It's embarrassing when someone catches me at it.) I don't really know what's in my head until my physical senses, eyes and ears and touch, can experience it. I think I know--wouldn't you think you'd know what's in your own head?--but I don't, not really, not until I am forced to experience my thoughts as words in real time.
It's a good thing, this forced specificity. It turns big vague scary obligations into manageable, discrete tasks. It turns story outline dilemmas into concrete plot goals. It captures dreams before they slip away. And even the nasty stuff that only gets louder for writing it down, even though it hurts, at least by writing it down I come to know exactly what it is that's causing the hurting, which is a necessary step on the road to doing something about it.
So that's morning pages. I'm doing them again.
Tomorrow morning, too.