inasmuch as it concerns Philosophy:
What does it take to be a writer? How best to go about it? What is the writer's societal role? Do we care?
we're all perfectly ok here
I had great plans for Halloween night. I was going to go down to the French Quarter, strap on my gear, and skate in and around and through the festive chaos for several hours. Turns out, though, that doesn't work so good if I wear myself out earlier in the afternoon. Note for the future: If I want to party all night long (on skates), I have to be a little more cautious about the prospect of using up all my oomph with a full daytime itinerary that involves a tough workout (on skates).
So instead I stayed in and binged Stranger Things 2 instead.
Some brief, spoiler-free thoughts (spoiler-free concerning Season 2, that is; you're on your own for Season 1): While I don't think it necessarily succeeds on all fronts, Stranger Things 2 makes honest attempts at some very admirable things. Primarily it's a story about families, about the dynamics of different families, the families you get and the families you choose, and struggling to find the healthiest way for a family (noun) to family (verb). It examines the ways families succeed, the ways they fail, and the ways they try again.
It's also a story about aftermath. It's a story that happens after the triumphant and bittersweet ending of the first season. It doesn't attempt to reset everyone to We're All Perfectly OK Here except maybe in the ironic sense. All the major characters, and all the families they comprise, have gone though some amount of trauma. It is clear from the very first episode of Season 2 that they're all still dealing with that trauma. I can't overstate the importance of that. The show gets so many gold stars with me just for starting there.
And, if I can get a little meta here, part of the trauma for some characters is having to keep that trauma a secret from certain of the other characters. This is an element of supernatural horror that I'm not sure I've seen as directly addressed since the first season of Torchwood (but admittedly I have a lot of TV to catch up on, so take that for what it's worth). There's so much extra pressure on a survivor if the nature of their trauma simply can't be discussed with their usual support network. It's almost as though characters like Will and Joyce and Hopper, upon escaping the Upside Down, came back to a different Rightside Up than the one inhabited by the rest of their friends and neighbors. The world of the people who consciously survived the dimensional incursion is not the same world as the one inhabited by those who only touched it briefly and/or unknowingly. Those two worlds stand in relationship to each other similarly to the relationship between the Upside Down and the Rightside Up--they're barely a breath apart and yet impenetrably separated, and the one is constantly threatening to eat the other up bones and all.
After that, the meta gets a little personal.
So, my major plan for the afternoon was to meet a high school friend for lunch in Covington, then skate the Trace from Covington to Abita Springs, then have a beer at the Abita Brew Pub. These plans were indeed enacted (mine was a Pecan Ale), and were the primary reason my Halloween Night plans pooped out. But those plans also had to absorb Dad's plans, since we only had one vehicle between us and that vehicle was his.
Thus, before we headed across the lake, we stopped to pick up Mom.
I've mentioned this before, but Mom has been on the downward slope of some sort of non-alzheimer dementia for several years now. Well, a few weeks before my visit home, Dad bowed to necessity and moved her into the memory care unit of an assisted living community.
I was already prepared for certain changes, as it's been a full year since my last visit, and I knew the dementia was progressing rapidly. Over the year, her phone conversations with me got briefer and briefer. She used to at least ask how I was doing, ask me if I'm still doing that thing, with the skates, what is it called again? and recite me her New Orleans Pelicans fan version of the Merritt doggerel. But most of this past year she seemed less enthusiastic about talking with me on the phone, even to some extent unsure about what to do on the phone. Dad would hand it to her, she'd say "Hello," I'd ask "how are you?" and she'd say, "Good. OK, let me hand you back to your Daddy." After awhile, Dad didn't try to put her on the phone because she was asleep. She was going to sleep earlier all the time, pretty much as soon as Wheel of Fortune was over.
About a week before I came to town, I heard Dad say to Mom, "Niki's on the phone, you want to talk to Niki?" and I heard her say, "No," and he said, "Do you know who Niki is?" and she said, "No."
I'd prepared myself for that, though. It wasn't a huge blow. I knew it was coming. It wasn't a landmark; the Mom I knew had already gone away long before, and I had already mourned her. What it was, was awkward. I didn't know how to address her when we picked her up at the assisted living community. Dad tells her, "This is Niki, she's your daughter," but it doesn't mean anything to her. So should I still call her Mom, or would that confuse her? Should I call her by her first name instead? Does it matter what I call her, if she doesn't really respond? Like I said, awkward. But I was prepared.
What I wasn't precisely prepared for was how old she looks now. She looks a lot like Grandmama did when we visited her in the nursing home less than ten years ago.
She likes to go for rides in the truck. Dad shows up, immediately she wants to know when we're getting in the truck and going for a drive. She follows Dad around wherever he goes, like a duckling after a mama duck, because she knows he's going to take her for a drive. Also because she just wants to be with him; that's one of the few complete sentences I heard her say: "I just want to be with you. You're so good to me."
At one point, just before we left the memory care unit, Dad remembered he needed to fetch something from Mom's room. He told her to wait with me. I held her hand--and then I had to firmly hold onto her hand to keep her from following him. That was a disconcerting first, having to physically restrain my mother, however gently.
Sometimes she says things that sound perfectly normal. Except "perfectly normal" refers to what became normal over the first few years of her noticeably exhibiting symptoms of dementia. "Normal" has changed; post-dementia Mom is the new normal. Nine times out of ten, when I dream of her, I dream of her like she is now, even in the dreams where I'm back in school and never lived anywhere but my parents' house.
I'm OK. I'm pretty sure Dad's not OK, but he puts a good face on it. He talks to Mom the way he used to talk to the kids at his pediatrics office. This is an improvement, actually, from when he talked to her the way he used to talk to my brother and I when we were young and misbehaving--frustrated and angry with us for making mistakes and expecting us to learn from them. He's very patient now and will gently repeat whatever needs repeating as many times as she needs him to.
There are moments, as we leave the building, after we've said goodbye, when I can see some of Dad's not-OK-ness glaring through. After we brought her back to the assisted living community, and as we were driving out the gate, the radio started playing a song whose main line was, "Take me back to the night we met" or "I wanna go back to the night we met." And I just about lost it, thinking about how Dad must be feeling. This is the woman he loved and wooed and wed and made a home with and raised children with--how very far time has taken her from the night they met. I stared out the window until the danger of tears had passed; I didn't want to set Dad off, or have him feel like he has to comfort me.
I guess the comparison with Stranger Things, 1 or 2, with the nearness yet almost totally separateness of the two different worlds depicted therein--of any two of the different worlds depicted within--is going to be left as an exercise for the reader.
Sorry to end on a downer. Come back to tomorrow's post for roller derby fun and games! Bonus content: a woman in her 40s will struggle to resist being compelled to regress to her teens! Also there will be kimchi! Yayyyy.
successful coping strategies are a work in progress
So every once in a while I question my routine. I ask myself: those things I do every morning, my "daily gottas," are they worth it? They're my whole so-called morning shift, two hours of the day's writing in fact, and other than the bit designated Submission Procedures, they do not contribute tangibly to my career. If I honestly consider how very many days I never actually get to the so-called afternoon shift, the period of time designated for the actual career writing, must I not conclude that I'm wasting all my time and energy on what amounts to warm-up routines and busywork?
I may be asking myself this because, in the back of my head, at the ripe old age of 41, I still have those toxic voices, the ones I mistook for mentors, damping down my enthusiasm:
Me: "I get to write full time now! Bliss! I get to make my own schedule! Freedom! It will look like this..."
Them: "My dear, after you've done all those 'writing practice' sessions and 'morning pages' and the rest of all that new-agey hoo-hah, when will you have time to, I don't know, actually write?"
It's tempting, on a day like this--a day when not a whole heck of a lot gets done--to feel like I'm proving those voices right.
Except I'm not, and I will tell you why. I'm going to take the long way around, but hold tight; we'll get there.
Lindsey, as in Real Name Brand Lindsey ("None of that generic crap"), has a blog post, which you will find if you go ahead and click that link right there, about depression. It is an amazing post, actually, just a really frank and honest and detailed description of experiencing severe depression. And there's a bit of it I resonate with hard.
(To be clear, this is not because I have been diagnosed with depression myself. It may be that if I took myself to see someone with the appropriate knowledge, I would be diagnosed with depression, or anxiety, or even chronic fatigue, or something else I don't even know to anticipate. I may have just about gotten to the point where I'm ready to acknowledge I should make such a visit and find out, so I can get some help devising coping strategies. But my point is, whatever I've got, it's relatively mild. I don't say that out of some valiant but misguided attempt to minimize my own struggles because others have it worse. My struggle is real, and others have it worse. These are not mutually exclusive statements. Anyway...)
I don't have the suicidal ideation she describes. I don't have that fog, that disconnect from other humans or joy and beauty. What I do have, that she and her commenters mention, is a bucket of self-loathing that drops on my head at the least provocation, this weasel-brain voice constantly telling me that I am the worst and here's why.
A huge portion of the "evidence" for the weasel-brain's argument is, as Lindsey puts it, a sporadic inability to do.
There was a time, a season, maybe half of a year, when things were very bad. Day after day, I couldn't seem to get out of bed. Anything productive I could have done with the day (i.e. writing) seemed impossible, dreadful, horrible, threatening, inconceivable. If there was something I'd promised someone else I'd do, I'd eventually drag myself upright sometime in the afternoon to do that. I'd get myself to appointments. I could be motivated by external consequences, but the internal motivation wasn't there. There was plenty angst over knowing what I should do, and plenty self-loathing when I got to the end of another day without doing it, but I couldn't seem to find the impetus to actually do.
It's hard for me to place exactly when this was happening, or how that era ended and I returned to some semblance of a productive life. My memories are vague, very much as though I were half-asleep and experiencing that time as a sort of painful, shameful fever dream. The way my memory works in general, I triangulate: X must have happened at Y time because Z was also going on. In this case, I can't identify Y because there was no Z. Hell, there was barely any X. The whole alphabet was more or less impossible.
I know this much: It was after I quit my full-time web developer job, because there's no way I could have gone through that and held down a full-time job. It might have begun while I was part time staff for that non-profit I was volunteering for at the time, such that it began eating up my days off. I know we still had the cats, because they'd curl up in bed with me through it all, and that the cats were both still healthy, because Null's intravenous fluid administrations weren't something that dragged me out of bed.
It was well before I started skating roller derby. Which isn't to say I haven't had isolated days where I only got out of bed in time to go to roller derby practice. But they've been one-offs, infrequent enough that I can tell myself that "I must have needed a day of hibernation. Well, I've rested now, and tomorrow I will work." But roller derby helps. Regular exercise is known to mitigate symptoms of depression, right? Roller derby may have been one of the factors that helped bring that era to an end. It may be a factor in preventing a new onslaught. But I can't say for sure.
Today, instead of having days upon days of inability to get out of bed, I have days--in isolation or in batches--where I experience the inability to get started. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that today was one of those days.
I've adopted a strategy to help keep those days at bay, and to help limit the damage when they hit.
The strategy is to have a routine.
I have a clearly defined process involving several discrete steps, each small enough that, when avoidance/depression/anxiety hits and my brain slides right off the idea of getting writing done and into yet another hour of hitting refresh on some piece of the internet, I can say, "That's cool, I hear you. Life is hard and work is scary. That's OK. All I want you to do is this one little thing."
Just make some tea. Just water the plants. Just open up your notebook. Just get out your favorite fountain pen--isn't that nice to hold? Just jot down the time and date in the upper left corner of the page. Just write down what's on your mind. Good. Now another sentence. Now another. Now another page. Now another.
If you said "That sounds like Morning Pages!" then you win a prize.
The daily gottas are my routine. Each task follows the previous in mechanical succession, so that the automatic process of one step after another can provide its own momentum when I can't seem to provide any of my own. And that, for your information, O toxic voices from 2004, is the worth of morning pages and freewriting exercises and all that new-agey hoo-hah. It damn well is actually writing. It gets me actually writing. So you can go take a long walk off something short and made of wood that dumps you somewhere wet and full of sharks.
(And the Friday Fictionette project? That's the external-consequence-motivated activity. External consequences remain more motivating, for all practical purposes, than internal ones. But then I have this blog here for converting the internal consequences to external ones by saying HEY YOU GUYS THIS IS WHAT I PLAN TO DO and then I don't want to have to come back and say I DIDN'T DO IT I'M SORRY. So that's OK.)
So the reason I have trouble getting to commercial fiction in the afternoons is, I don't have a reliable ritual for getting back to work yet. The morning shift routine starts pretty much the moment I wake up, but the afternoon shift is... whenever I get off lunchtime chores and errands? Feeling like I haven't really had a break yet? Which makes me want to take just a little time to read blogs and play games... The train never leaves the station and avoidance corners me in the terminal.
And the reason nothing got done today at all was, the morning routine got interrupted. I had to take the Saturn in for diagnosis and maintenance. I was going to just initiate morning shift at the tea house down the street, and could have done, but somehow... didn't. Once the train gets derailed, unfortunately, avoidance/depression/anxiety/etc. sees its chance and pounces, and it's hard to get out of its clutches.
It's the failure state of all writing rituals--what happens if you lose your Special Pen, or you can't be at your Magic Desk, or you are otherwise denied the ritual? My goal is to keep tweaking the rituals until they a reliably undeniable. Until they don't depend on where I am, what time it is, or what I was just now doing. Until the ritual is, in its entirety, "Time to get to work."
Until then, I'm working on having compassion for myself, and I'm repeating the mantra, "I must have needed a day off. Well, I've rested now. Tomorrow I will work."
On the plus side, I did discover what a harmonic damper is, and why it may need replacing just shy of 200K miles on the odometer.
So that's OK.
but these words are also words
This is a blog post about self-accountability, self-appreciation, and word count. What words count? All words count. Because I wrote them, and I can count them.
Someone in one of my Habitica guilds created us a new guild Challenge--a set of Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos for us to add to our personal dashboards and compete with one another in completing. Or, more likely (knowing us), compete with ourselves and root each other on. These were, of course, writing challenges--hence my bothering telling you so. The hope was that as a result we'd also see more activity in Guild Chat, which had been mostly hitherto abandoned for Party Chat. This was unfortunate, because not everyone in our Guild is in the Party. Some of them are in other Parties, and you can't be in more than one Party at one time. So our friend created this Guild challenge.
The Challenge included some Habits which were daily word-count milestones: 100 words, 250, 750, and 1500. I wanted to participate, but up until then I hadn't really tracked word count per day--not outside of NaNoWriMo, anyway. I was only tracking hours per day spent on each day's writing tasks.
So I started tracking word count. I added a new column to my timesheet and started noting the amount of words written as well as the amount of time spent on each task.
Purely editing tasks weren't compatible with this, but it's amazing how few of my tasks are purely editing. I started noting how many words I'd added to that week's fictionette. I started noting how many words happened during freewriting. I even started jotting down the word-count of the daily blog post.
And I felt a little uneasy about this. Should I really "count" the words written in freewriting or blogging? Shouldn't I only count words written in new story drafts? Seriously, wasn't I just gaming the system?
Well, no. Not so much. What I was actually doing was giving myself an extra incentive to do my daily writings tasks. Furthermore, I was giving myself an excuse to celebrate having accomplished those tasks. And I needed that excuse, because the very fact of my questioning whether they "counted" revealed a nasty habit of self-sabotage.
I had convinced myself that some writing "didn't count." I'd convinced myself that I didn't deserve to feel proud of myself for accomplishing certain tasks. I could feel guilty for failing to accomplish them, but I wasn't allowed to celebrate succeeding. They didn't "count" as accomplishments.
Basically, it was the same ugly attitude I remember in my grandmother. I was very young and, in the way of the very young, acutely aware of parental injustice real and imagined. In this case, I maintain even now, it was real. I had noticed that she was swift to punish me for breaking her labyrinthine rules of etiquette and politeness, while my behaving well earned me merely neutral treatment. Basically, the best I could hope to earn with my very best behavior was not being punished. This seemed unfair. My very best behavior wasn't easy! I just wanted to know she appreciated the effort. But she said "Why should I reward you for doing what you ought to be doing already?"
(To be fair, this is the same argument we feminists use against men who demand gratitude and and a steady girlfriend as a reward for not having raped anyone. To be even more fair, these men are adults and theoretically no longer in the stage of childhood where they still need to be taught what good behavior is, or where they feel rewarded by any attention at all and so it behooves parents to reward good behavior with positive attention. Also, we aren't their parents.)
So, yeah. I'd come to define certain writing tasks as "what I ought to be doing already," so when I did them, I didn't think it much to brag on. Doing them wasn't enough to save me from the self-loathing of "Call yourself a writer? When did you last work on a salable story, huh? What have you done for your career lately?" ... it was only enough to reduce the self-loathing to "Well, at least you did something. You're not totally hopeless, I guess."
Which is no way to live.
At one point a while back, I had a big difficult email to write--lots of effort, difficult topic, project I had no enthusiasm for---and I resented the way it was going to crowd out my real writing hours. I decided that since it was writing, of a sort, I might as well count it toward my daily timesheet. If I had to do it, I might as well consider its hours as counting toward my 5-hour goal rather than bemoan its putting that goal out of reach.
Today I also had a difficult email to write. And I had a similar epiphany: Maybe I could break through the resistance by reclassifying it as one of this afternoon's writing tasks. I would put it on my timesheet, log the hours spent writing it, and also log the word count. Then I'd actually get something out of the ordeal besides the frustration of having lost the time I could have spent working on, say, my new story for Podcastle's Halloween-themed submission window.
So that's how an extra 3 hours 15 minutes and 1600 words got added to today's tally of writing done and words written. They weren't easy words or hours, so I'm damn well going to count them. (Also I spent about 20 minutes and 400-some words brainstorming on the Halloween submission, so win-win.)
I'm not going to get silly. I'm not going to start counting my hours spent and words written on reading blogs and writing comments thereon. But I'm not going to discount writing accomplishments anymore simply because they aren't the right shape. All the words count because I wrote them. I wrote them because they were worth writing. If they were worth writing, they damn well count. OK? OK.
This blog post is 1,051 words long and took 45 minutes to write. And that was worth writing, too.
kind of like the way pain just means you're alive
- 1,200 wds. long
I've been thinking about interactive fiction. Specifically, I've been thinking about a particular short-short of mine, "Keeping Time," and how I might expand it into an interactive piece. I've actually been thinking about this for a couple years now, but it can take me a while to find myself a chunk of time in which I can do more than think about it. You know how Violet "invents" extra time for herself and her siblings to solve a mystery in The Wide Window by Lemony Snickett? I had to invent extra time for myself. Mostly by getting up earlier and figuring out how better to adhere to a daily writing schedule. So far so good. Deliberate invocation of allergic reactions was not involved.
And but so anyway: Interactive fiction, Twine, and me. Twine! "Twine is an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories." I'm learning how to use it. I'm going about this the same way I went about learning PHP: By working my way, page by page, through a book about it. This book here: Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine, by Melissa Ford. Her book may or may not align with the kind of interactive story I want to tell, but it looks like it'll make me a competent Twine user, so.
"Keeping Time" is a very short story, originally under 700 words and later expanded to about 1200, about a character who flees Earth and travels via dimensional portal to other worlds, hanging on tight--despite radically changing environments and perspectives--to their identity and humanity for as long as they possibly can. In its current form, it has five scenes that act as a sort of montage portraying the journey and the changes the character undergoes along the way. As a piece of interactive fiction, I want it to have more scenes--that's a no-brainer--but not necessarily more endings. I want it to be a sort of many-roads-lead-up-the-mountain thing. The ending is sort of inevitable, to my mind, but how one gets there, and how many different worlds one experiences on the way there, and how those influence the remainder of the journey by changing the character either according to or against their will--that's where the choice and variety comes in.
So, less of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and more of a roller coaster ride with decision points. You get on and off the ride at fixed places, but the shape of the ride from one to the other is up to you.
(Actually I have just thought of an alternate ending. But I'm not going to go into that just now because spoilers.)
You may or may not have seen my old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story Engine? One of my earliest HTML/PHP projects. It's over here, and you can play with it, but be warned it is probably overrun with spam and awfulness right now because I've been an absent moderator lately. (Note to self: get on that.) Anyway, it's an editor and repository of very simple interactive fiction. The first page ends in a choice. Each choice leads to a new page. Each new page ends in a choice or possibly THE END. Anyone can add onto what went before, so it's interactive and potentially collaborative.
That is not what I want to do with "Keeping Time." I want to do something more like what Michael Lutz does with "my father's long, long legs." And I don't just mean the difference in formatting--the difference between interspersing blocks of story with "What do you do next?" on the one hand, and, on the other, presenting choices as hyperlinks from within the story proper. I mean, the variety of ways the choices are used. What the choices are for. Sometimes, the hyperlinks simply advance the reader to the next part of the story--a way to turn the page. Sometimes they act as footnotes--an invitation to examine the hyperlinked concept in more detail. Sometimes they're decision points which will change the story, or your path through the story, irrevocably. Sometimes they're more like scenic bypasses, or branching, braided streams that take a detour around farms and fields before rejoining the main river. There's a lot of complexity there, many different ways of shaping reader experience. Or, rather, many different experiences to let the reader choose.
Also it never stops being a story. Interactive fiction straddles the line between "story" and "game," with some examples falling more to one side than the other. The exact placement of that line, and what falls on which side of it, is subjective. I want to create something that's still very much a story, not a game--at least according to my version of that line.
On another note: The more I think about this story, the more ideas I get, the more ambitious the whole project becomes... and the more terrified I get of taking it on.
This is worth noting: When I become afraid of a (writing) project, that's generally a sign that the project is worth doing.
Can I please progress to the point where fear turns into excitement and I stop eating my own stomach lining? Please? I would like to get to that point tomorrow. It would make my writing life a more comfortable place. And I would like it to be a comfortable place, seeing as how I intend to spend a lot of time there.
walking around on a Monday afternoon (now with more writing)
I would like to get to the point where I am no longer patting myself on my back just for getting the day's work done. I feel like "puts in the hours writing" is a bare minimum to call myself a writer, much as "has four wheels and an engine" is the bare minimum for calling something a car. But years of painful experience tells me that it's not a given, so: Today was a good day. I put in the hours writing. This week is off to a good start.
I can tell you this about procrastination: It's not fun. Knowing that I've got a writing task to get to, and yet doing anything other than starting on that task, is a weird sort of self-administered torture that makes absolutely no sense at all. So there was a sense of relief today when, rather than doing the avoidance dance for hours on end, I just said to myself, Enough of this crap, clocked in on my timesheet, and got to work on the next task.
By contrast, my four-hour Puzzle Pirates session at the Rayback on Saturday was blissful because I had done my Friday work and had no reason to feel guilty. I had earned my self-indulgence.
It's really, really silly how much it's in my own power to reduce my own stress and increase my own happiness, and how nevertheless I so often don't take the steps to do it.
Speaking of steps (she segued masterfully), I did a lot of walking today. Mondays I take the Volt on my various errands and charge it, which means a lot of walking between whatever charging station I use and whatever errands I have. Today's errands were: 1. While charging the car at the Village on the Peaks station, my weekly Cafe of Life appointment, lunch at Leenie's Cafe (oyster remoulade omelet, grits, biscuit, and coffee while accomplishing some of the aforementioned writing tasks), and groceries; 2. while using the plug that a small business owner in Gunbarrel very kindly makes available to the public via plugshare.com, New Recruit Night at Finkel & Garf. (There will be another on Wedensday at Left Hand Brewing, so if you missed it tonight and you're interested in learning more about roller derby in Boulder County, put that on your calendar.) My knee appears to be all better, or if not all better then as close as makes no nevermind; it got tight and sore from all the walking more quickly than the other knee did, but no more than that. I think I'm in good shape for tomorrow's practice.
I passed linden trees in Longmont that were already in bloom and smelling gorgeously sweet. Not sure why the ones at home aren't blooming yet, but it can't be long now. The two or three weeks of high summer when that scent is constantly wafting in our bedroom window are glorious.
the car gets energized and i get ennervated because wednesday
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.
(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.
new construction and reconstruction, neither being hardly done yet
I would like to be able to report a full day of working on all my writing tasks, including the novel-still-in-planning, but alas, today was almost entirely taken up by household chores and administrative duties. And, as usual, nothing constructive (except for this blog post) is getting done post-derby. Doesn't matter that "derby" right now means construction labor rather than skating; it's still physical work that turns my brain to mush.
The floor is coming along nicely, though. It's very exciting. A few small sections of the final floor are done, maybe an eighth of the total surface. I got to walk on it. I got to help haul pieces of plywood flooring into the work area so they would be in reach of the work crew nailing them down. I also got to pound nails into joists, which was immensely satisfying (except when the nails bent, the bastids). Spent time washing slabs of sport-court, too--well, I wasn't actually wielding the power washer, but I was part of the assembly line. I was schlepping slabs of sport-court to and from the wash stall, turning slabs of sport-court around, and picking bits of shredded plastic ground cover canvas out of the bottom of the sport-court tiles. In any case, we closed down the washing station when we emptied off the current pallet of sport court; and we washed the pallet, too. I am so excited for our new floor, you have no idea. (Unless you're one of my league-mates reading this now. In which case you have every idea.)
We're hoping to skate on it next week, but not expecting to be able to. It depends entirely upon the work crews we can muster between now and then. Tonight's work crew seemed huge. Hopefully that will continue.
Tomorrow doesn't bode well for writing, either. I get to take the Volt all over town on errands. The first of those is getting the car registered and license-plated. Also I'm to put gas in and charge the battery. And then there's chiro and groceries and who knows what else I'll remember I have to do. Then maybe I'll go skating at the Wagon Wheel, if the Wednesday night session is on. I miss skating. No floor means no practice means no skating. If I do not go to the Wagon Wheel, I'll probably just go outside, since the weather's supposed to stay sunny and clear and moderately above freezing. MUST SKATE.
Maybe I'll get in a little time on the novel while the car charges, who knows.
As for last night...
Woah-kay, emotionally charged blogging starts here. After last night's post, you knew it was coming. Stop reading now, or continue with a full understanding of what you're in for.
Anyway. Last night, after I published that blog post, I got bowled over by Manhattan-sized APPREHENSION and DREAD. I couldn't quite parse it. I didn't even want to look at it head-on, let alone try to understand it. I told myself, hey, what are you afraid of? Pretty much none of your immediate family are online beyond that necessary to forward urban myths and tasteless jokes to everyone else in the family. The only people reading this blog tend to be either school friends or writing friends or derby friends. Or some combination of the above. Or John's sister, or his mother, both of whom are A-plus phenomenal people. What I'm saying is, this blog's audience is made up of at least 99.8% people sympathetic to its author. It is safe to tell stories here about Why Niki Grew Up Dreading Family Gatherings.
But the APPREHENSION and DREAD weren't susceptible to this logic. And they were very specifically the APPREHENSION and DREAD that accompany GUILT. Put them in words, they go like this: "I done wrong. I gonna get punished. I been bad."
When I finally figured it out, I nearly laughed out loud, it was so damn classic. it was because I'd actually used the "a" word--abuse--to describe a long-running family interaction, and I'd done it in a publicly viewable space. I had outed a family dynamic as abusive. What a betrayal! What disloyalty! What an absolutely stereotypic taboo to defy. That's the common rule most abused children learn: this stays in the family. You don't tell people. You don't shatter the illusion that we are a healthy, happy family. That's the rule, and I have finally, unambiguously, broken it. Of course I was a mess of GUILT and APPREHENSION and DREAD.
(To be clear, in many ways, we were a healthy, happy family. But in many ways, we were not. I don't identify with the phrase "abused child," partially because it seems too absolute, too much one thing without allowance for anything else, and partially because--though I know this shouldn't be a factor--so many people had it so much worse, I don't want to dilute the term. Still and all, I absolutely identify some of how I was treated as emotional abuse. I can even understand where some of it came from! I can just about work out the rationale. It doesn't excuse the abuse, but it contextualizes it. It helps me square the circle of "loving, supporting family" with "abuse and abuse enablers." People are complex. They are capable of heartbreaking kindness and jaw-dropping cruelty. They are capable of carrying both off simultaneously.)
Weirdly, when I woke up this morning, most of that roil of emotion was gone. I felt pretty good, actually. Abusive Asshole Uncle has not been in my head at all today. If anything, the memories involving him are hanging out in the middle distance, easy to spot if I look for them, easy to ignore if I don't. That's restful.
I'm very likely not done blogging about it. Not only is it dramatically, demonstrably freeing to be able to concretely describe it all in words, and words that people other than me can see (when I break a taboo, I mean to break it hard), but also it's probably kind of important for me as a writer. Authors draw on their experiences when they write; I need to be clear what my experiences are. I need to be able to own my experiences and put them into words. I need to be able to put them into my words, look at them through my own lens, rather than continuing to tell myself the same stories the rest of the family told me and told themselves. I gotta know my own story if I'm gonna write new stories.
So don't be surprised if more stories about Abusive Asshole Uncle And His Team of Enablers show up here in the coming days. 'Cause they will. Where possible I'll try to put it after the writing-related stuff, make it easy for y'all to skip if you'd rather. But it's not always gonna be easily separable, because writing. Hope you'll understand. Anyway, you've been warned.
my brain is a jerk: christmas reminiscing
All right. Hi! New week. So: Friday Fictionettes for the past two Fridays were "Kill or Cure," which is about a symptomatic tree, and "The Miraculous Hide," which is sort of about Good King Wenceslas before he got to be all saint-like. I got 'em out both on time, more or less, but I never got around to announcing them here, so. There you go.
And now we are approaching the fifth Friday in a month, which means--woo-hoo!--I get a week off. Except I don't, because I still have to put together the Fictionette Artifacts for November and then do all the end-of-month stuff for December. And even if that were done, goodness knows I've got all the legacy catch-up work to do: backfilling the Wattpad excerpts, recording audiobook editions for the archives that don't have them yet, producing epub and mobi editions ditto. But it's cool. I don't have to do that and put together the next brand-new story-like object all at the same time, so things are vastly more doable than they could be.
So yesterday was Christmas. John and I did nothing special for it. We're more Winter Solstice types than Christmas types, which is to say, Pagan not Christian. Also our families are all multiple states away. So we did with Christmas the same thing we did with Thanksgiving: a whole lotta glorious nothing. We played on our computers and we cooked for each other.
Which right there puts it miles and miles beyond last Christmas in terms of enjoyability, i.e. I did not get into a shouting match with my bigoted, bullying, emotionally abusive uncle, and spend the rest of the evening sobbing myself sick. Yay?
Except I kept thinking about it. All my brain's idle cycles pointed right at it. I spent a self-indulgently huge number of hours just playing Puzzle Pirates all day long, which should have been uncomplicatedly fun, only it wasn't, because while my eyes and hands were busy with the mini-games, my brain kept re-running that shouting match and rewriting it and re-running the rewritten version and then revising that.
To be clear: My brain was not fixated on just one argument with my uncle. That shouting match catalyzed an epiphany about a lifetime of bullying at the hands of that uncle.
Wait. Wait up. Go fix yourself some coffee or something. Apparently I'm going to unload here.
Ready? Cool. Here we go.
Here's the thing. I think the reason he got so enraged when I called him on his hateful bullshit that Christmas afternoon is that no one else ever did. Everyone else in the family may grumble about him, but to his face they smile and reward him and tell him he's funny. Meanwhile, all my life, every Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter that he ruined for me, everyone told me I lacked a sense of humor. That's why I didn't find his bullying of me funny. And they told me it was my fault, the bullying; he wouldn't do it if I didn't give him such entertaining reactions. No one told him that there was anything wrong with a grown-ass man getting his jollies by verbally tormenting a little girl until she fucking lost it, and then laughing at her while her parents punished her for her unacceptable behavior. Everything he said, every word that came out of his mouth, was by definition golden, because it was coming out of his mouth.
Of course he hasn't changed a bit--why should he? He gets perfectly fine results as things stand; why should he do anything differently? And why wouldn't he be flabbergasted to the point of near-speechlessness that someone finally told him he was being a shit-head? If anyone ever tried to say it to him before, they sure as hell didn't make it stick.
I'm surprised it took me this long to come to that realization. I suppose I had some idea that, now that I was an adult myself, and not a powerless child, interactions would be better. And, well, to some extent, they are better. At age forty (well, thirty-nine at the time, but still) I'm not getting sent to my room or told to sit on the floor in the hallway and stare at the wall and think about what I've done. There is a different protocol for dealing with other adults than there is for dealing with children. And, being an adult, I'm a lot more capable now of putting my thoughts into words even while I'm furious, and of resisting my uncle's attempts to put me back in my place, the place he was comfortable with me inhabiting, the place that's entirely under his power, the place where I have to dance for his entertainment while the rest of the family laughs at his wit and my immaturity.
All of which added up to me being able to sit there and say, "That's some hateful, dehumanizing, transmisogynist bullshit you're spouting, not gonna pretend otherwise, I mean, you should be ashamed of yourself, and also you should grow the hell up, and, by the way, transwomen aren't existing at you just to spite you, and if you're tired of watching news stories about Caitlyn Jenner you can damn well pull up your big-boy paints, grab your big-boy TV remote, and change the fucking channel." And the worst he could do to me in response was sputter a bit and finally proclaim, "Don't get so fucking offended," like it was the last word on the matter (but it wasn't, because I could damn well spit back at him, "Then don't say such fucking offensive things, asshole," and walk out the room).
That's the worst he can do. But I can do so much worse to myself every day for the following year. I can relive that entire argument on a near-daily basis. I can also relive all the times he bullied me as a child, and I cried, and he laughed at me while I cried, and my parents told me I was defective for not enjoying it and/or morally weak for letting it get to me. That last shouting match doesn't exist on its own--it reconfigured my understanding of our interactions over my entire life.
I don't want to talk to him ever again. I don't want to see him ever again. But at the same time, I want to stand up in front of him and tell him, hey, you remember how you treated me while I was growing up? That wasn't even bullying. Bullying is between people of at least nominally equal standing. When a grown-ass man does it to a little girl, someone he has power over, and when he does it every time he sees her, from the time she's five to the time she's fifteen, that's straight up child abuse.
Wow. OK. So, that got real heavy real fast. Long story short: It's not that I fixate on 15 Minutes of Awful. It's that those 15 Minutes of Awful sort of recontextualized about 15 to 20 Years of Constant, Unremitting Awful. And that I'm liable to fixate on.
My fucking brain. My brain is a fucking jerk.
There's this fantastic Steven Universe episode, "Mindful Education," that kinda-sorta addresses the whole "I can't stop thinking about it, and it hurts, and I'm sick of hurting" thing. Rewatching it was soothing balm, but in a few hours the balm wears off. That's because the strategy of looking at the pain, understanding why it hurts, and being OK with the fact that it hurts, only goes so far. It's fantastic for surviving the painful thoughts, but it doesn't make them stop. And I can't spend another year going "Yes, I see that thought. Yes, it hurts. It's OK. I'm OK" on infinite repeat. I need to get my brain to stop running that damn program.
So here's what I did: I decided to actively fill my brain's idle cycles up with Other Narratives. I pulled up a blog I enjoy reading (one of several Steven Universe livebloggers, speaking of Steven Universe) and positioned it so I could read it while playing Puzzle Pirates. Then I pulled up some Mark Reads Discworld audio and listened to that while playing Puzzle Pirates.
The idea is, the longer I just sit there trying to play a particular video game while my brain keeps pushing the rewind-and-replay button on Worst Experiences Ever, the stronger grows the mental association between the two. It begins to feed itself: Playing the video game starts to cause the painful mental replay. But if I can associate the game strongly enough with something else, then playing the game will make me think of that something else--like, for instance, a gaggle of wizards arguing on a desert island, or the character development arcs of the Crystal Gems.
It's terrifying how easily programmable my brain is. The good news is, I can program it too. I just have to take, and keep taking, conscious action counter to the unwanted programming, until the unwanted programming has been thoroughly replaced my the preferred programming. That's all.
And in the meantime, well, I'm here.
happy days-get-longer-from-here-on night
It's the eve of the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, and I did not plan a party.
See, I usually do. And by "usually" I mean every single year since not long after moving to Colorado, except for last year when I was out of town.
I'd bake the savory medieval pie and cook the orange-and-tomato soup and do up my friend's best egg nog recipe ever. I'd unveil that year's fruitcake, which would have been boozing up for the past two or three weeks, and have that first slice. I'd stick as huge a chunk of wood in the fireplace as could fit, and I'd burn that sucker over the period beginning at dusk and ending at dawn. I'd let all my friends know that we were At Home to Visitors for the entirety of dusk-to-dawn as well. And sometimes, if there was interest in doing so, we'd carpool over to Red Rocks for the Drumming Up of the Sun.
This year, the Solstice snuck up on me and I wasn't prepared. Hell, I didn't even know what day it was until I saw the Facebook event for Drumming Up the Sun, which helpfully stated the astronomical time of the actual astronomical solstice. And if I had known, and had tried to prepare, I would have despaired, because, like pretty much this whole week so far and last week too, there was stuff to do today and there was no time. (About that, more later.)
So. No party. No sausage-leek-apple pie. No egg nog. No huge chunk of Yule Log in the fireplace.
But--and this is important--no stress.
I'm still upholding my Winter Solstice traditions, if in a minimalist way. I'm keeping my traditional vigil through the longest night. I'm keeping my fire burning. It's not a Yule Log, but what the hell. John happened to have brought home three bundles of firewood from the store the other day, and that's plenty enough to keep the light from going out. And while I may not have made my traditional Solstice party foodstuffs, I did wrap a cheddar brat in aluminum foil and roast it in the coals a little while ago. Yay!
When dawn arrives, I'll go out on the back porch, beat a few (quiet) notes on the drum, and (quietly) cheer for the return of the light. Huzzah! Io evohe, Sol Invictus! Hooray!
And then I'll probably have First Slice of Fruitcake for breakfast.
And you're all invited to our Winter Solstice party next year. Probably. Stay tuned.
can't TG when I isn't O
It's Thursday. Thursday is scrimmage day, both here with 10th Mountain and back home with Boulder County Bombers. (I hear tonight's BCB scrimmage was fantastic.) Unfortunately, a conflicting event scheduled in 10th Mtn's practice space obliged them to cancel tonight's scrimmage, so I never did get to try out the jerseys I made out of those plain white and black T-shirts I bought at Walmart the other day.
Actually, I only found time to finish one of them, and I'm still not sure it was a good idea. See, after I hacked off the sleeves and six inches of the shirt tail, I cut that material into long strips, about a quarter-inch wide, which I then crocheted into numbers which I sewed onto the back of the shirt. I'm a little concerned that the crocheted numbers are too thick and heavy to hang from such a lightweight material. They're also about a quarter inch thick, which could be a problem in terms of sticking out and catching people's fingers. I don't know. I'll try it out when I next need a numbered white jersey and see what happens.
It's possibly a good thing there wasn't scrimmage. My shoulder got tweaked a little last night, ice skating up at Beaver Creek Village. It wasn't a fall! It was one of those sharp backwards windmilling arm movements a body makes when trying to catch one's balance, even after roller derby has done its level best to train a body otherwise, and I guess I pulled something, 'cause it hurts. It feels better now than it did late last night, but it'll be even better after resting a few more days.
I went ice skating last night and paid full price because I knew with scrimmage tonight I wouldn't be able to go when it was free. Well, surprise! So once I heard scrimmage was canceled, I headed back up to BC Village again. Unfortunately, those rental skates are really unfriendly, and my feet were still annoyed at them. Most especially annoyed was my right upper ankle/lower outside shin, where the hard boot cuff had abraded a slice out of my skin last night which opened up again tonight. The boots also pinched my feet, as though the soles, rather than being sole-of-foot shaped, resembled valleys. And not wide, rolling valleys, but sharp, deep ones still being carved by a white-water creek. And the snow was piling up on the ice. I think that's why I skidded around worse tonight than last night. In any case, I managed just a few minutes of skating before giving up. Good thing it was free!
So in the end I walked across Avon and took the shuttle up from Elk Lot to BC Village... mostly just to have dinner at Blue Moose Pizza. So that was my Thursday night.
It's also December 1. December 1, in addition to just happening to be the day this year when the reindeer visit Avon Public Library (they are adorable and a good deal smaller than you might imagine), is the day after National Novel Writing Month ends. This is sometimes known as "Thank God It's Over" Day, when NaNoWriMo participants hold TGIO parties to celebrate achieving their goals and getting their lives back. But my novel, far from being over, has not even hit word 1. It's still deep in the planning stages. No, despite designating November as the start of my personal "novel-writing season," I quite definitely didn't do NaNoWriMo this year.
I feel a little guilty about this. I did it for so long, it became a tradition. But if everything I did for more than two years running became obligatory for the rest of my life, I'd have no room to try new things, or to just rest. Besides, after twelve years of done-and-won, and then a few years of "Am I doing it? I should be doing it. Except I don't seem to be doing it," I've come to the conclusion that I've learned what NaNoWriMo had to teach me, and it's OK to let it go. Maybe at a later date I'll return to it, but right now I have other things to learn.
(Like how to plan a novel. And then how to begin drafting it without blurting out all the juicy worldbuilding details in the very first scene.)
The other thing about NaNoWriMo is, it's social. It's joyfully social. It's an international communal challenge that brings all its participants together under a single banner and in pursuit of a single cause. And that is awesome, but it is, at this time, no longer for me. I seem to have reached a time in my life (and doesn't that make me sound old?) where my writing process has become intensely private. It wants a writing environment that's more or less under my control. Like, say, in a room in my house behind a closed door. I'll still write in coffee shops and libraries occasionally (and have done most days this week!), but my threshold for ambient intrusions has dropped sharply. And what with a decade of being a NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison and organizing and attending NaNoWriMo write-ins, I've kind of burned out on having to be the Mean Lady who's constantly telling everyone else (including, memorably, my co-ML that final year) that this is a write-in and some of us are trying to write and could you please take your loud, animated conversation elsewhere. I'll happily do a write-in with a group of close friends who have all agreed what we're there for, but I'm kind of done, at least for now, with public write-in events a la NaNoWriMo.
In the meantime, I continue planning out the current novel. During tonight's session I managed to start moving out of backstory and worldbuilding and into plot. There are several catalyzing events that I know of, but I don't know what they consist of. For instance, I know Delta gets a phone call during her first date with Michael, but I don't know who's calling or what they have to say. I know that the talking cat has something to tell Delta, but I don't know what.
And so forth. I made a list of that sort of thing. Questions That Must Be Answered Before The Plot Can Move. And then filled in a little more backstory and worldbuilding, which led to at least an idea about who might be on the phone.
Argh. But I'm getting closer to being able to start writing actual scenes. When I do, in the spirit of NaNoWrimo, I plan to do it at a rate of at least 1666 words per day. Every month should have fifty thousand words in it. Or more. Because this is what I do.