“I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank one.”
Nora Roberts

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

useless check-in post. also, a rose.
Mon 2016-11-14 23:49:19 (single post)

Hi. Um. I did not have the most productive week last week. You may have some idea of why, or at least one of the reasons why. I have thoughts but do not feel up to making them coherent enough to share right now. For now, have a rose.

Last week's Friday Fictionette--nominally for November 11--is this close to being done. I should have it up tomorrow.

(Patreon appears to have added the ability to schedule a post for a future date, which would be awesome if I were able to get the fictionettes done early. Right now, I'm just struggling for "reliably on time.")

My goal for this week is all the writing. I can't save the world, but, damn it, I can write. And that's worth something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLUS CA CHANGE Y'ALL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus my hypotheses are supported by experimentation. Hooray!

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

Onward.

That is not a tiny loaf of bread. That is a normal-sized loaf of sourdough bread.
when you get to the ends of things you might look back
Tue 2016-10-25 23:38:42 (single post)
  • 3,339 words (if poetry, lines) long

Would you look at the size of those carrots? This is the last week of veggie shares from my CSA, and those are finale-sized carrots. I dug up the potatoes I'd planted this year in hopes of matching those carrots in a soup, but all I seem to have grown are potatoes the size of kidney beans. Large kidney beans, like you'd make red beans & rice with, but still. Even smaller than the potatoes you might see sold as "pee wees." Will nothing match those carrots for grandiosity? Perhaps I should go buy some parsnips. And a huuuuuuuge daikon radish.

Speaking of retrospectives (I kind of was, if you squint a little), I've reached the point in The Artist's Way where Julia Cameron tells you to reread your Morning Pages. I've been doing so, but slowly, because even only going back to the beginning of the year, even given that I've only been doing them on weekdays, that's a lot of pages and there are other things I'd like to do with my waking time after all. I'm taking along for the ride a brand new blank notebook that I bought in New Orleans at the Tremé Fall Festival in which I'm jotting down any insights which arise.

it's interesting, and sometimes disheartening, to see what problems remain an unchanged part of my life, and most of them my own doing, too, like "Mustn't get distracted and try to multitask other activities during Morning Pages" or "Mustn't let the day leak away through the cracks in the hours." It's refreshing to see, from what I wrote in anticipation of my very first All Stars practice as a just-made-it A/B crossover skater, that I no longer have the insecurities and self-esteem issues I had back then. (I still have insecurities in that area, but they're different insecurities.) It's surprising to see turns of phrase striking the page like sudden lightning with no indication I thought twice about them at the time I wrote them. ("Pin the blame on the donkey"--ouch. "Morning Pages as a devotional practice"--really? Wow, yes, really.) There's a dream back in early January that I don't think I paid much attention to the morning I jotted it down, even though I'd just come back from a family visit, undoubtedly because I was dealing with more dramatic emotional upheaval fresh from Christmas afternoon, still too blindsided by that to notice the chronic low-level background unease that the dream was pointing out. ("I have brand new arrows. Dad borrows them. He says he has to prep the arrows for use. He does this by breaking them about 6 inches behind the arrowhead. He doesn't understand why I'm angry, nor will he promise to stop doing it, so I have to hide the remaining unbroken arrows in the attic behind a loose board in the wall." SHIT THAT'S UNCOMFORTABLY REAL.)

I'm taking notes and hoping to learn from them. And flinching sometimes. *flinch* It's cool. It's just the contents of my head from ten months ago. No big deal. The contents of my head are often thorny.

In other news, "It's For You" came back last week with a rejection letter and went back out again today with fresh reserves of hope. This is its twelfth time out in the slush mines. I know very well that, in this business, twelve isn't that high of a number, nowhere near high enough to mean I should give up on a story, but it's sometimes hard to remember that. I just keep telling myself, "Remember how that other editor loved it and passed it on to the second round? This is a good story! Someone will buy it!" But what would really make me feel better is having a brand new story to send out to meet the nice people. Only one way to make that happen, though. *cracks knuckles, surveys revision queue*

tasty veg for a healthy week!
blogging for people who ought to be editing
Tue 2016-10-18 23:41:45 (single post)
  • 3,339 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 101 words (if poetry, lines) long

I was wrong--today was not a day with no appointments. Thankfully I remembered before it was too late. Tuesday! Tuesdays mean farm share! So I went and picked that up around 1:00 PM. There were sweet bell peppers and hot poblano peppers and another little half pound baggie of tomatillos and a lovely bunch of carrots and some tasty green chard. Dinner was peppers stuffed with a mixture of sausage, rice, and kale. The leftover stuffing mixture will get rolled up in those chard leaves. The fridge is full of tasty veg and life is good.

I was moving unaccountably slow today and also trying to do all the chores along with my writing, so I didn't quite get to everything I wanted to accomplish. But the daily gotta-dos got done, and "It's For You" went back out on submission. It joins the one I sent out last week (a drabble newly retitled "A Few Words Before We Begin") in the field. I'm sending stories out, y'all! That's what a writer does! (Also the laundry and the dishes are clean, and tomorrow I might just vacuum. RUN AWAY.)

I bought an ebook copy of Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love and have been reading it this afternoon. I wasn't sure at first whether it would hit the spot with me; my problem isn't lack of word count when I'm generating draft, but rather lack of progress when I'm revising. Still, I'm finding many things she says apply. Or might apply, anyway.

I'm thinking very hard about her theory of not-writing, which is to say, writing avoidance--put simply, she says it's because you don't like what you're writing. That can be either because the story is boring, or you're off on the wrong track, or the scene you're working on doesn't actually belong in the book, or you've got the wrong main character; something, in any case, is wrong. Once you put it right, she says, the writing will be enjoyable again and you won't avoid it anymore because you'll want to do it.

Like I said, I'm thinking very hard about it. It makes sense in terms of the short story I'm having such a hard time revising, but its applicability is less obvious as regards my difficulty starting the work day in the first place. Maybe the answer is "You're bored with the routine of doing morning pages and then freewriting and then a half hour on the week's fictionette." Maybe I need to shake up the daily task list, reorder it, put in the number one slot whatever seems the most fun. Maybe the daily freewriting would be more fun if... something. If I changed it up somehow. I mean, it's supposed to be fun. It's supposed to be playtime. Maybe I'm just bored with the current crop of writing prompts and I need something more silly and playful.

Anyway, Part II has a chapter called "Editing for People Who Hate Editing," which sounds like it just might be something I need to read. I'm looking forward to it, anyway.

short story season, novel writing season
Wed 2016-10-05 10:55:25 (single post)

I'll be getting on a train in about three hours (as of the time of starting this blog post), so I'm blogging now rather than later. Today's topic: My cunning plan to accomplish all my fiction goals, both long and short.

I have for many years now considered myself a novelist as well as a short story writer. Even so, I still haven't finished a novel to the point of commercial viability. Some may say this means I don't get to call myself a novelist; I am not going to waste time arguing with them, as there's no profit in it for them nor me. I'm more concerned with problems that actually need solving, to wit, (1) there are only so many hours in the day, and (2) I have not historically excelled at time management.

In short: Until something about problems (1) or (2) changes--say, the Earth's rotation slows down to afford us extra hours in a day, or, possibly more likely, I start using my available hours more effectively--it's simply not realistic to expect myself to make progress on both the short and the long fiction goals in a single work day.

So I'm looking at the space of a year instead.

The inspiration for this obvious-in-hindsight idea was episode 11.33 of the podcast Writing Excuses: Crossover Fiction with Victoria Schwab. Schwab writes across the age spectrum of audiences, from middle grade to YA to adult. She writes one novel in each of those three categories every year. What caught my ear was the way she does it--and I'm having trouble finding the exact quote, but what I remember is, she designates a particular season of each year to each to each of those projects. Which struck me as an absolute genius solution to my own problem. If I were to designate certain months of the year for short fiction and others for novels, then I'm not responsible for making time for both in every single day. Instead, I'm only responsible for making daily time for fiction, period. And that is a reasonable goal.

While I don't want to try to plan the whole year out from here--there are probably factors I'm forgetting to take into account, like travel and appointments and the rhythms of the 2017 roller derby season--it's a no-brainer to reserve November for novel work. Which means this month, October, I'm buckling down to get several short stories newly ready to go. That way, during novel-writing months, all I have to do with short stories--all I am allowed to do with them--is submit and resubmit them.

Which means this month I'm going to get a little antsy about days without a short fiction work session. My hope is that yesterday will have been the last of those. Shouldn't be too hard to bank today toward the goal, since I'll be getting on a train in about two hours (as of the time of uploading this blog post)....

if it was good enough for 20-yr-old me maybe 40-yr-old me should be cautious
Fri 2016-08-12 23:39:54 (single post)
  • 5,500 words (if poetry, lines) long

The Friday Fictionette for August 12 will be coming out later on in the weekend because Aarrgh. That isn't an OMG ALL THE THINGS "aarrgh." That's a self-disgusted "aarrgh" which acknowledges personal responsibility in terms of an ongoing trend of badness which is in my personal power to fix but somehow I still haven't fixed. Aarrgh.

So instead what I've got to blog about is being in the preliminary stages of resurrecting a college-era short story for possible submission to a paying market today, nearly 20 years later.

Among writers, a perennial topic of discussion is "What do you do with your old/'trunked' manuscripts?" Opinions seem to range from "BURN THEM ALL" to "Dig them up occasionally to see how far you've come and maybe laugh." I do not often see the viewpoint "Consider submitting them for publication today" represented, and no wonder. 20-year-old me had a great facility with words and ideas, and she wrote things that impressed her peers and sometimes editors, but she did not have the same standards as 40-year-old me. She had a tendency to show off her witty dialogue skills and her overly clever metaphors. And she was, more or less, despite the 2 in the tens digit, a teenager.

I have a lot of sympathy for teenage me, but I think it would say something unflattering about my current maturity level (such as it is) if some of my teenage memories didn't embarrass me. I mean, for example: I'm a huge fan of the rock band Rush today. I was a raging fanatic about Rush when I was in high school and college. One difference being, I have more reservations and less uncompromising enthusiasm these days about some of their lyrics. Thinking about "Cinderella Man" from the A Farewell to Kings album (1977), only because that's the song that got stuck in my head the other day:

Because he was human, because he had goodness
Because he was moral, they called him insane

Teenage me waved that lyric like a battle flag. Present-day me winces a little and thinks it sounds like something you'd read in the diary of a teenager who thought they were the first person to discover moral intergrity. (Both of me cringed a little at the unfortunate phrase "had goodness," for whatever that's worth.)

So there's an element of that sort of combination of lack of life experience and fervent intensity in my early writing. Some of it makes me flinch. Still, I'd want teenage me to be proud of present-day me, or at least not be disappointed by what she has or has not become. I stand by a heck of a lot of what teenage me wanted and needed in terms of, yes, moral integrity and justice. ("Hang on to your plans / Try as they might they cannot steal your dreams") I just think that maybe present-day me might be able to express adjacent concerns with more nuance, less willful blindness to complexities, more acknowledgment of other points of view.

In the case of "Late Registration," the writing problems are less about that, thank goodness, and more about the "Look at ME!" school of writing. So it may be possible to have something worth submitting on Monday after a relatively quick revision pass.

It was surprisingly hard to find the story. I have a record in my personal database of submitting it to two places in 1997 and '98. The first was Mind's Eye Fiction, one of the earliest venues for online short fiction. They preferred submissions to be as close to web-ready as possible, with a break indicated between the first part of the story which could be read for free and the second part which would be for paid accounts only. I must have had a master manuscript document, undoubtedly in Word Perfect for DOS 5.2 format, but all I could find on my hard drive at present was the HTML version I prepared for submission to Mind's Eye.

So that's what I imported into Scrivener and am using as a basis to type up a new version, lightly edited, that is acceptable to present-day me.

The end.

there's a reason these things become cliches
Wed 2016-08-10 23:53:46 (single post)
  • 3,339 words (if poetry, lines) long

Two big good things accomplished today: Finished preparing the June and July Fictionette Artifacts for mailing out to my very patient $5/month Patrons and submitted "It's for You" to the next pro-paying market I would like to introduce it to. As I get slowly caught up on All The Things, I'm beginning once more to feel like I can manage to continue pursuing a career in commercial fiction and running a four-times-monthly self-publishing gig simultaneously.

Tomorrow's task in short fiction: Review, and probably revise, an old, old short story of mine (circa 1995) and see if it's appropriate to submit to an anthology I just now today heard about. This temporarily displaces a couple other short fiction tasks because the anthology has a submission deadline of Aug 15.

I might have got even more done today had I not slept in. Last night's practice was exceedingly effortful. (Also exceedingly bruising, but nothing new there. It makes me weirdly happy to look in the mirror and see bruises polka-dotting my shoulders and upper arms. Like ink-stains on my fingers after doing my Morning Pages with a fountain pen, it's proof that I Showed Up.) Last night's sleep was also exceedingly interrupted--like, four visits to the bathroom, something ridiculous like that. And I woke from it with that stuffy almost-headache that I used to get constantly before I went on blood pressure medication, probably because I forgot to take my blood pressure medication last night. Gah. Stop reminding me that I'm getting older, body!

As usually happens when I sleep in, I had vivid dreams. My remembered dreams have possibly been extra vivid and also more numerous due to rereading Jeremy Taylor's book Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill. I have a sizable library of books about dreaming, lucid dreaming, and astral projection. Rereading them tends to have an immediate effect on my dream recall. I value my dream diaries; they go back to my elementary school days and have been the inspiration for a lot of my fiction.

What was unusual was that I continued the same dream from where it had left off each time I went back to sleep. I honestly can't remember ever managing to do that before. Gods alone know why I would want to; it was a terribly frustrating and anxious dream about scrambling to get my things packed up to check out of a hotel room on time. Well, late. In the dream, it was already something like two hours past check-out time when I realized I had a hotel room to check out of, and my car was at the wrong end of the hotel, and the hotel was long and winding and rambly like a monster shopping mall, and as I packed up things I kept finding more things that needed packing up (hiding not only in drawers and stacked on tables but also under the covers of an impeccably made bed) that I couldn't believe actually all fit in my luggage in the first place. And as I frantically grabbed things and stuffed them into containers, two housekeeping staff members stood patiently watching me, waiting to clean up the room when I was done. One was a small woman with a cheerful demeanor who kept telling me "It's OK, no pressure." The other was a tall, solidly-built man who loomed over the proceedings, clearly there in the role of Unspoken Muscular Threat.

I don't think I was actually trying to get back into the dream each time I hit SNOOZE. I think I was just trying to cement it in memory, because I wasn't ready to get up and write it down. But every time I went back to sleep, there I was again, wondering how all these snack items ever fit into one snack bag, or why I thought I'd manage to work on all of these many quilting, needlework, and knitting projects over an 8-hour drive and weekend stay.

I think the dream had us in Wichita, but I don't think it was WFTDA D2 anxiety so much as other anxieties using the next trip I have planned as their setting. This is actually a recurring subset of a recurring category of anxiety nightmare--I had almost exactly the same dream last month, only in that dream, I raced back to my hotel room only to discover it empty because a member of the hotel's maintenance staff had a policy of confiscating anything left in the room after check-out time.

Since I just this week moved all my data back over to an aging laptop with a noisy sub-performing fan, my immediate interpretation is that I'm anxious about getting all my data backed up NOW before it gets "confiscated" at "check-out time," i.e. before the old Asus tanks and takes my files with it. I've already burned the most immediately necessary writing projects to R/W DVD, along with my Thunderbird and Firefox profiles, but it feels like a drop in the bucket. Another option that occurs to me is the lifelong anxiety about needing to get all the stories in my head written and published NOW NOW NOW because you never know when you're gonna DIE. This is a thought that regularly inspires me to close my eyes, cover my ears, and sing LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU.

The nice thing about both those anxieties is, there's positive action I can take to ease them. I can't get everything done in a day, but I can do a little bit to address each issue daily. I can, say, finally activate my Dropbox account tomorrow, archive the next chunk of data to disk, and, as mentioned above, get the next story ready to submit for publication.

If there is a moral to this story, that's about it: Don't panic because you can't get everything done at once. Just try to do a little every day. Not very deep, I grant you, not exactly innovative, but it's surprising how practical a cliche can be. (I guess there's a reason they're cliches.)

they are ALMOST ready!!!
you ain't getting it right if you ain't getting it at all
Thu 2016-08-04 23:59:40 (single post)

This is a story about perfectionism, and how it is the enemy of all that is good and healthy in a writer's life. Well, this writer here anyway.

BUT FIRST! Attached please find a picture of the prophesied TYPEWRITER FRENZY. See? See how close the June and July Fictionette Artifacts are to being ready to mail? SO CLOSE.

*ahem* Yes. Right. Perfectionism. This is a story about perfectionism. Also about hardware failure under warranty.

See, my brand new Asus laptop--well, brand new as of April--it developed a problem. At first it was just a couple of times that the computer shut down when I knew I'd told it to hibernate. Then it was the computer failing to turn on the first time I pushed the button. Then it was the computer utterly dying when I unplugged it from AC power, and refusing to turn on at all until I plugged it in again.

The battery is, for some reason, not powering the system. Its icon indicates it's at a near-full charge, but the computer won't pull power from it at all. Alas. Remember me griping about spending a week just moving all my files from the old Asus to the new? Guess what I've got to do now before I ship the machine back for warranty service?

*Sigh.*

So I went to Goodfellas in Longmont for a working lunch after my chiro appointment, but alas, they could not seat me near a plug. So no work got done during lunch. Instead, I pulled out The Artist's Way and read the next chapter I was due to work on.

I have been doing a very slow and thorough reread of The Artist's Way. Instead of doing one chapter a week, as the book is designed, I'm sticking with each chapter for however long it takes me to do all of its exercises.

The chapter I was moving on to was Chapter 7: "Recovering a Sense of Connection." In it, Julia Cameron addresses the problem of perfectionism. She writes, "Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right... Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead." This is very wise and also relevant to my interests because last night, regardless of my DETERMINATION, I failed to log a perfect day in Habitica.

It hurt, y'all. It hurt and it was embarrassing. "Let's see how far into August I can keep this perfect day streak going!" Two days. That's how far. Two days. Defeated before I'd hardly begun! But no matter how determined I was not to lose, no matter how much I bragged in yesterday's blog post that I CAN DO THIS, my brain had devolved into mush and I could do nothing further with it.

This is where the topic of perfectionism comes in. Perfectionism says, "Ha, you failed your goal three days into the month. You're done! Loser." As though the rest of August didn't matter. As though I might as well not try to get my work done faithfully for the rest of the month because I had already failed to be perfect for the whole month.

This is actually a problem I had when I began using Habitica, then called HabitRPG. Every time I failed to complete any one of my dailies, the self-destructive voice in my brain said, "Well, you failed to get a perfect day again. Game over." And I'd find it hard to push myself to complete the rest of the dailies. Not going to be able to log five hours writing? Guess there's no point in posting to the blog, brushing my teeth, or checking my email. Sounds stupid, I know, but the self-destructive voice can be very convincing.

So of course now it's trying to convince me that I might as well consider August a failure and a loss.

Here is what I'm telling it: Game over, indeed. You know what that means? Start a new game! The object of the new game is, How many "perfect days" can I log in August, total?

Answer: At least three! Because by the time I'm done with this blog post, I do believe I'll have logged five hours of writing today. And that's despite having started the tedious and time-consuming procedure of invoking my warranty with Asus and prepping the new laptop for shipping.

Let's see if I can log a fourth tomorrow.

Cover art incorporates public domain clip art with original photography by the author, whose kitchen, alas, consists mainly of fly attractants.
Sunflowers: Compare and Contrast
another dude at a bus stop, another lesson in HOW NOT TO APPROACH WOMEN
Thu 2016-07-21 23:32:11 (single post)
  • 929 words (if poetry, lines) long

OK, so, last week's Fictionette is live! Yayyyyy. It is called "The Revolution of the Flies." It bears a certain similarity to Rush's "The Trees," which was not at first intentional but which I came to embrace by the end.

Below the Friday Fictionette cover, you may also notice pictures of pretty sunflowers! The very spindly one and its buddies (not pictured here) sprouted from seeds I pulled out of a bag of wild bird food. The big burly one that isn't blooming yet is out near a bus stop I use to get to Longmont for my Cafe of Life appointments. I wanted to put them side-by-side for comparison. Hopefully I'll get to see the big burly one bloom. It's going to be amazing.

There's a story that goes along with that sunflower photo. That story is called "Men Act Entitled To My Attention And/Or Gratitude On Public Transportation, Chapter 3,852." (You may recall the previous chapter in this series? OK good.)

So I took that photo today while I was waiting for the pedestrian light to change in my favor. It's a long light, so I had plenty of time for sightseeing. What I want you to know is, I was standing there with my bike for quite some time before I crossed the street and settled down at the bus stop.

At the bus stop there was a man, also with bike. He was listening to music over some speakers he had tucked away somewhere about his person. I was happy to leave him to it. I wasn't feeling social. My plans did not include social interaction. I was going to knit until the bus came, and then I was going get on the bus, open up my laptop, and write until we got to my stop in Longmont.

However, Dude is feeling social. And what he says to me is, "You took a picture of that weed, huh?"

Men? People presenting as male who happen to read this blog? I want you to know, if you don't already know, how that is likely to come across to a woman traveling by herself on public transportation. He may well have meant to communicate that he had taken an friendly interest in me and would welcome a conversation. Well and good, but I didn't want him taking an interest in me, I didn't want any conversation, and what I heard was, "I've been watching you for the last five minutes or more. Just so's you know."

Now, even if his first overture had not been so creepy, I still would not have welcomed conversation. I wanted to be left alone. But I really didn't want anything to do with this guy now. "That's my business, not yours," is what I said.

Rude? Maybe. But here's the thing: No one is obliged to give you their time or attention just because you talked to them. Anyone may refuse the invitation to interact. And if you're a guy approaching a gal before getting on the same bus as her, you gotta realize--she cannot physically get away from you without upsetting her travel plans. She has no escape other than the one you grant her by accepting rejection gracefully.

Turn it around; imagine if you were obliged to engage in conversation with every single person who, at no cost to themselves, decided to aim words at you. Sounds exhausting, doesn't it? At this point I invite you to Google the term "emotional labor." Or better yet, "men act entitled to women's emotional labor."

Men like to act as if commanding women’s attention is their birthright, their natural due, and they are rarely contradicted. It’s a radical act to refuse them that attention.

In any case, I've learned that "rude" is a lot more effective at getting guys to leave me alone on public transit than is contriving to make my "no" sound acceptably polite. Or, Gods forfend, than a lack of "no" at all. You know. The polite but non-inviting response? "Yes. I was." (silence) In my experience, guys who are invested in gaining women's attention will read an invitation into any attention, no matter how negative. I mean, they're after attention. If you give them any, they win. And those kinds of guys tend to define "rude" as "a woman saying no to me in a way I can't pretend to ignore."

Since my very desire to be left alone reads as "rude" to Some Dudes, I have learned to stop worrying about politeness in these situations.

Anyway, he didn't get violent, thank goodness. I have been lucky; I have not yet encountered men who get violent when women tell them no. I damn well know women who have. And I know of some women who have, and who aren't around to tell you the story anymore except by being a statistic. "Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them." This is not exaggeration. This is our world. I have been exceptionally lucky.

No, he just got petulant. "I'm just trying to be nice and have a conversation," he said. "Some people are nice in this world."

That sound you just heard? That was me running all out of fucks to give.

"I was just trying to be nice," said with that resentful tone of voice, is always a lie. No one who says that is trying to be nice. They're trying to oblige the unwilling recipient of their so-called attempt at niceness to render them tribute in the form of affirmation, gratitude, and attention. They're trying to get rewarded for Making a Grand Gesture of Niceness. What they're not doing is concerning themselves with whether their "niceness" is needed or wanted, or even experienced as pleasant.

This is much like the pissy retort, "I was just trying to help!" in response to the helpee informing the "helper" that their attempts to help aren't helping. Doesn't matter if the helpee is polite enough for tea with the Queen; the very fact that they aren't rendering the "helper" sufficient gratitude is enough to condemn them in the "helper's" eyes. "Helper" in scare-quotes, again, because such people aren't concerned with whether their target is actually helped.

Anyway, he got one more dig in when we boarded the bus, about how he didn't want to deal with "aggressive people." Funny how we can define "aggressive" in such different ways. I consider it "aggressive" to refuse to respect someone else's wish not to engage. But whatever. He didn't say boo to me the rest of the trip, and I for one appreciate it. (There's the gratitude you were looking for, Dude.)

So those of you reading this who want to do better, here's your takeaway for the evening.

  • Don't be creepy. Telling me you've been monitoring my behavior is creepy.
  • Having a conversation, like having sex, requires consent from both parties. Respect my "no."
  • When there's no physical "out" available, respecting my "no" becomes even more important.
  • "Nice," like "help," is in the eye of the recipient.
  • You aren't entitled to anyone else's time, attention, or gratitude, unless you're paying them for it. And sometimes not even then.

So that's my story. Guaranteed there will be others as I continue being a woman in public.

Cover art features original photography by the author, who isn't sure how she managed to avoid getting wax everywhere.
get up on time, get enough sleep, pick one, you still get a fictionette
Sat 2016-06-18 02:30:32 (single post)
  • 1,509 words (if poetry, lines) long

OK so it's technically Saturday now, but I haven't gone to bed yet, so it's morally still Friday. Or philosophically. Or something like that. Something like that is my story and I'm sticking to it, whatever it is.

Your Friday Fictionette for June 17, the third Friday of this month, is "Happy Birthday, Dear Bob." It's one of those funny horror stories that I sometimes write, which I then have trouble convincing people is actually funny. It is not a spoiler to state that Bob is emphatically not having a very good birthday. Bob needs to learn to stick up for himself! It's hard.

I succeeded at getting up on time! Last night wasn't as bad as Wednesday night, but it was still pretty bad, how long it took me to get to sleep. Nevertheless, I got up to see John out the door to work, and then I stayed up. I am considering this a victory despite how slowly I moved through the day and how late I got done with the day's work. I'm running on not quite enough sleep; moving slow is expected behavior.

(One of the exercises in The Artist's Way is to list ten ways in which you're mean to yourself. One way I've been mean to myself is dismissing small victories for not being good enough, or for not being the victory I really want. I'm practicing congratulating myself on small victories. This is me, practicing. Yay, me! Good job getting out of bed and staying out of bed!)

I will need to finish next week's fictionette early. My fourth Friday in June will be spent driving to Salt Lake City--that's about eight hours away--for Wasatch Roller Derby's Great Salt Skate. The BCB All Stars will compete in three bouts. I'm going to be skating in all of them. I'm also going to get to see a very dear friend, someone I met at the same summer camp where I met John (she was my roomie!). I last saw her just once several years ago for about three whole hours, and one weekend several years before that, and so forth back through the years until we wind up back in those first three weeks during the summer of 1992. But I'm going to see her the weekend of June 25--and she's going to get to see me skate! I really hope she gets to see me skate well and not make a fool of myself... (That would be the nerves talking. I am a bundle of nerves.)

Anyway, it will be terribly exciting, but it means I have to get the weekly tasks done somewhat earlier than the last wee hours of Friday, technically or philosophically speaking. So it's a good thing I intend to continue getting up on time between now and then, every day, no exceptions. And hopefully sleep better at night and function at 100% during the day. Right? Right.

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