inasmuch as it concerns Support Structures:
For friends and family, those we gush about on "Dedication and Acknowledgements" pages and gripe about on the phone to Mom, Great Gods and Goddesses we thank ye.
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.
well maybe more of a workout vacation
I've come to the last night of what has been an exceedingly active visit to the New Orleans area. It has not in any way been a working vacation, which, OK, I shouldn't have expected. But it has been an active one. Darn near athletic.
I've spent a lot of time with Dad, mostly to do with cooking, sometimes to do with housecleaning, often just watching TV and chatting. We went to the Tremé Fall Festival, then out for a beer at Dad's favorite bar. (Between beers while out and mixed drinks while home, I accuse Dad of trying to get me drunk. Which isn't to say he should stop, mind you.) We went grocery shopping several times. I've visited a couple times with my brother, once at the bar and once here at the house. Visited also with various people who dropped by. I've been up early every morning and asleep early every night, because that's what Mom and Dad do and I have an easily influenced sleep schedule.
But I've also been dropping off early every night because I am exhausted. And this is probably because I've been skating. And by skating, I mean a lot. I came here with the intention to skate all the trails, and by all the Gods, I have skated on the trails. Not all of them, but a healthy selection thereof. And every single full day of my stay.
It goes like this:
Saturday, October 2: Home to Bonnabel Boat Launch via streets and Lakefront Trail (0.8 miles)
Mom goes to mass every morning. Her routine these days has contracted to a small handful of set rituals, and that's one of them. She can't drive anymore (at least, not and reliably get where she's going), so Dad and their network of friends have arranged for a transport rota.
On Saturday AM, a friend of the family drove her there, and with that particular friend there is also a ritual: After mass, they drive over to the Bonnabel Boat Lanch to look at the waves and the sea gulls. Dad and I met them there, him by car and me by skates.
The Bonnabel Canal is a big landmark of my childhood. It flows right behind my neighborhood and into the lake; the Bonnabel Pumping Station sits where the one meets the other. If you cross the canal on any of the little bridges and head north on Bonnabel Boulevard you wind up at the boat launch. Since my childhood, and since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a lot of development on all of the above-named structures. The pumping station has a concrete storm shelter on concrete pillar stilts, three stories above the ground, so that never again will the pumping station lie inactive during a storm because of the engineers having been evacuated out of reach. The boat launch is cleaned up and green and built out, with lots of parking spaces for vehicles and a park with a children's playground and a fenced dog yard and a pier that's strong and new and surfaced with concrete. The bike path crosses the canal on a flat bridge behind the pumping station, so there's no need for pedestrians, bicyclists or skaters to detour through the neighborhoods as I used to have to do.
And the little cross street that I take from my house to the bike path access spur has been repaved since last time I was in town. That was a nice surprise. It was smooth and pleasant on my way up to the levee, and safe to descend to from the levee at speed. So I got to the boat launch about the same time as Dad's car arrived and only just a few minutes behind Mom and the family friend who was driving her, and got home before any of them did.
It was a nice easy start, sort of an appetizer. Other trips would be longer. Not heroic, not epic marathons, but certainly longer.
Sunday, October 3: Home to Lakeshore Drive, Picnic Shelter No. 1 via streets and Lakefront Trail (5.6 miles)
That bike path I was on Saturday, labeled by Google Maps as "Lakefront Trail" but referred to on other websites as "Linear Park," traces the entire length of Jefferson Parish along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, never leaving sight of the water. As of 2014, its 10-mile length is entirely uninterrupted, to say nothing of the much shorter distance between the Bonnabel Canal and Old Hammond Highway. So it was without much difficulty that I rolled in at the door of Captain Sid's Seafood at 9:50 AM and asked for a dozen boiled blue crabs.
"They won't be ready until about 10:45," I was told. "Can you take another few laps around?"
So I continued on into Orleans Parish and over down Lakeshore Drive to watch the sailboats for a while. This was somewhat bumpier, as the streets aren't uniformly in as good condition as the trail, and the sidewalks along Lakeshore Drive are paved with red brick, but it was pleasant. Things smoothed out like a skating rink when I reached the park along the water. I remember being taken out to this park, which the grown-ups simply called "The Lakefront," to sit on the sea steps and drop crab nets in the water. Skating alongside those steps now, I reflected that, in case of a fall, roller derby gear will protect one from impact but not necessarily from a wetting (nor the undertow, which a friend's parents informed me would, should I fall in, promptly suck me under the stone steps to drown--that's hot spicy nightmare fuel if ever an 8-year-old heard some), and proceeded with caution in the area.
At 10:45 the crabs were ready for pick-up. The folks at Captain Sid's put them in a brown paper bag, I put that in a plastic kitchen garbage sack, and the whole thing went carefully upright in my Riedell gear pack. Dad and I ate the whole dozen practically in a single sitting. They were that good.
Monday, October 4: Covington to Abita Springs via the Tammany Trace (6.92 miles)
Plans could not have been more perfect, I thought. Lunch with a high school friend in Covington, skating the Trace into Abita Springs, then a beer at the Abita Brew Pub. The weather was good and the trailheads were each pretty much on the doorstep of what I wanted to do in their respective towns.
Only problem: A fair number of restaurants are closed on Monday. Including the ones I had planned my day around. I thought I'd done my homework, but apparently I missed some little details.
It wasn't a day-wrecker. It was just a disappointment. Dad had been talking up DiCristina's and I really wanted to try it. And not only have I wanted to visit the Abita Brew Pub since I first realized it existed, but I was holding that visit out to myself as a reward for all that good exercise on the trail. "I did it! I got here! Yay! ...Oh." I'll have to do it again next trip, and not on a Monday. Meanwhile, lunch wound up being at a deli that was even closer to the Covington trailhead, and the beers I enjoyed at Rosie's Tavern across the street from Abita were in fact Abita seasonals I'd never tried before. So that was fine.
The trail was just gorgeous. Skating it was its own reward. Just the portion that crosses Bogue Falaya I would happily skate back and forth on for hours. And the whole way the trail traveled on land, it was bordered by those same lush ribbons of varied plant life, narrow strips of something like swamp forest, that I've always loved staring at out the window of my parents' car on the way to visit northshore family. Dragonflies everywhere. Birds and bugs and things. And shade. Shade is important. Also there was a snoball stand where the Trace continues on after crossing Highway 190. There is nothing like skating along a scenic trail with a purple king cake flavored snoball in my hand. Unless it's skating along with a snoball of a different flavor, of course. (Purple is my least favorite color of king cake. It tastes like numerical red food dye. Should have had the wedding cake flavor, or the coffee-and-cream.)
I had my only real fall of my whole 5-day stay. It was on my way back to Covington, after--ironically--the bartender at Rosie's had said having my wheels on in the house was fine as long as I didn't fall. Well. I didn't fall there. Anyway, during much of the ride there and back I'd been practicing my transitions at speed, which is to say turning around to skate backwards then turning around to skate forwards without affecting my rate or vector of travel. That had been fine. But for some reason when I transitioned just one more time to get a better look at some asphalt splotches that seemed to form letters across the track, I went down backwards on my ass. Thankfully, nothing took damage, neither the laptop in my gearpack (snug against my back and cushioned away from the point of impact by my hoodie stuffed into the large compartment where my protective gear usually goes) nor the camera hanging off my wrist nor my phone tucked into the strap of my left elbow pad. I did not even rip my brand new Saints leggings. (I have brand new Saints leggings! I got them here.).
And then I drove back across the lake to the southshore, listening to podcasts the whole way.
Tuesday, October 5: Audubon Park to Oschner Hospital via the Mississippi River Trail (5.6 miles)
The Mississippi River Trail aspires to continue along the river all the way from Louisiana to Minnesota. This has not yet been accomplished, but some hefty segments are done and ready for travel. Among them is the 60-mile stretch along the east bank from New Orleans to Reserve, Louisiana. I skated the first half hour of that today--which is to say, a half hour out and a half hour back. That amount of time took me from my car in the Audubon Zoo parking lot (Google tells me I was where Aquarium Drive meets West Drive, where the River Drive one-way begins) onto the trail and back the way I'd come as far as Oschner Hospital on River Road.
For the first ten minutes, I seriously considered giving up, turning around, and just skating a lap around the golf course in the park. That trail has been recently paved and is said to be smooth as silk as it circles under the shade of the old oak trees. By contrast, the Mississippi River Trail is in full sun and starts out punishingly rough with no view whatsoever to speak of. But then it finally ascends to the top of the levee on smoother pavement. The view of the river is fantastic. Looking over the city, you get the feeling of being at the top of the world.
Unfortunately, the sun is very much a factor. Despite the trip being shorter than the day's before, and despite the two bottles of water consumed over the hour of travel, I was starting to get slighlty short of breath in that particularly asthmatic way that I associate with impending sunstroke by the time I returned to the car.
If I do that trail again, I'll skip the zoo parking lot and come in by way of one of the access spurs I spotted in Jefferson Parish, one at The River Center and one at Oschner. Just skip that awful bit of trail that's sandwiched between a chain link fence and a parade of what appeared to be industrial government facilities. And I won't forget my sunscreen next time.
So that leaves Wednesday. Wednesday I get on the train to start the two-day trip back to Colorado. I have my usual volunteer reading to do and parents who'll want to maximize our visiting time before I go, so I doubt I'm going to get a chance to skate more tomorrow. Besides, four days of trail skating in a row is plenty; I think my body needs a slight break. But I won't swear not to do any skating in Chicago on Thursday.
this fictionette fulfilled almost all expectations
The Friday Fictionette nominally for September 23, 2016 but functionally for September 30 has gone up. I put it up last night, but then I pretty much collapsed, so you get the blog post today. It's "Living It Up," and, as mentioned before, it's mostly a shameless hate-fic in reaction to one of my least favorite stories of recent years. (Because of the Puppying of the Hugos, I feel I should specify that nothing makes it onto my "least favorite stories" list if it didn't stand a chance of not being on that list in the first place. Otherwise the list would be unmanageably long.) But as I wrote it and had to give examples of the main character's boyfriend being a jerk, I wound up coloring him in with the broad brush I obtained as a small child being bullied by my older cousins and one particular uncle. The rest of the family had various enabling spins on the bullying; one of them was that I clearly had no sense of humor or else I'd find the bullying funny. So... that kind of informed the development of the antagonist of this fictionette.
Look, I never promised you subtlety in this exercise. You get an ebook and an audiobook version depending on your subscription tier, you get them four times a month, you get sentences and paragraphs that more or less make sense and add up to a story-like object, and you get a glimpse into my writing process whether you want it or not. You don't necessarily get literature.
I had a nice long day in Metairie after my nice long day on the train: rental car adventures, traffic on I-10 West, the last 15 minutes of game play (which is to say, the better part of an hour) of my high school's homecoming game--which they won by a comfortable margin and with several showy interceptions too--and then dinner courtesy of My Father the Cook. (Venison and green onion sausage with a side of garden-fresh okra? Yes please thank you any time!) Stayed up late talking with Dad and exchanging stand-up comedian recommendations--not the best of ideas, as it turns out; he didn't get Maria Bamford, and I'll be happy not to hear any more of Anthony Jeselnik pretty much ever. But we both partake of the geek/nerd/fan nature and want so much to share with each other the things we enjoy! In any case, we didn't part ways for the night until well past 9:00 PM. Generally I consider that downright early, but after all the day's activity and travel I was ready to drop.
Oh, right, predictions for Thursday. They were good! Everything happened as hope--including skating in Chicago! There was no rain falling when I got there, though it clearly had fallen (and was still falling in Naperville). I did indeed skate the Lakefront Trail to Navy Pier. The trail's paving is not the best for skates--it's very bumpy--but it goes all the way there. Then a very diligent security guard made me de-wheel myself on the pier itself. I met my friend for dinner at Giordanos by the Children's Museum and we had a far too short visit before he had to drive me back to the train station.
Once I got settled on the train, I spent some time trying to prepare "Stand By For Your Assignment" for submission. That story is giving me such trouble. I can't seem to make the words do what I want them to do. The story goes clunk, clunk, clunk. I think I need to stand back and give it more of an eagle's eye once-over, ask myself what I'm trying to do with the story overall, and only once I have the larger structure pointing in that direction will I be able to get any joy on a line-by-line level.
I'm terribly afraid I'm stuck in the perfection trap, though. The one where you never finish and you never move on because you can't seem to get it perfect. I keep telling myself, just let the story stand as a record of where your craft is now, so you can move on to where your craft is trying to go. But the story needs to be at least publishable before I let it go, right? In theory?
Anyway, that was Thursday night. Friday morning, instead of doing more work on "Stand By...," I played around with a new story idea inspired by an anecdote I overheard, told by one of the train staff (assistant conductor, maybe?) in the sightseer lounge. I'm not going to get this right, and I have no idea how true it is, but it began, "This town we're passing through here, Stanton, Iowa..." Seems there was a woman who traveled from France to the U.S., took a job as a nanny for some family somewhere, but turned out to be unsuited for the job, possibly due to mental illness, also possibly due to not having the proper immigration documents, and she just... ran away? Disappeared into the midwest, I guess, and wound up in Stanton, Iowa. And that's where the immigration officials finally caught up with her, months later. Or at least found out what became of her? I'm not sure; I just remember that the last thing the storyteller said, which seemed like a complete non sequitor, not to mention at right angles to reality, was, "I guess the feral cats got to her."
*Blink. Blink.* Feral cats? Did I mishear? I don't know, but that day's freewriting exercise had the writing prompt "The feral cats of Stanton, Iowa." (It may also have been influenced by having recently read "If You Were a Tiger, I'd Have to Wear White" by Maria Dahvana Headley.) It seems likely to turn into a real story, too. And that's good, because I need to stockpile submission-ready short stories this month--but that's another story which I shall tell at another time.
being the tragic comedy and comic tragedy of the death and resurrection of the 1997 Saturn SW2
Oh, my goodness, it's been a normal day at last. A normal day, with normal workday expectations, with the normal workday rituals, and with the normal battle between me and the short story currently under revision. (There are things I want said in the first scene, and there seems to be no good way to say them.) A normal Tuesday also with its normally scheduled roller derby beat-down because what doesn't kill us makes us strong. A normal day. Bliss.
So. Now that things have returned to normal, I will very briefly (Ha!) recount for you the tale of woe known as The Death and Resurrection of the 1997 Saturn SW2.
Here's the thing about a 20-year-old car: We knew quite well it needed replacing. We'd been talking about it all year. The problem is, we hadn't managed to find time to go car shopping, or even to think about what we might want in a new car. "After Boise," we kept saying to each other, referring to the last roller derby bout in a series of bouts each placed uncomfortably soon after the previous. "We'll have a little room to breathe after Boise."
We also knew quite well that, the car being 20 years old, it should get a check-up before we entrusted it with our trip to Salt Lake City. So on Thursday morning, June 23, I took it to the shop. The shop recommended some work be done. We did that work. The car was then proclaimed fit for the drive.
I am telling you this so that you will know that we did our due diligence.
On June 24, six hours into the eight-hour drive, 90 miles short of our destination, our transmission went out. Just died. By flooring the gas pedal, we managed to limp into the Pilot Travel Center in Evanston, Wyoming, exit 6 on I-80 west, at about 25 miles per hour and with our hazard lights blinking. We pulled into a parking space in a cloud of steam and a waterfall of bubbling-over coolant fluid. Things looked grim.
Thanks to the magic of Triple A Plus and the miracle of having made it just close enough, we were towed at no charge the whole rest of the way to our hotel. So at least we were there, more or less on time, and ready to participate in the Wasatch Roller Derby Great Salt Skate as planned. We'd be relying on our teammates' good graces and the remaining empty spaces in their cars to ferry us between the hotel and the venue, but our ability to skate or coach (depending on who you're talking about) at the event remained unimpaired.
The next day, the mechanic around the corner from the hotel (recommended to us glowingly by the Triple A agent) gave us the bad news. Why did the transmission go out? Because all the transmission fluid had leaked away. Why was there a leak in the transmission? Because the transmission was one of the few things remaining in that car that was actually still 20 years and 285,000 miles old. (The chassis is one of the few other things. The engine is not.) There was no sign of impact. It wasn't an accident. It was simple wear and tear--and nothing we could have expected our usual mechanic to have discovered, because it hadn't developed that leak until midway through our drive. It was just rotten luck and terrible, terrible timing. And our transmission, due no doubt to having been driven without fluid, fried its little self to a crisp. The only way that Saturn was riding again was with a new transmission--which the mechanic wasn't 100% certain he could source, it being for a car that not only was 20 years old but also whose manufacturer was no longer around to make parts for a Saturn SW2.
I got this news during half time of our first bout of the weekend. Imagine me geared up, phone at ear, rolling back and forth behind the short bank of spectator bleachers. Pacing. On roller skates. "Fleur? Is your head in the game?" Yes. Well. It will be.
John, that is to say Papa Whiskey, was in full-on coach mode, having just given the half-time pep talk when I got off the phone and told him what I'd learned. He put his arm around me and he said, "Whatever happens, we will figure this out, and we will handle it together." It was just what I needed to hear, and, weirdly, just the way I needed to hear it. A reminder that I wasn't alone. And that we weren't there alone. It wasn't just the Niki-and-John team, which is a pretty valiant team in its own right. The two of us had the rest of the BCB All Stars team with us, and we were part of that team, and just knowing that, I think, made both of us feel more capable. Indomitable. Up to whatever challenge life threw at us. Strong, Smart, Together. You hate for crisis to hit, but if it must, let it hit while you've got your roller derby team surrounding you.
We pause while the author composes herself. *ahem.*
So we had several decisions to make, some more urgent than others. The big one was, if the mechanic can source a replacement transmission, do we have them put it in? Into--I repeat--a 20-year-old car? The urgent decision was, how are we getting back to Boulder so that people can go to work on Monday? The answers transpiring on Saturday the 25th were "Maybe? Depending on the price?" and "Probably Niki will stay in SLC with her friend, and the rest of the carpool will find room in other carpools. We hope? And then maybe Niki will wish she had just gone home if it turns out the mechanic can't source a new transmission and/or we decide to abandon the vehicle? But at least she'll get a nice visit with her friend out of it?"
Then on Sunday morning we remembered that rental cars existed. The original carpool could go home Sunday afternoon/evening as planned, just in a 2016 Dodge rather than in a 1997 Saturn. Don't think we didn't notice the difference in the ride. (We were, in the course of things, reminded how expensive one-way out-of-state rentals can be, especially if you pick the car up at an airport but do not return it to an airport. What price peace of mind, right?) And I'd return to SLC alone if need be. So. We finished out the tournament, checked out of the hotel, and drove back to Boulder without incident.
That's Part 1 of the story.
Now, before I get to Part 2, I need to tell you this: I've retold this story several times, and very, very often, well-meaning friends will hear the bit about the transmission being fried and reflexively burst out, "No! A new transmission? No way. And it would cost how much? No. Not worth it. Get a new car. Stupid to put that kind of money into such an old car." And then they hear Part 2, and realize that they pretty much just called us, their friends, stupid. So it goes. Friends do that. They say unfortunate things to each other, they forgive each other, they move on. But, see, I really want to say this:
Everyone's got a right to make the best decision for themselves regarding the use of their particular resources, and, well, respect that, yeah?
Also, unfortunately, I kinda have Daddy Issues in this department. My Dad has many good qualities, don't get me wrong, but no parent is perfect, and, well, he authored a few of my most notable neuroses. Right now what I'm thinking of is the approach he took to Teaching Good Judgment. It goes like this: Any time young Niki had a decision to make, it was a test. Will Niki excercise good judgment? It was an easy test to evaluate. Either young Niki made exactly the decision her Dad would have made, in which case she had exercised good judgment, or she would make ANY OTHER DECISION which was by definition WRONG and STUPID and proof that she did not have good judgment and could not be trusted with responsibilities or privileges.
(Friends who know me well may also see the seeds of my own tendency to just assume that any plan I come up with is Obviously THE Most Logical Way to Do Things. I'm working on it. Sorry, friends.)
So you can see where I struggled with the decision. I knew very well what The Right Decision was. The Right Decision was to abandon the car and redirect the money that would have gone into the new transmission into the down payment on a new car. To do anything else would be WRONG and STUPID and proof that Niki Cannot Be Trusted With Money Or A Car.
The problem was... abandoning the car would leave John and I with no car. We can get by with no car, but not comfortably, and not for long. (For instance: During the week we had no car, there was a day I could not secure a ride to roller derby practice, so I biked it. It's possible! It also takes 45 minutes to an hour each way, there is no street lighting for almost the entire way, and a bike ride of that length requires an expenditure of physical energy that I'd rather save for roller derby practice.) And, remember, we had made no start on new-car-shopping yet, and new-car-decisions need to be made by people who can walk away from the table, not by people who are under the We Have No Car We Need A Car We Must Buy A Car NOW pressure. So we were really deciding between two different "wastes of money"--prolonging the life of the existing car so we could have time to make the right decision for ourselves on a new car later in the year (and enjoy having two cars for a little while), or pressuring ourselves into making a quite possibly poor decision on a replacement car NEXT WEEK.
(That's the logical stuff. There was emotional stuff at play, too, like I'm not ready to let it goooooooo! I'd be lying if I said there wasn't. But it was the logical stuff that won the day.)
The mechanic in Salt Lake called Monday and quoted us a price on a remanufactured transmission with a 100,000-mile/3-year warranty attached. We discussed it, determined that we could afford it, and--after much more discussion, because this was the hard part--decided that it was worth it to us. We told the mechanic to go ahead. Then I reserved train fare for the following weekend.
(I dithered over whether I should ever admit to Dad that this is, in fact, happened. We'd been talking about the car situation on and off for some time; besides, it was roller derby adjacent, and I tell him all my best roller derby stories. In the end, I did tell him the whole Salt Lake City saga. It was like pulling off a Band-Aid. And, as it turned out, he did not say anything about poor judgment. I guess he really has adapted to the idea that his little girl is a grown-up now. Like I said, my Dad has many good qualities.)
Intermission over. We now proceed to Part 2. Part 2 is me returning to SLC to recover the car.
That, by the way, is my first attempt to Storify something. It doesn't tell the whole story, but it gives a good outline. You can see, by the way, why it took me so long to find time to blog about it. I'm not even sure I really had time tonight. But we all make the decisions that seem the best for us with the resources that we do have, and I'm blogging it tonight anyway.
So from the Storify you've got the basics: Sunday, July 3rd, at 5:00 AM, I biked down to Boulder Downtown Station to get on the 6:00 AM bus to Denver Union Station, arriving at 7:00 AM or so. I boarded the Amtrak train to Salt Lake City at 7:45 and began that 15-hour journey at 8:05. Amtrak, you see, was much cheaper than another car rental, since I have a goodly stash of Amtrak Guest Reward points stashed away for just such occasions. Well, mainly I have them stashed away to spend on single-zone one-way sleeper accommodations, but they are also useful for this sort of situation. Amtrak was much cheaper in terms of stress, too; I'd already have to make one 8-hour drive alone, so why make two if I could help it?
It was a super relaxing ride. It was gorgeous. The whole drive up to Salt Lake the first time--well, as far as John and I were driving--I kept exclaiming about the geology, the erosion-sculpted rocks, the colors of the strata, the way the mesas looked like giant children's play-dough sculptures plopped atop a table draped in a flowing tablecloth with crumbs spilling down the folds. "Fleur, you missed your calling," my teammate joked. Don't we all have multiple alternate lives we could have lived, and maybe are living now in some alternate universe somewhere? Anyway, I got to really feast my eyes on it this time through. I also was able to get some writing done, and some reading too. And playing, of course. Computer full of little clicky games, why not?
AND I GOT TO CATCH UP ON SLEEP. If you've been reading along, you know how important that was.
July 4 was a small respite from all the comings and goings. Not only did I get to skate around downtown Salt Lake City for a bit and then relax in my hotel room like someone with nothing better to do (bliss! having nothing better to do!), but there was time also for a long, unhurried evening having dinner with my very dear friend and her family. Even if I didn't already have Sound Logical Reasons for going to all this expense and effort to get our car back, even if those Reasons weren't in and of themselves perfectly sufficient, there was knowing also that if I went back to Salt Lake City, I'd get to see my friend again, and with any luck for more than that very hurried hour in the hotel lobby that was all we got during the first trip. It was worth that whole second trip, Monday the 4th was.
OK, wow, I've been at this blog post for two hours. Two hours after roller derby practice. And this post has exceeded 2,000 words, sez Scrivener. So, um... more later? There will be more later. The Storify has the short version, but I'm not really good at non-verbose. You may have noticed.
you only get one back but also only 24 hours in a day
The linden tree out front opened its blossoms today sometime between 9:00 AM and noon. I'm guessing, anyway. It only makes sense. I didn't notice smelling it on my way out to the car this morning, but when I got back around lunch time the scent hit me like a ton of bricks dropped out of Paradise.
(Something else smelling paradisiacal, or at least not terrible, is my derby gear. I washed it today, every piece of it. In the washing machine on the delicates/handwash and small load settings, then a little tea tree oil in the rinse, and finally out in the sun to dry, at least until the afternoon's rain storm. I'm still not over the miracle of owning our own washer and dryer. If we'd been still on the Remington Post coin-ops, I'd have had to hand-wash the suckers in the bathtub.)
I had the car so I could get to Longmont where my chiropractic appointment was. Actually, I'd arranged with John to have the car, by dint of dropping him off at work (hence the morning out, the writing session at a cafe near his office, and the return home for noon), so I could make that appointment and Bombshells practice--but I was talked out of going to practice by pretty much everyone I mentioned my foot pains to. "We need you in top form this weekend," pretty much everyone said. "Don't injure your foot!" (That should be capitalized. Pretty Much Everyone is a recurring character in my lightly fictionalized biography.) So I restricted myself and my foot to just the chiro appointment.
I have never gone to chiro before. I mean, discounting the time I went with a "free initial evaluation" coupon to some place in north Boulder that no longer exists, which is just as well. "How are you," I greeted the practitioner, like you do. "Oh, I'm just blessed!" he replied. And I realized the waiting room music was Gospel Lite. Later, after the practitioner noticed me wearing a pentacle, he sort of speed-talked through his speech about "our God-given spine" like he wanted to get it over with as quickly as I did. Anyway, that was years ago, and I've been under no impression that it represented the entire chiropractic field.
But I was never entirely certain I believed in chiro, kind of like I'm not sure I believe in acupuncture. In the case of acupuncture, I don't have to believe or not believe; I intensely dislike being stuck with needles (not many derby skaters have exactly zero piercings and tattoos, but here I am), and my one attempt at putting up with it involved pain and tears and will not be repeated. ("What do you mean you can't stand needles? You play derby! You obviously have a high pain tolerance," says Pretty Much Everyone. I can only reply that blunt force trauma is very different from piercing trauma. I have a high tolerance for the former; for the latter, I have exactly as much tolerance as it takes to receive a flu shot at the pharmacy or a gumfull of anesthetic at the dentist's office without giving in to the urge to flee, screaming, for the nearest bunker, or library, or better still a bunker furnished with a library and also squishy plush animal toys for hugging very fiercely.)
(...Where was I? Right.)
In the case of chiro, well, something needs to be done about my back, and our roller derby league gets a generous discount from a Longmont office that sponsors us. So. I went.
I went. I got interviewed and evaluated. I got x-rayed (turns out cancer survivors must, by law, because cancer and its treatments don't necessarily play nice with long-term health of the skeletal system). I got massaged. A lot. (Her: "Tell me if we go past 'hurts so good' to you wanting to hit me." Me: "Not even close." As long as there are no needles...) My foot even got massaged. I mean the foot with the twinges that are why I'm resting from derby tonight. Then once I was judged loosened up enough for it, I got adjusted. It was surprisingly gentle. The drop tables they use are genius and make things much more comfortable than just getting squished at the track-side table that sometimes appears at roller derby bouts. Also, unlike with the track-side tables, there's an understanding that the patient will be back for repeated treatments over time, so there's no pressure to try to fix everything today.
(Nevertheless, it is remarkably creepy to get a neck adjustment. I know, intellectually, that they're not in the habit of killing their patients, but it's hard to shake the instinctual certainty that I'm about to get my neck snapped. I guess that's why they do that tap-tap-tapping on the other side of your neck and say, "Focus here," so your attention is elsewhere long enough that you're not tensed up with dread about the time they make your neck go crickle-crackle so suddenly.)
I'm to go back in tomorrow for a full body massage to get me loose and limber before the weekend's bouts. Which is fantastic and surprisingly affordable but also this was not in my previous plans for the day before we drive out of town. My plans were a full day of writing, a whole bunch of recorded reading (for AINC and for the weekly Audiofictionette), all my weekend packing, grocery shopping for road trip snacks, and a thorough cleaning of my skate wheels and bearings. All that before going downtown to meet some friends for trivia at Conor O'Neill's. Only John suggested it would be best to bring the car in for a check-up before doing eight hours in upper-80s/low-90s weather, so OK, I'm bringing him to work again and then bringing the car to the shop. And now I also need to be in Longmont at eleven, which means that instead of getting many of those other tasks done at home while waiting for the car, I'll be walking from the shop to the nearest BOLT stop and busing up to Longmont. And back. (Maybe I can get some writing done on the bus?) And it turns out--surprise!--that getting work done on my back makes me exhausted for the rest of the day.
Which sounds like I'm complaining about getting a massage. I'm not! I'm quite looking forward to the actual massage bit. Really, what I'm complaining about is that damn stupid arrow of time and its tendency to keep flying into the future so relentlessly. Isn't that what all the complaints come down to in the end?
All in all, I'm glad I took the time to wash the derby gear today, because I sure wouldn't have time tomorrow. Oh well. Here's to a better back and better sleep going forward, anyway.
anniversary number what the heck my how time flies
Today was the summer solstice and also our wedding anniversary, John's and mine. The two do not always coincide, what with the solstice's wandering each year between the 20th and the 22nd, but it fell on the 20th back in 1998 when we chose to hold our handfasting on that spoke in the wheel of the year, and it fell on the 20th this year too.
It also happens to be my parents' anniversary. My mom, bless her, no longer remembers the words for a lot of things, and she's lost an appalling amount of names and faces and memories, but she remembers the significance of June 20th. "We've been married 47 years," she said to me on the phone yesterday. "That's fantastic," I said. "We've been married 18. It's not as impressive as 47, but we think it's a good start."
Some years we reserve a table somewhere fancy or fun, like the Melting Pot in Louisville or, when it was still around, John's Restaurant (no relation) on Pearl Street. This year we opted to stay in. He hit the grocery on the way home, I biked to the farm for our CSA pick-up, and together we made home style mac 'n cheese, a big salad, and some garlic bread.
I will share with you the garlic bread recipe, because it's the first time I got it right. Previous times, I melted butter, stirred in minced garlic, then spread it on bread which I cooked under the broiler. It was good, but it was weirdly one-note. The butter flavor was "thin," if that makes sense. Even sprinkling grated Parmesan cheese on top only did so much. But today I went looking around online, found this recipe, and realized that the key was using garlic powder rather than minced garlic. Garlic powder mixes the flavor through the butter much better. It also seems to thicken the spread somewhat.
- Hack the end of last week's Artisan Sourdough Bread into thick slices.
- Melt 1/4 C butter in the microwave.
- Add to the butter 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tbl minced fresh parsley, about 1/4 C shredded or grated parmesan. (Recipe calls for salt and pepper. I forgot to add it.) Stir, stir, stir.
- Spread butter mixture on each slice of bread.
- Stack bread and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator until dinner time.
- While the macaroni water is trying to boil, preheat oven to 350 F. When oven goes ding, put bread in for about 8 or 10 minutes. Then turn oven up to broil and let it go another couple minutes until edges are as crispy as you like. (Do not overdo this unless you like your crust to be as hard as a rock.)
John proclaimed the crunchy crispy garlic bread to be the perfect textural contrast to the soft mac 'n cheese, and his sweet tea to be the perfect taste contrast to the tart pomegranate-chocolate vinaigrette on the salad. (It's our last bottle of Ravenous Chocolate. I have no idea if the company is still around. They used to come sell their salad dressings at the Boulder Farmer's Market.)
After dinner, we settled into the couch for the reading of Chapter 19 of Ancillary Sword. Just that one chapter, mind you, however much we want to devour the rest of the book in a sitting. We hope to finish up before we leave town Friday morning; then we will only need to bring one book with us (Ancillary Mercy, of course) rather than two. ("Are there really only three books?" John asked mournfully the day we read Chapter 17. "Well, so far, yes. And a handful of short stories." He thought that was Sad.)
Eighteen years. Nowhere near done yet. But definitely a good start. Let's keep it up.
starting to look like a solid trend
- 2,158 wds. long
- 1,039 wds. long
Two good days in a row! Progress on all the things. Prepared one of the Fictionette Artifacts to be mailed on Friday (with very clever illustrations on page 2, if I do say so myself) and did another solid revision session on "Stand By for Your Assignment."
Here's the thing about a good day: It takes doing. There are things I have to do to make sure they happen. Thing is, between John and myself, it's pretty much understood that I've got some form of mild (undiagnosed) depression weaseling around in my brain, whence comes (among other things) the occasional inability to get out of bed until external forces intervene. So I've got certain self-care strategies to deal with that:
- John gets to poke and prod and harass me until I am up, feet on the floor, and productively puttering about the house. (External forces!)
- By the time he leaves for work, that 20 minutes or so of upright-and-puttering helps ensure I'm fully awake and not tempted to go back to bed.
- I may not feel like writing. But I know that doing that first task will make me feel accomplished and proud, which emotional lift will carry me into the rest of the morning shift. So get to that first writing task!
- After my first task, I take a walk or otherwise small bit of exercise outside. Exercise and sunlight are known things that help ward off the funks.
But the problem with that last bullet point is, too much exercise in the sun leaves me feeling like I got walloped in the can-do. So today almost bottomed out when my bike ride up to The Diaz Farm for eggs and tasty sourdough took out all my get-up-and-go. But! I've got the evening off from roller derby--the Bombshells got a much-needed rest after all our efforts at the tournament--so enough time remained to restart the day in the afternoon and damn well get stuff done.
OK, yes, in order to convince myself to work on the short story revision, I had to do the hot-bath-and-glass-of-wine trick. But hey! I got work done on the revision, and I got a relaxing soak in the tub with a glass of wine. Win-win!
Tomorrow:A good, full writing day and Thursday scrimmage! Can it be done? YES IT CAN, my friends. Yes, it can.
but the desk has to stay against the wall
I had really good plans for today, but I managed to scuttle them via the usual reasons, i.e. sleeping late and not starting the morning shift until afternoon shift time. And here's the thing I found out: Even if I have the mental capacity to work four hours straight through--and today I might well have!--I nevertheless cannot because there are other things besides writing that I have to do with my day. Like, making several trips down to the storage closet. Catching up on the 2016 accounting (now that the 2015 taxes are out of the way). Getting up to date with league communications. Clearing out the dishes backlog in the kitchen, for heaven's sake. And etc.
This is probably related to Stephen King's anecdote, told in On Writing, about the huge oak desk in the center of the office. There's an adequate retelling of it here, but really you should read On Writing because it's just that good. Part memoir, part writer's how-to, it's earned a permanent slot in my reference library within easy reach of my own not-so-huge oak desk that's pushed up against the wall of the office that sometimes doubles as a guest room. But this is the money quote: "Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."
Now that I revisit the story, actually, I find it resonates with me even more. The bit where he replaces the monster desk in the middle of the room with a smaller desk against the wall, and this makes room for his kids to come in and share the space with him--it made me think of last night. I was up late in the evening getting some things done at my desk. Or the desk, because I want it to be available to both John and me, except really I'm the only one who uses it except when he needs to print out a bunch of stuff. Really, for the most part, "the" office is for all practical purposes my office. But last night John came in and snuggled under the blankets on the futon-couch with his laptop and some programming work, and suddenly it was our office again, and that felt unexpectedly good.
But to put this in context of today: If I've only left myself some 5 hours of the day to work with, and I owe myself 5 hours of writing, I will still not get 5 hours of writing done, because writing is only one of my responsibilities.
However, the two hours of writing I did get done today were very good. I'm not all that displeased.
But I did put off starting this blog post. The blog post is the last writing task of the night. I have this sense that once I do my blog post, the writing day is over, and my failure to log all five hours has been cemented. Which is silly, because if I had started on it as soon as practice was over tonight, I might have had time for a little short story revision afterward. But I didn't, so I don't. So once this goes up I'm pretty much going to bed.
As always, tomorrow is a new day--another chance to get it right. Hopefully, despite its being a Wednesday, I'll manage it. If not, well, Thursday is a new day too.
notes toward next visit
Today's report from My Christmas Vacation will be brief and numerical.
1. The Crab Cake Pontchartrain is delicious. It is even more delicious enjoyed in exceedingly good company.
2. I should visit downtown Covington more often. (Afternoon tea!)
3. Also Abita Springs. (Birthplace of Abita Beer!)
5. Driving alone across the Causeway Bridge is a wonderful opportunity for audiobooks.
4. I should also visit my Aunt June more often.
5. Aunt June may well be the Boulder County Bombers' newest superfan.