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.
he ain't heavy, he just wants new reading material
One of the real treats of my visits back home is getting to hang out with my brother. As kids, we were your classic case of sibling rivalry: nothing in common, irritated by each other's very existence, fighting tooth and nail all the time. As adults, we've become friends.
There's a part of me can't quite believe it. Habits die hard, after all, and my childhood relationship with my brother lasted from roughly age 6, the age I was when he was born, to age 18, when I went away to college. I haven't yet firmed up the habit of our adult friendship, since I'm only home two or three times a year for about a week at a time. And I usually see him for about four or five hours during each visit, tops. Most of that occurs during that one evening during each visit that I set aside to linger late with a beer or two and my laptop at the bar where he works. (It doesn't hurt that he catches my tab while I'm there.) So hanging out with him isn't just enjoyable. It's also a reaffirmation that, yes, we hang out. We're friends now.
Now, certain wags--most of them family members or other people who have known us since our tooth-and-nail days--will say that the reason we're friends now is we're no longer living together. Then these wags will laugh a big knowing laugh, winking and nudging, inviting me to admit that if my brother and I were housemates now we'd be at each other's throats within the week. These wags are, to put it bluntly, wrong.
Well. I shouldn't be too quick to state too firmly what would or wouldn't happen. It is given to no one to know what would have happen, as a certain fictitious Lion taught me many years ago. But I can at least state that I know myself better than many of these wags do. A lot better than one might expect. A lot of times, it seems the people who were adults while I was a child didn't actually begin to know me until I grew up. It's not just that adult-me isn't child-me. It's that many adults don't take a child seriously when she says, "This is who I am." They often assume that the child doesn't know shit, being a child and all, so they dismiss the child's claims to self-knowledge. So the adult ends up knowing very well the imaginary version of the child in their head, but often doesn't know the child at all. They express great admiration for the competent adult the child grows into, but they don't see how the seeds of that adult were there all along.
I'm reminded of this every time my mother asks me, "Hey, do you remember that time when you were little and you said...?" And she'll laugh. And I'll remember that time, and I'll bite my tongue and burn inwardly with old indignation, because I do remember that time. I remember exactly what was going on in my head when I said it. I remember how frustrating it was that Mom saw it as entertainment, a cute kid creating a cute anecdote for her to tell, while I was trying to put together a sincere expression of who I was, what I believed, what I needed emotionally. And now Mom's asking me to join with her in finding the memory a cute anecdote, because grown-up me must surely agree with her that child-me was tiresomely precocious but sometimes hella entertaining, right?
Anyway. That my brother and I are friends now has less to do with absence making the heart grow fonder, and more to do with time making grown-ups of us both. We are both more tolerant of other people's differences--heck, if we weren't, my marriage would never work. We're also both more easy to tolerate, having learned better how to make room for others in our worlds. And we've found things in common. We share stories of concerts we've gone to, drinks we've enjoyed, video games we've played, friends we've made and sometimes lost along the way.
And then there's the way siblings sometimes develop a sort of gently conspiratorial relationship as they grow up. They have better perspective now on the family that raised them, and, having gone through that experience as equals, they can compare notes. They start to get into cahoots with each other about it. They help each other understand the past, and they help each other keep an eye on the present as their parents grow older too. At least, so it was with my Mom and her siblings. So it is with me and my brother.
There are ways in which I can talk with Mom and Dad now that I couldn't then, but there are ways my brother and I can talk in which I'll never be able to talk with Mom and Dad. They will never entirely get out of the habit of seeing me as less mature, less wise in the ways of the world, less likely to have insights that are new to them and yet still true. Less likely, should our opinions differ, for them to see my opinions as valid, or me as having a right to them. To some extent, they will always feel responsible for my current outlook on life, and so every place where my worldview differs is a place where they are in conflict: Look how independent she turned out to be! ...and look how I failed to instill my values.
This isn't a conflict my brother's going to have with me. He was never responsible for me.
If anything, I'm the one who's a little guilty, now and again, of perceiving him through a limiting filter. He was five and a half years younger than me. I made a childhood career of dismissing him, underestimating him, feeling superior to him, and avoiding him. Sometimes I slip up and do to him what Mom does to me: "Hey, do you remember when you were, like, four, and you said...? Wasn't that hysterical?"
And so today I'm constantly in awe of the grown-up he turned into. I really shouldn't be. That grown-up was there all along, the same way I was there all along. It's oak trees and acorns, isn't it?
In any case, the things he remembers about child-me constantly surprise me. When the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie came out in 2005, my brother suggested we go together, because he remembered me reading him the books when he was young. When I played him the video of Lindsey Stirling performing the theme from the Legend of Zelda,he said, "I remember that was the first video game you really got into. You were writing down every single room in every single dungeon, every single square, every place where a monster came out--you were obsessed!" I had forgotten all those graph paper charts until then. The deep satisfaction of mapping my way through the first Legend of Zelda game--the first Nintendo game where you could save your progress, that's why the cartridge was gold--came back to me anew.
So anyway, it's Sunday, April the 6th, and I'm hanging out at the bar. We're having one of those long, rambling, segmented conversations that takes place in between and around his customers and friends. And--I forget how we got here--he says, "That reminds me. Why don't I have a copy of the book with your story in it?"
My brother wanted a copy of my first pro sale. Just... sit with that for a moment.
I can't even begin to adequately express how proud that made me feel. I mean, proud like a child bringing home her class project to show her parents. Look, Mom, Dad, look what I did! My brother--my little brother--wanted to look at what I did. Asked to take a look, unprompted.
It was like being the Grinch on Christmas morning. My heart grew three sizes, just like that. And I didn't even know it had room to grow.
Anyway, my brother texted me today to let me know that the copy of Blood and Other Cravings that I mailed him has arrived safely. I told him to be on the lookout for the print copy of Nameless #3 that I ordered for him, too. "Will do," sez he.
Um. Pardon me. I think there's something in my eye.
- 3,400 wds. long
Dear world: I am taking a day off from you. It is rather late in the day to decide that, admittedly. But as much day as I have left in this day, it is not an on day. It is an off day.
I had lovely great ambitions when I woke up on the train arriving in Denver this morning. I even spent the last 25 minutes before it backed up into the station working on the "Impact of Snowflakes" rewrite. Then I bussed home, did my AINC reading, and accompanied John on some errands... and then I just crashed. Was simply exhausted. Spent the time between 3:45 and 5:30 PM dead asleep, so very hard asleep that when I woke up I wasn't sure where I was nor why I'd set an alarm.
Managed to shake that lethargy off in time for roller derby practice, and roller derby practice was invigorating as usual. But that was pretty much it. I am not going to pull out some heroic maneuver to get "Snowflakes" into the WOMEN DESTROY HORROR! slush pile nor reach my 5 hours of writing for the day. I am not going to put myself under that kind of pressure, not when myself gave me a clear signal that what myself needs is rest.
Tomorrow will be a full writing day (with derby at the end of it), and Friday is my new deadline for "Snowflakes" (because it's doable, and we can't just let these things linger). My alarm is set for a work-a-day rise-and-shine kind of morning. Tonight, however, I am clocking out. I'm going to curl up in bed with a book and enjoy being in a bed that belongs to adult-me, is not being towed across the country on rails, and that also contains my husband, whom I have missed this past week-and-a-bit.
Message ends. Niki signing out.
initial call for boarding
Usually the order is "first, actually write; then blog about actually writing." Hence the name of the blog. However, in just a few hours I'll be getting on the train departing New Orleans, and I won't have any internet until tomorrow morning in Chicago. So today the order is "first, do the stuff requiring internet; then do the stuff requiring no internet." Thus, an early blog post.
It has been a good trip. I've spent it in full-on vacation mode: eating ridiculous amounts of good food, playing truly silly amounts of Puzzle Pirates, spending time with family, reconnecting with old friends. I had very little schedule to adhere to, most of it taken up with Saturday's Alumni Weekend and Class of '94 20th Reunion activities. The rest of my time I filled by saying "yes" to whatever suggestions came my way (which is how I ended up drinking beer and playing boo-ray with Dad's family the other night) and/or wandering around my old neighborhood on either two wheels or eight (the family bike now has a new seat that isn't falling apart, by the way -- you're welcome).
Saturday night's class reunion was well-attended. I want to say that somewhere between a third to a half of everyone showed up, which with a class of about 60 people means around 25 attendees maybe. Our hosts threw an excellent party in their gorgeous big uptown home, and there was food and drink and a collection of high school year books and unexpectedly excellent weather. In the "why didn't I think of that?" category, there were spike-your-own snowballs. ("These are magic snowballs," sez she. "What kind of magic?" sez me. "Booze magic," sez she. "I'll have mine with almond cream and Amaretto," sez me.)
I discovered that I really need to have snappy elevator pitch answers to "haven't seen you in forever" type questions. By the end of the evening, most of my answers had simmered down to their bare essentials. A detailed description of recent and forthcoming publications, which had the potential to cause eyes to glaze over and certainly wasn't going to be remembered in the morning, eventually became, "Yes, I'm still writing. I have a couple short stories coming out later this year."
I also discovered that some of my old classmates are still in New Orleans, having moved back or having never left, and there's no good reason I don't look them up when I'm town.
Last night I spent hanging out with a beer and my laptop at the Metairie establishment where my brother tends bar. I try to do that once every visit. It's generally quiet on Sundays, so we end up having a long rambling conversation in brief, unhurried segments between his serving other customers or my doing things on the computer. And there's a big difference between seeing him over lunch at our parents' house, surrounded by all those reminders of being kids together, and seeing him in a bar where he works, surrounded by proof that we're both grown-ups now. I got to visit with him in both environments yesterday. It's been a very good trip.
And now I've reached my last morning waking up in my childhood bed in my childhood room, drinking the coffee Dad left for me when he went to work, contemplating packing everything up for travel. And it's Monday. I'll be easing out of vacation mode and into work day mode while the train takes me north to Chicago. I still have a short story to revise. The market I originally wanted to submit it to has extended its deadline, so I might yet make it after all.
tired niki is tired
And I don't want to be tired. Certainly not while I'm in New Orleans. I want to save up all my tired and spend it during the train ride Monday and Tuesday, when I'll have nothing better to do than sleep. Well, and write, of course. But it is an utter waste of opportunity to be tired while I'm here.
Although I suppose I have reason. My agenda while I'm staying with my parents tends to look something like this:
- Wake up at 7 AM. Drink coffee1. Do Morning Pages. Visit with Mom and Dad, and also Mom's friend who comes to swim in the mornings, before everyone leaves for work.
- Go to all the places! Run all the errands! Often by bike!
- Eat all the things! (Today, all the things involved shrimp. It's a Friday in Lent.)
- Weather permitting, do a little skating. "A little" today meant "about a mile and a half along the Lakefront Trail from the Bonnabel Pumping Station to the Bucktown Marsh and back, and also do it NOW before the rain blows in."
- More visiting. More eating. More drinking.
- Fall over exhausted around 9:00 PM.
Tonight's visiting involved accompanying my Dad on his weekly dinner and Bourré session (with house rules for ante and bourré penalty) with his sisters and their families. They kept me up way past my bedtime.
Anyway, that's why Niki's so tired.
1Dad makes coffee every morning. When I'm in town he makes enough for two. Also, at least once or twice during my visit he ends up buying me a beer or mixing me a martini. Dad getting me drinks is one of those weird Signs You're Now a Grown-up that I haven't gotten used to yet and probably never will. (Another is encouragement to call parents' friends and some aunts and uncles by their first names without the accustomed Mr/Miss/Aunt/Uncle honorific.) (back)
Arrival upon the train they call the City of New Orleans
I arrived in New Orleans today. Dad picked me up at the train station and drove me back to Metairie, where Mom and a goodly handful of neighbors waited to say hello. Thus, this blog post comes to you from the very comfy location of my childhood bed in my childhood home. Other than a lingering familiar paranoia reawakened by finding a two-inch long cockroach scrabbling noisily in the kitchen sink when I went down for a late night cup of tea, which has me fighting down a case of the screaming heebie-jeebies every time I go to open a cupboard, retrieve stuff from the pantry, or, y'know, set feet to floor, I'm feeling fairly happy.
(This is not an indication of any lack of cleanliness in my parents' household, by the way. This is simply an indication that their house is in the Gulf South. Two-inch long cockroaches are simply a fact of life, which I must face if I ever want to live here full time again. Or even part time.)
The train ride was two nights long, and I managed to just about keep to my five-hour-a-day writing schedule throughout. That's because there's really nothing else on the train to do. Well, other than listen to podcasts, read ebooks and digitally published short stories (downloaded ahead of time because there is no onboard wifi on the California Zephyr), play video games, knit, darn socks, talk to strangers, and space out watching the scenery go by. So! It was easy. Kinda sorta.
I brought my skate bag along, reasoning that since I was going to miss three roller derby practices I might as well get some outside skating time. In Chicago, between trains, I skated from the station over to Sushi Pink for food, sake, and the wifi necessary to get yesterday's blog post up and do various online errands. A man on a street corner saw me coming and shouted, "Hey, what's up, roller derby?" which made me grin. A little girl on another street corner told her mom, "I want to roller skate!" which made me grin even harder.
Today, after greeting practically everyone in the neighborhood and then helping Dad eat all the cold boiled blue crabs he had remaining in the refrigerator, I went for a skate/walk with Mom (me skating, she walking) up the levee and over to the Bonnabel boat launch. Levee access is all open now, and the bike/pedestrian path is smooth as silk. I showed Mom some of the stuff I'm practicing, which I think she appreciated. She hears about roller derby all the time, but she doesn't much get to see it, so I think that, despite the one time she got to watch me scrimmage, she mostly just has this vague idea that "Niki gets to learn how to do new things in skates, which makes her happy, which in turn makes me happy."
So I'm getting skate time in, and I'll try to make it a daily thing. Weather permitting, that is. I'm also going to try to keep to my writing schedule, though I'm not letting HabitRPG hold me to the full five hours until I'm back in Boulder.
And that is all for tonight.
these are things that happen
One of the nice things about being a full-time writer, working from home, being your own boss, and all that jazz, is if on some Friday or other you manage to sleep until noon, hey, it's OK! You've got nowhere to be tonight. You can just shift your work day later into the evening. You set your own schedule, and that's cool.
Another nice thing about being a full-time writer, etc., is that if in the middle of your work day, your husband, after pretty much isolating himself with his nasty sinus cold on the couch all week, suddenly sits up and says, "Hey, what are you up to? I thought maybe we could order out and watch TV together," well, you can decide to drop everything and do that. It's been a rather long and lonely week, after all.
The only problem is, should both of those things happen on the same day, well. There goes your Friday.
But another nice thing is the ability to designate Saturday your substitute Friday.
See you tomorrow.
what i did on my three-day weekend
John informed me that his current employer, being a big established company and not a new startup, includes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in its list of official holidays. "I get the day off!" says he.
"Well then! So do I!" says me. "Let's spend some of it together."
And so we did. We spent a great deal of our three-day weekend together, and it has been glorious.
(Nota bene: When I say "three-day weekend," I am indeed referring to Saturday through Monday. I got a respectable amount of work on both novl and short story done on Friday; I just forgot to blog, is all. *shamefaced*)
We played four or five games of Tigris & Euphrates, a board game simulating four "dynasties" vying for primacy within their expanding river kingdoms. Avedan and John, having played it Friday evening, introduced me to it on Saturday, and then John and I played it all weekend long. So far, other than quibbling over their use of the term "dynasty" (I don't think that's the best word for "nation-states with their own leaders existing at the same time and competing for power"), I have no complaints. Though its theme puts one in mind of Agricola and Stone Age, it's not actually a resource allocation game. It's more of a positional and regional conflict game. Like Risk, I suppose, only with constantly moving boundaries and a more complex conflict-resolution mechanism.
John spent a good many hours, including those usually reserved for sleeping, playing The Last of Us on the PS3. As I am usually not up for witnessing games that are also emotionally traumatic movies, I spent those hours mostly holed up in the bedroom playing Puzzle Pirates. I'm pleased to say I impressed one of my senior officers with my whirlpool-navigating skills. Go me!
We also spent a little time together watching videos of stand-up comedian Matt Braunger, who's like everybody's hilarious drinking buddy who tells the best stories. He also passes my privilege dynamic test with flying colors. That's where I answer questions like, "Do I have to brace myself for getting punched in the face every time his stories involve women?" No. He did not punch me in the face. I laughed myself to tears, and nothing hurt. So we watched his Comedy Central appearance, and now we've ordered his two albums on 12-inch vinyl. Also I now follow him on twitter, where he continues be Good People.
Yes, there was also roller derby. The 2014 schedule involves 3-hour practices for all three travel teams on Sunday, with the Bombshells and the Shrap Nellies (B and C teams, respectively) overlapping for an hour and a half of scrimmage. Only we're not doing that for a couple weeks yet, so practice was only two hours long yesterday. Given how beat up I feel today, I'm beginning to worry about the full three hours.
You know what else I did this weekend?
I missed writing.
No, I mean, I missed it. Like, "Aw, it's a weekend. No writing today."
I'm not talking about a conscious complaint or a serious disappointment. It's more like, after four days straight of actually doing what I should, I was experiencing this weird sort of background-level happy expectation of returning to the works in progress. It's kind of like being in the habit of stress, like continuing to suffer from a constant involuntary feeling of "Oh, shit, I have so much work to do" even after the big scary project has been turned in. Only this would be the opposite of that. The enjoyable version of it.
I'm so very glad there is an enjoyable version of that.
Hey! Guess what?
Tomorrow I get to write!
We're Fixing a Hole Where the Rain Gets In
Our closest circle of Boulder friends have a tendency to come up with cute names for our abodes. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's a gamer nerd thing. Maybe it's like the way families develop unique terminology based on things various members said when they were very young. In any case, we don't just say this house or that apartment. Our homes have developed names.
For instance, there's "The Caboodle," an apartment so named because one of the people living there is named Kit. Obviously.
Then there's "The White House," which is the apartment inhabited by the trio one of whom has a cat named Richard Nixon. Really, it all makes perfect sense.
Our place? Well, John informed me that "Chez LeBoeuf-Little" wasn't cool enough for prime time. One of the White House denizens came up with the winning replacement nickname: "The Observatory."
Why? Because you can see the sky through the holes in the roof.
Not really. But there are certainly holes where the rain gets in, having the expected effects on the minds of everyone inside. That's been the case since we moved in. We know this because there was a stain in the area of the ceiling that started leaking water some years later. Up until then, we'd thought it had been a past problem adequately handled by previous owners who simply failed to follow up with the interior damage. Oh, how wrong we were!
The saga of our leaking roof has been a constant source of pain and stress to us ever since. Maybe not as intimate as living with a bad back or arthritis, granted, but just as constant, and just as much a source of uncertainty: Are we going to make it through this spring without having to tell the homeowner association manager we need another patch job, and argue with the homeowner association board that really, really, this time, isn't it obvious the patches aren't sufficient? Really?
I'm not going to go into the sequel saga involving several changes of management, one of whom finally put the leaking roof problem on the board's TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY radar, and the installation of an HOA board who actually seem to care, just in time for the Storm of the Century to make the roof leak utterly unignorable, followed by a lot of very slow moving meetings and consultations and then realizing that we needed a competent management company if we were going to get anything done--
But I'll tell you this. Today, a notice appeared on the corkboard of our stairwell advising residents not to park in the circled section of the map and if they didn't move their cars they would be towed and the HOA will not be responsible for any breakable items falling off walls or shelves so be prepared, y'all, 'cause NEW ROOF CONSTRUCTION BEGINS JANUARY 13 WOOT!
Come February, we're going to need a new nerd name for our condo unit. Or else we're going to need a telescope to justify it. (Hey, wait, I've got one back in Metairie!)
They Do Things Differently There
In fact, the historic mountain town that John and I ended up puttering around in for our fifteenth wedding anniversary was Central City. Central City began life as a mining town, and it has a long and storied history despite the gold rush that founded it fading out some 30-odd years after it started. Today it is the home of an opera house, a historical society, several museums, two art galleries, three houses of worship (Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal), an Elks lodge, a Masonic temple (Central Lodge #6), somewhere between 450 and 650 permanent residents depending on which sign you read, and one brewpub.
Also a stupid abundance of casinos. Well, eight casinos. But eight casinos in the same square mile. Even on the Las Vegas strip things seemed more spread out than that. Admittedly, each individual Las Vegas casino probably covers about a square mile on its own, so. Point is, that's a lot of casinos in such a small town.
And here's the thing I never quite got used to. In a casino town, the parting phrase of choice isn't "Have a good one" or "Be seeing you" or even, assuming one is talking to a tourist, "Enjoy your stay," but rather "Good luck."
It makes perfect sense. In a town with eight casinos, it's a good bet the person you're talking to will be spending some money at the tables and/or slots. Which, of course, we did; John likes playing the tables, and I like drinking the comp drinks. We put down our share of what we called "arcade play-money" on roulette at the Reserve Casino where we were staying. Because he has a good head for the odds and a relaxed attitude toward the results, John came out some $30 ahead after several hours of play. He mainly places outside bets--this dozen, that column--but he also placed a few small "what the heck" bets on the numbers. When a dollar on 7 got lucky, we pushed the resulting $35 to the side and considered it solid profit. Good luck is a desired outcome in a casino town, and everyone, customer and staff alike, wishes it to everyone else.
But "Good luck," however much sense it makes, plays hell with my polite society autopilot. It's not that I get flustered trying to return the good wishes. It's not that I get offended or off-balance. It's just that I take it in ways the speaker probably didn't intend.
Checking in at the hotel. The clerk hands us our keys, says, "Room 367. On the third floor, all the way at the end of the hall. Elevator's right behind you." I say, "Thank you," and the clerk says, "No problem. Good luck!" To which I respond, "Oh, I'm sure we'll find it just fine!" while internally wondering, with some trepidation, whether finding our room will involve running some sort of gauntlet. Will we have to bluff our way past dragons in the hallway and gremlins in the elevator?
Crossing the street. A guy in an open-topped jeep is hawking tours of the town, unless it was shuttles between casinos. We turn down his offer, with our thanks. "No problem. Good luck!" That's what he says. And I look nervously up and down the street, thinking, Do I need luck? There's hardly any traffic.
Getting directions to breakfast. The cafe we remembered from the night before doesn't open until noon, but we see signs throughout the Bonanza for a "Millie's". We ask the cashier for directions. We are directed across the street and half a block down to the E Z Street Casino, inside which we'll need only ascend the first stair we find, and we won't be able to miss it. "Thank you." "No problem. Good luck!" and I am automatically responding that, oh, I'm sure we'll find it just fine, you gave stellar directions, even while inside my skull I can feel my brain going all facepalm and That's not what he means! Casino town, remember?
We had a great time. A lot of walking, lots of things to look at, lots of good things to eat, and, of course, lots of casinos to play in. Lots of playing Go over dinner or breakfast, too, which John and I hadn't done for quite some time. (I am not as rusty as I feared.) For a last-minute anniversary vacation, it was very pleasant and stress-free. We'll definitely do it again.
And I'll probably embarrass myself responding improperly to that "Good luck" thing again. That's OK; it just makes me more entertaining to random strangers.
News from the Slush Front
News the First: Bad news is, "The Seeds of Our Future" will not be appearing in Fearsome Symmetries. The not-so-bad news is, it was rejected while still at number 1011 in the queue on the day after World Horror 2013 ended. Which is to say: Having an existing relationship with an editor by no means ensures future sales (no surprises there, right?), but it can sometimes get a story read more quickly than otherwise, especially if the editor would like to append to the response a timely note along the lines of "Good to see you at the con!" Which sentiment I was happy to return. All in all, a pleasant story submission and con meet-up experience. Can't complain.
So there's that. News the Second: When I saw Jason V Brock at World Horror, I asked him, "So can I tell people?" and he was all, "Of course you can!" So now this is me telling people: "Lambing Season" is slated for publication in Issue #3 of [NaMeL3ss] Digest, which is tentatively estimated to go to print for a July release. Tentatively. I'll post updates as updates warrant posting.
(The purchase page for [NaMeL3ss] Issue #2 will probably give a better idea of what the publication is like than will its main website.)
And with that happy news, I shall disappear for the weekend. Chez LeBoeuf-Little is celebrating anniversary number fifteen, which will involve puttering around a historical Colorado mountain town and not doing pretty much anything that counts as "work". See y'all... oh, Tuesday evening sounds good. Let's do that.