“When writing doesn't work, the writer is assumed to be the guilty party.”
Teresa Nielsen Hayden

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

the needle on the compass in my head points toward sheer terror
Tue 2014-08-19 23:36:30 (single post)
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"It's For You" came home for the weekend with its tail between its legs, asking to crash on the couch. I did what I could for it: Gave it a shoulder to cry on, ordered us pizza, poured us some local microbrew stout, queued up some cheesy '80s movies to watch together. Then today I gave it a rousing pep talk and sent it back out into the world. "Keep trying," I told it. "Keep trying 'til Hell won't have you. And then keep trying some more." It took a deep breath, narrowed its eyes, and said, "OK." Off it marched, with purpose and new determination. One of these days it'll come home with a big smile, waving a contract in its hand. Until then, I'm good for giving it repeated pep talks and career advice. Also a kick in the rear end, because I kind of want my metaphorical couch to myself.

Meanwhile, "Caroline's Wake" is still out on only its second slush trip ever. It sent me a very encouraging post card!

As for what short story I'll work on next, I've decided it'll be "A Wish for Captain Hook"--the one wherein the island of Neverland locates itself in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain. I originally wrote it for the pirate-themed issue of Shimmer that John Joseph Adams guest-edited, whose submission window was in early 2007. Since failing to win its way onto that TOC, it's been workshopped once... then tucked away into a corner and forgot about. I suppose it's time to pull it out, brush off the dust, and revise it for a serious round of submissions.

Just thinking about it gives me a case of the hives and heebie-jeebies. Nervous. "I don't have to work on 'Hook' next," I told myself. "What about 'The Interfaith Intercessional Fellowship,' that one? The one with the potato salad and the prayer circle?" And that's when I decided that, no, it really had to be "Hook" next. Because "Hook" scares me enough to make me want to slither away, and I should always move toward the thing that scares me.

It took a little more thinking to figure out why it scared me.

Part of the fear comes from knowing that the end needs to be entirely rewritten. The note it currently ends on says very clearly, as though these words were actually typed on the page, "The author did not know how to end this story and hopes you'll understand. Please accept this weaksauce Lady Or Tiger punchline instead, with our compliments." And, well, the last two stories I finished and sent out the door have demonstrated that I have a painful time getting the endings right.

But the bulk of the fear comes from insecurity about my legitimacy, my right to write this story. "Hook" isn't just a story about a little boy who wants to run away to Neverland. "Hook" is a Hurricane Katrina story, the only one I've written so far. And I wasn't even in the state during Katrina and its aftermath. Also my family came through fairly well. There were losses, certainly. Dad's pediatrics office on Robert E. Lee Blvd. was totaled, and his practice had to relocate to the Children's Hospital building in Metairie. The roof did leak for a short while, and some non-critical household belongings were destroyed. While the family was gone, persons unknown scavenged their generator, some fuel, and all of Dad's frozen and slowly thawing venison--which items may well have made the difference for the thieves between surviving and not. Who knows? But the house wasn't flooded. It still stood. Mom and Dad kept it and live in it to this day. The family stayed together. Dad's job survived. As these things go, the LeBoeuf family did pretty OK.

So I'm not entirely sure I get to write a Katrina story, you know? Coming from someone who mostly watched the crisis from afar, it might come across as, I dunno, exploitative, like I'm using other people's tragedy to give my characters some unearned poignancy.

...which is almost word-for-word my exact explanation for why Season 2 of Heroes made me so angry. You know what I mean, right? The part where the little girl says, "Half the people in this county still live in FEMA trailers," thus proving that no one involved in making the show ever bothered to watch real live news footage of the Katrina aftermath nor even opened a map of the affected area. Because if they had, they would know that there are no counties in Louisiana. So, having complained vociferously about how that show exploited the disaster for emotional impact while failing to give the first little damn about the real life people affected, now I'm afraid of coming across the same way. This is like projection, only in reverse.

But my job is to move toward the scary thing. Write it anyway. And to realize that, yes, I too lived through Katrina, I too was affected, and the way I was affected by it can inform the story. And it already has. There are elements in there that are absolutely drawn from my experience, second-hand though much of it is. Like, the way the back-to-school timing of the storm and flood diminished the school-aged population of the greater New Orleans area well into 2006--families who evacuated in August sent their kids to the schools whose districts they wound up in come September, and many of them stayed to finish out the scholastic year. (This affected my immediate family by way of Dad's dramatically decreased patient roster.) Like the way some families, like my parents' next-door neighbors, just never came back at all.

The short story is much smaller in focus than that, but it's deeply colored by the shadows of those huge background movements. One of my jobs during the rewrite will be to make those shadows more apparent, more stark and compelling. And maybe something about the larger movements of the time will help inform the rewriting of the ending, too.

So that's the answer to that question. What will I work on next? "A Wish for Captain Hook." That's what. And may Gods and Muses have mercy on me, Their humble pen.

(runs away temporarily to hide)

the exit may as well have been labeled Temptation Drive
Wed 2014-08-13 23:19:03 (single post)

Today was as unproductive as I expected, for all the reasons I feared. My plan was to drive from the airport straight up to Longmont, order a pot of tea at Cafe Luna, and write everything. But on the drive back from the airport I got hit with a wave of I'm Tired And Also I Have a Headache In My Neck. (This is a thing that happens to me.) And look! How convenient, there's an exit for Dillon Road off the tollway, and, well, I could stick to the plan, turn north on 96th Street, and continue onto Highway 42 and then take 95th Street all the way into Longmont, exactly as planned. Or I could just follow Dillon Road until I get to the turn for my hotel, and maybe take a nap. Not a long nap. Just for an hour. Just enough for the headache/neck-ache thing to go away, and for me to feel less like I'm melting. That's all. Just a short little recovery nap.

It was a long nap, of course.

The good news is, John and friends have arrived safely in Indianapolis, and they're preparing to enjoy the heck out of Gen Con Indy 2014. I am looking forward to a weekend full of entertaining con tweeting. And... that's all the news I've got.

I'm now going to declare today over with for all productive purposes and go to bed early. Tomorrow's report will a lot more interesting. Or at least a lot longer.

speaking of fool archetypes, there was this raccoon
Tue 2014-08-12 23:33:26 (single post)
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Hello, world. I am just back from watching Guardians of the Galaxy! It was a lot of fun. It was even more fun because of watching it at the Cinebarre, which is the new dinner-and-a-movie joint in Boulder County. Cinebarre's website says it's the Boulder location, but it's actually in Louisville where the Colony Square Cinema used to be. John and I decided that, compared to other dinner cinemas, it's not quite up to the standard of the Alamo Drafthouse, but there's a lot to be said for not having to drive an hour in terrible, soul-crushing traffic to get there. I always have a headache by the time we get home from the Alamo. The combination of beer and eye-strain and the hot drive there and the long drive back, it does a number on me.

By contrast, we walked to Cinabarre from our hotel. It was a lovely walk, especially on our way back. The sun had gone to bed, the night air was cool, and the waning gibbous moon was rising all orange and dramatic ahead of us. I still got a bit of a headache though. Even without the drive, beer and eyestrain remain. But it was a fun movie, and look! You still get a blog post outta me.

On the short story front, I'm still pecking away at the ending--and I only have until the 15th to finish this thing if I want to give it the chance I have in mind for it, so let's hurry up there, Muse, OK?--but I uncovered a whole new angle on an important flashback, so that's something. Also, today's CTC29 prompt got me thinking about the third-wheel character, Katie of the "he's totally into you, don't deny it" foolishness, in a different way. The assignment was to write a scene in which a Fool archetype utters some unexpected wisdom or otherwise shakes up the main character's perceptions. As things stand, Katie is a little shallow and immature. And she can be that, but she can't be just that. I think I need to let her show a little Foolish wisdom of her own, maybe notice something that the main character is missing and say something thoughtless and insightful about it. Look, I don't know what precisely. But it'll have that basic shape, if that makes any sense.

(As though this story didn't already have enough problems to fix by Friday. Like an entire missing ending.)

On the Patreon front, I'm working away on its text and details. I've mentioned a couple of times a plan to launch the page on September 1, yes? Well, I've created the first of the story-like objects that will launch with it. (To be fair, its rough draft was already written before I chose it as the launch date offering. That's the whole point. But about this, more later.) Preparing it turned out to be a much easier task than writing the page's main text. "Tell your patrons why they should pledge to you," the text field says. And my brain goes, "Well, if you put it that way..." Then it sort of wibbles uselessly in a corner. My brain is much less threatened by the text field's subtitle instructions, "Talk about what you do and how you'll be using your Patrons' support to keep creating interesting content."

As exciting and fun as that sounds, I'm only allowing myself some 25 minutes a day to work on it, at least until "Snowflakes" is safely in the mail. Because priorities!

Tomorrow has both a drive to the airport and roller derby practice in it. On top of that, it's a Wednesday, which means volunteer reading for AINC. I have no idea how I'll manage to also get a solid day of writing in. Probably the first step is a solid night's sleep. Which starts... now. Er. Good night?

here is some paint and a brush and also a corner
Mon 2014-08-11 23:33:22 (single post)

You know who's been missing from this blog parade of Patreon accounts? My husband, that's who. He's the first person I heard about Patreon from, and his insights have been key in helping me understand how it all works and how, arguably, it should work--but I haven't even bothered to link you to his page on Patreon yet.

That is a serious oversight that must be corrected immediately. Thus: John LeBoeuf-Little is creating games!

This is probably why I overlooked him last week. I was doing Google searches for short story site:patreon.com and also following links from fellow Codexians' blogs--basically, I was only looking at what other writers are doing with Patreon. In my defense, the internet is vast; if one doesn't narrow one's search terms, one drowns in the results. I narrowed mine to "people doing stuff like what I'm thinking of doing," but I forgot that there are different axes of similarity.

Anyway. What John's doing with his Patreon account combines many elements of what we've seen before: Extra content offered at certain funding milestones, influence over creative direction offered to supporters, physical gifts mailed to a limited number of Patrons at the highest pledge tier. (I note here the reminder that "I'll mail you something" can be more complicated or expensive depending on where "you" is, in John's caution that "If you're international... you'll definitely be getting something very flat and very light.")

What I find interesting here though is the variation one can bring to the per-creation pledge scheme. Thinking back to Clarkesworld, I find in their use of the per-creation rather than per-month structure an echo of the traditional magazine subscription offer, something like "At $12 per year, you pay only $3 per issue instead of the newsstand price of $4.99." It's a different way of thinking about the monetary support. And although a pledge of $3 per issue has the same effect on a Patron's budget as a pledge of $3 per month (Clarkesworld publishes new issues monthly), it creates a slightly different creator-audience relationship--at least in the participants' minds. Which, arguably, is where a relationship is defined.

To put it another way: Think of a charity race. Why do we pledge a certain amount of cents per mile rather than a lump sum? It's not like there's any question of how many miles the runner will run. The race course is predefined. Maybe the cents-per-mile structure gives supporters a sense of vicarious participation, like they're running the race alongside of the runner they're supporting. Maybe it's because thinking of it that way makes it feel as though the charity doesn't get the donation until the runner finishes the race, giving supporters double the reason to cheer at the finish line. The emotional connection to Clarkesworld's monthly issues may be similar: Each new edition is like that moment when the runner crosses the finish line, an event for which each contribution acts as celebration and applause.

But of course the pragmatic effect of the per-creation pledge structure is to make support more like a purchase, in that the Patrons don't pay until they receive an item. That's not a factor in the case of Clarkesworld, which has been coming out every month without fail for over seven years now. But it's definitely a factor when you're a game designer who also has a demanding day job, a big trip to Gen Con coming up, and also a house that's about to get its interior rebuilt. (I may have mentioned. The reconstruction project started this morning. Tonight's blog post comes to you from a hotel in Louisville with relatively reasonable extended stay rates.) When you know your schedule is unpredictable and stressy, it's wise to avoid overcommitting. John has exercised this wisdom both by using the per-creation pledge model and by explicitly stating that new creations will only be made available once per month at the maximum, and more likely much less frequently than that.

By the way, aren't those avocado-skin boats lovely?

Anyway, this wise caution on John's part makes me wonder whether I'm in danger of overcommitting myself. True, I'm not going to Gen Con, and I'm not currently beholden to anyone else's paycheck or timeclock. But I do have roller derby. I'm skating in a home bout on August 30th. And I've recently rejoined the league's committee system as a member of the committee that's responsible for making that bout happen. Also, did I mention the house construction situation? And the way John stressing out stresses me out, and me stressing out stresses him out, and so on around the merry-go-round?

So how can I consider promising Patrons three or four short-shorts a month, or an audio release once a month, or that things will come out of my typewriter and into anyone's physical mailbox?

I think in this case the difference is that I don't have a day job--or, rather, that writing is my day job. Which is rather the reason I'm setting up a Patreon account in the first place. The potential for regular monthly paychecks, however small, reinforces the day job mindset. Also, the creations I plan to share (ooh, she's actually "planning" now!) will arise naturally from actually doing my day job. The bulk of the work required, that of writing the very short story-like thing, is already getting done four or more times a week. All that remains is to convert one of the resulting very short story-like objects each week into, essentially, a blog post. And then I need only convert one of those four monthly posts into a five-minute audio recording. And then it would only take maybe two hours once a month to make a few typewritten copies for mailing. And then...

Well. I could "and then" myself into a real corner.

Again, it's wise not to overcommit. More and more, my thought is to only offer a couple of things at launch (i.e. on September 1), then evaluate the work load and interest level several months down the road to see if there's even potential demand for another monthly task, let alone room in my working month to add one.

Less haste, more speed, as a certain tortoise once told a certain little girl. Therein lies wisdom.

maybe i could even try that wax seal thing again
Sat 2014-08-09 00:29:22 (single post)
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Short story updates and more Patreon goodness! Short story updates first, because they're short.

First: "Impact of Snowflakes" is not yet done, drat and blast. However, I hope to fix that Monday. Monday is usually Farm Day, but next week I am obliged to stay home from the farm and meet the construction techs at my door and give them a key and then run away and hide in a hotel room in Louisville until construction is over. ("Loo-iss-ville" because this is Colorado, not Kentucky. I was oddly unable to convince the Marriott reservationist of this. Not that I haven't made place-name pronunciation mistakes of my own, but when corrected by a local I don't tend to come right back and try to correct them the way this reservationist did me.) So once I'm safely stowed in my temporary home, along with any last-minute objects and plants that need to be rescued from the construction zone, I can hopefully devote hours and hours and hours to finishing the damn story. All the hours the story requires to get DONE.

Second: "Caroline's Wake" will, regrettably, not appear in the Athena's Daughters II table of contents. Alas. After a suitable period of mourning (i.e. one day), it has been sent out again into the world, having first been relieved of some of its typos. (O the typo-embarrassment. O the facepalm. All die.)

And that's that. Now, on to the fun stuff: Sandra Tayler is creating books and a blog!

Sandra Tayler is the author of the children's books Hold on to Your Horses and The Strength of Wild Horses, the blog "One Cobble at a Time," and the Cobble Stones compilation volumes. (She's also another fellow Codexian. Yes, there is a theme here.) If you like stuff like that, funds from Patreon help her create more stuff like that. Therefore you should support her on Patreon.

Tayler is using the monthly pledge structure, and she's defined two pledge levels. Patrons at the $1/month level get access to Patron-only material, "which will include sneak peeks, coupon codes, and other fun things." Patrons at the $2.50/month level get, in addition to Patron-only material, a hand-signed thank you card once a year.

Very simple, engagingly personal. Also, tangible. I love the idea of mailing things, really mailing things that you can hold in your hand. From about third grade through the middle of college, I always had pen-pals. Some of them I met on the then-fledgling internet, with whom I exchanged cassette tapes because those could not be sent by email. (This was way before it got easy to exchange MP3s.) Some were people I met at summer camp before email was readily available. Some of them were people I saw every day in school, but with whom I nevertheless cherished this additional and poignantly intimate communication channel. When I sent them letters, I would practice my best handwriting, use pens of different colors, and draw things in the margins. I put Rush lyrics on the backs of the envelopes. I doodled more weird things in the corners of the front of the envelope. I even experimented with wax seals, although I'm sure they mostly cracked off by the time the envelopes reached their destination.

The age of electronic communications is wonderfully convenient and freeing. I'm glad to be a freelance author in a time when most professional markets take submissions via email or even via web form; it's a tremendous savings on postage and time. But when the only things I put in the actual physical mailbox are utility bills, something seems lost.

See also: Catherynne M. Valente's Omikuji Project. For five years (2008-2012), Valente mailed short stories to her subscribers every month. "Real paper, wax seal, with a little note about life and work and the weather in Maine, signed by her," as Kellen Sparver says in his Patreon-launching blog post. How cool is that?

Could I do something like that? I think, perhaps, yes, at least on a small scale. Also, I have this typewriter.

I've begun actually putting together my Patreon page, filling out the blanks, defining the milestones in terms of what X amount of money pays for, defining the pledge tiers in terms of what Patrons will get. Nothing's in stone yet--the stuff I put into the page today may be totally rewritten tomorrow--but I'm having fun with the possibilities.

I'm thinking of launching the page on September 1.

revision versus avoidance behaviors; also karaoke and a surprise DNS outage
Thu 2014-07-10 23:59:59 (single post)
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Tonight I'm writing this from Hurricane's Sports Bar in Metairie, on Vets not far from Bonnabel. My brother tends bar most nights there, so hanging out at the bar means hanging out with him, which is nice. Hurricane's is on Facebook. You may like them if you're so inclined. I quite like them myself, and not just because my brother likes to cover my beers.

It took me a minute to figure out what their event schedule for the weekend was, because rather than hosting an itemized calendar or using FB's event pages interface, they simply take a photo of their calendar and make it their cover image. Once I figured that out, I saw that Thursdays were "Rock the Mic: Live Band Karaoke," and I thought, huh, that's different, and also I like karaoke. I should go. And so I did. And it was joyous. They had one of my standby tunes in their list, and they played it, and I sang it, and they sang backup, and a good time was had by all. It was unlike any karaoke experience I have ever had, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Rock the Mic is also on Facebook, and you may like them if you are so inclined. I like them.

This afternoon I took my short story revision time to the CC's coffee house on Vets at Division. (I had unearthed a decade-old gift card for use there. Alas, its balance turned out to be zero.) I am trying to be virtuous despite being "on vacation," so I am continuing to push my dogged way through the lumps in the draft-in-progress. There are, however, moments when I ask myself, am I actually doing a revision here, or am I just pushing prepositions around in a bid to avoid finishing the damn thing? This is a thing we are sometimes prone to: getting stuck in the mid-book or halfway through a story, and going back to the beginning and endlessly tweaking rather than pushing through the stuckness. I worry that I'm doing that...

...right up until my slow pass through the draft brings me a perfect opportunity to plant a little foreshadowing, based on something I just figured out about how the story needs to end. Then I stop worrying, because obviously revision is getting done here.

Up with foreshadowing! Down with worrying! I like giving myself reasons to stop worrying.

And now, a deep sigh for the frailties of internet. The internet went down at the bar, so I ran along home to upload this, but the internet was down there too, and also for my parents' desktop computer. "DNS server cannot be reached." Ain't no amount of rebooting the router going to fix it when Cox Cable appears to have DNS trouble. I really need to commit some alternate DNS addresses to memory for times like this.

(Oddly, popping in Google's DNS addresses didn't help, nor did it hurt the next morning when service had resumed. I wonder if yet something else was going on. Cox is not saying.)

In any case, this post won't get uploaded until Friday, but it will be backdated for Thursday, just to be confusing. Also I shall be restoring my HabitRPG streaks because I did all the things, I just couldn't click on all the things. Phooey.

the thistle's revenge, and other stories
Mon 2014-06-09 23:28:22 (single post)

As of June 1, my volunteer shift at McCauley's starts at 7:00 AM. There are all sorts of theoretical good things about that. Getting a goodly chunk of outdoor work done before the morning really heats up, that's one of them. Getting more work in before we break for lunch, that's good too.

Getting me out of bed an hour earlier is probably good? Maybe? In the long run?

Only that's not what happened today. What happened today is, my alarm went off at 6:00. I hit snooze, with the intention of getting up when it went off again at 6:15. Next thing I knew, I was looking at the clock and it said 6:30.

So much for doing Morning Pages before my farm shift.

Anyway, I rolled in about fifteen minutes late, which is about on par for me. It turned out to be no big deal (which is about on par for them). The staff still needed to have a meeting to figure out what their plan of action was. So they handed me a pair of snips and turned me loose on five flats of 200 tulsi basil seedlings each: "Just cut off the flowers and put those aside. We'll dry them for tea." When they weren't quite out of their meeting by the time I was done with that, they traded me a forked digging tool for the snips and sent me over to weed the berm, or, more accurately, the flagstone steps going up the berm. (In this case "berm" means "the slope of the hill that encloses the south side of the pond.")

Eventually the meeting broke up and they went over to the east garden for more weeding. Very particular weeding: I was only to pull up the thistle. They had planned on using hula-hoes to weed pretty much everything, but the ground was too wet for that after yesterday's thunderstorm. A hula-hoe is called that because its business end is a rectangular loop of sharp metal ribbon. It's supposed to slice cleanly through the top couple inches of soil, severing all the tiny weeds from their roots without unduly disturbing the crop bed. But when the soil is wet and clumpy, the crop bed will get disturbed. So we pulled thistles today, perfecting the art of loosening the soil enough to let the single thick root slide right out but not so much as to damage the herbs and flowers.

After I'd tossed enough thistles into the furrow to dry down and die, I worked on perfecting my own art of sitting down in the furrow without sitting on prickles.

I've been volunteering with one particular farmer, Rich, for years now. I started working for him at Abbondanza when their home farm was on Oxford Road. Then, when they had to leave that land, I followed Rich to McCauley's, where he had moved some of his operations. The upshot of this is, there's a lot of basic farm procedure that I know pretty well now. I no longer worry, the way I used to worry, that my very presence there added to everyone's workload--that the hassle of training me on every task outweighed the help of me doing the task. A lot of tasks, I don't need training on anymore. Where I do need training, the training can be brief, given in terms of the concepts I'm already in good command of.

This means that if I arrive in the middle of a staff meeting, they can put me right to work--often on a somewhat overdue side project that it's hard to make time for, day to day--with a minimum of pause for instructions. Hence the tobacco thinning a couple weeks ago, or the harvesting of tulsi basil flowers this morning. And after lunch it was easy for me to jump right back into the thistle-pulling without waiting for others to come along and tell me where to do it. I wasn't entirely sure, but I figured I couldn't go too wrong if I just looked for thistles to pull.

I'm kind of proud and pleased about that, having learned over the years to be useful without fuss. And I'm kind of touched and honored that they trust me with it. I realized today that, because they trust me, I've come to trust myself, too. I don't worry anymore that I'll run the whole crop with some newbie mistake while I'm thinning or transplanting or weeding.

These are good folks to volunteer for. They're patient, laid-back, and calm. I know that they must be under considerable stress, given the constrictions of time and money and materials and weather, but they've never handed that stress on to me. And their easy trust helped relax me out of my high maintenance, insecure beginnings, making it possible for me to acquire confidence along with experience.

So that's just something I've started to realize recently, and I wanted to voice my appreciation.

random observations on a random friday
Fri 2014-06-06 23:31:10 (single post)

Observation #1: I rely a little too heavily on external pressures for maintaining day-to-day habits. Those external pressures work great--until they aren't there. When my husband gets up to take his 8:30 a.m. meeting-over-the-phone, I get up and do my morning pages. If my husband is not feeling well and takes a day off from work, when he turns off the alarm and goes back to sleep, so, apparently, do I.

Observation #1, addendum (a): I can do my morning pages in as little as 20 minutes, if hastily made lunch plans with a friend require it.

Observation #2: It is quite possible to achieve a 5-hour writing day and still not manage to touch the short story that so painfully requires work if one gets super-perfectionist with one's content writing. "But I need to put together a slideshow! Examiner is offering a slideshow incentive! And it can't just be screenshots from the game--that's boring--I need to mark it up with borders and circles and areas of artificial brightness and side-by-side compare/contrasts, and, oooh, an imaginative collage illustrating that humorous bit at the end!"

Observation #2, addendum (a): If the homebrew RSS is bootched, the Examiner articles stop re-broadcasting to Facebook and Twitter, which rather makes the "incentive for slideshows that receive X-amount of social media visits" moot.

Observation #2, addendum (b): It's kind of cheating to count time spent troubleshooting the bootched RSS toward the day's writing hours, isn't it?

Observation #3: Playing Puzzle Pirates while reading shows for AINC can be done! But how efficient it is depends on what kind of activities the pirate indulges in. If it's a long solo pillage from Marlowe to Nunataq, and the reading is in Spanish, well, 30 minutes of reading can take something like two hours.

Observation #3, addendum (a): It's past 11:00 PM? When did that happen? Crap-buckets! And I have to be up early tomorrow--

bats in the belfry
Tue 2014-06-03 22:16:16 (single post)

I slept poorly last night, and I'm going to blame it on the bat.

Not, mind you, on the mug of strong tea I had at 9:30 because "It's too early for me to be this sleepy." Not on a session of Puzzle Pirates that went until 1:30 AM because I couldn't resist just one more battle on my way back to port from the site of the looted shipwreck. Neither of these would have been a problem once I finally turned off the lights, lay down, and actually tried to sleep. (Trying to sleep is a thing. It involves actively directing my mind in useful, sleep-promoting places, rather than lying there resentful about the way it races here and there.)

But when a bat gets into your bedroom, well, that'll do it every time.

We still have gigantic holes in our ceiling from shortly after September's storm. Bureaucratic movements towards interior repairs have been detected, but it wouldn't do to get too excited yet. Meantime, it's becoming clear that the roof is not as critter-tight as one might hope. Several days in a row the other week, we were getting bees in the house, despite the windows being closed. They'd show up on the living room window, either crawling around on the inside of the screens or lying dead in the panel track. Our suspicion was, they were getting into the roof and then exiting the roof space via the hole in our living room ceiling. This was no great feat of deduction. It was like seeing rain and suspecting it came from the sky.

That the bat came in from the roof was even more obvious. We could hear it vocalizing from the bedroom ceiling.

Have you ever heard a bat vocalize at close range? It's not a sound you're likely to forget in a hurry. One afternoon a few years ago, we came across a bat clinging to the rim of a step in the apartment stairwell. It obviously wasn't feeling at its most chipper, given that it just hung there stoically as we carefully stepped over it to get to our door. I donned some gloves and gently coaxed that poor, tired, confused thing into our largest plastic leftovers container--the big rectangular one I use for soup--and then I coaxed it back out onto a support strut in the open air parking structure, where it could safely rest until it decided to fly away. It wasn't until it was safely installed in its new location that it took a close look at me (I was taking a very close look at it) and decided it didn't like what it saw. It uttered a series of high-pitched, loud, piercing shrieks that caused me to recoil like a snake just struck at me.

That was when I realized that what I took for "these weird birds that chirp in the middle of the night during the summer" were in fact not birds at all. I've been told that this vocalization is social in nature, rather than having anything to do with their echolocation hat-trick.

Anyway, that sound started going off at 2:30 AM and I sat straight up in bed. "Sounds like a bat in distress," I said, and went to the window. From that vantage point it was clear that the sound was coming from above me, not from outside. "It's a bat in our ceiling." And lo, the elbow bend of a bat's wing briefly jutted into view.

We tried to coax it out--naively, I thought I could get it into that soup container again and take it outside--but it was having none of it. It scrambled back into the tight space between insulation and ceiling until we had no hope of seeing it, much less reaching it.

There didn't seem to be anything we could do. We tried to go back to bed. But that bat kept making noise. It chirped a little more, and then it just--scrabbled. Now, knowing that the scrabbling noise coming from the ceiling is a bat moving around is kind of comforting. It's a lot better than wondering if it's a cockroach, for instance. (Not really a Colorado problem. More of a Louisiana problem.) But it is impossible to get to sleep if part of your brain is constantly listening for it.

But I almost managed it. Right up until the bat was flying circles around our bedroom.

Bats are really, really quiet. It's the most uncanny thing. When a songbird gets into the house, it makes a hell of a lot of noise, not only with its voice but with the very motion of its wings on the air. Feathers are noisy. Furry leather, not so much. It was so contrary to my expectations as to give me the weird impression that I was watching something flying in the far distance, despite knowing it was in the same room with me. Which of course made it all the more startling when the bat's desperate attempts to find a way out brought it suddenly close to my face.

There was no question of trying to get it into a plastic container. This wasn't a tired daylight bat. This was a healthy nighttime bat. It wasn't going to stop for anything. So I opened all the window screens, knelt on the living room floor, and waited. It was kind of awesome in a close encounters kind of way--I could feel the breeze from its wings on my face!--but it was also kind of sad in a trapped bird kind of way. Unlike a bird, it knew exactly where the windows were. But, like a bird, it didn't seem to realize that Here Be Out. It swooped right up to the open windows again and again only to swoop away once more. Every once in a while it alighted on a piece of wall or ceiling to rest for a second. Then it was off again, flying in clueless circles.

Finally it disappeared, not through a window but up into the hole in the living room ceiling. It found the space where the insulation had been removed from the roof awning that jutted out some four feet beyond the window, and it vanished back there completely. I heard a little more scrabbling, and then nothing. It was probably 3:30 AM by then.

I have no idea whether it escaped out whatever hole the bees have been getting into, or if it's still up there. I suppose I'll find out if it starts flying around the house again tonight.

Or maybe I won't. Maybe I'll sleep right through it. Like I said, bats are super quiet when they're not shrieking at the top of their lungs. And I am going to be super tired, guaranteed.

Ta-da!
the universality of tape
Wed 2014-05-28 23:02:54 (single post)

Tape! The adhesive kind, not the analog recording medium. It was all over my weekend. That is, if "weekend" means "Saturday through Tuesday," which it does because I say so. I had an unusual amount of significant correspondence with adhesive tape this weekend.

Yes, these are the things I think about when I think, "What shall I blog about tonight?" What shall I blog about tonight? Oh, I know--how about that moment last night when I was all, "Hey, this is funny, I'm doing the same thing now I was doing Saturday and Sunday, only on a much smaller scale. Tape has, briefly, taken over my life."

Look, it goes with having the writer-brain. Writer-brain is constantly going, "Ooh, lookit! Lookit this, too! Lookit that!" Only it doesn't just notice stuff that legitimately has a story in it. It notices everything. Which is not entirely a problem, understand; it's much less of a problem than being in the habit of rejecting potential ideas and then wondering why you can't think of anything to write about. But sometimes there really isn't a story there. You just have to say, "That's nice, writer-brain. Yes, that is a very interesting connection. What a good job you did noticing it." Then you pat it on the head, *pat pat pat,* and you hand it a cookie, and you hope the next time it goes "Ooh, lookit!" it'll be something you can actually write about.

Anyway, Saturday we hosted a roller derby bout. And our home bout venue, the Boulder County Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall, is not a roller derby venue until we make it one. It doesn't have a track marked out. It doesn't even have a safe skating surface. So every time we host a bout, we bring our skating surface with us (it's these blue tiles that fit together like a sort of ornery Lego). Then we clean it, and then we mark the track on it. This involves "At least 385' of rope, rope light or boundary-making material" and enough tape to stick it to the floor in two concentric ovals, more or less. (More is here. Less, you already got.) The best tape is wide, brightly colored, stretchy, and resists getting shredded when you skate over it. It smells like spray paint when you tug it off the roll. And it needs to come up off the floor easily, hopefully all in one piece rather than splintering, because you're going to have to rip it all up when the bout is over so you can reassemble it in your practice location the next day.

So that's what I did for about two hours each of Saturday and Sunday, as part of a hefty team of fellow skaters and officials from our league. It's a lot of work, but it goes quickly with many hands on the job. And the reward is, you get to skate on it when you're done.

Now, Tuesday night involved painting. We came back to finish the job we started last week in the Nexus, by painting the crown molding gold. And that involved more tape. Blue masking tape, to be precise. It was not as difficult as last week's masking job with its fiddly tight spaces (we already did the door jambs years ago, thank goodness), but it still had its challenges. For the bottom edge of the molding, we used a special roll of whose actual blue tape was fairly narrow but that had about three feet of plastic film attached. That stuff is fantastic for peace of mind while you're painting, but I find it a little nerve-wracking to place because I have to do the whole job with one unbroken piece. I get worried that I'll drop the roll, or that the tape will drift off the desired line and I won't be able to correct it without, I dunno, wrinkling it or something. We did the top edge with a wider blue tape that was just blue tape, so I could use my preferred method of ripping off pieces four to six inches long and placing them in a long overlap. So that was OK, but where I was placing them was on popcorn ceiling. Awkward.

Annnnd just to make it a trifecta, yesterday I had to rip open an envelope I'd already sealed to flip over the "return bottom portion with your payment" so that the address would actually show through the window. Roller derby tape, blue masking tape, and now scotch tape. Whee.

Anyway, it was while I was placing the blue tape with film attached that writer-brain sat up and went, "Hey! So, this is kind of like what you did Saturday and Sunday! Only smaller. Isn't that neat?"

Yes, writer-brain. That's very neat. Have a cookie.

"No, but, there's totally a story in that. The main character, they're sort of like a janitor, see? Only instead of a janitor's huge ring of keys, they have every kind of adhesive tape imaginable hanging off their tool belt and stored in the closet. And sometimes they have to use the tape in weird and unorthodox ways. To save the day, see?"

That's... very imaginative. Why don't you go outside and play?

(Although I just might throw tomorrow's freewriting session at it and see what happens.)

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