“Writers are fortunate people.”
Susan Cooper

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

things return to normal, for fairly decent values of normal
Tue 2018-07-24 12:47:39 (single post)
  • 3,541 wds. long

Yesterday I got to everything but the blogging, so today I'm starting with the blogging. This my occasional strategy for making sure I do all of the writing things--start with whatever didn't happen yesterday, to make sure it happens today. I am very clever that way. *pats self on head*

Among the things I did do yesterday was a solid editing pass on "Survival, After." It came back from Shimmer with rejection in hand; I'm getting it ready for its next outing. Mainly I just need it to be about 350 words shorter, so I'm going over the manuscript with a Scalpel of -10% (two-handed weapon, imbued with curse: Perfectionist). But yesterday's pass also uncovered a lot of typos, cut-and-paste artifacts, and gerunds that ought to have been changed to simple present tense when the sentence got restructured. And vice versa. All of which were there on the story's last outing. So Much Embarrassment. This is the sort of thing that happens when it's a rush job to squeak it in under deadline. Go forth and do not likewise.

Anyway, I hope to finish this edit today so I can resubmit the story.

I'm back in Boulder now, back to the normal weekly schedule of writing and roller derby. There's still a touch of travel journaling for me to wrap up. Here it goes:


Thursday, July 19, 2018: I get out of town. My timing sucks.

Travel anxiety got me out of bed early, which meant plenty of time for a shower, laundry, packing, and last-minute printouts. I'd gotten as far as the shower and was starting on the laundry when Dad got up from the computer and shared the bad news: One of his oldest friends--the one whose garden had produced the tomatoes we had in yesterday's sauce piquante and also the cucumbers and squash we used in the kimchi, had just died that morning. He'd been less than two weeks out from receiving an artificial heart, but his all-natural original just wasn't able to wait that long despite all the day-to-day medical support he was receiving. Dad had volunteered to email mutual friends, seeing as how his friend's widow was obviously not in a space where she could handle that right now. I'm not sure really how able Dad was to handle it, but he muddled through.

So that was deeply sad. And it seemed like adding insult to injury that it happened the same morning I was leaving town, so that I was abandoning Dad right when he'd suffered an unexpected additional blow. But we made space in that morning's itinerary for extra hugs and a few stories about Dad's friend.

I headed out about two hours in advance of my train, leaving myself time to top up the rental car's fuel tank, return the rental car, and walk from the Hertz office to the train station. I could have had them shuttle me over, but if I had, I couldn't have stopped at Cochon Butcher for a sandwich and beer to go. Now, the smart plan would have been to ask Hertz to hold my luggage, walked down to Cochon for to-go, walk back to Hertz, then let them shuttle me down. Because after Cochon there were about six very long blocks to walk, and six blocks of New Orleans in July is a lot. Because I was not as smart as I could be, I arrived at the train station a lot sweatier and dehydrated than I might have. But my beer was refreshing and the sandwich was worth waiting for.

There was wifi on the City of New Orleans. I made a good-faith effort to get the Friday Fictionette done while I was still able to upload it; nevertheless, it would not go up until Saturday evening. It was "Mardel's Salamander" (ebook, audiobook), an irreverent romp through a fantasy future in which computer programming is magic and magic has consequences. I also got my Saturday morning AINC reading done later that night. Audacity's noise reduction filter worked astonishingly well; you could hardly tell from the finished MP3s that I was on a train. Given how well I could hear my next-door neighbor's phone call, though, I was probably not my next-door neighbor's favorite neighbor. I tried to keep my volume down, but you never know.

I could not possibly have been my next-door neighbor's least favorite neighbor. That prize had to go to the room across the aisle from me in which two pre-teen boys were roundly enjoying their mobile sleepover. They boarded the train at, I think, Jackson, Mississippi, and the shrieking, squealing, shouting, and roughhousing began almost immediately. Their parental units were just down the hall and sometimes poked heads in to adjudicate some point of sibling rivalry (not sure they actually were brothers, but you see what I mean), but never, so far as I could tell, to tell them KEEP YOUR VOICES DOWN AND STOP USING THE HALLWAY AND SLEEPER DOOR AS YOUR PERSONAL PLAYGROUND. Thankfully they fell asleep early and didn't rise until late. And I actually slept pretty well that night.


Friday, July 20, 2018: A little work, a little play, and once again we're on our way.

We got into Chicago Union Station more or less on time. I made my way to the sleeper lounge and staked out a spot at the workstation counter downstairs. Here I could sit at an actual desk with my computer and work or play comfortably. Also I did not have to listen to the ubiquitous televisions because here they were silent; if you wanted to listen, you connected your smart phone to a particular "Hearing Hotspot" wifi network and downloaded an app. That was useful intel. The official Amtrak Wifi network wouldn't let me connect to game servers, but the Hearing Hotspot did. So after I uploaded that day's blog post I got to play Spiral Knights until it was time to board my train.

The rest of the ride was much like the previous leg of the journey, only minus the disruptive pre-teen boy sleepover element. And no wifi, of course. I continued work on the fictionette, cleaned out my email spam folder, solved jigsaw sudoku, and read ebooks. I also even got a small amount of physical conditioning to make up for spending the whole day on my butt and Saturday's crossfit (which I would because tired). See, there are these vertical bars in the bathrooms for you to hold onto when the ride gets bumpy, and it's possible to use them for a sort of assisted squat/pull-up exercise, and then do a set of ten each time one is obliged to visit the facilities.

So things were productive and peaceful. And on Saturday morning I woke up in Colorado.

The end.


Food talley for the remainder of the trip:

  • 2018-07-19, 12:00 - Pork belly sandwich with mint and cucumber on white bread (Cochon Butcher)
  • A bunch of Amtrak meals that were adequate or even tasty but not particularly worth reporting
in which real derby hits happen and kimchi gets assembled
Thu 2018-07-19 14:16:49 (single post)

Departure day dawns. It has been a morning of laundry and leftovers and last-minute printing out of things. My right hand is dyed orange from having packed up a sampling of Monday's kimchi to take home (insert "caught red-handed" jokes HERE). I've gotten my exercise walking from the Hertz rental office along Andrew Higgins Boulevard/Howard Avenue to the train station, and I've had a fantastic lunch thanks to one more visit to Cochon Butcher.

And now I'm relaxing aboard the train that'll leave New Orleans in about 20 minutes. Guess it's as good a time as any to continue the travel journal.


Sunday, July 15, 2018: When we tire of hitting pedestrians with fat-bats, we hit each other for reals

Woke up, as planned, at stupid o'clock. Got all the stuffs packed and ready. Walked out the door in search of the nearest Blue Bike hub, which I found without any trouble at St. Claude and Elysian Fields. Checked out a bike by means of the computerized interface in back, and off I went.

I hope that I will never not get that surge of delight as I pedal up the street of "WHEEEEEEE I'M BIKING! YAY!" Skates are my wings, but bikes mean freedom. They open up all of the immediate environs the way a car, with its bigness and its need for gas and to follow one-way signs and find parking, does not. On a bike, I feel like I could go anywhere.

Where I went was Daisy Dukes, a 24-hour diner on Chartres just off Canal. I had the fried oyster half-size po-boy with a cup of the gumbo. Also a coffee and an orange juice. They were hopping-busy, but they quickly found me a high-top for one right in the back.

Once I was fed and rested, I re-rented the bike and pedaled over to Hertz for my rental car. It was a black Chevy Sonic and it did what it was supposed to. It got me back to the airBnB to pick up my stuff and then it got me down into to New Orleans East and the Big Easy Rollergirls warehouse in time for the post-ROTB Hangover Mashup.

It was a good game. The score stayed fairly close right up through to halftime, after which the gap began to widen as patterns established in the first half replicated themselves in the second. Far as I could tell, a good time was had by all, and I hope I'm not just saying that because my team, the Matadors, won.

Last time I got to participate in a post-ROTB Mashup, three years ago, I was decidedly a beginner. An advanced beginner, sure, and if you saw me playing with BCB's Bombshells you might even call me an intermediate-level skater; but in a group of people I'd never skated with before, all of them from other leagues and many of them outranking me in years and skill, I was a bit of a mess. I hoped to acquit myself somewhat better this year, and I think I did. I had some good hits and some great stops, I called a lot of plays, I braced when the wall rotated, and, in the second half, I performed some decently effective dedicated offense for my jammers right off the line that I do believe helped widen our score differential.

I love feeling like I know what I'm doing. It's still kind of a new feeling for me.

To be clear, the skill level across both rosters seemed to skew high. Even the gals who said things like, "I'm sorry, I don't really know what I'm doing" right before the whistle, they did just fine. Everything felt friendly; I'm told that some years you get a certain amount of revenge hits between people from rival leagues, but there was none of that going on that I could see.

Dad came to watch, and I was super proud that he got to see how far I've come. He came to my last post-ROTB Mashup three years ago, and his main comment was an amused "You sure took a beating!" This year he sounded a little more taken aback: "There were some vicious hits out there!" I was all like, "I know. I gave some of 'em!"

(HAY HAY BCB YOU GUYZ I DID THE FOREWARD-FACING HIT THING IT WAS AWESOME. I missed a crossstep check though. My timing on that one's still kinda iffy.)

Dad's other comment was, "I don't know how you can do all that in this heat." He had a point--it was very hot in that warehouse. No surprise; it was very hot in New Orleans my whole trip. As I knelt by Dad's lawn chair to talk to him at halftime, sweat rolled down my face and torso in free-flowing rivulets. I went through a can and a half of coconut water, a couple cans of La Croix, and a whole lot of water from the Igloo cooler kindly situated between the two team benches. By the time we were done, we were all ready to throw ourselves in the pool.

The pool was at Pontchartrain Landing, the traditional site of the post-ROTB Mashup afterparty. Pontchartrain Landing is a marina and RV campground with a restaurant and bar. The pool is for residents only, but they have a running agreement with the Mashup hosts to let us use it. So we did.

For lunch, I had a "frozen alligator" daiquiri (mint and kahlua and chocolate chips) and the Salty Pig (pulled pork and fried oysters on top of toasted french bread rounds).

Eventually I got sun-dried enough to change clothes (I hadn't realized I'd need my own towel) and head home--home home, this time, the house in Metairie where I'd grown up. I let myself in and collapsed on the sofa. Dad vee-jayed his favorite live concert DVDs for us. That was about all I had enough energy left to do: be an appreciative audience. Also to eat. Dad had made chicken and andouille gumbo ("it has never come out so good!") and a neighbor brought us a bunch of boiled blue crabs (so, yes, I did get my boiled crabs fix after all).

It was a great start to my half-week at home.


Monday, July 16, 2018: The kimchi is now a tradition

My Mom lives at The Atrium, in the memory care unit. Every Monday and Wednesday, Dad picks her up and takes her for a ride in the truck. It doesn't much matter where. Just being in an automobile is enough to make her giggle. And that's about all she does anymore. She giggles, she taps her forehead slowly against the armrest, she repeats "One, two, three, four, five" (all she can remember or at least access of the rhyme that continues "Once I caught a fish alive") in a gruff and teeth-clenched voice, and she giggles some more. That was about 99.9% of her activity that I witnessed when I went along for the ride today.

I've done my mourning already. This is what is, and I'm resigned to it. But every time I visit, I'm a little shaken by how much farther the dementia has progressed. At least last visit she was able to respond to direct questions and would spontaneously say things to Dad like "I just want to be with you" and "You're so good to me."

It's strange and backwards and sad when the daughter moves into the role of comforting her father. Parents are mythically big and invulnerable and all-powerful. Even when we're all grown up, some of us sometimes still seek out their approval and appreciation. It's always a shock to see them helpless with illness or grief. It was a shock when I was eleven and newly diagnosed with leukemia and the two of them broke down crying in front of me, and it's a shock now to see Dad having to bear this burden of care and grief. Mostly he doesn't let it show. Sometimes, though, cracks appear.

Sometimes all I can do is just give him a big hug. At least I was there to give it.

On a lighter note, while we were out driving Mom around, we stopped at the Korean grocery on Transcontinental at Vets Blvd, and I went in for kimchi ingredients. I am simply not going to get away without making kimchi during a visit home. It's inevitable. It has become tradition. I'm not fighting it anymore. And I admit it's a kind of fun role reversal to be the one directing kitchen traffic and giving Dad food prep instructions.

We did this kimchi recipe (minus the oysters, which we did not have on hand) and also that one (but with yellow squash in addition to the cucumbers). We also had some sliced, seasoned squid that I'd picked up on a whim; it was a salty, spicy treat on fresh sliced tomatoes.

Every time I make kimchi with Dad, I am surprised all over again at how easy it is, and why don't I make some more the moment I get back to Boulder? And then I never do. It probably has to do with how far I have to drive to be sure of finding Asian chives. Like that's even necessary! They have a great flavor, but so do scallions and even leeks. So! No excuses this time.

Oh and hey--lunch was at Mr. Ed's. Not the one on Live Oak I used to bike to for muffulettas back in high school. They have multiple locations these days. This was their fish house and oyster bar on 21st Street, couple blocks over from Andrea's (which I did not have occasion to visit, more's the pity). They still serve that amazing turtle soup, but I didn't order it this time. I was distracted by oysters and other delicious things. That's kind of how most of this trip went, really: "Something blah-blah yadda-yadda OH HEY OYSTERS!"


Food Talley for Sunday and Monday:

  • 2018-07-15, 07:15 - fried oyster half po-boy, gumbo (Daisy Dukes French Quarter)
  • 2018-07-15, 14:00 - Salty Pig: fried oyster and pulled pork on french bread (Pontchartrain Landing)
  • 2018-07-15, 17:30 - chicken and andouille sausage gumbo with boiled blue crab appetizer (home: Dad's gumbo, a neighbor's seafood acquisition)
  • 2018-07-16, 12:15 - oysters rockefeller and bienville, softshell crab almondine with Meunière sauce (Mr. Ed's Oyster Bar & Fish House)
  • 2018-07-16, 18:00 - fresh sliced tomatoes dressed with Korean seasoned squid (home: tomatoes from Dad's friend's garden, squid from Oriental Market)

What? No. The kimchi has not been eaten yet at this time. We're letting it ferment overnight. And the squash and cucumber are busy mingling with the seasonings in the fridge. Don't worry, we'll be tasting it tomorrow.

it's all fun and games 'til the cat gets confused
Thu 2017-12-28 23:44:55 (single post)

All right. So. Still no hot water over here, but we have accepted Blue Valley's proposal on a new water heater. Also a new furnace, because 95% efficiency and hefty rebates and also PVC venting which means finally sealing the combustion vent holes in the laundry room wall. It's dang hard to keep a house heated comfortably when one exterior wall is letting the ten-degree weather in through two holes the size of softballs. And that door between the kitchen and laundry room? It's just a regular interior door. Big crack under the door and everything. I keep a rolled-up afghan against it during the winter, sort of a makeshift draft-dodger. After Tuesday, probably, that will no longer be necessary.

Yesterday around eleven, noon or so, after Blue Valley had already visited but just before they emailed the proposal, Save Home Heat finally got back to me. We set up a visit for today during the noon-to-two window. But by today 9:30 we'd already examined Blue Valley's proposal, gone over it with the EnergySmart advisor, and accepted it. So I called Save Home Heat back and canceled. (It was really handy to have those two hours back, actually.)

So no hot water until Tuesday probably, but in the meantime, still cat-sitting for generous friends with working showers. And boy did I need that hot soak after scrimmage tonight. (We actually had scrimmage tonight! It was warm today, and overnight lows will be in the 30s--bliss!) And it wasn't the usual format. It was Team Colorado versus The World format. So those of us Boulder County Bombers who aren't on Team Colorado, we got our asses handed to us in a most educational way. No, seriously, it was amazing. I have never had so much fun dying on the opposing team's wall or getting blown up by offense. But, as you might imagine, I expected to really need some quality bath time for my sore muscles after that. I had been looking forward to that bath all day.

And I'd planned to write this very blog post while in the tub, as I sometimes do. I have a system! It involves setting the laptop on a stool or chair well out of harm's way and not touching it at all, putting a pressboard plank across the tub in lieu of a desk, and using a wireless keyboard and mouse to interact with the computer. This also might involve dinner and a beer or a glass of wine. I have my needs. I am not proud.

Except I forgot to bring the wireless keyboard over. Now that I have a laptop with a functional keyboard, I don't carry the wireless keyboard around by default. It lives in the drawer in our bathroom, precisely for use during long hot baths. But I did not bring it with me to my friends' house. I brought the wireless mouse. I brought the pressboard desk. But I did not bring the wireless keyboard, damn it.

I did bring my typewriter.

I'd brought it earlier this afternoon because I'd thought to have time to do some catch-up work on Fictionette Artifacts during that visit. Only I didn't. So I left the typewriter there thinking, OK, well, maybe after the blog post tonight. Or maybe during tomorrow's visit.

Turns out, manual typewriters are perfectly safe around water. They are not electric! And mine fit on the pressboard plank just fine, and the plank was sturdy enough to hold it. The set up was perfectly absurd, but it worked surprisingly well. The first of the two Fictionette Artifacts I still owe for October 2017 got typed up. Nothing got damagingly wet.

Meanwhile, I totally confused the cat. I count that as a win.

And now this blog post, having more to report than originally planned, is longer than it would have been, which 4thewords counts as a win. So.

so you make new happy memories to override the old ones that hurt
Thu 2017-12-07 22:51:36 (single post)

"Blackbird" came home yesterday with rejection note in hand. I sent it back out on its way again today. That's what you do. It's going to be hard to place, I know--not only is it a story with a writer protagonist, but it's a story whose writer protagonist has supernatural writing block, seriously, how pathetic is that?--but someone's gonna love this little story. So it's back out there fighting the good fight as we speak.

Meanwhile, it is that time of year again. Winter solstice is in two weeks. I picked up the fruitcake ingredients today, and I'm planning to have the Yule Log All-Nighter this time around. I haven't done it since we moved into the new place, so this'll be the first one in three years as well as the first one at the current address. I guess I'd better make sure I have batteries for all the Rock Band instruments and review how to set it up for All Play mode.

My relationship with fruitcake turned weird last year. Every year, I bake a fruitcake, and about half of it gets sliced up and mailed to friends and family, or shared around locally, while I eat most of the other half for breakfast every day until it's gone. Which generally takes 'til mid-January. But last year not everyone on my mailing list got a piece. I was too slow. I had fallen behind in other tasks, so getting fruitcake to the post office was just one more thing. And then I got injured, which seriously reduced my spoon supply. And then, probably because I also wasn't re-boozing the cheesecloth often enough, or generously enough, or something, the last quarter of the cake began to mold. Like, bread mold, that kind of mold. I have never had fruitcake mold on me before. Talk about embarrassing.

So I never got a slice out to my mother-in-law. And she was the best mother-in-law in the world, and then, without any warning, right about the time I was discovering the mold on the fruitcake, she died. And now I have this guilt-cloud hovering over the very idea of fruitcake because these were my reactions to the news:

  1. Shit, was she worried? Did she think I had forgotten her? I'll never know! And I'll never be able to tell her "I'm sorry, I just got behind on things and fell out of touch, but I still love you," and that sucks, and
  2. Shit, my husband and my sister-in-law are grieving the loss of their mother, and I'm sitting here feeling guilty about failing to send her fruitcake? Seriously? Way to make it all about you, Niki.

So there's feeling guilty, and then there's feeling guilty about feeling guilty, and underneath all that guilt is the just plain shock and sadness of very suddenly losing someone who was, in a very real sense, my second mom. And what with all of that, fruitcake now occupies a kind of painful place in my brain.

But I am going to make this year's fruitcake, dammit. Only I'll keep the cheesecloth well-boozed this time, and I'll get through the mailing list promptly. And everything will be fine and not painful at all, and fruitcake will go back to being a thing of comfort and joy (and booze).

And even though it's more of a Samhain thing than a Solstice thing, I'll set aside a piece for Mom Sorsha on Solstice night.

Love you. Miss you. Never gonna forget you.

now i'm tired
Wed 2017-11-01 21:13:59 (single post)

So tonight I did derby. And then I made kimchi. "Now I'm tired."

I went to the Big Easy Rollergirls Rec'ing Krewe practice tonight--that's primarily their "fresh meat" class, similar I think to our Phase 1--which is why I am now exhausted and sore. One thing I've learned as a veteran skater is that circumnavigating the holes in your skating abilities is as much a skill as all the other skills. The more advanced you are, the more advanced your coping strategies. They can get so advanced that you don't even know you don't actually have plow-stops mastered, or that your cross-overs aren't as efficient as they could be, until a coach laser-focuses on the skill in question and makes you do them right. So. We did all the things and now I am sore in all the parts.

Also I did 29.5 laps in 5 minutes, which is reassuring.

Their practice space is in New Orleans East, in an area off the I-25 Louisa Street exit that my Dad identified as "the seedy part of town. One of the seediest. I'm not real happy about you driving there." In vain did I protest that BERG practices there multiple times a week without sustaining any Tragedies Due To Bad Neighborhood. He was not going to let me borrow the truck. He was instead going to drive me there, which meant I had to pin him down to a schedule and then, when we got to the neighborhood, deal with his particular style of responding to lack of street signs, which is to just keep driving until he's satisfied we've gone too far. (I would have turned around and gone back to the street that I suspected of being the right one rather than turn right on the big street that obviously wasn't it and driving down it for a mile.)

I asked Dad, before I left Boulder, about the car situation. Just the one, he said. Sure, I could borrow it. No, I didn't need to rent a car. Honestly, I don't know why I bothered--there always seems to be some reason why he'd rather drive me than just let me borrow the truck. I mean, it's nice that this means we're spending more time together, I won't deny that. And it was damn near saintly of him to be willing to drive me to the French Quarter for Halloween, despite really not liking the idea. But turning me-plans into us-plans increases the difficulty of making plans. I came in thinking I was going to be in charge of my own movements around the Greater New Orleans area, and I'm really not, and it's been kind of exhausting to have to renegotiate my itinerary.

And but so anyway, Dad made himself a martini, drove us to the BERG warehouse, and sipped his drink while watching us practice. He admits he napped a little. He was also very kind and fetched me extra water bottles from the truck when it became clear two would not suffice.

Then we went home, and Dad ordered us a pizza (sausage and pepperoni and anchovies, heaven), and I made kimchi.

So, back around Christmas 2015, I created a monster. One of Dad's friends had just outright given him a 40-pound sack of oysters, so we spent a bunch of Christmas Eve shucking oysters. And I said, "With all these oysters, I should make kimchi." Dad was unfamiliar but intrigued. He ventured that one of his hunting buddies was notorious for his taste in spicy foods, and it would be interesting to see how some homemade kimchi went over with him. So. Dad drove me out to the Asian grocery store that's on Transcontinental, we bought napa cabbage and Korean radish and Asian chives and hot pepper flakes and fish sauce and so on, and I damn well made kimchi.

And Dad shared it around with his hunting buddies--not just the guy notorious for eating ghost peppers and Carolina reapers, but everyone--and next thing you know, this becomes something they request I do every time I roll into town.

So before today's roller derby outing, we went shopping and I set the vegetables up to get salty. After today's roller derby outing, I made kimchi. I made the napa cabbage and Korean radish kimchi featured in the recipe linked above (here it is again!) and the stuffed cucumber kimchi. It was a lot more work than I am accustomed to doing in the post-derby portion of the evening. The pizza helped. Also the prospect of knowing we'll have cucumber kimchi alongside breakfast tomorrow morning.

I may complain about Dad's overprotectiveness (and also his reactionary politics but let's not go there), but I will never complain about his taste in food. He's a Cajun. He eats all the things. Kimchi at breakfast? Not a problem. Complements the venison sausage nicely. And rabbit stew is on the menu tomorrow.

we're all perfectly ok here
Tue 2017-10-31 21:02:37 (single post)

I had great plans for Halloween night. I was going to go down to the French Quarter, strap on my gear, and skate in and around and through the festive chaos for several hours. Turns out, though, that doesn't work so good if I wear myself out earlier in the afternoon. Note for the future: If I want to party all night long (on skates), I have to be a little more cautious about the prospect of using up all my oomph with a full daytime itinerary that involves a tough workout (on skates).

So instead I stayed in and binged Stranger Things 2 instead.

Some brief, spoiler-free thoughts (spoiler-free concerning Season 2, that is; you're on your own for Season 1): While I don't think it necessarily succeeds on all fronts, Stranger Things 2 makes honest attempts at some very admirable things. Primarily it's a story about families, about the dynamics of different families, the families you get and the families you choose, and struggling to find the healthiest way for a family (noun) to family (verb). It examines the ways families succeed, the ways they fail, and the ways they try again.

It's also a story about aftermath. It's a story that happens after the triumphant and bittersweet ending of the first season. It doesn't attempt to reset everyone to We're All Perfectly OK Here except maybe in the ironic sense. All the major characters, and all the families they comprise, have gone though some amount of trauma. It is clear from the very first episode of Season 2 that they're all still dealing with that trauma. I can't overstate the importance of that. The show gets so many gold stars with me just for starting there.

And, if I can get a little meta here, part of the trauma for some characters is having to keep that trauma a secret from certain of the other characters. This is an element of supernatural horror that I'm not sure I've seen as directly addressed since the first season of Torchwood (but admittedly I have a lot of TV to catch up on, so take that for what it's worth). There's so much extra pressure on a survivor if the nature of their trauma simply can't be discussed with their usual support network. It's almost as though characters like Will and Joyce and Hopper, upon escaping the Upside Down, came back to a different Rightside Up than the one inhabited by the rest of their friends and neighbors. The world of the people who consciously survived the dimensional incursion is not the same world as the one inhabited by those who only touched it briefly and/or unknowingly. Those two worlds stand in relationship to each other similarly to the relationship between the Upside Down and the Rightside Up--they're barely a breath apart and yet impenetrably separated, and the one is constantly threatening to eat the other up bones and all.

After that, the meta gets a little personal.

So, my major plan for the afternoon was to meet a high school friend for lunch in Covington, then skate the Trace from Covington to Abita Springs, then have a beer at the Abita Brew Pub. These plans were indeed enacted (mine was a Pecan Ale), and were the primary reason my Halloween Night plans pooped out. But those plans also had to absorb Dad's plans, since we only had one vehicle between us and that vehicle was his.

Thus, before we headed across the lake, we stopped to pick up Mom.

I've mentioned this before, but Mom has been on the downward slope of some sort of non-alzheimer dementia for several years now. Well, a few weeks before my visit home, Dad bowed to necessity and moved her into the memory care unit of an assisted living community.

I was already prepared for certain changes, as it's been a full year since my last visit, and I knew the dementia was progressing rapidly. Over the year, her phone conversations with me got briefer and briefer. She used to at least ask how I was doing, ask me if I'm still doing that thing, with the skates, what is it called again? and recite me her New Orleans Pelicans fan version of the Merritt doggerel. But most of this past year she seemed less enthusiastic about talking with me on the phone, even to some extent unsure about what to do on the phone. Dad would hand it to her, she'd say "Hello," I'd ask "how are you?" and she'd say, "Good. OK, let me hand you back to your Daddy." After awhile, Dad didn't try to put her on the phone because she was asleep. She was going to sleep earlier all the time, pretty much as soon as Wheel of Fortune was over.

About a week before I came to town, I heard Dad say to Mom, "Niki's on the phone, you want to talk to Niki?" and I heard her say, "No," and he said, "Do you know who Niki is?" and she said, "No."

I'd prepared myself for that, though. It wasn't a huge blow. I knew it was coming. It wasn't a landmark; the Mom I knew had already gone away long before, and I had already mourned her. What it was, was awkward. I didn't know how to address her when we picked her up at the assisted living community. Dad tells her, "This is Niki, she's your daughter," but it doesn't mean anything to her. So should I still call her Mom, or would that confuse her? Should I call her by her first name instead? Does it matter what I call her, if she doesn't really respond? Like I said, awkward. But I was prepared.

What I wasn't precisely prepared for was how old she looks now. She looks a lot like Grandmama did when we visited her in the nursing home less than ten years ago.

She likes to go for rides in the truck. Dad shows up, immediately she wants to know when we're getting in the truck and going for a drive. She follows Dad around wherever he goes, like a duckling after a mama duck, because she knows he's going to take her for a drive. Also because she just wants to be with him; that's one of the few complete sentences I heard her say: "I just want to be with you. You're so good to me."

At one point, just before we left the memory care unit, Dad remembered he needed to fetch something from Mom's room. He told her to wait with me. I held her hand--and then I had to firmly hold onto her hand to keep her from following him. That was a disconcerting first, having to physically restrain my mother, however gently.

Sometimes she says things that sound perfectly normal. Except "perfectly normal" refers to what became normal over the first few years of her noticeably exhibiting symptoms of dementia. "Normal" has changed; post-dementia Mom is the new normal. Nine times out of ten, when I dream of her, I dream of her like she is now, even in the dreams where I'm back in school and never lived anywhere but my parents' house.

I'm OK. I'm pretty sure Dad's not OK, but he puts a good face on it. He talks to Mom the way he used to talk to the kids at his pediatrics office. This is an improvement, actually, from when he talked to her the way he used to talk to my brother and I when we were young and misbehaving--frustrated and angry with us for making mistakes and expecting us to learn from them. He's very patient now and will gently repeat whatever needs repeating as many times as she needs him to.

There are moments, as we leave the building, after we've said goodbye, when I can see some of Dad's not-OK-ness glaring through. After we brought her back to the assisted living community, and as we were driving out the gate, the radio started playing a song whose main line was, "Take me back to the night we met" or "I wanna go back to the night we met." And I just about lost it, thinking about how Dad must be feeling. This is the woman he loved and wooed and wed and made a home with and raised children with--how very far time has taken her from the night they met. I stared out the window until the danger of tears had passed; I didn't want to set Dad off, or have him feel like he has to comfort me.

I guess the comparison with Stranger Things, 1 or 2, with the nearness yet almost totally separateness of the two different worlds depicted therein--of any two of the different worlds depicted within--is going to be left as an exercise for the reader.

Sorry to end on a downer. Come back to tomorrow's post for roller derby fun and games! Bonus content: a woman in her 40s will struggle to resist being compelled to regress to her teens! Also there will be kimchi! Yayyyy.

but these words are also words
Tue 2017-08-15 01:23:31 (single post)

This is a blog post about self-accountability, self-appreciation, and word count. What words count? All words count. Because I wrote them, and I can count them.

Someone in one of my Habitica guilds created us a new guild Challenge--a set of Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos for us to add to our personal dashboards and compete with one another in completing. Or, more likely (knowing us), compete with ourselves and root each other on. These were, of course, writing challenges--hence my bothering telling you so. The hope was that as a result we'd also see more activity in Guild Chat, which had been mostly hitherto abandoned for Party Chat. This was unfortunate, because not everyone in our Guild is in the Party. Some of them are in other Parties, and you can't be in more than one Party at one time. So our friend created this Guild challenge.

The Challenge included some Habits which were daily word-count milestones: 100 words, 250, 750, and 1500. I wanted to participate, but up until then I hadn't really tracked word count per day--not outside of NaNoWriMo, anyway. I was only tracking hours per day spent on each day's writing tasks.

So I started tracking word count. I added a new column to my timesheet and started noting the amount of words written as well as the amount of time spent on each task.

Purely editing tasks weren't compatible with this, but it's amazing how few of my tasks are purely editing. I started noting how many words I'd added to that week's fictionette. I started noting how many words happened during freewriting. I even started jotting down the word-count of the daily blog post.

And I felt a little uneasy about this. Should I really "count" the words written in freewriting or blogging? Shouldn't I only count words written in new story drafts? Seriously, wasn't I just gaming the system?

Well, no. Not so much. What I was actually doing was giving myself an extra incentive to do my daily writings tasks. Furthermore, I was giving myself an excuse to celebrate having accomplished those tasks. And I needed that excuse, because the very fact of my questioning whether they "counted" revealed a nasty habit of self-sabotage.

I had convinced myself that some writing "didn't count." I'd convinced myself that I didn't deserve to feel proud of myself for accomplishing certain tasks. I could feel guilty for failing to accomplish them, but I wasn't allowed to celebrate succeeding. They didn't "count" as accomplishments.

Basically, it was the same ugly attitude I remember in my grandmother. I was very young and, in the way of the very young, acutely aware of parental injustice real and imagined. In this case, I maintain even now, it was real. I had noticed that she was swift to punish me for breaking her labyrinthine rules of etiquette and politeness, while my behaving well earned me merely neutral treatment. Basically, the best I could hope to earn with my very best behavior was not being punished. This seemed unfair. My very best behavior wasn't easy! I just wanted to know she appreciated the effort. But she said "Why should I reward you for doing what you ought to be doing already?"

(To be fair, this is the same argument we feminists use against men who demand gratitude and and a steady girlfriend as a reward for not having raped anyone. To be even more fair, these men are adults and theoretically no longer in the stage of childhood where they still need to be taught what good behavior is, or where they feel rewarded by any attention at all and so it behooves parents to reward good behavior with positive attention. Also, we aren't their parents.)

So, yeah. I'd come to define certain writing tasks as "what I ought to be doing already," so when I did them, I didn't think it much to brag on. Doing them wasn't enough to save me from the self-loathing of "Call yourself a writer? When did you last work on a salable story, huh? What have you done for your career lately?" ... it was only enough to reduce the self-loathing to "Well, at least you did something. You're not totally hopeless, I guess."

Which is no way to live.

At one point a while back, I had a big difficult email to write--lots of effort, difficult topic, project I had no enthusiasm for---and I resented the way it was going to crowd out my real writing hours. I decided that since it was writing, of a sort, I might as well count it toward my daily timesheet. If I had to do it, I might as well consider its hours as counting toward my 5-hour goal rather than bemoan its putting that goal out of reach.

Today I also had a difficult email to write. And I had a similar epiphany: Maybe I could break through the resistance by reclassifying it as one of this afternoon's writing tasks. I would put it on my timesheet, log the hours spent writing it, and also log the word count. Then I'd actually get something out of the ordeal besides the frustration of having lost the time I could have spent working on, say, my new story for Podcastle's Halloween-themed submission window.

So that's how an extra 3 hours 15 minutes and 1600 words got added to today's tally of writing done and words written. They weren't easy words or hours, so I'm damn well going to count them. (Also I spent about 20 minutes and 400-some words brainstorming on the Halloween submission, so win-win.)

I'm not going to get silly. I'm not going to start counting my hours spent and words written on reading blogs and writing comments thereon. But I'm not going to discount writing accomplishments anymore simply because they aren't the right shape. All the words count because I wrote them. I wrote them because they were worth writing. If they were worth writing, they damn well count. OK? OK.

This blog post is 1,051 words long and took 45 minutes to write. And that was worth writing, too.

middle ground is where you make it
Fri 2017-07-14 00:03:29 (single post)

Me, yesterday, re: Habitica:

There is probably a middle ground between gaming the system and sabotaging one's own chances of success, but I haven't found it yet.

Maybe I found it today. I went looking, anyway.

To be more explicit: There is a small list of writing tasks I'd like to do each day that I keep! Not! Quite! Getting to! and it's bothering me. Things like: Spending a solid writing session on writing a new short story, or revising an existing one so that it is ready to submit. Working on the novel, for serious. Sending stories back out to new markets (ones they have not been to, of course. I'M STILL EMBARRASSED ABOUT THAT) and logging responses to previous submissions. These things are not represented in my Habitica "dailies," so I can log a "perfect day"--a day in which I check off all the Dailies--without ever getting to that list of much-neglected writing tasks. I suppose it's overstating things to describe this as me "gaming the system," but I'm certainly not making the system work for me here.

Problem is, the act of adding new Dailies to the list does not suddenly cause me to succeed at a task I've failed at week after week. It just makes failing at it feel worse. No more perfect days and it's my fault the party gets thwacked by the quest boss.

An intermediate stage is needed here.

So, Habitica's "dailies" are those task which you hold yourself too every day. If you check them all off, you accomplish a perfect day! But for each Daily you don't check off, you take damage. If you're in a quest, your party also takes damage. That's Dailies.

There's also "habits." Habits are those tasks you'd like, to, well, get in the habit of doing more often. You click them any time you do them, however many times a day is appropriate. Like: "Get up from the desk and stretch" or "Eat a home-prepared meal." You get rewarded with gold and experience points for clicking them, but you don't get punished for not clicking on them. (There's also negative habits which you're trying to break yourself of, and you take damage every time you click them. Example: "Did you pick your nose? Be honest!" But that's outside the scope of this discussion.)

Habit items are perfect for giving yourself incentive to do a thing without putting yourself under a lot of pressure.

So I have added a Habit item for "All items on today's timesheet." (This is a spreadsheet where I track my working hours by task, and it lists all the tasks, including those things I keep not! Quite! Getting to!). It has a positive clicker I can click if I do all the things. It also has a negative clicker, but I'm going to give myself a two-week adjustment period before I start clicking it.

And then, what the hell, I added five more Habit items: "1 hour of writing," "2 hours of writing," "3 hours of writing," and so on up to five. I used to have a "5 hours of writing" Daily, but I pretty much never managed to check that one off. So rather than keep punishing myself with it, I disabled it. Temporarily. Having now brought it back as a series of low-pressure Habit incentives, I might train myself up to a point where it's reasonable enable it as a Daily again.

So that was very technical and will probably make more sense if you go and check out Habitica. You may find it useful. Not everyone does, but it pushes all my buttons very effectively.

Anyway, I did not get to click "All items on today's timesheet" today. But you know what I did do? For the first time ever? I completed a Friday Fictionette early. That's right. July 14th's offering is already up on Patreon for scheduled release. Which means I can begin my road trip to Salina, Kansas (it's bout week again!) on a clean conscience. And I might just get to peck at the novel a bit in the car. I'll certainly get to start next week's Fictionette early. If I can keep this up, I might actually begin building a future fictionette buffer. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Anyway, now I have blogged. Which leaves me only two Dailies left between me and a perfect day (for Habitica values of perfect). Off I go to do them!

Cover art features original photography by the author, who had to move some furniture to get that alarm clock unplugged. You're welcome.
this fictionette will not get a delay of game penalty
Sat 2017-06-17 00:05:16 (single post)
  • 988 wds. long

Mwahahahahaha--BEHOLD! The Friday Fictionette for June 16, released on June 16. BWAHAHAHAHA! Ha-ha. *ahem* It has been a good week. And so I present to you "CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP" (ebook, audiobook) which is another of those tiresome self-indulgent magic realism numbers wherein the author subverts a physical law in order to say something meaningful and symbolic about the human condition. JUST KIDDING. It's a weird little flash piece about a day when all the off-switches for everything electronic stops working. (Which is kind of the same thing, depending on how you feel about weird little magic realism numbers.)

Thanks to the weave and dodge strategy, I wound up this morning looking at about 1500 words of disjointed pieces of story, all auditioning to be part of the fictionette. It was surprisingly simple to remove the bits that didn't fit and smooth the remaining pieces together into a single work. So. Note to self: this works.

(There is still no Mongo. There is still no cheese.)

And I have a lovely weekend ahead of me, with an unscheduled Saturday (omg!) and a holiday Sunday off from derby. I know, I know, Tuesday's blog post I was all MOAR SKATING PLS. Well, after four hours on Tuesday, a couple hours on Wednesday, and Thursday's double scrimmage which managed somehow to tweak my left knee, I'm oddly OK with taking this Sunday off. Don't nobody panic--it's not comparable with January's grade 2 MCL tear. If it's comparable at all, the comparison is with that injury after four or five weeks of recovery, OK? I'm walking fine. I'm not in significant pain. I'm just stiff and sore and a smidge swollen, that's all. It's responding nicely to a regimen of ice and ibuprofen and some of range-of-mobility exercises from my past PT repertoire. But I'm sure it will appreciate a little extra time off skates before diving back into travel team practice in preparation for that big Bombshells vs. Crossroads bout on the 24th.

(Sunday plans involve dinner-anna-movie and quiet acknowledgment that, gosh, John and I will have been married for 19 years come Tuesday. How about that.)

after two weeks this is the blog post you get
Wed 2017-06-14 01:05:01 (single post)
  • 4,600 wds. long

Hello the blog! It's been a while. Er. Sorry? But I'm back, at least for now.

There were a lot of factors that, multiplied together, produced a couple of pretty pathetic weeks around here. The big one was roller derby. Are you suprised? Nobody is surprised. Well, I'm a little surprised. I mean, yes, two back-to-back tournament weekends, sure, but what about the weekdays in between them? Where the hell did they go?

I've also been caught up in the tedious and terribly familiar down-the-drain roundabout that happens when I get behind on my work. You know this song, right? The first verse is where you know you're late and you hate yourself for being late and if you had any worth as a person and a writer you wouldn't be late. In the second verse, all the bad feelings built up in the first verse form a Humongous Wall of Avoidance between you and catching up on all the late stuff, and by the end of that verse you're later still. During the bridge you lament all the other writing tasks you're not getting to because you have to give the late stuff priority. The third verse is just the second verse over again, louder, and it repeats until fade-out (studio version) or until the audience gets sick of it and goes home without requesting an encore (live version).

I am not going to say anything as decisive as "But I'm all done with that now!" Whenever I do that, then the next day I tend to crumple under the weight of expectation. But I will say, without making any predictions that might emotionally or mentally jeopardize my tomorrow, that I had a damn good today.

Friday Fictionettes: To make Mt. Overdue easier to climb, I decreed that release dates in June 2017 would be the 2nd through 5th Fridays (there is a fifth Friday). Then I proceeded to miss the June 9/2nd Friday deadline. It's all good, though; I've posted it this morning. Then I went on to knock a typewritten page off the top of the overdue Fictionette Artifact stack and also to log the first session towards this Friday's release. So everything is either A) caught up, or B) hopeful.

Short Stories: "Caroline's Wake" came home yesterday with a form rejection. I processed that today in the usual type-a manner then sent the story out to the next market on my wish list that was open to submissions.

Daily Freewriting: I did it. So there.

Household crap: Paid bills. Dealt with dishes both clean and dirty. Cleaned up the produce drawer in the fridge according to good sanitation and food rotation protocols. Ate a big ol' pot of lentils with mixed greens because they are full of magnesium and protein and iron and stuff and also I have a lot of them--CSA is back in session! And I rode my bike to pick up this week's share because the weather was beautiful and exercise is good.

Roller derby: Travel team practice. In consideration of their hard work at the tournament this past weekend, most of the All Stars (A-team) took the night off. So tonight was primarily the Bombshells (B-team) preparing for our June 24th bout. I got something like two and a half solid hours working closely with the other blockers in my "pod" and we all practiced both playing offense on an opposing wall and resisting offense played on our wall.

I've also started coming in an hour early for extra individual skills work. It started out with just Papa Whiskey fine-tuning my plow-stops and blocking form last week, then another skater joined us this week, and a third skater expressed interest in joining us next week. I've taken to calling it "pre-practice study group."

So. That comes to four hours on Tuesdays. But I feel awesome. I'm on skates, I'm part of a team, I'm rostered for the upcoming bout, and I have a home on a pod within that roster. Skating is life. Life is good.

Not gonna lie, I was disappointed not to get rostered with the All Stars for these two tournaments. But, surprisingly, the not-getting-rostered blues wasn't the big deal. I mean, yeah, I had to process my disappointment, sure, take some time to myself to grieve the version of tomorrow I wasn't gonna get. But then I had to put that aside and prepare for the tomorrow I was getting, the one where I got to assist the coaching staff and cheer on my team and participate in all the team stuff surrounding the games.

No, I'll tell you what the big deal was. THE big deal was not skating at the tournaments and not skating at weekend practice, either, because I was at the tournaments I wasn't skating in. It's not just that roller derby skaters need to skate, and not putting on skates for a week at a time hearts their hearts. It's that, on the one hand, you're not "good enough" to be on the main roster, but on the other hand, you're also not getting a chance to improve, because you had to miss practice to be an alternate in the tournament you're not on the main roster for! Arrrrgh.

Now, us two alternates, we did end up getting rostered once. It was for the Saturday morning game at Mayday Mayhem, which two of the regular skaters got called away from because of work. A couple blockers had to jam, so a couple more blockers were needed to take their place in their lines. I think I wound up playing in two, maybe three jams. I don't know. Not the point. Point was, I got to be a skating member of the team for one game. I participated in the team's on-skates warm-up, which made up a little for not having a Sunday practice that weekend. I got to put on skates! For the first time that whole weekend! It felt so damn good.

So that's why a four-hour Tuesday practice is awesome, and why I'm contemplating attending the optional Wednesday practice too. Because skating is life, and skating better makes life better.

And also there won't be practice on Father's Day, so I'm making up for lost time in both directions.

Anyway, that's where I'm at.

Oh, good grief, is it nearly 1 AM already? *sigh* Why only 24 hours in a day? Why haven't they patched that bug yet?

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