“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
Mark Twain

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

initial call for boarding
Mon 2014-04-07 09:07:43 (single post)

Usually the order is "first, actually write; then blog about actually writing." Hence the name of the blog. However, in just a few hours I'll be getting on the train departing New Orleans, and I won't have any internet until tomorrow morning in Chicago. So today the order is "first, do the stuff requiring internet; then do the stuff requiring no internet." Thus, an early blog post.

It has been a good trip. I've spent it in full-on vacation mode: eating ridiculous amounts of good food, playing truly silly amounts of Puzzle Pirates, spending time with family, reconnecting with old friends. I had very little schedule to adhere to, most of it taken up with Saturday's Alumni Weekend and Class of '94 20th Reunion activities. The rest of my time I filled by saying "yes" to whatever suggestions came my way (which is how I ended up drinking beer and playing boo-ray with Dad's family the other night) and/or wandering around my old neighborhood on either two wheels or eight (the family bike now has a new seat that isn't falling apart, by the way -- you're welcome).

Saturday night's class reunion was well-attended. I want to say that somewhere between a third to a half of everyone showed up, which with a class of about 60 people means around 25 attendees maybe. Our hosts threw an excellent party in their gorgeous big uptown home, and there was food and drink and a collection of high school year books and unexpectedly excellent weather. In the "why didn't I think of that?" category, there were spike-your-own snowballs. ("These are magic snowballs," sez she. "What kind of magic?" sez me. "Booze magic," sez she. "I'll have mine with almond cream and Amaretto," sez me.)

I discovered that I really need to have snappy elevator pitch answers to "haven't seen you in forever" type questions. By the end of the evening, most of my answers had simmered down to their bare essentials. A detailed description of recent and forthcoming publications, which had the potential to cause eyes to glaze over and certainly wasn't going to be remembered in the morning, eventually became, "Yes, I'm still writing. I have a couple short stories coming out later this year."

I also discovered that some of my old classmates are still in New Orleans, having moved back or having never left, and there's no good reason I don't look them up when I'm town.

Last night I spent hanging out with a beer and my laptop at the Metairie establishment where my brother tends bar. I try to do that once every visit. It's generally quiet on Sundays, so we end up having a long rambling conversation in brief, unhurried segments between his serving other customers or my doing things on the computer. And there's a big difference between seeing him over lunch at our parents' house, surrounded by all those reminders of being kids together, and seeing him in a bar where he works, surrounded by proof that we're both grown-ups now. I got to visit with him in both environments yesterday. It's been a very good trip.

And now I've reached my last morning waking up in my childhood bed in my childhood room, drinking the coffee Dad left for me when he went to work, contemplating packing everything up for travel. And it's Monday. I'll be easing out of vacation mode and into work day mode while the train takes me north to Chicago. I still have a short story to revise. The market I originally wanted to submit it to has extended its deadline, so I might yet make it after all.

Arrival upon the train they call the City of New Orleans
Wed 2014-04-02 21:54:01 (single post)

I arrived in New Orleans today. Dad picked me up at the train station and drove me back to Metairie, where Mom and a goodly handful of neighbors waited to say hello. Thus, this blog post comes to you from the very comfy location of my childhood bed in my childhood home. Other than a lingering familiar paranoia reawakened by finding a two-inch long cockroach scrabbling noisily in the kitchen sink when I went down for a late night cup of tea, which has me fighting down a case of the screaming heebie-jeebies every time I go to open a cupboard, retrieve stuff from the pantry, or, y'know, set feet to floor, I'm feeling fairly happy.

(This is not an indication of any lack of cleanliness in my parents' household, by the way. This is simply an indication that their house is in the Gulf South. Two-inch long cockroaches are simply a fact of life, which I must face if I ever want to live here full time again. Or even part time.)

The train ride was two nights long, and I managed to just about keep to my five-hour-a-day writing schedule throughout. That's because there's really nothing else on the train to do. Well, other than listen to podcasts, read ebooks and digitally published short stories (downloaded ahead of time because there is no onboard wifi on the California Zephyr), play video games, knit, darn socks, talk to strangers, and space out watching the scenery go by. So! It was easy. Kinda sorta.

I brought my skate bag along, reasoning that since I was going to miss three roller derby practices I might as well get some outside skating time. In Chicago, between trains, I skated from the station over to Sushi Pink for food, sake, and the wifi necessary to get yesterday's blog post up and do various online errands. A man on a street corner saw me coming and shouted, "Hey, what's up, roller derby?" which made me grin. A little girl on another street corner told her mom, "I want to roller skate!" which made me grin even harder.

Today, after greeting practically everyone in the neighborhood and then helping Dad eat all the cold boiled blue crabs he had remaining in the refrigerator, I went for a skate/walk with Mom (me skating, she walking) up the levee and over to the Bonnabel boat launch. Levee access is all open now, and the bike/pedestrian path is smooth as silk. I showed Mom some of the stuff I'm practicing, which I think she appreciated. She hears about roller derby all the time, but she doesn't much get to see it, so I think that, despite the one time she got to watch me scrimmage, she mostly just has this vague idea that "Niki gets to learn how to do new things in skates, which makes her happy, which in turn makes me happy."

So I'm getting skate time in, and I'll try to make it a daily thing. Weather permitting, that is. I'm also going to try to keep to my writing schedule, though I'm not letting HabitRPG hold me to the full five hours until I'm back in Boulder.

And that is all for tonight.

The tourism website puts the number of gambling houses at 8, mind.
They Do Things Differently There
Tue 2013-06-25 23:52:04 (single post)

In fact, the historic mountain town that John and I ended up puttering around in for our fifteenth wedding anniversary was Central City. Central City began life as a mining town, and it has a long and storied history despite the gold rush that founded it fading out some 30-odd years after it started. Today it is the home of an opera house, a historical society, several museums, two art galleries, three houses of worship (Methodist, Catholic and Episcopal), an Elks lodge, a Masonic temple (Central Lodge #6), somewhere between 450 and 650 permanent residents depending on which sign you read, and one brewpub.

Also a stupid abundance of casinos. Well, eight casinos. But eight casinos in the same square mile. Even on the Las Vegas strip things seemed more spread out than that. Admittedly, each individual Las Vegas casino probably covers about a square mile on its own, so. Point is, that's a lot of casinos in such a small town.

And here's the thing I never quite got used to. In a casino town, the parting phrase of choice isn't "Have a good one" or "Be seeing you" or even, assuming one is talking to a tourist, "Enjoy your stay," but rather "Good luck."

"Good luck."

It makes perfect sense. In a town with eight casinos, it's a good bet the person you're talking to will be spending some money at the tables and/or slots. Which, of course, we did; John likes playing the tables, and I like drinking the comp drinks. We put down our share of what we called "arcade play-money" on roulette at the Reserve Casino where we were staying. Because he has a good head for the odds and a relaxed attitude toward the results, John came out some $30 ahead after several hours of play. He mainly places outside bets--this dozen, that column--but he also placed a few small "what the heck" bets on the numbers. When a dollar on 7 got lucky, we pushed the resulting $35 to the side and considered it solid profit. Good luck is a desired outcome in a casino town, and everyone, customer and staff alike, wishes it to everyone else.

But "Good luck," however much sense it makes, plays hell with my polite society autopilot. It's not that I get flustered trying to return the good wishes. It's not that I get offended or off-balance. It's just that I take it in ways the speaker probably didn't intend.

For instance.

Checking in at the hotel. The clerk hands us our keys, says, "Room 367. On the third floor, all the way at the end of the hall. Elevator's right behind you." I say, "Thank you," and the clerk says, "No problem. Good luck!" To which I respond, "Oh, I'm sure we'll find it just fine!" while internally wondering, with some trepidation, whether finding our room will involve running some sort of gauntlet. Will we have to bluff our way past dragons in the hallway and gremlins in the elevator?

Crossing the street. A guy in an open-topped jeep is hawking tours of the town, unless it was shuttles between casinos. We turn down his offer, with our thanks. "No problem. Good luck!" That's what he says. And I look nervously up and down the street, thinking, Do I need luck? There's hardly any traffic.

Getting directions to breakfast. The cafe we remembered from the night before doesn't open until noon, but we see signs throughout the Bonanza for a "Millie's". We ask the cashier for directions. We are directed across the street and half a block down to the E Z Street Casino, inside which we'll need only ascend the first stair we find, and we won't be able to miss it. "Thank you." "No problem. Good luck!" and I am automatically responding that, oh, I'm sure we'll find it just fine, you gave stellar directions, even while inside my skull I can feel my brain going all facepalm and That's not what he means! Casino town, remember?

We had a great time. A lot of walking, lots of things to look at, lots of good things to eat, and, of course, lots of casinos to play in. Lots of playing Go over dinner or breakfast, too, which John and I hadn't done for quite some time. (I am not as rusty as I feared.) For a last-minute anniversary vacation, it was very pleasant and stress-free. We'll definitely do it again.

And I'll probably embarrass myself responding improperly to that "Good luck" thing again. That's OK; it just makes me more entertaining to random strangers.


The Muse Distracts Me with Goblins in Omaha
Tue 2013-06-11 17:16:14 (single post)

Yes, I'm easily distractible.

I was going to work on "It's For You" during today's Amtrak1 ride. That poor story has been waiting far too long, and I fully intended to move straight from submitting "The Seeds of Our Future"2 into finishing and submitting something else. That's what a writer does: Writes things, finishes things, submits things for publication, writes and finishes the next thing.

But the train was late. Instead of reaching Omaha, Nebraska in the wee semi-dark hours of them; morning, we got there during daylight, around 8:00 AM when I was diligently doing my Morning Pages in the sightseer lounge. And so I was awake and able to see outside the train when we paused at the station, affording us a fantastic and intriguing view of the backside of the Durham Museum.

That link goes to a Google Maps top-down view, which of course isn't quite the view I was treated to. What I saw was "...a convention center? It looks like a convention center entrance. But who'd enter across the gravel of an empty rail-yard? And why does it appear someone has attached a cattle car to either side of the entrance? Do those tracks actually run right across the threshold--? Yes, there appears to be a short ramp affording passage over the tracks and into the door. Also there is a smoke-stack. What is this building?"

Turns out, it's the Durham Museum. But that does not answer the question of why it has a gorgeous glass-and-steel entryway letting onto the rail-yard, or why there are tracks that close to the outer wall. My best guess is that the tracks actually function, and the aluminum-looking walls that reminded me of a cattle car are in fact garage-style doors which raise to allow a train to back up to the building and unload large exhibits. But still, those doors do not match that vast industrial gravel expanse.

So when I was supposed to be working on a rewrite of "It's For You" I was in fact thinking about how denizens from faerie might arrive upon steam trains appearing from nowhere at some point along the tracks and unload their wares, setting up a goblin market on the gravel. I was wondering how often this might happen, and whether it was according to a predictable schedule or a random one, and how such a market setting up in contemporary Omaha would differ from the one described in Neil Gaiman's Stardust. I was thinking about the inevitable child stolen away by the faeries, or perhaps one who chose to hire on with a market vendor, and why she might choose to do that.

I was contemplating how traditional parental threats of dire fates for misbehaving children would conform to the reality of itinerant faerie salespeople, and whether they might soften in the face of the threat's plausibility. It's safe to say "The boogeyman will get you!" or "I'll feed you to the trolls!" in the clear absence of boogeymen or trolls. But "I'll sell you to the goblins!" becomes a frightening threat in a world where the goblins might show up tomorrow and make your parents an offer. So the threat might soften, be said with a smile and a laugh. The child might respond, "What would you sell me for?" prompting the parents to answer "A far-seeing mirror, the better to keep an eye on you!" or "A magic feather so I could fly over and get you back!"

There are rules about the goblin market. There are ways you conduct yourself among the faeries. And in the stories, someone always breaks the rules or otherwise misbehaves, and they get into plot-causing trouble. But, I thought, surely the protagonist in the story can't have been the first person to break the rules, nor even have done so in the most interesting way. Despite that you should never, never accept a gift from the market, pretty much everyone in Omaha by now probably has a faerie gift on their mantelpiece.

Which means the whole town is in deep, deep debt to faerie.

Perhaps it takes a runaway (or kidnapped) human child every few decades to even the score.

OK, so, this is why I didn't do the work I meant to do. I was too busy noodling towards a draft of a story about a recurring goblin market in Omaha. But I'm not going to be too hard on myself. Much more important than having a particular writing project move is that writing happen at all. I'm trying to make that happen every day.


1 I'm writing this from the Corner Bakery at Chicago Union Station. (The big one outside on the corner by the canal bridge, not the little one inside the food court.) I beg forgiveness of all Chicago-area friends for not alerting you and seeking you out--the train was two and a half hours late, and I find myself with only enough time to catch up on The Internet (all of it!) before running back inside to board the City of New Orleans. (back)

2 The Fearful Symmetries open submission call used the online Moksha Submission System, giving all would-be contributors the option to check their submission's status in the queue. I have refreshed the form every day for the same reason you wander over to see if the pot is boiling yet. And with about as much utility; since May 31 I have moved from about 1048th to 1016th in line. There were a lot of submissions, y'all, and they can only be read so fast. I really should close that tab and forget about it.

Or I'll Put You in My Novel
Sun 2012-11-18 20:55:54 (single post)
  • 26,601 wds. long

So I just did something rather unpleasant to my female lead. I'm sorry. It isn't even plot-related, not really. It's not that sort of rock. It's just... the world being the world. And me being exasperated with it.

Sabrina is Timothy's ex-girlfriend. She's an aspiring sculptor who is currently paying the bills by waiting tables at a diner. She met Timothy while in an art class at a vocational college in Taos; it's probably got a real-life counterpart, but I haven't done the research on that. Research is for December. But what little I've seen of Taos in person has given me the impression of a very artsy town. So, art. Yay! Also, Sabrina is of Mexican heritage, that being a rather important demographic in the U.S. southwest. In fact, it's rather an important demographic in the U.S. full stop, as a certain presidential candidate learned to his chagrin earlier this month.

(One of the problems with the first draft: Despite much of it being set in New Mexico, every single character was pasty white. This made me about as frowny-faced as realizing I had only one named female character. The second draft has Sabrina in the protagonist tier and her co-workers, Sonora and Rosa and Jazz, in the secondary character tier. It's a start. Rosa runs the diner where they all work.)

With me so far? OK good. Now, back in October, I had reason to drop my husband off at the airport. Having done this, I took myself off to the TravelCenters of America along I-270 and treated myself to brunch. Then I took home a hell of a lot of Popeye's fried chicken for eating over the rest of the week.

This may sound familiar. But what I didn't mention in that blog post was the conversation I overheard while taking revision notes and eating oatmeal.

It's a truck stop. Truckers go in and get fed. And while they sit at the counter and have second helpings of everything they order (at the Country Pride restaurant, every single menu item is all-you-can-eat; the waitress comes to take your plate and says, "You want seconds on that, hon?" whether you're a 250lb dude who just finished his steak and eggs or a 150lb writer gal who just had oatmeal), they talk about things that are relevant to the interest of truckers. Like, this one Denver-area loading dock guy who doesn't know the first thing about securing a load. Like, the recently approved increase on tolls on New York highways and its expected impact on long-haul freight. Everyone talks shop. Like you do.

But the bit that stood out for me was this one guy. I can't tell you what he looked like; guys who talk this way, you don't look at them, you don't want them seeing you listening in, because then they might talk to you. I can tell you kinda what he said, though, because I nearly snorted milk out my nose listening to him.

He was a genuine conspiracy theorist, I'll tell you what. He shared with his counter-mates his recent discovery, via this secret memo that "they" just released, this secret memo between President Obama and the president of Mexico (who will be hereafter referred to as Felipe Calderón because that is his name, a fact of which our conspiracy theorist appeared oddly ignorant for being so well informed on secret memos and the like) which revealed that Obama and Calderón we conspiring to flood the U.S. labor market with immigrants who would then "revert," that was the word he used, "revert" at a later time...

"What the hell are you talking about?" his conversation partners kept saying. "What memo? What do you mean?" In response, he would simply reiterate, which is to say repeat word for word everything he'd already said. He could not seem for the life of him to tell anyone where he read this, for instance, or who "they" were who uncovered this memo. Nor could he explain what he meant by "revert."

I am still befuddled to understand exactly what he thought was going to happen. Obama was going to relax immigration law specifically to allow cheap Mexican labor to flood the unskilled labor market, until at some point Calderón would give the signal and call all the workers to "revert" back to Mexico, leaving the U.S. economy to crumble in their wake? Or did I mishear him, and the word he repeated was actually "revolt," alluding to a future civil war in which good upstanding white workers will be forced at gunpoint to drop English for Spanish and replace their steak and eggs with huevos rancheros y bistec asado? I honestly do not know. This guy would not explain. He would only repeat.

Finally one of the other truckers turned to someone else and loudly revived the discussion about New York toll increases, and I heard no more from the conspiracy theorist for the rest of my stay.

What all this has to do with NaNoWriMo is this: Sabrina is on the road, half-unwillingly, with the Big Bad. She's helping him in some way to track down Timothy, mainly because the Big Bad has convinced her that Timothy needs their help. And so they have both stopped at a 24-hour diner modeled after that Country Pride Restaurant at the TravelCenters of America, only the one in Limon which I have not been to as opposed to the one in Commerce City that I have. And while she was there, I confess I made poor Sabrina, who absolutely did not deserve it, overhear this conversation.

Not that anyone deserves to get slapped in the face by random casual racism, mind. Or casual sexism, for that matter, which I have also run into at the TA. (Do not get me started on the guys ahead of me in line at the Popeye's who were relentlessly demanding that the woman behind the counter "smile, baby, come on! Smile for us!")

Forgive me. Sabrina totally did not deserve it. But it happens. Adding that conversaton to the scene not only helped ground the book in the real world (which has people in it and also racist people), but on top of that it did help to relieve my feelings about having been Racist Conspiracy Nutbar's captive audience. Though I'm sure if it had been Sabrina there rather than pasty white me, her feelings would have been a lot more intense and, frankly, more relevant than mine. And so, in the scene, they were.

The encounter added 600 words and three extra bit-part charecters to the scene, so I guess that's a win? Maybe I can have the Big Bad go back in there and eat them all.

One More Duck
Tue 2012-09-11 22:06:13 (single post)
  • 6,000 wds. long

Today I finally secured resort accommodations for Sirens 2012 . I purchased early registration while attending World Fantasy last year, then said to myself, "I have oodles of time before I need to do anything else!" That statement ceased to be true some time ago. The Skamania Lodge (in the majestic Columbia River Gorge, in Stevenson, Washington) showed no availability via their online reservations. I called the 1-800 number in hopes of receiving better news. A charming and pleasantly chatty reservations operator found me the very last room available and slotted me in.

Meantime, we also talked about French last names ("LeBoeuf" may have to be spelled a lot for people outside New Orleans, but it could be far, far worse), urban fantasy (she recommended Laura K. Hamilton; I recommended Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour), and various inspirations for writing fiction. As phone calls to hotel reservations go, it really was an unusually pleasant example of its type.

Now I just need to get my train tickets to Portland. I'm pretty sure I'm going by train. It's a straight connection from the California Zephyr to the Coastal Starlight. I've never been on the Coastal Starlight before. It's got wifi! The entire journey takes two overnights, not materially worse than Denver to New Orleans, though the Denver-to-Sacramento leg is 31 hours compared to Denver to Chicago's 18. But, you know, meh. More time with me and my laptop and/or knitting and/or sock-darning or jeans-patching. And less time trusting my belongings or my person to commercial airlines and airline!TSA, which trusting I'm slightly allergic to. (Amtrak!TSA exists, as far as I can tell, exclusively on video loops on infinite play in the Chicago terminals. I'm OK with that.) I can only rejoice in my spouse-given freedom from the 9-to-5 world that allows me to extend a weekend excursion by 48 hours on either side. Thank you, John! Now, to get this "writing" thing up to the "possibly making a living off it" speed...

Speaking of which, got my doubly-signed copy of the contract for the publication of "Lambing Season" back in the mail this week. Hooray!

Assembling Fiction and Other Stories (Also, Loons)
Tue 2012-07-31 22:11:26 (single post)
  • 2,850 wds. long

First off: A new review of Blood and Other Cravings has hit the internet this week. Reviewer Deirdre Murphy at Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys made me grin like a loon three paragraphs into the review. (Do loons, in fact, grin? They're birds. They have beaks. How do you grin with a beak?) LIKE A LOON, I SAID! DOWN WITH LOGIC! UP WITH GRINNING!

(There are many loons at this website. They are damn well grinning.)

Secondly: New story. Not the phone story. The other new story, the one I intend to submit to The First Line tomorrow. The due date is tomorrow, so I have to submit it tomorrow.

Is it done yet? Is even a single draft of it done yet? Well... no. Not unless you count the freewriting babble draft I did, using the appropriate first line as a prompt, at the laundromat back in mid-June.

But I have been assembling it. In my head.

So one of those beginning writer rules -- that is, the rules you're told to follow when you begin to write, which you continue to follow until you discover what your own personal rules are -- is "Thinking About Writing Isn't Writing." But staring at the word processor screen, moving a block of text from one place in the partial draft to another, editing the segue sentence yet again, then staring at the screen some more... that isn't writing either.

So I took a walk. Walks always help.

Walking the three miles home from downtown Boulder, I reexamined the pieces of scenes -- scenelets, if you will -- that make up this story. The story follows a structure that's sort of like this:

  1. Right now
  2. Teaser flashback
  3. Continue from right now
  4. More from the flashback
  5. Either back to present time, or else the rest of the flashback, I'm not sure
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat
  7. Finish up story in present time

You can probably figure out where I keep getting bogged down. And when I get bogged down in the structure, I start to wallow in details that don't really belong in the story. So the pacing gets bogged down too.

So during my walk I imagined writing each scenelet onto index cards. Not all of the text; just the first couple sentences and the last, in order to give myself an idea of where the segues are. This story is going to be all about the segues. Like, "This bit ends with the first mention of the umbrella. So the next bit begins with a flashback to the outerspace salesmen giving him the umbrella."

Yes, I said outerspace salesmen. Also, the umbrella is pink with silver letters that can only be read from very high up, and the silver letters say "KICK ME." The snow isn't really snow. It's outerspace gluey tar stuff that causes the end of the world as we know it. WHAT IS MY BRAIN.

(I suspect The First Line does not get a heck of a lot of science fantasy apocalyptic humor. But they do welcome all genres. Who knows? Maybe everyone is writing stories about space glue snow apocalypses.)

So now I'm home, and my feet hurt. In addition to new skating blisters from Sunday, I have sandal blisters. Blisters on top of blisters. Ow. (Next time I think "Oh, I'll only be walking a few blocks. I'll be busing home. Sandals are fine," it will trigger an autohypnotic safety mechanism that will not allow me out the house until I've wised up and put my running shoes on.) But I also have a story written on index cards in my head. The structure now makes sense. And in mulling over the structure on my walk home, I discovered that the protagonist is an entirely different character than I'd thought. The things I now know about him are the key to getting both structure and pacing deboggified. Hooray for deboggification!

And tomorrow morning early, I shall wake up and transfer the story from mental index cards to WP51 file to paper. And there shall be a proofreading and a "final" revision. And lo, it shall be good.

Or at least it shall be submitted.

Then I'll be free to revise the phone story.

World Fantasy Interlude: That Whole Flying Thing
Wed 2011-11-02 17:25:29 (single post)
  • 2,850 wds. long

OK, so. World Fantasy. A day late, and, as it turns out, a good deal short, because there is no way I'm typing up the entire contents of my head to do with WFC in a single blog post. Let's just pretend I was blogging the con as I went, and my blog posts simply showed up just under a week late. Or something like that.

The first part of any trip is getting there. I got there on a plane.

This was my first time flying commercially since, quite possibly, the North Devon countryside vacation. Certainly it was my first time through the TSA/DHS ritual since the implementation of the notorious "naked or groped" measures. I wasn't particularly worried about either of those options in particular -- which is not to say that concerns about these unnecessary violations of privacy and bodily integrity, not to mention the potential PTSD trigger for sexual assault survivors, aren't absolutely valid; I'm just lucky enough to generally arouse little-to-none TSA suspicion (i.e. I'm small, white, and cisgendered female) and to not be an assault survivor myself; o hai there privilege! this R me, checkin U. No, rather, I was nervous and unhappy about the whole process: take off your shoes, take your laptop out of your bag, do whatever the people in uniform demand, don't protest as possessions are confiscated, don't protest if they tell you they're going to touch your privates, don't demand to know how any of this is serving to make air travel safer, why do you hate America?

I resent the whole circus. I take trains when I can partially in protest of security theater. Unfortunately, between my Dad's visit before the trip and NaNoWriMo afterwards, I couldn't take an extra four days for travel this time around. So I screwed up my resentment and bought round trip airfare via Southwest.

And I did in fact encounter a little hiccup going through the full-body scanner on the way through Denver International. Thankfully, there was no trauma nor any confiscation. When I came out of the round scanning chamber, the image on the screen -- just a childlike outline of a generic female body, since TSA is phasing out the naked pics -- superimposed a square outline over my head area. The security officer, a woman -- they seem to match officer and passenger genders when touching the body is deemed necessary -- asked me to bow my head so she could investigate my hair. Lo! It was my wooden hair pin, by which my hair stays up and out of the way so I don't sit on it or get it caught it doors. She allowed it through, though I suspect that if I'd taken the pin out of my hair so she could see the sharp ends, or simply if another agent who'd been having a bad day was on shift instead, I might have lost it after all.

I resolved to put my hair pin in checked luggage on my return trip and just deal with sitting-on-hair and hair-in-doors problems as they arose. And I resent having to do so. I resent being subject to this behavioral conditioning. I resent that it's working.

By the by, apparently the TSA claims that the new full-body scanners have increased their success. But they quantify their success by how many "illegal or prohibited items" they can find now that they couldn't before. Sure, this includes illegal drugs, but it also includes bamboo knitting needles (and wooden hair pins) depending on how the agent on duty interprets the prohibition on "sharp objects." I think claiming a higher success rate based on detecting "prohibited items" is a lot like claiming higher success for the local police force by counting convictions: you can artificially raise the rate just by prohibiting more items or criminalizing more actions. (Note, meanwhile, that to date no explosives have been detected.)

Anyways. Thence to gate C39 for the Southwest Airline flight to San Diego. I chose Southwest because, like their advertisements say, "Bags fly free!" Because another thing I resent deeply about post-9/11 airport security theater is the paired impact of A) more things you can't take aboard the aircraft, and B) charging $50+ per checked bag. I cynically suspect that some of the major airlines are helping TSA come up with their list of "prohibited items," specifically suggesting dangerous uses for items many passengers won't travel without, to increase the number of bags getting checked at $50 a pop.

I also chose Southwest for their sense of humor. I find their ads utterly charming. And when I arrived at C39, I saw other evidences of fun. For starters, they had decorated the gate desk for Halloween in a Wild West Saloon motif. On the return trip, I'd see even the ticketing desk dressed up for the holiday, but that being San Diego, they went with a pirate theme.

At their gate were some awesome amenities for the electronic generation. Lots of A/C outlets, both at a tall bar-stool-outfitted countertop and between the new comfy-looking armchairs. USB outlets, too, presumably for charging phones. I looked up and down the terminal and did not see similar furniture at other airlines' gates. As I would learn later, Southwest even makes wi-fi available aboard some flights. Just fire up your computer, connect, and pay $5 where prompted at the network gateway. If my flight had been longer, I might have tried it out.

Another features unique to Southwest gates: a series of numerical posts to facilitate passengers lining up in order. Boarding passes come printed with a section letter and position number, which is essentially your place in the first-come-first-served line. I assume the sooner you check in, the forward-er in line you get, and thus the more choice you have in where to sit. They do open seating, see; whatever seat is still open when you get to it, window aisle or middle, is fair game. And here's where Southwest do make a little extra money: for $10 extra, you can do "early-bird check-in", whereas for free you get checked in automatically up to 36 hours before the flight, rather than checking in online up to 24 hours ahead of time like non-fee-paying schmoes do. Or, Gods forfend, an hour ahead of time at the airport, which is what I did. (It wasn't so bad.)

Later, a friend asked me if the flight attendants "sang a little song" for us on landing. Apparently that's what they did last time she flew. On my flight, we just got a little casual humor inserted into the passenger briefing. Also life-size images of Southwest staff members waving us goodbye all up and down the ramp to the plane. These were cheerful, if slightly creepy.

The one thing I regret about my transportation choices, though, was flying home on October 30th rather than on Halloween itself. Southwest apparently gives you complimentary treats (with an alcoholic component for those over 21) on certain holidays, Halloween being one of them. But I really didn't want to have to skip out on another Monday morning at Abbondanza, seeing as how I'd missed so many since August already, so I did not get to sample these treats.

All in all, the flying-between-Denver-and-San-Diego portion of my World Fantasy experience was remarkably pleasant. I would definitely fly Southwest again. Next time I can't take the train, that is.

(One day I will fly myself everywhere. But for that I would have to first A) own an aircraft, because overnight rental hours add up in an expensive way, and B) start practicing again. I haven't been in the cockpit for more than two years, and I'm feeling it.)

Three Eleven, Twenty Eleven
Sat 2011-03-12 22:43:10 (single post)

The earth shifted upon its axis that day.
I did not know. I could not tell.
The news was slow to reach my ears that day.

You could say, "four inches," measure it in the way
That is custom in my country, or "ten centimetres" if not.
The earth shifted upon its axis that day.

Measurements are meaningless and soon forgot.
What can the mere motion of tectonic plates accomplish
That the loosing of so many souls cannot?

Tools of the trade. That's the new yarn, hanging to dry on the wire shelf.
The scarf at 13 inches, in my pomegranate tree in Metairie
New yarn, ready to ball up and knit, resting on my bookbag in the window of Highlands Common Grounds.
The Meditation Wheel
Mon 2011-02-07 11:06:26 (single post)

Today's the day. Today's the day I get a full draft of the new story complete. Today's also the day I come up with a good title for it--"The Monster at the End of the Book" is cute, the way it nods comfortably at Grover in the Sesame Street Golden Books story of the same name, but it's not at all right for this story.

Yesterday was the day I think I figured it out. Also the day I remembered how my spinning wheel makes a great platform for Meditation For Inspiration. Remember that? I hadn't.

But I remembered I had to finish spinning my portion of the group project fleece if I wanted to have a project to show off to the group tonight. Last year, the spinners who meet monthly at Shuttles Spindles Skeins decided to do a group project. So a representative went to the Estes Park Wool Market and bought three fleeces, and at the next monthly spin-in we all paid her back for our pounds, or half pounds, of the fleece. The idea was for each of us to bring finished projects to the January spin-in and Rock Day potluck. As most people weren't finished, we get another chance at tonight's spin-in.

So yesterday I hauled the spinning wheel over beside my desk and spun the last of the singles. And, because I had the poem tacked up over my desk, I meditated on a different stanza for every rolag I spun. (Rolag: a roll of hand-carded fiber. A possible unit work in spinning.)

Read next stanza. Begin to spin. Repeat the stanza out loud. Think about its possible connections to the story, letting "blackbird" equal "demon." Think about more connections, letting "blackbird" equal "Muse." Think about the theme of the stanza and mentally sketch out a scene demonstrating it in the story.

Then, for no better reason than opportunity, recite the whole poem up to that stanza. I mean, why not memorize poetry?

I had exactly enough wool left to get through stanza 12. (I'd already memorized Stanza 13 because it so very perfectly described the weather we'd been having lately. "It was evening all afternoon. / It was snowing, / And it was going to snow.") And I had exactly enough time left in the day that the newly spun singles could sit awhile before plying in the evening and washing the wool.

And now I know what I'm doing. Excellent. Presenting the Schacht Matchless as a Literary Composting Accelerator!

And now I've got to do it.

Hopefully I can blog again tonight or tomorrow morning, happily announcing a new first draft and a newly cast-off and sewn-up hooded scarf. Completing projects: good for the ego! I recommend it!

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