“"...till by the end you feel you have lived many lives: which is perhaps the greatest gift a novel can give."”
Ursula K. Le Guin

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

stop being so indecisive just pick yer poison already
Thu 2020-07-02 17:27:33 (single post)

My writing process is inconsistent. My writing needs are inconsistent. I'm going to whine about that now.

Getting back to Tuesday's lament: I wrote a 5K-word story more or less over 48 hours, submitted it Tuesday afternoon, then crashed hard. On Wednesday, I sort of puttered along at half-speed, getting about half my expected workload done. And if there's one huge takeaway I'm taking away from the experience, it's this: that's not sustainable.

Hence my goal of doing a little revision every day in July.

But I can't get away from how well Emergency Short Story Boot Camp worked. I don't just mean that it got written. I mean, there was an immersive quality to the effort that helped it get written. I lived inside that story all day, watching the characters interact, looking closely at pieces of their world, learning by trial and error the rules, such as they were, of the magic they manipulated. And it was magic for me, too.

It was just stressy as all hell, is all.

I find myself going back and forth between two different writers' blog posts concerning the words-per-day question. I don't really judge my output in terms of words per day, though I do track them; I also track hours spent writing, and I structure my writing day around a list of defined tasks I hope to accomplish or at least make progress on. But words-per-day makes a useful generic shorthand for all the different ways one might quantify the daily writing process. And in terms of words per day, these two blog posts I'm thinking of are talking about very different totals.

The first post is Tobias Buckell's "How Much Should You Write Every Day?" To be clear, that's a question he doesn't actually answer. He's not here to tell you how much you should write every day; rather, he describes how he figured out how much he should write every day, at least at this current point in his life. The answer he came up with was 500 words. Just that. 500 words of fiction every day. Only 500 words. But every day. It's a daily amount that allows for a healthy work-life balance, and, given a long enough run-up time, it's a sustainable pace at which to approach a deadline.

The post really resonated with me. Buckell describes periods during college when he'd binge several multi-thousand-word days and then spend the next couple days utterly collapsed--and I have been there. He describes deadline-oriented sprints followed by utter exhaustion--hoo yes. The slow but steady march of a defined and reasonable daily goal toward a finished project with "no drama" makes so much sense to me.

There's also the benefit of having "percolation time" built into the schedule. I can't just sit down at the desk and type until the story's done. I need nights spent thinking about the story as I fall asleep, long walks talking to myself about the plot, maybe even an hour in the bathtub trying to write the next scene out loud. There was a point Tuesday when, climax scene written and only the denouement left to go, I actively needed a fifteen-minute walk-and-talk session to clarify for myself what that denouement should accomplish, but I didn't have time. The submission portal was going to close in an hour. So I had to do my best hammering it out at the keyboard. The results were acceptable, but I think they suffered for the lack of walk-and-talk. A slow-but-steady pace would have allowed for lots of walk-and-talk, lots of hypnagogic brainstorming, lots of opportunities to dream and wake up and go "a-ha!"

But I'm still worried about this daily sessions in July thing. See, I've tried a similar process before: I spent a month holding myself to a daily 25-minute session of creating/revising/polishing the work in progress. And I succeeded at holding those 25-minute sessions fairly regularly. But I didn't seem to get anywhere. Why?

So here's the second blog post I keep coming back to: Kameron Hurley's "Life on 10,000 Words a Day: How I’m Hacking My Writing Process." She describes not writing a little every day, but rather writing a hell of a lot every Saturday. For her, a daily bite of time isn't conducive to that immersive waking trance she needs for writing novels. But with a dedicated six-hour block scheduled during an ideal time of day and in an ideal environment, she gets shit done.

And that resonates with me, too. It speaks to why 25 minutes a day, or even an hour a day, fails to move the meter on my work in progress. Having the freedom-slash-obligation to spend six hours Tuesday doing nothing but writing that story made the story happen in a way that half an hour a day had not.

Could I work that way on the regular? It sounds kind of thrilling, but also kind of exhausting. I don't typically choose to do just one thing over such a long period of time; the thought rather terrifies me. I'm not sure how much of that is me being hard-wired for multi-tasking, and how much of it is my just never having built up that kind of marathon-runner stamina.

Then there's a practical problem: I have too many things I want to do with my work-week--hell, with my work-day--to feel like such a single-purpose day is a good idea. I'm not willing to sacrifice my daily freewriting sessions; that's my time to get warmed up for the day and come up with story ideas. I don't want to fall behind on the Friday Fictionette project; I most certainly don't want to cancel it. Meanwhile, I have multiple stories in the revision queue at all times and I want to finally publish a gods-damned novel! And then there are all those non-writing obligations that life demands. How do I get everything done?

Tallying it all up: I don't want any one writing task to monopolize my day. I want to spend a little time on each of the things every day. But I don't want to work on a project for so little time at a time that I get nowhere at all. And I definitely don't want to keep putting myself through the last-minute panic production process.

I suspect I'm not going to find the One True Answer. If there is a One True Answer, I suspect it will involve staying flexible about what the One True Answer is for any given day, week, or work in progress.

Writing process! What is it even? Well. I'm working on it. TBD.

the just-did-a-big-thing doldrums strike again
Tue 2020-06-30 21:58:31 (single post)

So I wrote a brand-new, never-before-seen short story over mostly last night and today, and I submitted it, and now I'm sort of sitting around wondering what to do with my life.

I ought to feel happy. Triumphant, even!

Instead I feel weirdly and intensely aimless.

I keep asking myself, what fun things was I not letting myself do while the story was still unfinished and the deadline was looming? What was I looking forward to doing once the manuscript was successfully submitted? And the only answer I keep coming up with is, "Not be working on that story anymore."

I am not unhappy with the story. I mean, sure, if I had another day to work on it, I'd smooth out some of the prose, work harder to differentiate the characters' voices, throw in more physical details and harden up some of the background worldbuilding. (And if the market I just sent it to declines to purchase, I'll spend a little time doing just that. Probably solicit some feedback from my critique group too.) But more or less I'm pleased.

It's a full-length fantasy story, just under 5,000 words, with character growth and a theory of magic and heroism and action and hard choices and also a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's a good day when I get to add a new one of those to my slush stable.

It's also the first time I've submitted a former Friday Fictionette not as a lightly revised reprint but as a completely rewritten and expanded original. (I checked with the editors ahead of time. The verdict was yes, submit it as an original. So we're good there.) This was something I thought I'd be doing more often when I first conceived of the Friday Fictionette Project. I certainly didn't think it would take almost six years into the project for it to happen. Nevertheless, I've done it now, and I'm proud of that.

(Usually I'd link this post to the Friday Fictionette/short story in question, but the place I sent it requires anonymous submissions, so I don't want to risk anyone stumbling over my blog during the reading period and seeing the title here attached to my name. Kinda paranoid, I know, but allow us writers our superstitions, yah?)

But. Anyway. Now I'm wallowing in this sort of "I ought to be doing a thing" mental space, and it's not fun.

Partially it's the familiar effect of having lived with a deadline long enough that the stress and guilt surrounding it becomes habit. I can't possibly have nothing to do right now! My base state at all times is "ought to be writing, aren't writing, feeling guilty and worthless for not writing, which is why I'm not writing even though I ought to be writing."

But it's also due to having scuttled my usual structured work day to get this done in time. So there's a bunch of daily stuff I haven't done today. I did my Morning Pages, OK, they're kinda necessary to getting my brain functioning for the day, but I didn't do my daily idea generation exercise (i.e. freewriting to a prompt). I didn't do my daily 25-minute-or-so session of working on the next Friday Fictionette. And I'm sitting here feeling like I should be doing those things now. I mean, that was the original plan: new fiction production and revision first, then submission procedures, then the "daily & weekly exercises" shift. And here I am not doing that.

You know why? Here's why. I logged six hours on today's timesheet, finishing up that story and sending it out. I am done for the day.

I just don't feel like I have a right to be done.

And if that's not a compelling argument against this "avoid-delay-avoid-delay-LASTMINUTEPANICPANICPANIC" process I've got going on, I don't know what is.

The Ink Slingers Guild on Habitica, of which you may have heard me speak before, has a monthly recurring challenge in which participants announce their goals at the beginning of the month and check in every Wednesday with their progress. My goal for June had been to make my daily Friday Fictionette work sessions so as to continue uploading weekly releases earlier and earlier. I more or less succeeded at that; all four June releases were uploaded to Patreon two days ahead of time, which felt great. Well, for July, my goal is going to be to hold myself to daily New Fiction Production & Revision work sessions, so that hopefully I don't find myself obliged to conduct another Emergency Short Story Boot Camp over the last two days of the next submission window I'm hoping to make.

Because while I'm damn proud of myself for writing a clean and reasonably polished short story of almost 5,000 words in under two days, I have to admit: this post-boot-camp feeling of hollow, aimless, joyless despondency is kind of crap.

The unsung heroes of Mardi Gras, and the mountains of waste they have to clear.
someone's gotta clean up all this mess
Wed 2020-06-24 22:38:33 (single post)
  • 34 words (if poetry, lines) long

Wow, I suck at this Social Media Self-Promotion thing. I keep forgetting to tell you about my latest poem publication. It's "The Mardi Gras Tree," and you can read it in the very latest edition of Eternal Haunted Summer--the Summer Solstice 2020 issue, whose theme is "Holy Days."

The holy day being commemorated in "The Mardi Gras Tree" is, as you might expect, Fat Tuesday. But it's not about the day of festival and celebration so much as it is about the hangover and mundane clean-up duty of the afternoon after the parades have all passed by, and the morning after when it's time to get back to work. The transition from one to the other happens much sooner than you might think. New Orleans natives know how the unofficial final floats in any parade are the police cars whoop-whooping at spectators to let them know the show's over, and after that the huge street-cleaning trucks with the round brushes and the jets of water scouring the street. Many a child raised in the area knows better than to leave before those vehicles show up--it ain't over until it's over, after all--and many a parent disappoints their kid by yanking them away before that happens--gotta get to the car and vacate your parking spot ahead of everyone else, for fear of having to sit bored in your car waiting for your turn to leave.

(That latter impulse I see at concert venues, with drivers fleeing after the last song proper but before the encore so as to spare themselves the inevitable traffic jam.)

I really like what editor Rebecca Buchanan has to say about my poem: that it illustrates "just how hard it can be to leave sacred space and return to mundane reality." I hadn't thought of it that way--Mardi Gras as sacred space--I'd thought of it more as a drunken Bacchanalia out of which we stumble blearily with a hangover and a certain dread of being confronted with whatever stupid shit we did while the rules of society were temporarily suspended. But that suspension of rules really is a liminal zone, a place where reality is on hold, a "time that is not a time, a place that is not a place" as we Wiccans often say about the magic circles we construct for the purpose of ritual. It was quite normal for a kid growing up in the area to have the entire week of Fat Tuesday off, which made it that much harder to return to everyday life the following week.

(Many of my friends and their families used the week to head up to Colorado ski resorts, a choice I found baffling. Why, I thought, would anyone leave New Orleans during the week of Mardi Gras? Didn't they know Mardi Gras was the best time to be a New Orleanian? Now, ironically enough, I'm in Colorado full time. I still haven't really learned to ski, though.)

Anyway, thanks to such neighborhood monuments as the titular crepe myrtle tree on Bonnabel Boulevard--and I'm sure there are landmark trees like it all over the Greater New Orleans Area; that's just the one maintained in my particular stomping grounds in Metairie--pieces of sacred space celebrate Fat Tuesday all year round. Come spring and summer, they rain petals and pollen down on unsuspecting passersby while their perennial plastic fruit clinks and clatters. "Throw me something, Mister." There are also the barely hopeful idiots in the French Quarter who'll half-heartedly offer anyone presenting as female a string of cheap beads if she should "take it off" and "show your tits"; I guess they're part of the year-round ritual space of carnival, too. I prefer the trees.

I wrote "The Mardi Gras Tree" this year as part of a Codex contest called "Victory in Verse." The contest ran four weeks. The first week called for short poems, twenty lines or less, which were otherwise unrestricted. During the second week, we wrote short formal verse. The third week was all about visual poetry: erasure poems, concrete poetry, found poetry, and other experiments. And the fourth week, dubbed "Take your best shot" (although I seem to persist in misremembering it as "Do Your Verse") featured whatever the hell you wanted to do at whatever length you chose.

The contest facilitator gave us a lot of prompts to spark contestants' imaginations, both pictoral and verbal. One of them was the photo I've included here. Given where I'm from, it was inevitable that it would catch my eye. Thus was born my poem "The Mardi Gras Tree," which I'm so proud to see featured in Eternal Haunted Summer, and so pleased now to share with you.

no. it won't be enough. do it anyway.
Thu 2020-06-18 01:31:52 (single post)

OK, so, political thoughts I've been having. It starts with an anecdote about my Mom. And it's not a particularly positive anecdote, so I should probably start with the acknowledgement that in many ways, she was a wonderful person. But people are complicated, and there's a thing she did that wasn't so great.

When I was a teenager, I levied my share of teenager complaints against Mom. As teenagers do. And, because I was a teenager, some of those complaints were bullshit, reflecting nothing more than the muddled mess of heightened emotion and solipsism that teenagers can be prone to. But, because I was also an intelligent young adult who was rapidly acquiring tools for critical thinking and was very aware of the world around me, some of those complaints were spot on.

My Mom had the same stock reaction to all complaints. "Yes, you're right. I'm a horrible mother." These words would be followed by a smug grin as she turned her back on me. Sometimes, if I protested, she'd repeat those words louder (to drown me out) and smile even more widely and twice as smugly. The main implication was clear: any complaints I had were by definition illegitimate, because I was the one making them, because I was making them about her. The only appropriate reaction, she thought, was to ridicule my complaints as absurd on their face using this kind of hyperbolic reductio ad absurdum. "Yes, you're right. I'm a terrible parent. There's the phone; go ahead and call Child Protective Services."

But there was another implication behind this response. "The fact that you are complaining about me means you think I'm a horrible parent. And you will always think I'm a horrible parent, no matter what I do. Therefore I am not going to bother trying to convince you otherwise."

I suspect Mom was always anxious about whether she was being a good mother, so this knee-jerk dismissal of any criticism from me was in some part misguided self-defense. Misguided, because I wasn't the one calling her a horrible parent. The fact that I had a criticism or complaint didn't mean I thought she was a terrible person or a bad mother. It just meant I thought she'd done or said something fucked up and please don't, OK? (Or it meant that I thought it was terribly unfair that she wouldn't let me borrow the car to drive myself to the French Quarter, or that she'd forbidden me to take a job as a pizza delivery driver. Like I said, I was a teenager.)

(To be clear, I know she was anxious about whether she was a good mother. In those months after she'd lost a lot of her vocabulary and cognitive function but was still living at home and able to hold conversations, that's one of the last questions she asked me: "Was I a good mother?" The part I can only suspect, but can't ever know for sure, is that her habit of dismissing my complaints with ridicule stemmed from that anxiety.)

So keep that anecdote in mind while I seemingly change the subject.

Not long ago, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America issued a statement in response to George Floyd's murder, in solidarity with the protests, and in support of #BlackLivesMatter. In that statement, signed unanimously by SFWA's Board of Directors, the organization acknowledged the need to act, admitted their responsibility for having been part of the problem, and outlined a list of first step actions they were committing to immediately.

Now, those first step actions were primarily financial in nature. To me, that scanned. A similar conversation had been going on in the roller derby community, wherein skaters of color were pointing out that the sport's cost of entry was a disproportionately greater barrier to them than to white skaters simply because poverty and race are so inextricably linked. So roller derby leagues began talking about things they could do to address this.

And these were just first steps. Meanwhile, SFWA's statement included a list of educational resources for those looking for ways to help and a list of organizations to support with one's time, money, energy, and signal-boosting power. They ended with a further call to action, and with a link to the organization's email address so readers could share further how-to-help suggestions.

As a SFWA member, I was feeling kinda proud. My organization was being proactive and trying to help! They were fighting the good fight! And I, with my drop-in-the-bucket membership fees, was a small part of that! Yay!

Not long after, I read this response on twitter:

Jennifer Marie Brissett @jennbrissett Jun 4 How about dealing with the fact that several of SWFA approved magazines STILL have 0% black writers in them -- an issue brought to your attention YEARS ago by myself and others and the #BlackSpecFic Reports? Black ppl don't want your charity. We want equal and fair treatment.

And this is why I wanted you to keep that anecdote about Mom in the back of your mind. Because this is where I have personally witnessed a bunch of white people doing kind of the same thing she did.

Maybe it's because they're genuinely anxious about whether they're being good allies, and people are hardly at their best when they act out of their insecurities. Or maybe it's because they never really were allies in good faith anyway, and they're pouncing on an opportunity to let themselves off the hook. For whatever reason, this is where they throw up their hands and say things like, "See? It doesn't matter what we do! It's never good enough! Why should we even try?"

In many cases, what's going on is, these white people are looking for that One Neat Trick to end racism, so that they can perform that trick, pat themselves on the back, cash in their ally chips, and go back to Not Thinking About It. (You will recall that Not Thinking About It is one of the privileges of being white.) So they are asking Black people to all get together and make up their minds about what that One Neat Trick is. And then, when different Black people have different answers, these would-be allies want to know which Black people to listen to. Who's right? Who's wrong? Who's got the One Right Trick and who can be safely ignored?

That's no way to be an ally.

Brisset isn't wrong. If SFWA sponsors Nebula Convention registrations for Black writers and donates to the Carl Brandon Society, but doesn't leverage their influence in the industry hard for greater Black inclusion in SFF publishing (not to mention equal payment!), then they're ignoring a huge part of the good that's in their power to do.

On the other hand, SFWA isn't wrong to take those financial first steps. Racial economic disparity is a very real problem. And the Black writers who are pointing out that very real problem--along with skaters of color in the roller derby version of this conversation--aren't wrong either.

But it would be wrong to mistake the economic symptoms for the whole of the disease. It would be wrong to think that once you've thrown money at the problem, the problem's solved. And it would be wrong to stop with monetary solutions when you have it in your power to do so much more.

Here's the thing: People of color are not a monolith. No one color demographic is a monolith, either. At any given time, different individuals will each face a different subset of that hydra-headed beast that is systemic racism. So they won't all have the same answer to "How can I help?"

And that beast is old. It's older than the U.S. and it's got its paws all over the nation's history and it's still got a hand in writing the nation's future. It came over with the smallpox blankets, and it came over with the slave traders. It staffed desks at Ellis Island, where it sliced people's hair off, made them throw away precious possessions, and fucked up their names. It "reeducated" Native kids. It wielded whips and firehoses and attack dogs and nooses. It's doing it still. It's throwing children into cages without benefit of soap, toothbrush, or face mask, and it's deporting those children's parents. It's shooting Black men for such heinous crimes as carrying a bag of Skittles or being found sleeping in a car.

It's been doing all these things and more for centuries. It's still at it. Where do white people get off thinking they can stop it cold with One Neat Trick, preferably performed in fifteen minutes or less?

Look. Y'all. You're partly right. Whatever you do, it won't be enough. That is because the problem is bigger and older than you. No one individual will slay the beast alone; no one entity can subdue it over the course of a single lifetime. And that's no reason to throw up your hands and storm off in a huff--that's precisely why doing whatever you can matters. What's important is not being the hero that single-handedly slays the beast (my, how we white folks love to center ourselves in the narrative! How angry we get when the story's not about us!) but contributing whatever you've got to the fight that eventually takes the beast down. And you contribute not, pace me several paragraphs ago, to puff yourself up with pride over having fought, but to hasten the day the beast goes down, because that is the priority.

Let's bring science fiction back into it with one more metaphor. You know about generation ships? A large community takes off on an interstellar journey of hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Space is big, and we don't go so fast. The people who board the ship on Earth will be many generations dead by the time the journey ends. But do any of them throw a fit for that reason and declare the journey not worth making? They do not. They celebrate the future arrival of their descendants, and they do whatever's in their power to make sure it happens. While they live and work as members of both a community and a starship's crew, they do their part to keep that ship on course.

Unless I am very much surprised, none of us, not me writing this post in June 2020 nor you reading it, will get to live in a post-racist society. There's light-years still to go. But while we crew this ship of Earth, we can contribute the level best we've got to keep its vector of travel bending toward justice, so that some generation to follow ours can reach that destination.

So, yeah. Do what you can to help. Listen to the people you're trying to help, because they're the authorities on whether you're actually helping. Realize different people will be focused on different parts of the problem, and none of them are necessarily wrong. Accept criticism with good grace. Accept that even if you do everything "right," it won't be "enough." Do it anyway.

...And that's what I've been thinking about these past couple weeks.

Postcards To Voters are a great place to try out new fountain pen inks.
So are Morning Pages.
we pause for a deep dive into more fountain pen ink
Tue 2020-06-16 16:58:24 (single post)

This past week, I took advantage of my Morning Pages sessions and another batch of Postcards To Voters to further explore the newly arrived fountain pen ink. Let me introduce you to them all.

The excitingly sparkly purple-maroon I used in some of the stars and to highlight the candidate's name is Diamine Mystique. I don't think the splotches Goulet includes in their demonstration photos quite does it justice; that color-and-glitter combo is intense.

The teal stars and checkmarks were drawn with Noodler's Blue Nose Bear, described as "a light blue with a teal undertone, and the light blue fluoresces under UV light (blacklight)." (I have not yet had occasion to test this feature.)

The main writing on the postcards is in Visconti Blue. Not terribly exciting. It's a nice enough blue, I guess, bright and deep, a decent workhorse for, say, writing postcards to get out the Democratic vote, but still, it's just blue. (I'm not likely to get excited over the Pelikan Edelstein Onyx that was included in my random sample 8-pack, either. It's just black.)

The excerpt from my Morning Pages shows what happens when a converter full of Noodler's Liberty's Elysium finally overtakes the Blue Nose Bear left in the nib. Liberty's Elysium is another serviceable if unexciting (to me) blue. It's slightly toward the blue-green end of the spectrum, where the Visconti Blue leans slightly toward the indigo end.

There are some gray/silver stars on the postcard, but those aren't from the batch of ink I just ordered. That's what happens when I try to stretch the tail end of a bottle of J. Herbin Stormy Gray 1670, a shimmer ink, by dumping in the latter half of a bottle of basic J. Herbin Gris Nuage.

Hot tip about the Noodler's inks: Those 3-ounce bottles arrive hella full. Well past the screw-top threads and right up to the brim. I'm not sure if this is because the manufacturer is very generous with his ink or very stingy with his glass. I'm amazed the ink didn't ooze out during its journey to my high-altitude address. Anyway, having been messily surprised by this when I first opened the Blue Nose Bear, I was very careful about opening the Liberty's Elysium. I set the bottle on my desk and opened it very gently. Didn't help. Still wound up with bright blue fingers. Not that I really mind ink-stained fingers. It's kind of a fun sort of badge of honor. "I messed with inks today! Checkitout!" Still. If you would prefer not to have bright blue fingers, take heed. Open these bottles carefully and maybe wear latex gloves.

Here ends the Geeking Out About Inks portion of this blog post. And also this blog post, period. I'd intended to pivot through the political postcards into some political thoughts I've been having these past couple weeks, but at this point I rather feel like I've already used up all the words, time, and reader attention in today's blogging allowance. So I guess look for those political thoughts tomorrow?

Bunny yoga.
the new normal includes anxiety but also bunnies
Mon 2020-06-15 22:01:27 (single post)

All right. We did it. We made the decision, and no one will be surprised: John and I are adopting the bunnies. Maybe it would have been different if the pandemic had not occurred and our lives had remained busy and full of travel for derby and gaming and whatever, maybe then we would have said, "It's been nice having them, but it's nicer still to bring them back to the Bunny Barn and not be tied down anymore." Maybe. As a wise lion once said, "No one is told would would have happened." What we know is, right now, right here, in this timeline that is actually happening, the joy that Holland and Gemma have brought into this household is worth the responsibility leash.

So they get a forever home, and we get furry hooligans running around the sofa indefinitely. (And also licking it, because it has a flavor.)

Pictured here: Bunny yoga. Holland is doing a low plank. I'm amazed I caught that moment on camera; it's a very transitory thing. He just happened to decided he needed to stretch right as the camera went off. Meanwhile, in the background, I guess Gemma is thinking about child's pose?

It's been more than a week since they got their RHDV2 vaccinations, so they're officially as immune as they'll ever be. That means we no longer have to be so fastidious about separating outdoors from indoors. But after six weeks of slipping on shoes even to water the plants, wandering the neighborhood barefoot feels like a monstrously irresponsible and dangerous thing to do. The emotional habit of caution is a strong one. I suppose it'll take a little while before that feeling downgrades to one of simply breaking a taboo or getting away with something, and then finally fades away to nothing at all.

When I extrapolate that to the pandemic, it's alarming. We have been, and will be, following social distancing protocols for much longer than that. It didn't take but a couple weeks into Colorado's stay-at-home order for me to begin having social distance anxiety dreams, dreams where my main conscious thought was NO! WRONG! THAT IS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO SIX FEET! AND YOU'RE NOT WEARING A MASK! I'm still having them. And yesterday I went out to a Longmont restaurant to see a friend who was in from out of town, and it was nice, but all the consciousness of does my mask fit OK? and are we six feet apart? how about the restaurant server passing behind me to the next-but-one table, are they six feet away? what about those people walking down the sidewalk so damn close to the patio seating? They're not wearing masks! It just shoved my stress levels through the roof. I didn't stay long, and when I came home, I pretty much went right to bed and stayed there for hours, exhausted. Like, that's enough restaurant-going for the month of June, thanks muchly. Next time, let's bring take-out to a park and sit on our separate socially distanced picnic blankets, all right?

(I'm hearing that a local roller rink is open again. I'm also hearing that risk for contagion is highest indoors among groups who are shouting, singing, and/or breathing heavily. I'm also hearing that the roller rink isn't requiring skaters to mask up. I'm thinking trail- and street-skating still sounds like the option that's most compatible with keeping Colorado's COVID-19 case rate on the decline.)

Assuming, as I optimistically do, that one day we will not need masks and social distancing: how long will it take my brain to calm down and be OK with peopling in public again? Will it ever reach the levels of OK it used to have--which were never all that great to begin with--or has my social introversion leveled up permanently?

Which is another compelling argument for adopting these bunnies. Watching them go about their daily bunn business is soothing. And I kinda need all the soothing I can get.

New ink! New ink! Whoo-hoo!
Inks featured: Robert Oster Morning Shine, Diamine Lilac Satin, J. Herbin Stormy Gray
came here to do two things
Thu 2020-06-11 17:13:16 (single post)

The ink I ordered arrived last week. It's glorious. I actually haven't tried much of it out yet, but just looking at all those bottles set out on my desk gives me a happy feeling. The sample bottles are especially lovely, with the jewel tones of the inks shining visibly through the clear sides. (The accompanying photo does not do the sight justice. But then I never claimed to be a good photographer.)

Which isn't to say I haven't tried them out at all. I've dipped into three of the little sample vials so far. I used the De Atramentis Document Red to do my next Morning Pages session--carefully, avoiding spills and stained fingers as much as possible, because that whole Document line of inks is waterproof. (I had to work hard with soap and water to get it off the pen's nib when I wanted to change colors.) The next day's Morning Pages were done with the Jacques Herbin Caroube de Chypre 1670, a lovely red-brown--not very much less red than the Document Red, now that I come to compare them. I didn't actually realize that the 1670 line is all shimmer inks--I didn't notice the flecks of gold in the bottle, and I hadn't read up on the ink until just now--so I didn't shake the bottle before filling my pen. That might be why no significant shimmer made its way onto those three pages.

I darn well did notice that the Robert Oster Morning Shine was a shimmer ink--teal with silver flecks. I used it to write a handful of Postcards To Voters. You can see how that worked out in the accompanying picture. Despite shaking the ink bottle and occasionally rotating my pen, I still managed to get some shimmer clumps, such that none showed up on the page, and then the pen clogged, and then once I cleared the clog I got a bunch of flecks at once. (That's pretty much me with shimmer inks, no matter whose. I have a love-hate relationship with shimmer inks.) Things smoothed out after a while, though. I'll be writing another batch of postcards with that ink soon enough.

Postcards To Voters is one of the political actions I can take when I don't have the wherewithal for political action. It's perfect for a low-energy introvert. I sit at my desk and play with my fountain pen inks, and, not long after, a handful of people get postcards in the mail reminding them to make their voices heard. The pictured postcards were part of a Florida Vote-By-Mail campaign, specifically for Osceola County, whose purpose is twofold: a general GOTV campaign to get more Democrats ready to turn in their ballots, and a specific push to make sure more Democrats are aware of the vote-by-mail option and are taking advantage of it.

Yes, Postcards To Voters absolutely is partisan. In general elections, their campaigns support the Domecratic candidate; in Democratic primaries, they support the more progressive candidate. If any hypothetical reader has a problem with that, I can't help you. I'm not going to pretend that at this point in time that there's some moral equivalence between the two major U.S. parties. I'm not going to pretend that the Republican party has not unequivocally positioned itself as the party of voter suppression, white supremacy, "bathroom bills" pushing trans people out of public spaces, attacks on queer rights and women's rights and reproductive rights and health care rights, corporate interests over individual life and health and well-being, stochastic terrorism, and police violence against people of color.

I'm not here to make you, hypothetical Republican voter inexplicably reading my blog, feel better about voting Republican. You know what you're supporting. Either make your own peace with that or stop doing it.

No, what I'm here to do is 1. play with fountain pen ink, and 2. advocate for the small but meaningful and highly accessible anti-racist, pro-social-justice act that is Postcards To (Democratic) Voters. Having done those things, I count today a small but meaningful success.

And now I'm off to pick up this week's CSA veggies. The end.

because silence is not a solution
Thu 2020-06-04 14:46:41 (single post)

I'm sorry. I've been part of the problem.

I've been angry--furious--but feeling so helpless because it's like every goddamn week someone gets murdered by the police for the "crime" of existing in public while black and people rightly protesting this are being met with excessive police force and there are white assholes destroying shit under cover of the protests because while it is a FACT that "a riot is the language of the unheard" (thank you MLK) it's so goddamn easy for malign actors to coopt riot conditions to do shit like burn down bookstores and then yell "but antifa did it" and, what the hell, does anyone really need me to explain why I'm feeling angry and helpless? Seriously?

And I've been thinking, "I'm a writer, I should goddamn write something, what else am I here for?" But then I think, "I'm a fucking privileged well-off cis white woman, who am I to speak?" And then I think, "Well, leverage the shit out of your privilege and SAY SOMETHING," and then I think, "What the fuck can I say that doesn't sound like cheap token virtue-signalling performative hashtag so-called allyship?"

And so the anger turns inward and the helplessness overwhelms and it turns out my natural instinct is to turtle down. Just hide away in my own petty personal triumphs and tragedies, keep my mouth shut on anything substantial, and wait for the storm to pass.

And, wow, isn't that a big ol' sign of my white privilege all blindingly strobing neon? "I'm overwhelmed, so I won't think about it." White privilege is what allows me to go through life only thinking about issues facing people of color when I choose to, when I'm strong enough to, when I feel it would be useful. POC don't get to choose not to think about it, any more than I get to choose not to think about issues facing women. You don't get to choose not to think about the issues you're living. The world tends to shove those issues down your throat at every opportunity.

And it turns out that while anti-racism can't begin and end with a hashtag, and performative allyship is deadly, silence isn't any better.

Here's a thing--here is a huge stonking hypocritical thing:

I've recently been dealing with an emotional upset regarding a small online gaming community I've been part of. The member who said something misogynist and then doubled down when called on it was only the inciting incident, upsetting enough in the moment but not in itself the thing that's caused me to go on hiatus from that group's activities. No, the sustaining emotional upset came from the way the rest of the community handled it. A few community members moved very quickly into Missing Stair Defense mode--oh, I know them personally, they don't mean anything by it, they're going through some personal stuff, I promise this is totally unlike them--and that's a huge red flag. An individual asshole can stop being an asshole, or they can leave the community; but a community with a pattern of Asshole Advocacy has a serious problem with how it enacts community.

But worse than the Asshole Advocacy is the utter silence with which the whole group initially responded to my protest. Me, out loud in voice chat: "Hey, I'm not comfortable with [person] tossing misogynist slurs around casually like that." Them: CRICKETS. The Asshole Advocacy only came after I pushed back by repeating myself into the deafening silence--and that wasn't easy, let me tell you. And that's the major reason I continue to be on hiatus from that group despite certain members reaching out to me and telling me they've talked to the offender who feels super bad about it and promises it won't happen again. Because silence like that tells a body, "They don't have your back. You can't trust them. It will happen again, and this is how they will respond."

Yeah, so. Flash forward to today. Me, checking in with another social group's online communications hub for the first time in about a week. And reading post after post of people, primarily POC, saying, "I'm out, y'all. I've been waiting for someone to say something about George Floyd and the protests and #blacklivesmatter, but the silence has been deafening and I no longer feel safe here."

I'm ashamed. I'm a goddamned hypocrite and I'm ashamed.

So I'm not going to be silent anymore. Maybe I feel helpless and overwhelmed, but I can't let that be a reason to stay silent, when other people maybe also feel even more helpless and overwhelmed and also in fear of their lives. I've been proceeding from the somewhat unconscious assumption that these are issues affecting other communities, not mine; events happening in other states, not the one I live in; stuff going on outside my door, which I can close and lock while I hunker down inside the house and ignore the world. And I need to stop doing that. I needed to stop doing that yesterday, or more like two weeks ago.

I still don't know what, effectively, I should say, what I can do, but I'm going to move forward with the intent to fucking learn. Seek, learn, implement. There are quiet things a person can do: donate money to activist organizations, write Postcards to Voters, send letters to government officials. There a personal things a person can do: check in with friends who are directly affected, offer help.

And there are public things a person can do, like write a blog post like this one, admitting fault and asserting the intent to get better. Yeah, maybe it's still a species of performative allyship and hashtag activism, maybe it makes me look like yet another self-centered white person exercising my guilt and making it all about me. I don't know. I have to risk that, because silence is worse. Silence tells my friends that I don't have their backs and they can't trust me. Speaking, I might fuck up, but if I fuck up, at least I can learn from the fuck-up and do better.

#BlackLivesMatter is very easy to say, and yes, a lot of (predominately white) people consider their job done once they've said it. But it's even easier not to say it at all. Activism can't end there, sure. But it's a place to start.

So I'm speaking. And I'm sorry.

This blog isn't going to stop being my actually writing blog, primarily concerned with those personal and petty triumphs and travails to do with one woman's writing life. I also reserve the right to squee about fountain pens, geek out over video games and books and TV shows, and whine about first world problems. But this blog is going to stop totally avoiding matters of substance, because that's no way to live.

Friends: Stay safe out there. Or don't. Take big risks in the name of justice. Know that I love you. And I've got your back.

if you need permission you have my permission
Mon 2020-06-01 17:16:32 (single post)

I have a thing to say. Kind of a manifesto. Mostly it's something I wanted to say in reply to someone else on Twitter, only I do not have the energy or free time to pursue a Twitter feud, and also 280 characters is insufficient.

But. By way of preamble, let me recommend you a Patreon creator to follow. My colleague Jason Sanford, a prolific writer of short speculative fiction, follows the SF publishing world closely and shares his findings in a regular newsletter, the Genre Grapevine. Those posts are free to the public, but they represent a huge outlay of effort and energy on his part, so if you find them useful, it'd be keen of you to send him a few bucks each month.

The Genre Grapevine covers a wide breadth of items, from the super-serious and important to the humorous yet arguably just as important. What I'm reacting to here falls into the latter category. In the most recent newsletter, there's a link to a tweet highlighting an egregious and highly facepalm-worthy specimen of Men Writing Woman badly. In case you have any trouble reading the text in the photo, or you'd just prefer not to click through to the original tweet, I quote the relevant excerpt here. (There will be a brief pause afterward, in which I will attempt to clean the slime off my keyboard. You're welcome.)

...cuffed, strangled with a bathrobe belt. A troubled young woman walking toward the abyss of destruction. She had had beautiful breasts as well.

Aomame mourned the deaths of these two friends deeply. It saddened her to think that these women were forever gone from the world. And she mourned their lovely breasts--breasts that had vanished without a trace.

This is an excerpt from 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It is not a parody. Judging by some of the links tweeted in reply, it's also not the only book in which his female characters are totally, unrealistically, and laughably obsessed with breasts.

But I am not here to critique Murakami's novels. I have not read Murakami's novels; nor do I plan to. I am here, instead, to critique a very specific phenomenon that occurs in connection to negative critiques of novels. Let me pull a couple tweets out of the reply thread for you to give an example of what I mean...

@CodaReadsalot (10:21 AM May 27) This book is on my “to read” shelf and I am concerned now. I have not read any of his work because it struck me that he does not understand women at all. This is not helping.

@RobinCorrigan84 (12:52 PM May 27) How will you ever know, if you don't read any of his work?

My instinctive response, which I valiantly refrained from posting on Twitter, is this: I won't know. I will go on in ignorance. And somehow I will survive. Mostly by reading books I actually enjoy.

Here's the deal: There are a lot of books in this world. There are more books than you can read in your lifetime. Every book you choose to read represents a book you won't get to read. Ever.

So why should anyone other than you get to choose how you spend your finite reading time?

You get to make that decision, based on whatever the hell you want. You can decide, if you want, never to read another book by an author whose last name ends in a Y. Or even an F! (I'll be sad, but I will support your decision, because it is yours.) You can certainly decide not to read a book based on an excerpt such as the above. However out of context that excerpt might be, it exists! In that book! If you would rather take the time you would have spent reading that book, and instead read a book in which such excerpts do not exist--books by men who don't insert weirdly male-gaze-a-licious boob-fetishization into their female characters' inner narratives--you can do that! The world does not lack for such books! Nor indeed does it lack for books written by women! You could so easily spend an entire reading career never reading a single book with an "also she mourned their boobs" moment. It's easy!

It's your life. You only get so many hours on this Earth. Regarding those you spend reading for pleasure, you have the unilateral right to decide which books are worthy of those hours, and which are not. No other human being on this planet has the right to browbeat you into reading something you don't enjoy by mealy-mouthing some smarm about "what a shame to deprive yourself of such a work of genius for no better reason than petty identity politics" or other high-handed nonsense. If you need a counter argument, here's mine: What a shame to deprive yourself of books you might enjoy, because you spent that time instead reading works you didn't enjoy out of some sense of duty toward someone else's literary opinions?

I mean, this is why I'm not wasting time getting into fights with smarmy, mealy-mouthed, high-handed bullies on Twitter. Also not wasting my time reading Murakami's novels. And if by doing so I am depriving myself of an important experience, that's OK. I'll be over here having other important experiences, thanks.

(For instance, I still haven't read N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. WHY?! Talk about depriving myself! And I'm still working my way simultaneously through Martha Well's Books of the Raksura AND ALSO her Murderbot Diaries. And Ann Leckie's Provenance is still sitting on the shelf, mocking me. TOO MANY BOOKS TOO LITTLE TIME AAAAAAAGH!)

So it turns out this pen writes on BOTH these paper products equally well after all. Who know?
fountain pen NRE
Fri 2020-05-29 20:26:05 (single post)

So the Platinum Curidas arrived last week to much fanfare and excitement! It actually arrived two days earlier than the USPS Tracking widget predicted. I've spent the last week on and off putting it through its paces, and I think I'm ready to make a report.

Here are the pictures I took of it when it arrived. You can see what an elegant piece of work it is, especially in the photo where it's all disassembled. And don't miss the close-up of the nib retracting behind the little turtle flap! It's very impressive. It's relatively slim, which me and my wee little hands prefer. At 27 grams, it handles like the heavier sort of ballpoint--you know, the fancy-schmancy showoff sort. But without the cigar-shaped barrel (thank goodness).

The clicking action of deploying and retracting the nib is a little jolting; after filling it, I expect it will be more important than usual to blot the nib a bit to avoid spattering.

I had a real disappointment, though, when I used it for last week Friday's morning pages session. I assumed this had to do with my poor choice of notebook. I really like the BioBased "environotes" notebooks, both for being made of ecologically sustainable fiber and also just for their heft. But their paper is super absorbant and, frankly, terrible for fountain pens. Which hasn't stopped me from writing in them with my Sheaffer student demonstrator, my Sheaffer Agio, and John's Lamy Safari. All of the above have fine-tipped nibs, though what that means varies between manufacturer and even between models by the same manufacturer; the Agio's nib feels more like a medium while the student feels extra-fine. In all cases, the ink bleeds dramatically through this notebook's pages, making it hard to read what I've written once I've written on both sides. But morning pages mostly aren't meant to be read ever again, and besides, my handwriting is atrocious.

But I couldn't get through three lines on that paper with the Platinum Curidas. It simply shut down, nib dry as dust. I was able to finish my session by treating it like a dip pen, and each dip got me another five or six lines before, again, the flow just stopped. My suspicion was that the nib's feed must be exceptionally narrow, and the absorbent paper was wicking the ink out of it faster than it could refill itself.

This suspicion, happily, turned out to be wrong. But I didn't find that out until just now.

So earlier today, I joined a Nebula Conference panel on fountain pens (because of course there was a panel on fountain pens), and while I listened to people geeking out about their favorite pens and ink and paper, I took the time to experiment further with the Platinum Curidas by writing out a handful of Postcards to Voters. I had to dip the pen once to restart its flow, but it flowed very well after that, gamely working its way through four postcards without a hitch. (One of the panel attendees, in response to my mentioning this pen in the text chat, warned me that there have been incidences of hairline cracks discovered in the feed and that I might want to examine mine closely. If the linked blog post is representative of what she was talking about, then so far so good. But I'll keep an eye on it going forward.)

So now that the ink was flowing nicely, I thought I'd experiment again with the Biobased environotebook. Hot damn! It worked great. Wrote my way down a quarter of the page, and nary a hiccup. Nary any visible "spread" in the stroke, either, despite how absorbent the paper is, and ridiculously minimal bleedthrough, too. So I guess the problem was temporary, or its long-term nature has yet to be determined, and in any case I can incorporate the Platinum Curidas into my morning pages rotation after all, at least for now. Yay?

tl;dr: DID I MENTION FOUNTAIN PENS ARE GREAT? THEY ARE GREAT.

email