the dragons of the i-25
They are invisible, but horribly bulky. They have presence. They press in on both sides of the interstate, making every driver feel oddly constricted, such that they slow to a crawl and bottleneck the entire highway from Aurora to Thornton. Soon, the entire population of Denver is waiting in the queue. We are talking about traffic so slow that the swallows are perching on the roofs of the trucks as they inch along north and west. Have you ever seen a yellow-bellied swallow hitch a ride on top of a corporate van on the interstate? Well, now I have.
This is the only explanation I've got for why it took me more than two hours to get from Denver International Airport to Longmont. I mean, yes, rush hour traffic, a bad time of the day to take I-70 to I-270 to I-25, but I have never seen it this bad before. So the explanation I'm going with is dragons.
I eventually got to practice and got geared up. About 45 minutes late, but I got there. I very nearly gave up and went home, but I kept telling myself, "You know how much putting on skates cheers you up. Go on. You'll feel better for it." And I do. I really do. Although I also feel extremely tired.
Still managed to take some time to work on the story. I still haven't finished the final scene, but at least I'm not doing yet another revision pass on the whole damn thing. Instead, it's more like, I turn the scene over and over in my head, try to hear the dialogue and pin down the last questions of cosmology, and in doing so I'll stumble upon some element or other that can be cleared up, inserted, or reassembled elsewhere in the story such that the final scene--whatever it turns out to be--will work better. So I feel like I'm slowly spiraling in, getting a better fix on my destination with each turn around the point. When I finally land this plane, it will be awesome.
That's all I've got. Good night all--Channel LeBoeuf-Little is going off the air until morning.
the demons of doubt are multilingual
In terms of story revision, today was solid. The read-through edit on the draft in progress finally reached the point where I'd left off drafting before, and I feel a lot more able to finish the draft. Mainly I'm trying to get that last phone call right, along with Ashley's reaction to it. Also, I know a lot more about this story's peculiar apocalypse than I did when I wrote previous drafts. Full sized short stories are different from flash. In a 566-word short-short that's focused more on relationship dynamics than actual worldbuilding, I can get away with not really knowing why the sidewalks melted. In a 5,000-word short story that's focused very specifically on the main characters' roles in the Snowpocalypse, I kind of have to know what those roles are.
I still need to work on the timing. There's no good reason why the last scene needs to take place two days after the scene before it. Again, there's just no leeway for a lull in the action after the OMG moment.
So. One of the thoughts from yesterday's blog post stuck with me. The one about how there are few greater joys than increasing your competence in an activity you love, but how the photo-negative image of that joy is the creeping existential dread that you'll never excel at the activity you love after all. And how the intensities of both the joy and the fear are directly proportional to how much you enjoy or even identify with that activity.
Yesterday I was rambling on about that fear and that joy with regards to roller derby. But this is not primarily a roller derby blog. This is a writing blog. I am a writer. Roller derby may have taken over my life, but writing is my life.
Oddly, that paired joy and fear do not play as blatant a role in my relationship with writing.
I think it's because writing is a lot more... nebulous? Intangible? ...than roller derby is. I can observe with certainty my ability to skate backwards or to positionally block from a sideways stance, and compare my current ability to do these things with my ability last year or the year before. Observing my own improvement in writing is a less sure thing. While I can say that this year I'm sitting down to the keyboard more often, finishing more stories, and making more sales, I can only take it as an item of faith that what comes out of my keyboard when I do sit down is better now than it was in the past. And it's not so much the religious tenet sort of faith as it is the mathematical axiom sort. A + A = 2A. More writing + more reading = better writing.
(No, more sales doesn't necessarily mean better writing. More sales has a lot more to do with submitting more stories more often and to more markets. The axis of saleability is on a separate graph from the axis of quality. Besides, editors aren't just looking for well-written and interesting but also "a good fit with our publication," which you can drive yourself mad trying to plot on a chart.)
So I don't experience so much the joy of watching my skills improve, as I do the satisfaction of watching myself get serious about this "I want to be a writer when I grow up!" thing, treat writing like my day job, and go to work every scheduled workday.
As for the fear/dread/doubt question... no, I don't find myself doubting that I can do this writing thing. Writing is one of those things that I know I can do well. I've proved it to myself over the years. It isn't something like a physical sport where I fight with my body's agility, strength, and reaction time. It's more like... oh, like singing. It's something that to some extent comes naturally to me, something that I've done all my life and have witnessed myself do well at. I've received enough positive feedback on it to be confident I'm not deluding myself here. But unlike singing, writing isn't subject to sudden attacks of stage fright or forgetting the tune/words/harmony/etc. It's not a performance. It's more like architecture. You don't let anyone into the house until you're pretty sure the walls and roof are solid. (And you try not to take it personally if someone notices a windowsill is sagging.)
So, no, it's not my ability to do writing well that I find myself doubting. No. Weirdly, what I angst over is whether I will do it.
Doesn't that sound silly? To be afraid of something that I have total control over preventing from happening? It's as silly as being afraid of the dark while having my hand on the light switch.
And yet that's the shape of my doubt. I fear failing myself. If writing is my life (hyperbole, but a useful one), my fear is getting to the end of that life without having written (and published) the stories I lived to write.
Which I suppose makes my regular workday writing schedule a way of keeping that fear at bay. It's a way of reassuring myself that I've done what I can, today, to prevent an unhappy ending to my story.
That's all I can reasonably ask of myself: That I do, indeed, go to work every scheduled work day. That I don't stand afraid in the dark when I have the power to turn on the light.
Today, I turned on that light.
Tomorrow, I intend to install a brighter light bulb.
a dramatic rebuttal to the demons of doubt who live rent-free in my head
Today was all the tired. The pre-lunch session at the farm was weeding crop beds thick with bindweed; the post-lunch session was pruning tomato plants. I came home with a blister from the hula hoe, my arms neon yellow to the elbow from tomato foliage, and the small of my back sunburned quite dramatically from the sagging waistline of my Carhartts utility jeans.
And this the day after we got home from the weekend. Oh, Wyoming. You are so vast, so sunny and hot, so very without shade. Driving across you very nearly made my brain melt and our car overheat. That latter isn't hyperbole; we stopped to change drivers in Wheatland and discovered our radiator fluid was boiling over. That was special.
Saturday morning was relaxing, though. The joy of away bouts is, I'm not responsible for helping set up the track. I'm not expected to help tear down the track and reassemble it on Sunday at our practice location. So I got to sleep late, have a leisurely breakfast, and even take a little reconnaissance walk from the hotel to the afterparty location just to make sure I was familiar with it before I tried it at night, post-bout and post-alcohol. Walking from the Days Inn to Mingles, I went one block too far and found myself at the corner of Wyoming and E-Z Street. I had no idea that Easy Street was in Wyoming. That, also, is special.
You are probably antsy to know how the bout went. I will tell you. We won! The score was 323 to 70, which doesn't begin to tell the play-by-play story. The thing about roller derby bouts is, no matter what the score, every single jam feels like the game depends on it. Every single time you're out there, the intensity is high and the heat is on. Besides, the bout was at an ice hockey venue, using a hockey scoreboard, and there is no hundreds digit on a hockey scoreboard. I had no idea what the score was until it was all over.
("The score is always zero to zero," as my coach will tell you. "Don't even look at the scoreboard until the game is over.")
Also, the track was super slick. We were skating on the polished concrete surface that holds up the ice when the ice rink exists. It made it harder to stop, harder to slow, harder to turn around, and harder for our jammers to push on walls of blockers. Slick floors make for sloppy skating, which makes for more penalties too. Which means each jam was even more of a struggle for dominance, no matter what the scoreboard said.
Now, understand, we're the B travel team that went to Gillette this weekend. Our league's travel teams are filled by twice-yearly try-outs. At try-outs, we're each scored on our skills according to specific metrics. The skaters with the highest scores fill the slots on the "All Stars" A team (our WFTDA charter roster, who, by the way, are going to Division 2 Playoffs in August, and you have the power to help them get there). The next bunch get slotted onto the "Bombshells" B team. Once that fills up, everyone else is placed on the Shrap Nellies C team. At least, that's my understanding of how it works--I don't get to see the scores or the numbers, I just go to try-outs and then practice where they tell me.
I'm explaining this so you'll understand that I was, by actual objective standards, nowhere near the best skater on the track. Our roster included A/B crossover skaters--skaters who skate for both the All Stars and the Bombshells. Our roster included skaters who used to be A/B crossovers but are now full-on All Stars, but who came with us because a week simply isn't enough time to get the new post-try-outs roster ready to bout. I was often on the track with a line-up full of All Stars, and I'm more grateful for it than I can adequately express, because they have taught me so much about how to work with my line and how to communicate and how to hold the jammer and how to be immovable, stable and strong. I've learned so much from them, and I still have so much to learn.
The point is, when the bout is over and the teams come out of their post-bout huddle and announce who they've decided to give the Most Valued Player awards to, when the opposing team says, "And we'd like to give the MVP Blocker award to..." I do not expect to hear my name.
Which is why I stood there like a fool, eyes wide, asking, "You mean me?" And then there were hugs, and congratulations, and pictures, and me crying a little on John's shoulder because I was so stunned and delighted. ("Don't worry," he said. "No one can tell those are tears. You're too full of sweat.") And, oddly, relieved.
I've often said, there are few joys greater than getting to do what you love, than getting better at doing what you love. But I don't always feel like I've got a handle on how much I've improved, or whether I've improved at all. Despite knowing that I can now execute maneuvers I couldn't do last year, and that I'm more stable and have better pack awareness than I used to, there's still doubt. Mistakes often stand out more than triumphs in my head, not least because few of the mistakes go without comment from coaches or teammates. So there's always this half-conscious fear that I'll never be better than mediocre at the game, despite how much I love playing.
But I didn't really understand the extent of all that until Saturday night, when my interior reaction to the award was a huge, overwhelming, and unexpected sense of relief. "Oh, wow, I really am getting better, I really do have the potential to excel at this sport I love playing. Oh, thank goodness." Only then did I realize how much constant background noise of doubt and insecurity I'd been living with.
I'll be attending make-up try-outs this week, having been out of town on the original try-outs date of the 13th. As usual I'll be going into it nervous, aware that I'm capable of screwing it up, and holding no higher expectation than that I simply demonstrate improvement over my results from six months ago.
But maybe this time I'll go into it with somewhat less self-doubt.
six hours of wyoming is the best excuse
The latter half of today was spent entirely on the road, driving to the town of Gillette, Wyoming; the earlier half was spent preparing for the drive. And now we have arrived. John and I are currently at the Old Chicago next door to our hotel, anticipating late night pasta, and tomorrow I will be skating with my Bombshells against the Powder River Rousta Bout It Betties in our single away bout of the season.
That's my excuse for getting no writing done, and I think it's a damn good one. So there.
Driving north across Wyoming was interesting. Visible features of the Colorado/Wyoming border at I-25 include 1) a wind farm, and 2) a camel ranch. After that come the rolling hills forever and ever amen.
"That's the problem with Wyoming," said John. "It's boring. I mean, look! Nothing but boring as far as the eye can see!"
Then about an hour later, somewhere north of Cheyenne, we found ourselves in the Roger Dean dimension of fantastic rock formations. I kept waiting for the dragon-thing from that Asia album to come swimming up out of the Glendo Reservoir.
We very briefly visited Chugwater. Because where else do you refill your water bottles, right? I mean, it's named for good hydration! While we where there, we had ice cream shakes at Wyoming's oldest soda fountain, and I had a cup of the town's famous chili. I can't say whether it is good enough to deserve the hype, but it was exactly what I wanted right at that moment.
By the way. Chugwater? Most awesome-fun-absurd place name to say since that time we passed the I-5 interchange for Chuckanut Drive. Just say it. It's right up there with "Huggbees!" and "It's Spaghetti Time!" for turning your frown upside down.
And with that thought I leave you, as I wander, full of lovely carbs and proteins, back to the hotel and thence to sleep. Wish us luck tomorrow!
a drabble where you can read it; also, revising away some story problems
- 6,631 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
I'm pleased to announce that as of today you can read my drabble, "Priesthood Has Its Privileges," on SpeckLit. The other drabble that SpeckLit acquired will appear on the site in September, so stay tuned for that announcement then.
A drabble is a work of fiction that is exactly 100 words long. They are compact and easy to digest, a nutritious part of your daily breakfast. Bookmark SpeckLit to add a new drabble to your diet every other day.
I'm less than pleased to announce that today I was... not as respectful, shall we say, as one should be, of the sharpness of the edge of the scissors blade I was cleaning off. The result is merely a flesh-wound, but there is nothing "merely" about that when it's across your index fingertip and you're trying to type. You ever heard a typo referred to as a "fat finger" incident? Bandaged fingertips are literal fat fingers, hitting two keys where one will do and generally wrecking one's wpms.
Thankfully, this flesh-wound came after a solid session of story revision today. It was solid not only as measured by the formula "butt + chair x time," but also from the standpoint of story problems solved, or at least brought closer to solved. To wit:
1) Raise the stakes. The story has an "OMG shit just got real" moment about halfway through, but I think the draft my friends read suffered from a bit of stall-out after that. The narrator gets home from encountering the "OMG" moment--and almost immediately forgets about it, or at least stops mentioning it, while she listens to some voice mail from her chatty and insufficiently worried friend. So with this revision I'm trying to keep the tension high by correcting both of those oversights. If I've done my job right, I've corrected them both in a single edit to do with what's in the phone message and how the narrator reacts to it.
Wow. That paragraph is a great example of why talking about writing is sometimes not the greatest idea. Trying to discuss a particular edit in generalities rather than specific detail results in hella confusion cum circumlocution. Well, I'm-a leave it up there, let it fend for itself, 'cause I know what I mean, and one day, publishers willing and the markets don't flop, you will too.
2) Everyone's got a story. There is a character in this story more talked about than talking, and it finally occurred to me I have to give him something to do. He's away in a ski resort with the chatty friend, which is to say, they're in what's basically a fancy hotel suite. I visualize it as a kitchen/living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. That's it. Yet the chatty friend manages to leave our narrator phone messages that this other character in the room is not overhearing. How did I solve that problem in recent drafts? Well, apparently I had him taking a lot of naps. This... is not ideal. He is not meant to be the Amazing Hibernating Man. So with this draft I tried to figure out, well, what does he do while they're in the resort? Especially considering the special role he plays in the development of the plot? And how can I then reveal what he's doing such that it lays groundwork for later revelations?
So now he spends a lot of time sitting on the balcony out in the snow, oblivious to the cold, staring out into the storm. Which doesn't sound like much of an improvement, but in my head there is a reason. I just have to figure out how to make that reason more clear.
This blog post has been brought to you by a somewhat out of date bottle of New-Skin (R) Antiseptic Liquid Bandage. Protects small cuts without all that bandaged fingertip awkwardness! I think I'll go put on a second coat now. And buy a new, not-out-of-date bottle tomorrow.
not dead, just acting like it for a bit
I do not know why I continue to think that I'm capable of working a full productive day on the day I get back from a trip. I really should know better.
Oh, I know the rationale behind the thought. It goes something like this: "I'll have had a full night's sleep in an actual bed by the time the train gets in, which will be before 8 AM if it's on time. There's no reason I can't just go home and get right to doing things!" What I don't know is why I persist in thinking that despite my experience of every homecoming on a westbound California Zephyr ever, whether the darn thing is on time or late (and today it was about three hours late), which involves getting home, seeing the bed, and crashing hard in the bed. All day long.
For that reason, nothing of use got done before roller derby practice. And nothing of use is getting done after practice for the usual reason, which is that I'm painfully tired.
So this blog post will be just a "hello, here I am, not dead, just going to go imitate dead for awhile." Other and more interesting things will occur tomorrow, or at least that's my hope.
further rail misadventures and their companion silver linings
Got on the City of New Orleans train yesterday afternoon, and it's coming into Chicago today. It was scheduled to get in at 9 this morning, but someone driving an 18-wheeler near Independence, Louisiana decided they were in just too much of a hurry to wait for those seven or eight cars of our southbound opposite number to go by. The ensuing collision disabled the engine of train, leaving them immobile on the tracks while they waited for a replacement locomotive to come get them. So we sat around in Hammond for a few hours, and are now running 4 hours late.
Once again, instead of a five-hour layover, it looks like I'll have just 15 minutes before it's time to board my connecting train.
My sympathies go out to anyone who was hurt, or worse, in the collision. All I know is what they told our crew, which is that the crew on train 59 were all fine, and that the load the 18-wheeler was carrying swung around and knocked a hole in the wall of the first car behind the engine. At the very least, that had to have seriously startled some people. As for the driver of the truck, I don't know. I do know that when we finally passed the site of the accident, it looked like the cab was unharmed but its load had been reduced to scrap, and that scrap was being loaded into a dumpster.
Update: Reading the link above, it looks like all passengers were unharmed, but the driver of the semi was ejected from the vehicle and is now in the hospital in stable condition.
What is it about the area between Hammond and McComb that tempts people to race the train? Don't ever, ever try to race the train, y'all. Not for anything. Not even if lives depend on your on-time arrival. Because you will not arrive on time. You will lose that race, and you will lose it messily.
Despite indirect misadventures, I've had a pleasant trip. I'm returning via sleeper car, enjoying the chance to decompress in solitude after an extremely social vacation. The meals have been tasty, and oddly peaceful; I've been fortunate to not have to sit with that aggressively gregarious sort--sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, always older than me and conscious of it--who interrogate other travelers for every single personal detail in the name of making conversation. I think they especially do it because they see I'm traveling alone and don't want me to feel left out, bless their hearts. But they leave me feeling invaded, without socially acceptable recourse to say, "Those are uncomfortably personal questions for a woman traveling alone, and I choose not to answer."
I mean, I've said almost those exact words before, but before I say them I have to be willing for the rest of the meal to be chilly and awkward. Society exacts a price when a woman patrols her boundaries, and it's shitty. But I've blogged about that before and I won't bore you with it now.
Anyway, I was ready for that sort of person, should I have encountered them; I had determined, at the least provocation, to talk their ears off about roller derby. But the family I sat with last night and the couple this morning were mostly content to talk quietly among themselves, asking me nothing more than, "What are you knitting?" For the most part, whole-table conversation tended to be low-pressure, and centered on shared present experience: speculation about the collision, observations of the world outside the train, guesses about how far we'd come and what town we were passing through.
Speaking of which, somewhere in southern Illinois there is an A-J Bank. I think it stands for Ann-Jones; at least, that's what I thought I read on another building. Maybe that was the name of the town. When I have a little internet time and no errands to run, I'll look it up. But at first I thought I was seeing a different letter, and I thought, "Oh, the Wyverary has a bank!"
I can tell you who I'm glad I didn't sit with at dinner last night. I had to overhear him all through the meal. [TRIGGER WARNING FOR EFFIN' RAPE CULTURE, Y'ALL. THERE IS A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS PARAGRAPH.] He was one of those jolly married gentlemen who, seeing the opportunity to "entertain" another couple across the table, makes a belittling joke out of every single thing his wife says. Every single word out of her mouth, he pounced on it to show how stupid he thought it was, how silly, how easy to serve it up for common ridicule. Oh, the condescension. Oh, the mocking. It was awful. But then he capped it off at the end of the meal by saying, presumably to the other man at the table, "I don't have to get her drunk; she's my wife!" Because when casual misogyny is already a fun social party game for you, why not make jokes about how sex with the person you supposedly love never actually involves getting her consent?
I was so relieved that he left the diner before my table received our entrees, and that he was only just going to breakfast this morning when I was returning from my meal. I suppose the lady in the next room who woke me up at 5:45 AM (seriously, y'all, these compartments aren't soundproof, so please refrain from shouting) is in fact to be thanked; she's the reason I went to breakfast pretty much the moment they opened at 6.
So, anyway, it's been a good trip. All my direct encounters have been pleasant, I'm about halfway through my writing day already, and I'm looking forward to a solid afternoon of short story revision on the Californial Zephyr. That is, as long as I don't miss my connection. And I don't think I'm going to. As I type, it's 12:57 and we're waiting on the signal that we can enter the station. I suppose it's possible we could sit here until 2 PM, but I'm going to be optimistic about that.
(Update: Made it into the station with minutes to spare, and another few minutes to upload this. Yay!)
what i learned on my summer vacation
That while a skating distance of 2.1 miles looks unremarkable on paper, and indeed is not so difficult on a bike path in the Vail Valley, it's somewhat more grueling in high heat, high humidity, and over streets that are in dire need of repaving.
That when skating from the warehouse district to the Irish Channel on a beer pilgrimage, it's very important to check the tap room's hours of operation so that one need not wait another 45 minutes to get a cold glass of water out of the sun.
That a 10oz pour of NOLA Brewery's "Girl Stout Cookie" is always worth it.
These were only some of the things I learned during the 2014 edition of the San FermŪn en Nueva Orleans celebration. And here is one more:
That if you skate some 8 miles in a day, in crowds, up and down curbs, over treacherous terrain, and you fall just once, it will not be somewhere discreet, like under an oak tree on the ridiculously wrecked sidewalk on Washington Avenue. No. It will be at high noon on the corner of Canal and N. Peters in front of God and the street cars and everybody.
However, I did only fall just the once that day. So there's a thing.
revision versus avoidance behaviors; also karaoke and a surprise DNS outage
- 6,515 words (if poetry, lines) long
Tonight I'm writing this from Hurricane's Sports Bar in Metairie, on Vets not far from Bonnabel. My brother tends bar most nights there, so hanging out at the bar means hanging out with him, which is nice. Hurricane's is on Facebook. You may like them if you're so inclined. I quite like them myself, and not just because my brother likes to cover my beers.
It took me a minute to figure out what their event schedule for the weekend was, because rather than hosting an itemized calendar or using FB's event pages interface, they simply take a photo of their calendar and make it their cover image. Once I figured that out, I saw that Thursdays were "Rock the Mic: Live Band Karaoke," and I thought, huh, that's different, and also I like karaoke. I should go. And so I did. And it was joyous. They had one of my standby tunes in their list, and they played it, and I sang it, and they sang backup, and a good time was had by all. It was unlike any karaoke experience I have ever had, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Rock the Mic is also on Facebook, and you may like them if you are so inclined. I like them.
This afternoon I took my short story revision time to the CC's coffee house on Vets at Division. (I had unearthed a decade-old gift card for use there. Alas, its balance turned out to be zero.) I am trying to be virtuous despite being "on vacation," so I am continuing to push my dogged way through the lumps in the draft-in-progress. There are, however, moments when I ask myself, am I actually doing a revision here, or am I just pushing prepositions around in a bid to avoid finishing the damn thing? This is a thing we are sometimes prone to: getting stuck in the mid-book or halfway through a story, and going back to the beginning and endlessly tweaking rather than pushing through the stuckness. I worry that I'm doing that...
...right up until my slow pass through the draft brings me a perfect opportunity to plant a little foreshadowing, based on something I just figured out about how the story needs to end. Then I stop worrying, because obviously revision is getting done here.
Up with foreshadowing! Down with worrying! I like giving myself reasons to stop worrying.
And now, a deep sigh for the frailties of internet. The internet went down at the bar, so I ran along home to upload this, but the internet was down there too, and also for my parents' desktop computer. "DNS server cannot be reached." Ain't no amount of rebooting the router going to fix it when Cox Cable appears to have DNS trouble. I really need to commit some alternate DNS addresses to memory for times like this.
(Oddly, popping in Google's DNS addresses didn't help, nor did it hurt the next morning when service had resumed. I wonder if yet something else was going on. Cox is not saying.)
In any case, this post won't get uploaded until Friday, but it will be backdated for Thursday, just to be confusing. Also I shall be restoring my HabitRPG streaks because I did all the things, I just couldn't click on all the things. Phooey.
as the unicorn said to the harpy
- 6,468 words (if poetry, lines) long
As it turns out, I was right--I got to Chicago barely 15 minutes prior to boarding time on my connecting train. There was no time for anything except the ridiculous walk down the long boarding platform, into the station, then clockwise around via the main concourse and the central ticketing/passenger services hub to finally arrive in the South Terminal and wait in line to go right back out onto the main concourse and thence to the boarding platform once more.
I was oddly jealous of the passengers connecting with Train 30 who were told, "Your train is on the tracks opposite ours. When you get off this train, just cross the platform and get right on Train 30." None of this walking-the-long-way-around-to-get-back-where-you-started business for them! And "all" it cost them was the stress of a will-we-won't-we nick-of-time arrival in Chicago. Yes, I'm joking. But only sort of.
Anyway, I did manage to get online while the California Zephyr was stopped at the station in Galesburg, Illinois. O fortuitous Galesburg and your free city wifi! I was able to run all my internet errands there: Upload yesterday's blog post, check off all my tasks on HabitRPG, disable the Dailies that I can't do whilst out of town (sorry, plants, but I cannot water you from all the way over here!), attempt to download my email and the latest posts on my roller derby league's online forum. I say "attempt" because the email did not, in fact, download. And while I could retrieve the Activity Stream on the league's VBulletin forum, I couldn't pull up any actual posts. "Response denied by WatchGuard HTTP proxy. Don't think you should be going there?" Apparently the city's wi-fi gateway disapproves of VBulletin cookies. They are too long and full of suspicious characters.
Speaking of HabitRPG, I seem to have turned on my Train 6 seatmate to its joys and wonders. Huzzah! More lives gamified! Let us go smite Shadow Dragons with such fearsome weapons as Taking Out The Trash and Returning Books To Library!
In story news, I am working my way from beginning to NEW AND IMPROVED ENDING GOES HERE slowly, smoothing out the lumps as I go. My hope is to have some idea how NEW AND IMPROVED ENDING goes by the time I get there.
Meanwhile, as part of my campaign to Be An Informed Hugo Voter, I've just finished reading Campbell Award candidate A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar. (I'm pretty sure I misspelled the title in a recent Tweet. Forgive me!) It is a gorgeous piece of work, written in a lush poetic language that transforms my very thought process as I look out the window of the train and watch towns to which I am myself a stranger roll by. I even dreamt in the book's cadences the other night after reading myself to sleep. Samatar might have my vote for that alone. But then she uses such language to create a rich world complete with competing cultures and vibrant mythologies and their own canonical works of literature. And then on top of it all, the story it tells belongs to that category most near and dear to my heart: In Praise Of Books.
It belongs to other categories, too: Coming of Age Story. Like Father, Like/Unlike Son. Feet of Clay. Unrequited Love. Changing The Course of Empire. Laying the Ghost. But for me, the most important thing is the main character's falling head over heels in love with reading, and how that love frames every other passion in the story.
Once, when I was perhaps eight, on one of the many nights when I stayed up long past my bedtime with a book I couldn't put down, I heard my mother coming up the stairs. Quickly I doused the light and hid my book under my pillow. Moments later, when Mom opened the door, I was pretending to be asleep. She was not fooled. What she said next will live in my brain forever, in shades of both pride and rue: "God help me, I have one child who won't read and another who won't stop!"
Which is why passages like the following speak so keenly to me:
The silence. End of all poetry, all romances. Earlier, frightened, you began to have some intimation of it: so many pages had been turned, the book was so heavy in one hand, so light in the other, thinning toward the end. Still, you consoled yourself. You were not quite at the end of the story, at that terrible flyleaf, blank like a shuttered window: there were still a few pages under your thumb, still to be sought and treasured. Oh, was it possible to read more slowly?óNo. The end approached, inexorable, at the same measured pace. The last page, the last of the shining words! And thereóthe end of the book. The hard cover which, when you turn it, gives you only this leather stamped with old roses and shields.
Then the silence comes, like the absence of sound at the end of the world. You look up. Itís a room in an old house. Or perhaps itís a seat in a garden, or even a square; perhaps youíve been reading outside and you suddenly see the carriages going by. Life comes back, the shadows of leaves. Someone comes to ask what you will have for dinner, or two small boys run past you, wildly shouting; or else itís merely a breeze blowing a curtain, the white unfurling into a room, brushing the papers on a desk. It is the sound of the world. But to you, the reader, it is only a silence, untenanted and desolate.
It doesn't hurt that this passage is saying something else at the same time, about other griefs, other abandonment. But even if it were "only" talking about how reaching the end of a book, even one with a happy ending, is always in some sense a tragedy, it would still give me the chills.
It put me in mind of a similar passage in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, to which Olondria felt in many ways like a tribute:
If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger--
If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early--
If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless--
If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next.
What did Bastian do next? Why, he stole the copper-bound volume from the bookshop while Cornelius's back was turned, thus unknowingly committing himself to saving Fantastica. (And no, Cornelius didn't set Bastian up. That knowing nod and smile is entirely a fabrication of the movie. In the book, Cornelius actually lost all memory of ever having had the book at all.)
There's a shock at finding oneself recognized so closely by an author; this, by the way, is why Dorothea Brande warns us that the non-writer may regard us as witches. "Nothing but witchcraft, [the layperson] seems to believe, could have made another human being so wise in the ways of his kind." But after the shock of recognition comes the warm relief of having been recognized. It takes one to know one, as they say. Being understood means not being alone. "Oh, you are like me!" as the unicorn said to the harpy.
Another point in Samatar's favor is that she made me cry in plain sight in an Amtrak sightseer lounge car. Dammit. Talk about your awkward moments.
As I finish this up, the train is sitting somewhere south of Jackson, Mississippi, waiting for the freight traffic ahead to clear. We've been precisely on time up until now. Outside is a swampish waterway lined with trees I ought to be able to name. A constant drizzle polka-dots the surface of the green-brown water. White crestless wading birds with long necks and yellow beaks stand on one black leg, single-knee-deep in the water or perch warily in small trees. The only sign of human encroachment is the very railroad track that brought us here and the small square wooden sign beside it bearing some code unintelligible to layfolk.
No one is in any hurry at all. It's glorious.
I'll upload this post from my parents' house, my old house, in Metairie. But that's several hours off yet. Between now and then, I hope to make some real progress on the story. So, here's to good news on that front tomorrow.