“Why do I write? Perhaps in order not to go mad.”
Elie Wiesel

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

For a moment, you can see the sky through the ceiling.
Then the gap is closed as new construction materials are installed.
in which the Observatory earns its name
Mon 2014-03-03 14:11:33 (single post)

I think--and I hope I'm not jinxing myself by saying this--I think I'm not sick anymore. I'm still coughing, but it seems to be the post-cold "clearing the pipes out" cough. The viral infection has moved out, but its physical effects remain as a nasty reminder of the unwanted guest's unwelcome and lengthy stay. Said effects include irritated respiratorial apparatus and also phlegm the consistency of glue.

Times like this, we pause to observe how work habits built carefully and maintained over the space of almost two weeks go all to hell after one week of sick leave. Dammit. But it's a new Monday, the start of a new week, a week during which I am no longer sick. I might just get some work done.

In any case, there was no sleeping late this morning. Today the roof work got underway in earnest. Hammering, sawing, and machinery of undetermined description have provided a constant soundtrack. The workers have removed the foam layers that comprised the old, leaky roof, causing the last bit of water trapped therein to drip through in unexpected places. A fine dusting of sawdust, rotten wood particles, and dirt keeps drifting down from the areas where my ceiling's boards are bare, making it inadvisable to sit on the sofa or work at the desk. For a little while there I could see the sky (and occasionally the workers' boot soles) through places where the frequent leaks and small mold colonies had eaten away at the edges of the wood panels.

I kind of want to take a walk down to Pekoe or bike on over to Fuse. Home is not currently conducive to getting work done, not with all these alarming noises coming from above. But I kind of want to stay, because they're fascinating noises. How often do you get to watch your roof get replaced, after all? The signs of progress are endlessly intriguing. I wanted to take a picture of the aforementioned hole where I could see the sky, but in between taking one with flash and one without, the workers evidently laid down a brand new layer of something. Insulation, possibly. The first picture shows bright light shining through; the second shows a pinkish filter. Since then, they must have laid down something more opaque, because now light isn't getting through at all.

(The evergreen branches are a leftover winter solstice decoration. We wanted to have something more seasonal and warm to look at than the bare beams.)

Well. Just because I didn't sleep late doesn't mean I didn't lie around reading and feeling all bleah. But I have at last treated myself to a shower and some strong tea, so I'm feeling a lot more lively. Having nowhere to be tonight, thank goodness, I have no obstacle to simply timeshifting my day into the afternoon and evening. Theoretically, anyway.

All for now. More tomorrow.

prevent manuscript loiterment in two easy steps
Mon 2014-02-24 23:39:12 (single post)
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In my head, I had this rant about Ray Bradbury all lined up to play Part 2 to Friday's Part 1. But I am very tired right now and not at all up for it. I'm just back on the bus from spending all afternoon and evening in Longmont, for the following reasons:

  • 2:30 - 3:30 PM: Running some errands along Main Street (10%)
  • 3:30 - 4:00 PM: Getting most of the post-bus biking over with before the winds "may gust up to 28 mph" (5%)
  • 6:00 - 9:15 PM: Taking a roller derby optimized CPR/First Aid certification class (85%)

The time between 4:00 and 6:00 PM was spent at Red Frog Coffee, which is relatively in the neighborhood of the Bomb Shelter, thus requiring less wind-o-clock biking. There I not only enjoyed a chicken salad sandwich and a mug of tea, but I also A. discovered that Interfictions, alas, did not consider "It's For You" the perfect fit I'd hoped; and subsequently B. sent "It's For You" out to the next market listed in its personalized Slush Piles To Visit guidebook.

Two things made it really, really easy to keep this particular rejected manuscript from sleeping over. One is that the next professional market on my list has an online, web-based submission form for my use. It isn't the only market to do so, either. This development of our modern age is spoiling me rotten. I mean, forget envelopes and postage--half the time I don't even have to write an email!

The other thing, the thing of the two things that is the really key thing, is having a list in the first place. Huzzah for good planning!

I feel compelled to admit, however, that this story's list of slush piles to visit was exactly two markets long. Happily, since the market I just now sent it to estimates a 40-day response, I should have a little time to think of a third. If, that is, I can shake that nasty, baseless superstition that doing so is jinxing my chances...

Right. So. Anyway, that rant about Ray Bradbury? Here's the preview version: When finishing a book that makes me angry, it is very important to have some sort of palate cleanser available so as not to go to sleep angry or in fact fail, through anger, to go to sleep at all. Note to self: A collection of short stories that, despite their varied, sometimes futuristic, and often interplanetary settings nevertheless all feature 1950s style gender relations is not the palate cleanser you are looking for.

And that is all. Good night.

In which my inner child weeps and rages for Louise Bradshaw
Fri 2014-02-21 13:59:32 (single post)

My inner adult is none too happy, either.

I knew re-reading Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved would make me angry. I said it would, and it did. I remembered that it was full of beautiful prose that told a really unfair story which would make me furious. Given this indisputable fact, it was a really stupid idea for me to read it last night when I was sick and likely to have trouble sleeping, so that I could lie awake for hours thinking about how angry I was with that book. Unfortunately, it was right there when I decided I wanted to read something before bed. I have no self-restraint when it comes to books.

It's worse than that, though. It made me even angrier than I thought it would. When I first read it, I was probably a teenager or even younger. I was old enough to understand intimately the direct day-to-day injustices Louise suffers at the hands of her sister and her grandmother. But I don't think I knew enough at that time to recognize how everyone else on that damn tiny island was complicit in those injustices. I had not yet learned that what Louise suffers her entire life is honest-to-God abuse.

Because that's what it is; and, what's worse, the author doesn't seem to recognize it as such.

Spoiler warning from here on out. Yes, I give spoiler warnings even for books that came out more than 30 years ago and won awards and get assigned as classroom reading. Everyone's read a different subset of the books that have come out since 1980; you might not have read this one yet. You get a spoiler warning now, just in case you haven't read it and you'd like to. Here is the warning: I'm going to react angrily to specific things that happen throughout the novel, right up to and including the last page. There will be spoilers. You have been warned.

Onward.

For almost the entire book, Paterson shows you what it's like to be Louise: the unregarded twin sister to Caroline, the island's golden child, for the sake of whose talents every sacrifice must be made. She puts you right in Louise's head. At no time is the reader asked to view Louise's situation as run-of-the-mill sibling rivalry which she'll eventually grow of taking so seriously. From the beginning--from, as I said, the moment of her birth--it's made clear that Louise doesn't matter. To anyone. And the reader is encouraged to feel that disregard deeply, and to resent it on Louise's behalf.

While everyone scrambles to make sure Caroline has music lessons and the best education the island can afford, no one ever asks Louise what she wants out of life. The few times she expresses any wish or desire, it's squashed. When she begins to secretly put away a little of her crab-fishing money for her own use, guessing rightly that no one other than herself considers her future worth investing in, she suffers terrible guilt over it--because her family, like all families in their community, is so poor, and besides, any resources the family has left over after their basic needs is earmarked for sainted Caroline. When Louise finally buys something of her own with her precious hoarded funds, Caroline steals it--and has the gall to tell her, "Don't be selfish." Louise has only two real friends on that island, and in the end they, too, abandon her for her sister.

(This childhood doesn't really do Caroline any favors, either; she never quite learns that other people are as real and vital as she herself is. Her natural childhood egotism never gets told "no" and so it flourishes into outright narcissism.)

And then, after chapter upon chapter of this--a little hope here only to be dashed there, a small bit of affection or concern offered here only to be withdrawn there--we come to the climax of the novel: when Louise is told, "You had dreams and ambitions all this time? Well, why didn't you say so? Why have you wasted all this time and energy in resentment when you could have been going after the life you wanted to live? That's the only difference between Caroline and you, see. She went for what she wanted but you just sat here and stewed."

Right? Eighteen years of abusive and degrading social conditioning should just roll off Louise's back like water off a duck.

I use the term "abusive" advisedly here. Between the time I first read the book and now, I've come to know a wider circle of friends and acquaintances, many of whom suffered and survived ongoing abuse in the bosom of their dysfunctional families. Abuse isn't just about the physical and verbal violence done to the victims; it's also about the long-term damage done to their self-esteem, to their sense of themselves as a person. It is not uncommon for victims of childhood abuse to reach adulthood having internalized that they don't matter, that what they want isn't important, that they don't deserve happiness or safety or affection or adequate nutrition or medical care for an injury, that the very act of wanting such things makes them bad people. That they are bad people, that they don't deserve to take up space on the planet.

This is some of the damage that abuse can cause. It is quite possible to cause that damage to child without landing a single physical blow on their person nor directing overt anger at them. Lifelong emotional neglect will do the trick.

And this is where I think the author herself doesn't understand the full impact of having subjected her narrator to lifelong emotional neglect. Because Louise's response is pretty much, "Why, that's true! The only thing really holding me back has been me! Off I go, then!"

And off she does go into the rest of the novel, which proceeds at the pace of a denouement. It's like a several-chapters-long epilogue pasted on, in which after agreeing that she's fully capable of creating the life she wants to live, she absolutely fails to do so. The college advisor who smarmily informs her that no medical school will admit a woman, is she sure she wants to be a doctor, has she considered nursing school? Or, being an attractive woman, simply getting married? This should have been a challenge for her to overcome with her newfound Carpe Diem epiphany! But no, she cheerfully settles for nursing school. Crisis over in less than two pages. Then, after establishing herself as a nurse in a tiny, claustrophobic mountain town that's pretty much a landlocked version of the place she grew up, she meets a man who infuriates her with his arrogant assertion that "God in Heaven's been raising you for our valley from the moment you were born," but then he smiles her father's smile, so she marries him. This encounter, too, takes about two pages.

It's like the author ran out of steam for developing Louise into the confident, capable woman that all the other characters insist Louise is, so instead she steam-rolled Louise toward a future of settling for this, settling for that, settling, settling, settling.

It's worse than that. While the author seems to be saying "And from then on, Louise created a life for herself out of her sister's shadow," what she actually does is line up the rest of Louise's life according to a checklist driving the story to return where it began in a deeply symbolic way. That horrible Bradshaw family story that preserves in lavish detail the heroics required to keep sickly infant Caroline alive, while simultaneously erasing healthy infant Louise from memory? It plays out all over again on the final pages of the book, and it feels like the reader's supposed to be happy about it.

I was sort of looking forward to this scene as mitigating the unrelenting awfulness at last. But that's only because I totally misremembered how it goes.

Here's what I thought happened: Louise suddenly remembers the healthy baby whom she set aside hours ago in order to perform life-saving heroics over the sickly one. She thinks, "Oh no! I'm creating another me-and-Caroline!" So she gives the healthy baby a memorable story of his own: she picks him up and cuddles him and nurses him with her own mother's milk.

Wrong.

What actually happens is, Louise spares a bare few sentences for the healthy, forgotten baby about how he should be held and nursed rather than left lying in a basket. Then, her duty done, she returns all of her attention to its proper recipient: the perfect tiny infant she's just saved from death and to whom she offers her milk-taut breast.

Well, shit. So much for that.

I don't know what Paterson intended in this final scene. Maybe she really intended Louise's "You should hold him, you should let his mother hold him" to indicate that the healthy baby wouldn't grow up neglected like Louise. But I can tell you how it hit me. My emotional takeaway is basically that Louise has finally realized that of course all attention and care was lavished on Caroline, how could it be otherwise? This was the proper order of things, which only now is she in a position to understand and accept.

I'd like to believe that the author intended to tell a story about how a child survived abuse without losing her sense of self-esteem, and how she finally managed to create a place of her own in the world. But that's not how the emotional equations balance out for me. When I solve for X, what I get is "Yeah, life's rough. Too bad. Suck it up."

And here's where I remember that Paterson also wrote Bridge to Terabithia. Damn it.

Paterson's novels have won awards, and rightly so. She is very, very good at what she does. But what she does is very much not for me. She writes lovely, intimate prose about deeply felt childhood hurts that resonate in my soul, that are never adequately healed but instead provide the framework for quietly triumphant coming of age stories, which can be defined as "the process by which one realizes and makes one's peace with the fact that life is unfair and life will always be unfair." In other words: Suck it up, kid.

I just don't need that in my reading life. Especially when I'm sick.

care and feeding of a sick writer
Thu 2014-02-20 21:51:54 (single post)

The writer is sick again. Why is the writer sick again? Has not the writer been sick enough this year? We're not even out of February, for the love of lovely things. How can there have been room in 2014 to have gotten four freakin' colds already?

Some mysteries, I suppose, will never be explained.

Being sick, I've not left the house today. No co-working at Fuse. No roller derby scrimmage. I've been hoarding my germs very carefully. I've been working on my various writing projects at a very, very leisurely pace. I've been playing a lot of Spiral Knights too.

When I'm sick, I either order vast amounts of hot and sour soup from Golden Sun, or I turn to Maangchi for Korean-style comfort food. Today I opted to do the latter.

Mild steamed egg for a late breakfast, with the fish sauce option and with frozen chopped green onions I'd put by some months ago. For some reason the custard-like texture with the savory salty goodness of the fish sauce just hit the spot.

Kimchi and mackerel stew for an early dinner, only I don't actually have mackerel on hand, so I used a couple cans of skipjack tuna instead. Other substitutions included McCauley Family Farm's sriracha sauce for the hot pepper paste and MMLocal's spicy pickled carrots instead of the green chili pepper. (I guess I could have used MMLocal's pickled peppers, but the carrots were already open in the fridge.) The kimchi was Ozuke's vegan napa cabbage and garlic variety. The potatoes were the ones I grew on the porch this past summer.

And now I'm enjoying a nice mug of tea. And coughing.

Please to be having this nonsense over with immediately?

well in that case nevermind
Wed 2014-02-19 21:34:42 (single post)
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So that color-coded comment woe I mentioned yesterday? Because I aspire to be a good Scrivener citizen, I report bugs. And so I find things out.

Apparently it's the Scrivener for Windows manual that is at fault, not Scrivener for Windows itself. It should not have made me promises it could not keep.

During tomorrow's annotations type-in (which will be the last, as I have five copies full of feedback from five workshop members), I'll just need to go into the Appearance options and change the default color to whatever color I want to use for Critter D. Probably blue.

Now my short story revision process involves significantly less right-clicking. Huzzah!

Yes, there really is a gap of five years between the completion of the draft and its latest critque. I'm getting better--!
assembly lines in no particular hurry
Tue 2014-02-18 23:32:39 (single post)
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With recent deadlines behind me and unstructured fiction time ahead, I'm working on "The Impact of Snowflakes." This is another story that has been through the critique mill several times; most recently it received the attentions of my current neighborhood group.

I'm developing a process for this. It's a gradual process, an unhurried process, a process involving itty-bitty bites at a time, a process above all involving very little pressure upon myself. Revision is not a task I approach gleefully. Any strategy I can use to Not Scare Myself Off is a good strategy.

Anyway, it's how "It's For You" got revised and ready to submit, so I'm doing it again. It goes like this:

First, the scribbled-upon hard copies get three-hole-punched and popped into a three-ring-binder. Yesterday I made this process More Fun by acquiring color tab dividers (to separate story from story) along with sticky tabs in fun quilt-print patterns (to separate copy from copy).

Next, the story finds a home in a new Scrivener project using the short story template. An RTF copy of the story gets pulled in under the "Critiques" folder.

Then, I annotate this critiqued draft by entering each critic's feedback as linked comments. Linked comments can be created in any color; I assign one color to each critic. If the critic left me any general comments, I'll type that into a new file that lives folder-wise inside the critiqued draft.

(Here is where I complain a little about Scrivener for Windows. The manual claims that Scrivener remembers which color you used last in a linked comment, such that it will automatically create the next linked comment in that color. LIES. Every single one comes up in default yellow. So it's Highlight text, hit Shift-F4, hope like heck I didn't hit CTRL-F4 instead, type in the comment, right-click on the comment, select "Purple"... and repeat.)

Lastly, I begin typing in the new draft. I use a horizontal split-screen layout so I can reference the critiqued copy and its comments below the split while I type in the new draft above. The new draft, of course, goes in the "Draft" folder, either as one file or many depending on whether I work the scenes out of order.

Right now, I'm in the annotation stage. I'm giving myself permission to go through a single critiqued copy per day. This means that the work goes very slowly. But it also means a certain amount of composting--that background-level "thinking about things" process--happens too. Each person's feedback gets a day and a night of subconscious chewing-over. Hopefully that means that by the time I begin working on the new draft, possible solutions to the problems raised in the workshop are beginning to bubble into consciousness.

And oh boy are there problems in this story. The main thing I'm wibbling about is the isolation of the main character. I mean, yes, you get somewhat isolated when you live alone and the Snowpocalypse is shutting down the world little by little, but there's phones and internet and TV and stuff, and emergency personnel with their vehicles with their flashing lights and sirens. This is not an intimate two-person story like "It's For You." This is a worldwide crisis story. Which means I have to populate the world in which it occurs.

*wibble*

When wibbling, it's so very helpful to focus in on small, bite-sized tasks. Nibble-sized tasks. Tomorrow, I don't have to worry about populating the whole world. All I have to do is annotate the critiqued draft with the feedback scribbled on the next copy in my binder. I cannot begin to tell you what a relief that is.

In other news, Lightspeed has already declined "Other Theories of Relativity" for their Women Destroy Science Fiction issue. Which means that story is free to go knock on another editor's door. And because it's always easier to knock on a stranger's door if you've got a buddy, I sent along "The Day the Sidewalks Melted," who's seeking a first reprint home, to keep it company.

The two stories are oddly similar. I'm trying to consider this a plus. It's not "oh, dear, not one but two stories about broken relationships and loss and disaster written in a sort of Second Person of Direct Address point of view, hasn't this author any other tricks?" No. It's "My, what a lovely diptych of microfiction this is." Yes. That's exactly what it is.

mother may i
Mon 2014-02-17 23:38:04 (single post)
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If last week moved slowly, still it finished up where it needed to be. "Other Theories of Relativity" and "It's For You," both much transformed from the previous drafts, both went out into the wide world. And then, just for grins, so did "First Breath" in hopes of seeing it in reprint.

This is my second time sending it out as a reprint. The first time, I had the unmitigated chutzpah to suggest it might be appropriate for the VanderMeer's feminist spec fic anthology.

About which, I hasten to add, there is nothing wrong. An author needs unmitigated chutzpah to believe her writing worth others' reading at all. And this was a story that at least one editor had judged worthy to pay pro money for and press between hardback covers in a table of contents alongside some pretty awesome authors, so its quality wasn't in question.

However, I had some moments of crawling insecurity about it. One the one hand, the VanderMeers' anthology was to survey feminist speculative fiction from the 1970s onward; did I really think this little story could stand up in that kind of company?

Obviously, the proper answer to that question was, "Don't deny the editors a chance to decide for themselves. Send it in."

But on the other hand, there was the much more devastating insecurity having to do with not having published nor even finished another story since then. Did I think that having made this one sale, I was done? Was I just going to try to milk those 2,900 words or so for all I could get out of them and call it a career?

Well, no, of course not. But all those demons of the family Imposter Syndrome were jeering at me about it. Or shaking their heads sadly. Or just asking, in a tone of grave concern, whether I thought I had the right to try to reprint this story when I hadn't sold any new ones since.

So I sent it anyway. And it was not chosen for the anthology. And that was fine and good and about how these things generally go. (What was chosen? I do not know. A brief search has not turned up news on the anthology. I presume it's still in production.)

Flash forward to yesterday, when I sent it out again. Whole different story.

For one thing, far less pressure: The market I submitted it to is quite respected, but it's just another market. It isn't trying to be a piece of literary history. So that made things easier.

What made it even easier was knowing that it was one of seven pieces I had out in the slush. Seven! Two reprint submissions, one unpublished story on its eighth trip out, and four stories that were Brand Spanking New, Never Before Submitted, Never Before Seen By Editorial Eye, Setting Foot In Slush For the First Time! Seven. And by the end of the week I'll have sent two more reprint submissions out.

That's more stuff simultaneously in slush than I've had since, oh, 2006 or so. I think that's a dandy measure of the success of my new day-to-day work routine.

Now, it can't be overstated that my little fearing monsters' concerns that maybe I hadn't yet earned the right to try to reprint "First Breath" yet were--there's no way to say this gently--total bullshit. Well-intentioned bullshit, true, but bullshit none the less. You earn the right to reprint a story by having the rights of a previously published story of yours revert to you. Simple as that. There's no additional mechanism required and no further permission that you need.

But having what feels like a shit-ton of other writing out on editors' desks really helps.

Yes, this has been an "I feel like a writer!" blog post. Yes, I'm still doing those from time to time. Kinda pathetic, I know. Hey, we get our affirmation where we can, right? And the best kind of affirmation is the kind we can make on our own. Behold: I am a self-affirmation-making machine, my friends. A veritable one-woman factory cranking out the stuff.

Which will no doubt comfort me later on in the week when I'm trying to individually position grains of salt and pepper on the soup of the next short story in the revision queue.

not quite like athena
Thu 2014-02-13 23:11:55 (single post)
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And then yesterday didn't happen. But look! Today, I finished a thing and I submitted that thing. I submitted it to Lightspeed. I am helping to Destroy Science Fiction!

*pats self on head*

The opening line I posted earlier? Didn't end up using it. It now lives in a file in the "Deleted Scenes" folder of the story's Scrivener project, along with a few other false starts and removed verbiage. This is because the story went in a different direction than it did during that first draft, which makes it an entirely different story. Which means the story that the first draft was pointing toward could yet happen. You never know.

Writerly observation of the week: Write it down, no matter how little or incomplete.

Unpacking that: Sometime this week, probably during a drive to or from Longmont (tomorrow night will be my first night all week not doing anything derby-related), I got an insight for the story. In the stalled-out draft, the Caroline-type character has just said a thing to the Louise-type character, and her voice sounded very calm and clear despite the situation. In my head, the Louise-type character makes an observation about her sister's voice, how it reminded her of other times her sister had whispered audacious ideas in her ear and led her into trouble. That's it. That's all. Just a small observation that added a small amount to what little I knew about their history.

I spent far too much time turning that over and over in my head. "OK, but so what? What does that mean? How am I going to use that?"

Today I said, "All right already," and took that tiny insight and added it to the draft. And that's when the draft changed direction and raced headlong toward its brand new goal.

I keep rediscovering this: Stories cannot be completed inside my head. They will not erupt from my skull fully formed and with gray eyes flashing. No, sadly, there comes a point where they simply hit a brick wall in there. And yet, magically, once I give in and just write down what I've got so far, that physical act of writing it down (and also the visual act of reading it) sparks the next idea that I'd been straining for in vain thus far. It's like a small plant that's gottne root-bound in its seedling cup; it needs to be transplanted into the wider world. Only once I put it on the page does it finally bloom.

Also, here's another writerly observation: Drop one name from a classic novel, and it's a literary allusion. Drop two names, and you risk your story looking like fan-fiction. This is not ideal if you're trying to sell the piece to a professional market.

Anyway. Here's hoping tomorrow's rewrite project goes as well as today's did.

derby gets into everything
Tue 2014-02-11 21:53:30 (single post)

The week is not off to a great start, writing-wise. I came down with yet another cold this weekend, which peaked Monday morning. Since Monday evening I've been in non-stop go-mode about non-writer things.

As I still intend to submit stories for two deadlines at the end of this week, I predict a flurry of frantic revision activity starting... in about eight hours or so.

Would you like to hear about some of the other things I did? Would you? I bet you would. You will note a certain theme throughout much of the list.

Received a much-needed massage. I've been sort of aware for a while now that I haven't been able to truly get comfortable and relaxed at bedtime; the right shoulder is just chronically tense. I call it "mousing crud" because it's undoubtedly due to spending most of my waking non-derby hours at the computer. But when I took a fairly moderate shoulder-check to that area and that shoulder practically yelped, I figured it was time I took things seriously.

And then, last week, a south-Denver writing friend of mine popped up on my Facebook, announcing a moving sale... because she's downsizing and moving house the better to facilitate her massage business. Which she happens to bring up to Boulder one day a week. WELL THEN.

I am here to tell you that Autumn is totally a wizard. With psychic hands. It was a glorious hour, I got a glorious night's sleep, and I woke up in less discomfort than I had in quite some time. Also, it was fantastic catching up on things--I hadn't seen her since the writing retreat she hosted in 2012.

Anyway, if you would like to treat your muscles to a similarly glorious healing treatment, this is her website and this is where she is on Mondays.

Led a Phase 1 derby practice. Used to be, BCB had a training committee whose members led all the Phase 1 and Phase 2 practices. That became untenable really quickly, especially as that committee's membership decreased. Now, every A and B team member takes a monthly turn leading a Phase 1 or 2 practice instead, and each practice is led by one member from each team.

Which made me really nervous when my turn came around that first time. I mean, what the heck do I know? I can't count the number of times I've felt like the stupidest skater on the track. My skills are improving all the time, but they're still lacking in all sorts of key ways. What if I mess up, and a bunch of skaters get into bad habits and then fail assessments, and it's my fault? What if they just don't like me and think I'm a naggy boring whiny shouty stupid person?

As it turns out, there's nothing like teaching a subject to make you realize you know more than you thought you knew. I found out that when obliged to explain a skill, I got to know that skill and its component movements that much better, which not only allowed me to talk about it more usefully but also to practice it more effectively myself. As for messing up... at one practice per month, there's only so much damage an individual trainer can realistically do. Especially when she's got another trainer to catch her mistakes and offer a different perspective.

(A surprising amount of what I've learned from roller derby can be summed up as, "Relax. You're part of a team. You don't have to do anything alone.")

And all the skaters have been uniformly gracious, patient with my uncertainties, eager to do the drills and improve their skills, and--which will probably never cease to surprise me--they always seem happy I'm there. So by the time practice is over, I'm happy that I was there too.

So that was Monday night.

Learned a new NSO role: Lineup Tracking! Instead of their regular practice, tonight our A team hosted a neighboring league in an unofficial scrimmage. I came to watch, but because there were non-skating official roles needing to be filled, I wound up NSOing.

So... lineup tracking. OK. This involves writing down the numbers of all five skaters who participate in each jam on a single team, every jam, and whether any of them get penalties, and, if so, when they went to the penalty box and when they returned to the track in terms of which pass the other team's jammer was on at the time. This is a lot to keep track of, especially when you switch from tracking your team's lineups in the first period to tracking the other team's lineups in the second period.

And just when you think you've got the hang of it, the team you're tracking performs a star pass. Of course.

I am super grateful to the visiting NSO who did lineup tracking opposite me. She knew what she was doing, and she kept up a steady stream of communication so that anything I missed with my own eyes I was able to catch up on by hearing her point it out. Thanks to her, I didn't make a royal mess of things, and now I'm a lot more confident in my ability to perform the role.

Made conversation hearts for Valentine's Day! Thursday we're hosting a themed scrimmage for V-Day. There will be a bake sale. I had this recipe I wanted to try out. It involved a bunch of grocery shopping. It involved getting powdered sugar in unexpected places. It resulted in 149 heart-shaped candies, which involves all the baking sheets in the house plus a dinner plate to dry them on. Once they're dry, it will involve using my brand new set of food dye felt tip pens--how cool is that? Felt tip pens for writing on food with, eeeeee!--to write fun derby-themed mottos on them. You know: "Hit Me Harder", "Be My O," "Derby Kisses," and, speaking truth to every skater's gear bag eventually, "You Stink." Stuff like that.

I'm guessing that 149 candies is a bit much for Thursday night. Might have to save some for a design-your-own activity at a special someone's birthday gathering this weekend. (Valentine's Day is also John's birthday. He was not involved in the candy making, but he has indicated interest in the eventual candy eating. No, he knows these candies are not vegetarian. Your point?)

OK, so, now I get to sleep. And tomorrow maybe I'll get somewhere on the short stories.

accidental literary conversations
Fri 2014-02-07 23:43:08 (single post)
  • 267 words (if poetry, lines) long

Writing at Fuse again today, which makes it three times this week. I think we've finally succeeded in making it a routine, John and I. Either that, or the prospect of a free beer during "Friday happy hour" is sufficient temptation to overcome all resistance.

I'm liking our Fuse workdays, but I find I like them best when we get there before ten o'clock. When we get there later than ten, then we have breakfast upstairs, there there's the inevitable settling-in period downstairs, and what with one thing and another I don't get to my first "real writing" task until about eleven-thirty. Momentum is lost and never truly regained.

But today John had a 9:30 AM meeting to "go" to, which is to say to be present on the phone for, so we made sure to be there by then. Suddenly the day stretched long and full of possibility, and I was able to do all the things with teeny breaks for Puzzle Pirates in between and still not feel I'd left anything undone by the time beer-o'clock rolled around.

One thing I had time for was a lunch-hour walk to the library, just three blocks away, for some short story research. Here's the thing: I'm beginning to realize that "Other Theories of Relativity" appears to have entered into a three-way conversation with Katherine Paterson's novel Jacob Have I Loved and Ray Bradbury's short story "The Kaleidoscope" on the other. So I've checked them out of the library to refresh my memory because these sorts of conversations should be held deliberately.

The Bradbury connection became obvious rather quickly. I mean, you've got some number of astronauts stranded in space and contemplating their inevitable demise--how do you miss that? Unless you hadn't read the story, of course. I had, and it stuck with me in the same menacing, unpleasant way as "A Sound of Thunder" and (I think) "The Rocket Man." Only I couldn't remember which collection it was in nor its name, so I spent some time in the library flipping to each story's first page and reading the first line.

"The first concussion cut the rocket ship up the side with a giant can opener." Yep. That's the one. And on an unrelated note, a story critique note: A line like that, I'm expecting the next line to start with something about the second concussion. But no, Bradbury left me hanging. I also find the story's ending to be slightly off-pitch and missing its rhythm; the little boy's line should be "cried," not "screamed"; and the mother only needs to say her line once.

Why yes I am critiquing a Ray Bradbury story. There's no chutzpa about it. I critique everything to do with story. I critique movies, and video games, and occasionally friends' conversations. It's a writer thing. (At least, it's this writer's thing.) Deal with it.

The nod to the Paterson novel only became clear to me once I'd got some vague idea of the sisters' relationship. The reflection isn't exact, but it falls along similar lines. The main character is very clearly the Louise of this pair, all her life resenting her sister's successes even as she's proud of them; yearning for a deeper connection and, in scrambling after her sister to try to regain it, constantly stepping into emotional bear-traps.

I'm really not looking forward to rereading Jacob Have I Loved. I remember it as being a beautiful, haunting novel, but I also remember how angry it made me. Every injustice visited upon Louise, every callousness committed by Caroline, every circumstance that made utter futility out of Louise's attempts to be her own person--argh. And there's no use being angry on behalf of a fictional character! There is nothing constructive to do with that anger! So I go through my days grumpy and cranky and I take it out on people and then I realize why and I feel stupid!

I think the only book that has come close to having that effect on me since has been Jane Eyre. I was not pleasant to be around while I was reading Jane Eyre.

For now, I might not so much reread Jacob Have I Loved as simply open it to random pages and see if I get an "a-ha!" out of it. I may save actually rereading that book for when John goes out of town in May. Then there'll be no danger of the book making me inappropriately cranky at him.

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