“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live.... I'd type a little faster.”
Isaac Asimov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

The Muse Distracts Me with Goblins in Omaha
Tue 2013-06-11 17:16:14 (single post)
  • 0 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,481 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

Yes, I'm easily distractible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing + Derby = Bad-ass
Fri 2013-05-31 22:05:26 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

I spent pretty much the entire working day finishing up revisions on a short story, which I then submitted electronically to a fantastic pro market just in time to not be late for roller derby practice.

I feel like I don't get to say that very often. I'd like to say it more often going forward. Although probably without risking being late. It would be nice to have less last-minute stress going forward, too. But, hey! Today I was a writer and a derby skater. It CAN be done! And I am doing it! Woot!

I win at today. And the best part is, tonight I got home from practice and said to myself, "Hey! I don't have a scary huge deadline hanging over me anymore! I done finished! I can go play Puzzle Pirates 'til my eyes fall out!"

That's the short version of today. Here's the long one:

Back in 2006 I went to Borderlands Bootcamp, and I brought this story of mine to be lovingly savaged by admirable writers and editors as well as my fellow students.

It was a manuscript critique workshop arranged into four break-out sessions each headed by two teachers and focusing on about eight different students' manuscripts. All students were expect to read and critique every single other manuscript because we weren't told in advance whose break-out group we'd be in, so people who didn't tell you about your story in person told you about it in email. That's a whole heck of a lot of critique. The sheer amount of it was enough to distract a body from the usual challenge of triangulating between different opinions; and there were a lot of different opinions too.

On the one hand, a fellow student emailed me a month before the bootcamp to basically say "OMG this is the best thing I've read in the whole bunch." On the other, one of the teachers in a break-out session started off by saying, "If I got this in the slush pile, I wouldn't buy it" (he is in fact an editor and he reads slush) and continued in a similar vein, hitting such points of interest as "It starts off way too slow. Cut the whole first section," and "Get rid of the aliens, you don't need the aliens, this is a perfectly OK horror story without the aliens," and "The sex scene isn't believable," and also "Here you make it sound like the main character is talking to a banana. 'Hello, banana!'" I think he may possibly have been worried, afterward, about how thoroughly he'd shredded it; when he ran into me at World Horror the next year or so, and he asked me "Are you still writing?" he seemed genuinely relieved that the answer was "Yes."

By far, however, the most interesting comment came in what I think was my last break-out session, from a well-published horror author whose name I should probably not drop here without permission, because when someone gives you explicit permission to drop his name in another context, you respect that, yo. But what he said amounted to this: "This is a really interesting story with a lot of potential. It needs a lot of work, of course... [followed by a thorough and detailed critique] ... but I think after you've revised it--and really revise it, now, don't skimp on the revisions!--you should send it to Ellen Datlow. I think this would be right up her alley." Like, for her next open anthology call, you mean? "No, I mean, just send it to her. You can tell her I said so."

So I did what a lot of insecure writers do who don't deal well with the pressure of This could be IT! I made several abortive attempts to begin revising it, and then I sat on it for years.

Sam, Mac, if y'all are reading this right now, you can proceed to yell at me. But know this: A thoroughly revised version of it has been submitted, as of today, the last day of the open reading period, to Fearful Symmetries. It took me seven years, but I got there at last, yo. (Also, there are still aliens in it. Sorry, Sam. But they're more like Lovecraft aliens now, OK? Like, "Colour Out of Space." And they are the reason for everything.)

I did not mention the above-mentioned author's name in the cover letter. It was an open call, so I didn't figure I needed to drop names to get it read in this particular circumstance. I suspect that "Hey, you published something of mine before! Here's something else" would be a more useful thing to say. Besides, I feel like there's a statute of limitations on permission to name-drop.

But if I get the opportunity (i.e. if she buys it), I'd love to be all "Hey, funny story about this story..."

(It'll probably be the medium-length version of the story.)

It is very shiny and has nothing at all to do with anything important that happened today and that is OK.
I Distract Myself With a New Pen
Mon 2013-04-29 23:27:16 (single post)

My new fountain pen arrived today. I said to myself the other day, "I just had a birthday. I can totally spoil myself." So I visited Sheaffer's website, because of all the fountain pens I have tried at any price, it's been the Sheaffers that are consistently a joy to write with. Smooth action, no missed strokes, good constant ink delivery. And the price ranges from "That's very nice for under a hundred bucks" all the way down to "Eight dollars? For a vintage Sheaffer? HERE IS CASH NOW GIMME."

I ended up ordering the Sheaffer Agio. I picked the black barrel with the gold-plated nib in fine point. It comes with a screw-fill piston converter, just like I like, along with two disposable cartridges I will probably forget to use because they are disposable and also in boring colors. Likewise, the "Luxury Gift Box" is lovely indeed but will probably spend its days forgotten in a drawer; I carry my fountain pens around in my Big Huge Everything I Could Possibly Need It Is My Mobile Office bookbag.

And lo, it arrived today, and it writes as smoothly as expected, and I have filled it not with boring blue but with Midnight Blue ink that I got last year at Papier Plume in the French Quarter. It is shiny. Shiny is good. Shiny keeps my mind off other things.

(Like the fact that a friend of mine broke her ankle at derby practice tonight. She's no newbie to wheels and she wasn't doing anything weird, just one moment she was up and skating and the next she was down and screaming, and it just happened and that means it could happen to anybody. No matter what you do. You can work hard to eliminate a lot of the reasons for injury, you can build up your ankle strength and get out of the habit of dragging your toe stop for balance, and all that means is when it finally happens to you it won't be because of insufficient ankle strength or bad habits. "Freak accident" is always lurking backstage waiting to pounce and there's nothing anyone can do about that.

(If I ever managed to wrap my brain around that and really think about it, I might never put skates on my feet again. But when I put skates on there is nothing in my head except how right skating feels, and that holds true even during the very first exercise we all do right after watching our friend get wheeled away into an ambulance. Seriously, I did not think about it again until we were packing up and leaving the building--and then I just about melted during the drive home. I called John up: "Can you be home when I get there? I need hugs. A lot of hugs." Because of knowing it could as easily have been me and it still could be me, it could happen Thursday at scrimmage, it could happen. Because of how helpless I felt seeing a friend in that much pain and not being able to make the pain go away. And because I felt guilty over freaking out and crying and demanding hugs and comfort, I mean, I'm not the one with the actual injury, this isn't about me, it's selfish and melodramatic of me to freak out when I'm not the one in the hospital tonight. And because oh my Gods what if that happens when I'm the only one around who can take charge what if I go to pieces instead of doing anything useful what then what then what then?! And also because--how could I just stop thinking about it? How could I just go on to the next drill as though nothing had happened? How could the world just keep turning, the clock keep ticking towards 8:30, the practice go on as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened?

(But that's what you do. And that's what our injured friend would want us to do. Keep on skating. For her. Because she can't now, and someone's gotta. And Thursday, somehow, that miracle will occur again, as it does with breathtaking regularity: Despite knowing it could happen to any one of us, we'll all put our skates on and get out on the track and play roller derby.)

So my pen arrived today, and it was perfect timing, because shiny and distracting is exactly what I need right now.

Videos of cute animals being cute would also be lovely right now.

See that black rubber collar on the L-shaped tool? That's the O-ring in question. It may actually be a smidge too large; I'll find out for sure when I finally attempt to extract a bearing from a skate with it.
I Distract You With Roller Derby
Fri 2013-04-26 22:27:36 (single post)

Today was much, much better than yesterday. For one thing, it started earlier. It still started with a headache, but apparently the thing to do about that is get up and make myself a strong cup of tea. Whose idea was it to have caffeine withdrawal headaches begin before a body's even awake? I'm not sure that's entirely fair.

Unfortunately, today was et up with chores. Including an epic trip to McGuckin Hardware for just about everything I've been putting off buying. Gardening things, derby things, kitchen things, plumbing things. McGuckin has all of the things. Also people who can tell you where all of the things are in terms of aisle number and or street name (McGuckin has streets, it's like a miniature Boulder) and shelf height.

Me: "So, this is my skate tool. And this bit here that comes out, this is the specific tool for popping bearings out of skate wheels. And this is the O-ring that's coming to shreds."

Helpful Dude in Green Apron: [opens a drawer with many many O-rings] "Looks like it's either going to be this one, or that one."

Me: "Can I try them out?" [attempts to install the larger of the two O-rings on the bearing tool] "Perfect. I'll take two."

It's that kind of a store. But it took me an hour there to fulfill my list, and then another half hour or so at the grocery store. And then there were other chores... So not so much a writing day as an attempting-to-catch-up-with-housework day. But I did a little writing, at least, just enough to discover that despite a good soak, my pen nib still clogs solid after about a page. Maybe I'll give it an overnight soak and see if that helps more.

But speaking of roller derby: Would you like to watch some? Would you like to actually see me, in particular, skate? (Also other people who are a lot better at this than me, incidentally.) This past Sunday, my team, the Boulder County Bombers "Bombshells", along with some of our "Shrap Nellies" skaters, competed in a 20-minute "teaser" scrimmage as kind of an opening act for the headliner bout between Detour Derby and South Side Derby Dames. Both the teaser and the main bout were filmed, and the film was archived at Justin.tv. Oddly, it looks like user DetourDerby uploaded each file twice - once on the day of the bout, and once the next day. I'm guessing the first versions of everything were what streamed live and the next-day postings were maybe a trimmed and tidied up version of that. Here's all the links so you can watch what you like:

Unfortunately, the layout of the Wagon Wheel and the placement of the camera means that although you get a damn fine view of turn 4, turn 1 and 3 are pretty much everyone's backsides and everyone's fronts respectively, and turn 2 is invisible behind one of those big tree-trunk posts in the infield. But I ain't complaining - that there was live filming of the bout, and that the film was archived so you could view it later, is fantastic.

(I'm going to complain a little bit about the announcer, though. Just a little bit. Since he didn't seek out our team before the bout and ask people how they pronounce their skate names, he made some howling boo-boos on introductions. Lacy Vasive is pronounced like "Lace Evasive"; if it sounds like "vaseline" you're doing it wrong. THE SAME WAY YOU DID IT WRONG LAST YEAR, sheesh! And Jaynesrous Jukes isn't as hard as it looks; just think "dangerous" with a "j". Other than that he did a mostly OK job, although he did seem to slip back into last year's rules a few times. Since the new ruleset was implemented at the beginning of this year, there is no first whistle to release the pack and a second whistle to release the jammers. There is no "creating a no-pack situation to release the jammers immediately" anymore. There is only one whistle, and everyone starts skating at once.)

Since you know me, you're probably looking for the bits I skate in. That would be the teaser bout and only the teaser bout -- and 20 minutes is way too short! The jam I had to sit out because the gal playing the same position as me in the previous line-up was sitting in the penalty box? Painful! WE CAME TO PLAY, DAMMIT, AND WE WILL PLAY!

But but but lemme tell you, the main bout? Was hella exciting! It was close. The score lead kept switching between the two teams, and upon beginning the final jam, the two teams were one point apart. That's somewhat rare in derby. There was screaming and cheering and really awesome skaters being awesome and lots of hugs afterwards. So if you watch any of it, you should watch it all. That's basically what I'm saying here.

This weekend will be an all-derby all-day thing, since BCB's "All Stars" are competing in the Colorado Cup. You can watch that too -- it'll be streamed live here. Or if you're local you can head down to the 1st Bank Center, buy your tickets, and come watch it all unfold right in front of you. That, in my opinion, is the best way to watch roller derby. Here are the "more info" pages from the 1st Bank Center's calendar:

I'll be there Saturday the 27th, hanging out at the Boulder County Bombers merchandise table wearing my black BCB jersey and my (metaphorical) recruiting committee hat. I'll be handing out fliers for our upcoming recruitment events and answering all questions asked about being a Boulder County Bomber. If you're going to be there, you should come say hi.

There's Always Tomorrow...
Thu 2013-04-25 23:24:33 (single post)

So today was not the productive, happy, high-energy day I was hoping for. It started with a headache and it dragged along in slow motion. Today did not represent any sort of significant step in the great plans I have for new-habit-forming and rut-reconstruction. But I promised I would blog, and blog I am indeed doing. So there's that.

Here's the deal: I am tired of getting nothing done. On any given weekday I've been as likely to stay in bed with a book until the early afternoon as I am to get up and write. More likely, in fact. It's pathetic. And while a full-time work-at-home writer can set her own hours, I find I never really get up to useful speed if I stay in bed past noon. I'm a morning person. (A morning person who can't seem to get out of bed. I know, it's weird.) Besides, I've got derby practice three days a week. I can't entirely set my own hours.

So recently I've been collecting strategies to combat that tendency. The best one, the main one on which all strategies depend, is to pattern my schedule after John's such that I wake up with him and then go in to work with him. Well, not with him at his office (though I suspect his coworkers would actually get a kick out of me coming in and taking over an unused desk once in a while), but with him in downtown Boulder. There are at least four co-working spaces set up in that area, and at least two more out on our side of town. I don't have a full membership anywhere, but most of them have a daily rate as well. For $15 or $20, depending, you can work there from 9 AM to 6 PM. And I've been doing that once or twice a week. I've worked a few days out of Scrib, I've tried out Co-Motion and BDA, and I've just about fallen in love with Fuse at The Riverside.

As it happens, the day I checked out Fuse for the first time was also the day John's company moved house. They were in the Colorado Building at 14th and Walnut; now they're in One Boulder Plaza. So after John and I walk to his office together, I continue on for one block south along Broadway. It's very convenient.

(And then, if it's Tuesday, we meet up after work and have dinner, then we both go back down to The Riverside because we're taking swing dance lessons in the event center space there.)

Thing about Fuse is, it's very much still under construction. But it is going to be awesome. It's already got rentable desks and an open seating work area and a creekside conference room. The cafe counter just got finished and revealed this week. Now they're working on the kitchen so that the cafe can actually serve food. And I can't wait for the library and wine bar downstairs to be completed. I'm really excited about what they're going to be. And I am this close to just plunging in and becoming a member and renting a desk. I want to support them. And there's value in getting in on the ground floor, so to speak. I sort of want to be part of the process of Fuse's creation.

But because they're very much a work in progress, they're still trying to build, or perhaps accrete, a community. It's like the physical version of the dilemma of starting a new online bulletin board: you need people to join in order to have a community, but in order to get people to join you need to have a vibrant community. So what they really need is people to be there, working or co-creating or conversing, filling the space with bustle and productivity and excitement, so that prospective members checking out the place see that instead of silent, empty rooms and construction dust.

So I committed to coming in twice a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. That's twice a week that I'm absolutely getting out of bed, going downtown, sitting down at a desk, and working. So far it's been really productive. I have set myself a schedule -- fiction before lunch, "day job writing" after lunch -- and if I haven't adhered to it perfectly, well, I'm at least approximating it.

And I'm hoping that the way I work at Fuse will become a new habit that will play out on my at-home days, too. It didn't happen today. I partially blame the headache for that, and also having to put my skates back together and do stuff like that. But mostly it was just me falling back in that same old rut. It's OK, though. It doesn't mean my attempts to change things are worthless and doomed. There's always tomorrow. Tomorrow could be a productive day. And, at worst, Tuesday will be here again soon.

About Time We Cleaned Up In Here
Wed 2013-04-24 21:04:38 (single post)

How appropriate. It's Spring, and I'm cleaning things.

Pictured here like an exploded diagram of skate anatomy are my freshly cleaned wheels and bearings. It really was about time. Seriously. The wheels were honest-to-Gods squeaking. There was hair wound up in the axles, and the wheels themselves looked like the view through a funnel into Hell. Also there was this time about a week ago I found myself obliged to skate a block and a half in the rain. Not good from a rust perspective. (Nobody's fault but mine.)

There are eight wheels. Each wheel turns on two bearings (each of which are actually six ball bearings inside a donut-shaped case). Each bearing has two plastic shields. Also there are the wheels themselves and the nuts that keep them on their axles. That's a lot of cleaning. The metal things want a non-water-based solvent and the plastic things want soap and water. Me, I want a lot of hand lotion now, and to get the pleasant but strong smell of citrus solvent out of my nose.

And then there was laundry. All my derby clothes are now drying on the line. Thank goodness this week's snow storm ended yesterday and the daytime temperatures have risen into the short-sleeve ranges.

You know what else is getting cleaned today? My fountain pen nib. The good one. The Sheaffer fine-tip that writes perfectly, except that lately it won't "suck up" ink from its supply. It will just stop writing, at which point I have to fiddle with the screw-fill converter to force a little ink up the line. I think it's because there's a small clog somewhere. So the nib got a really good soaking this evening and we'll see how it's doing in the morning.

You know what else is getting cleaned up today, this week, this Spring? Me. Me and my habits and my auto-pilot routines. I'm gonna drive a fleet of construction equipment into the mental/emotional/psychological ruts in my life and perform some deconstructive surgery on 'em.

That I'm blogging tonight, here, is a direct result.

More tomorrow. Promise.

I knit this punchline myself.
Husband-Wife Comedy Act, Part 357
Tue 2013-02-19 17:42:34 (single post)

John and I were both a little high-energy and punchy last night. It was going on 2 AM and neither of us felt able to sleep, though granted neither of us were making much of an effort. The old Steven Wright gag about "go to the end of Tired, then hang a left" came up. We decided that we were heading to the end of Tired on an imaginary boat. "I don't feel like rowing," said John. "That's OK," said I, "we're drifting on the current toward Tired anyway."

We took turns telling each other about our boat, like kids playing at Let's Pretend or maybe two grown-up veteran role-playing gamers doing what we like to do best. It had a sail, but I sure as hell wasn't going to operate it because I didn't know how. John said, "It's easy, you just pull." I said, "You can pull. Me, I'll work the rudder."

"We ought to set up a trade route," John said. I babbled something about gem-running in Puzzle Pirates, but that wasn't what he meant. "No, like, when we get there, we'll trade them something for sleep. What will we trade them?"

"Oh, OK. Me, I'll trade in my stress and fidgetiness. For two big barrels of sleep."

"I have some socks," John said.

"Wait. What?"

"Socks. In case they don't want your stress and whatnot. Maybe we can trade them my socks. Can't hurt to try."

I thought about this. "Like, all your single socks we've lost the mates to?"


"Are we trading with a one-legged person?"

"Yes." John was definite on this point. "We'll trade my socks to Peg-leg Pete, the Pirate of Sleep."

To which I made the only possible reply. "'Nice sock, matey. Be this an arrrrrrrgyle?'"

When we both finally stopped giggling after that, sleep came suspiciously easy. I think Peg-leg Pete slipped us something in our rum.

Now, see, HERE'S your problem
My $50 Lesson in Electrical Engineering
Fri 2013-02-01 22:26:30 (single post)

Was totally worth it, and cheap at twice the price. But the electricians from Precision didn't want to overcharge me for what was really a stupidly simple operation--"I mean, you've done pretty much everything already, mounted the unit, all that"--plus they told me about a special Fridays! Only! coupon on the website, so... $50 all told.

And when I say "stupidly simple," I don't mean that I was stupid not to figure it out. When it comes to electricity, you gotta respect it, 'cause it ain't going to respect you. Better safe than electrocuted, right? But it turns out they just repurposed a bit of copper wire from the old range hood, used a purple termination cap to connect it safely to the aluminum grounding wire, and then ran the other end of the copper wire to the grounding screw. Piece of cake. And now I know.

Also, now I know one of the light bulbs I picked up yesterday was a dud, so I have that errand to run tomorrow. Oh well. The McGuckins return policy is generous and trusting, and I have a new coupon to use there too.

So now the fan is working (modulo that one light). The circuit breaker is back in the ON position. The lights are back on in the bedroom and kitchen, and random extension cords are no longer cluttering the area. The old range hood is no longer under the table, but in the trash (minus the rest of its copper wire and mysterious hex flanges and grounding tab, which are now in jars in our hardware closet) and the new range hood's box is also no longer under the table, being now in the recycling drop-off.

The stove is back in its alcove under the range hood. For now. Come Tuesday, that sucker is gone and a lovely new model will have taken its place. All four of whose burners will function. Also, how did we go 12 years without a freakin' light in the freakin' oven? Seriously? How old was this stove, that an oven light was not a standard feature? We will have an oven light, come Tuesday. In an oven with a pretty TARDIS-blue interior. And convection action.

Oh my.

Why Writing Is Better Than DIY Home Improvements
Thu 2013-01-31 12:38:44 (single post)

We are in the midst of the Saga of the Range Hood Replacement. No, there are no Vikings in it, but I do think the term "Saga" is justified, because Loki has had his hand in every single step of the project.

Stanza 1: We decide that as long as we're replacing the stove, we might as well replace the dying overhead fan and light. We pick up a new range hood at the Home Depot on our way out from ordering the LG 30" convection oven and glass-top range. We drive home fantasizing about a fan motor that doesn't sound sick-unto-death and an attractive, easy-to-clean stainless steel finish with all the hard-to-clean angles and moving parts tactfully hidden away.

Stanza 1: I contemplate uninstalling the previous range hood. This is initially worrying until I find an instructional video online that makes it all look simple. It even shows me how to make a "screw template" by laying paper along the top of the range hood and poking holes through the places where the screws go. What it doesn't explain about is the wiring. That's is the worrying bit. Well, nothing ventured, right? I turn on the fan and go flip circuit breakers until I find the one that makes the fan shut up. Circuit deactivated! It is noon on Wednesday the 30th.

Stanza 2: The idea of "temporarily" taking the range hood down to see what the wiring connection to the wall looks like was a bad one; the keyhole openings are tiny and I can't get all four mounting screws to poke through at once. And my arms are getting tired. And there's no one home to help. And the door's locked so I can't yell for a neighbor. And my phone's in another room. And my arms are going to fall off. Finally I take the risk of letting the whole thing dangle from its wiring for about 30 seconds while I grab a stool.

Stanza 3: While the range hood sits on top of an upturned stool on top of the stove, I discover the wire-shielding panel. It is on the LEFT, which is an important plot point. The screws that hold it in are like the mounting screws that used to hold the range hood up, in that they are neither flat-headed nor Phillips-headed but rather this smooth-headed hex flange thing that probably requires an arcane ratchet forged by dwarves and blessed by the Aesir and ritually cleansed under a full moon conjunct Jupiter. I use the pliers on a Leatherman, which nips my fingers a few times but does the job. The shield comes down, exposing the wires: two white wires paired under a plastic terminator, two black wires ditto, and a thick-gauge wire with no sheathing that's looped under a grounding screw. I detach everything like the fearless bad-ass that I am. Then I wrestle the range hood off the mounting screws and stow that sucker under the table.

Please notice, because this is a plot point too: The wires exit the wall via a ragged hole on the LEFT.

Interlude A: The Leatherman was a bad idea. A crescent wrench works better at brute-force removal of mysterious hex flanges.

Stanza 4: I make a screw template, just like the video said. I tape it up to the cabinet bottom. I unpack the 1/2" mounting screws that came with the new range hood. I go get the electric drill. WHERE IS THE ELECTRIC DRILL?! As it turns out, it's still with the friend we loaned it out to several months ago. Not their fault! We just keep forgetting to reclaim it. Happily, John's over there right now and will bring the drill home just as soon as he's done over there.

Interlude B: It is now dark. You know what else is on the same circuit with the range hood? All the kitchen and dining area lights. Also all the nearby AC outlets. (Our electric drill is not cordless.) Hooray for extension cords and upright lamps.

Stanza 5: The mounting screws that came with the range hood are too short. The manufacturer imagined, not unreasonably, that the range hood would lie flush against the cabinet bottom. The manufacturer did not count upon whoever remodeled our kitchen extending the cabinet border panel facade thing a quarter inch below the cabinet bottom. Sinking the mounting screws deep enough for sturdy support makes it impossible to mount the range hood, because that quarter inch of wood panel is in the way. John and I confirm this by attempting to mount the range hood. One screw head can't get below the metal lip at all, and one of the remaining ones is wobbly. (But at least they're all pretty much in the right place. Yay screw template!) I briefly consider sanding down or hacking off that quarter inch. Then I sigh and resign myself to a McGuckins run in the morning.

Interlude C: You know what else is on the same circuit with the range hood? The entire bedroom. WHYYYYYY.

Stanza 6: It is now the morning of Thursday, January 31. Home from McGuckins, armed with 3/4" mounting screws, I pull out the stove for the (3rd? 4th?) time and position extension cord, upright lamp, and electric drill in convenient places. I set the screws. I mount the range hood on them, which is not difficult because A) standing under is easier than reaching over the stove, B) the new range hood is lighter than the old, and C) the much larger keyhole openings make pinpointing all four screws at once much easier. I can just look through the holes the way I used to look through the hole in a vinyl record to sight it on the turntable spindle. (I discover the rear screws are too far back after all, despite the screw template. I reposition them and remount the range hood.) And then I take the range hood down again in order to thread the 120 volt AC wiring through the hole in the back.

The hole in the back of the new range hood is on the RIGHT. The wire block, also, is in the RIGHT half of the range hood. Clearly the previous installers did not foresee this eventuality, because they cut the wires to a length perfect for attaching to corresponding wires attached to the LEFT of a range hood fan.

The grounding wire is too short.

The grounding wire is too short.

Stanza 7: Having hit my DIY wall and bounced off hard enough to bruise myself, I call up an electrician. The electrician will come tomorrow afternoon (Friday, February 1) to extend the grounding wire and make sure nothing else will go wrong with the range hood installation. Originally, the earliest appointment the receptionist could get me was Thursday, February 7; I allowed myself to be scheduled for that time slot, and made assurances that should I find another electrician who could visit sooner, I'd call back to cancel. Possibly the thought of losing a potential customer to a competitor with a less-busy schedule was enough to inspire someone to pull a magic parcel of time out of their back pocket, because they called me back in under 10 minutes with the offer of Friday the 1st.

Which means only 24 more hours without kitchen and dining room lights, bedroom lights, or bedroom electricity. Or convenient alarm clock, cell phone chargers, lights to read in bed by, plugged-in laptop to play or read on until I'm ready to drop off into sleep. Not to mention 24 more hours wallowing in the mess of an ongoing home improvement project under, on top of, and around the kitchen table. I suppose if I had to wait a whole week, I'd figure out how to safely cap the live wires so I could turn the circuit back on, and I'd do a more complete job of tidying up the project-in-progress. So it wouldn't be horrible. And, really, "horrible" is an exaggeration. It's just bloody damn inconvenient, is all.

But I was so proud of myself for taking on the range hood installation project! I felt so competent, so capable! I really, really hate not being able to finish something I started.

And that's one way in which writing is better than DIY home improvements. With writing, I can always finish what I start. Guaranteed. Without fear of electrocuting the household.

Meanwhile, I have mopped up the truly disgusting patch of floor that was hiding under the stove. Because that, at least, I could do something about. When the Home Depot techs get here to deliver our new stove and haul away the old on Tuesday, I will not, at least, be embarrassed by under-stove filthiness.

Indiebound.org would like me to say, 'Shop Indie Books!'
On Dailiness: Morning Pages and the Contents Thereof
Tue 2013-01-29 23:35:17 (single post)

Life has to return to normal sometime. So this is me, trying to establish a normal, work-a-day writing pattern. I have historically not been good at this. But it's a new year, one that's forced some life-altering changes on us right from the get-go. As long as I'm trying to get my feet back under me, I might as well try to put them down somewhere sturdy.

(Everything's changing around here. With Uno away into the great beyond, all our cat-having habits have no place and all the legacies left by our cats--which is to say stains, hair collections, and broken bits--can now be addressed in a permanent and non-futile fashion. Also, a second burner on the stove has given up the ghost. Suddenly we're shopping for large kitchen appliances, considering new flooring, picking out new bed sheets, and replacing the leaky shower head and the wobbly up-lamps and the toaster oven that hasn't had a working toast function in years.)

So, writing habits. Daily ones. Here's one I'm returning to, one that I both love and hate--or, rather, appreciate and dread: "Morning pages," a la Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. Morning pages, very simply, are three long-hand pages of writing committed first thing in the morning. Cameron recommends doing them before anything else, especially before reading or writing anything else.

Ideally, I'd open up my eyes, roll over, grab my notebook, and do it. In practice, best case scenario finds me heading to the kitchen first for a fresh tea bag and water for the electric kettle. I also fiddle with my fountain pens a bit. That's what fountain pens are for: all the colors in J. Herbin's catalog, and also fiddling.

Less good cases involve oversleeping, racing through my morning, and eventually slowing down long enough to do my pages. If I ever get there. I'll be trying harder to get there this year.

So I appreciate and dread the practice for roughly the same reason: It forces me to confront the contents of my brain. It's a lot like appreciating and dreading hard exercise, like the off-skates workout that Give 'em Elle put us through at derby practice Sunday. I know it's good for me, but I know it's going to hurt.

Not many people really know this, but--I don't much like what's in my brain.

Still, what I don't confront, I avoid; and what I avoid, I tend to obsess over in the avoiding. Weird, right? Perverse as all get-out. (I'm telling you, my brain is out to get me.) But that's the way it works, so it's probably best to hit the nasty things head on so that they don't follow me throughout the day and get between me and the world. Or between me and the page.

That's the theory, anyway. I'm not 100% convinced it works. I mean, does journaling about nasty brain contents lay the ghosts, or does it just create new associations for them to haunt? Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes the other. I can never tell in advance which it's going to be.

Argh. Enough blog therapy. Moving on.

A significant few paragraphs of my morning pages tend to focus on my Plans for the Day. They are optimistic, my Plans. They aspire. And they impose a structure so that I don't lose my day in a wishy-washy haze of "Better write. Eek! Writing is big and scary and I can't do it!" Planning it out makes it something that I can, presumably, do. Unfortunately, my thoughts soon turn to how my Plans for Yesterday fell through (guilt! despair! shame!) and how I'd better adhere to my Plans for Today to prove myself (pressure! stress! more despair! more avoidance!).

This would be another of those love/hate aspects of the morning pages ritual. I'm kind of a mess.

Sometimes I spend a page or more working on a current story problem. This character needs motivation! What does these two characters mean to each other? Let's make up some character history.

Sometimes I spend a few lines noticing a handwriting habit I could fix. Then I write very slowly for a short while, repeating the letter combination I've been tripping over. I would like to have nice handwriting.

Sometimes I write down my dreams.

Sometimes I get distracted by the world outside the window. The deer across the street Saturday morning, just grazing their way around the senior living center's tiny dog park, were a particularly eye-catching distraction.

Sometimes I get distracted by sudden thoughts, which I mustn't forget. I try to just make a note of them rather than interrupt the writing to act on them. But I have to make a note elsewhere, because I generally don't want to reread my morning pages until quite some time has passed.

The thing about writing down the contents of my brain, it's like writing down a story's rough draft or thinking out loud. (I talk to myself a lot. It's embarrassing when someone catches me at it.) I don't really know what's in my head until my physical senses, eyes and ears and touch, can experience it. I think I know--wouldn't you think you'd know what's in your own head?--but I don't, not really, not until I am forced to experience my thoughts as words in real time.

It's a good thing, this forced specificity. It turns big vague scary obligations into manageable, discrete tasks. It turns story outline dilemmas into concrete plot goals. It captures dreams before they slip away. And even the nasty stuff that only gets louder for writing it down, even though it hurts, at least by writing it down I come to know exactly what it is that's causing the hurting, which is a necessary step on the road to doing something about it.

So that's morning pages. I'm doing them again.

Tomorrow morning, too.

No pressure.