On Self-Critiques and Louisiana-Style Fried Chicken
Today started rather too early. John had to catch a 10:15 AM flight to Indianapolis (Gen Con!), so we left the house at 7:15 AM. Sometimes the thing I miss most poignantly about Metairie is the 15-minute drive from just about anywhere in town to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. From Boulder to DIA? On a weekday morning in I-270 commuter traffic? Allow an hour and a half, and hope.
But we made it on time -- early, even, despite bumper-to-bumper on the 270 -- and in proof of this you can see happy tweets from my husband in Indy. Which left me with two goals for the morning:
- A writing session involving, at least in part, revising the phone story, and
- An 8-piece box of Popeye's spicy fried chicken.
See, just at I-70 and I-270 and Quebec, there's a TravelCenters of America truck stop with an all-purpose diner, no free internet, and a Popeye's. This is the closest I get to a Popeye's on my way anywhere unless I'm actually in the New Orleans area. And there is nothing like grazing on cold Popeye's chicken out the fridge for days after Mom brings home far too much of it for a weekend lunch.
(Sometimes, I get so angry and exasperated at the whole "They be stealin Dan Cathy's freedom of speech, don't look at the millions of dollars going to Exodus Int'l and groups supporting death penalties for gay people in Uganda, you will know us by our Sparkly Moral Outrage!" that the most intelligent response I can come up with is "Boy I'm glad I'm a born-and-raised Popeye's fan. I yam what I yam, yo.")
What I discovered this morning was, the Popeye's at that TA outlet opens at 9 AM. Like, for breakfast.
Still, I delayed gratification and betook myself to the diner counter for coffee, oatmeal, toast, and a thorough self-critique of "It's For You." And when I say "thorough," I mean it. My MS Word copy of that manuscript is filled with inserted comments from tip to toe. Only once done with this, and a couple of other righteous tasks besides, did I venture to exchange money for hot greasy crispy juicy chicken bits.
But like I said: Thorough. Like, every single sentence of that draft evoked second thoughts and despair. Clunky here! Tighten this there! No wonder this reader was confused here and that reader told me not be so coy there! Erase this! Expand on that! Rearrange this paragraph because it is not in a logical, causal order! Arrrrgh.
Somewhere under the bewildered deer-in-headlights wibble of OMG there is so much that needs fixing here where do I START?! I am sure there is a kernel of subconscious working on the answers to that question. Which leaves my conscious brain free today to work on other worthwhile things, like (say) Examiner blog posts about Puzzle Pirates. (OK, that was sarcasm, but I do need to write that post.) Or like all things roller derby. (ALL THE THINGS.) Then maybe I can dredge out some of the answers tomorrow and make improvements happen.
Meanwhile, I'm wondering why an 8-piece box of Popeye's spicy fried chicken didn't last me past nightfall on the day of purchase.
Hangs head in shame. Woe. Contemplates the drive to the airport Sunday night.
Things That Got Done Last Week
So today was kinda worthless on the writing front. This was mostly because Sunday was roller derby from early morning 'til night, and Monday was a pretty awesomely productive but exhausting volunteering-at-the-farm morning, so Tuesday was "I get to sleep in and be worthless guilt-free for once" day.
(You'd think that leaving the farm at lunch and napping in the afternoon would count towards the sleep-in-and-be-worthless-guilt-free requirement. Except the nap in the afternoon is never long enough nor uninterrupted. And it's never guilt-free. I can't entirely forget that the guys who work on the farm as their actual jobs not only start two hours earlier than I do in the mornings, they also don't get the afternoons off. So I'm a lazy wimp who if I really wanted to be helpful would stay until sundown just like everyone else... I never said the voices in my head were helpful or rational, but they're there and they're loud.)
I think that weekends, rather than always occurring on Saturday and Sunday, should be invoked as needed. I'm declaring Tuesday to have been my honorary Saturday.
Meanwhile, last week I Got Stuff Done.
I did indeed submit the one about the space glue snow apocalypse (now with Brand! New! Title!) to The First Line on deadline day. It required a stupid amount of wrestling with Microsoft Word over formatting styles it insisted on applying to my imported WordPerfect 5.1 DOS document. How did it know to apply "Normal (Web)" to all my paragraphs? I do not know. I mean, yes, I composed the story in HTML code and copied the web output into Word, I'll admit to that, but then I saved as WP51, opened it in WP51, and resaved it in WP51. WP51 format doesn't save Word or RTF formatting styles. To my knowledge, WordPerfect doesn't even know about formatting styles until you get into the WYSIWYG versions for Windows and Mac. Version 5.1 is a DOS program. Plus, look -- if you hit F11 to "Reveal Codes," you can see there's absolutely nothing but the usual hard line break plus tab at every new paragraph. Look! This file is clean! So when I then freshly boot up Word to open this WP51 document, how can Word still detect the former presence of HMTL paragraph tags? How? HOW?! THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO WORK!!!
Yeah, I'm a little bitter about this. Also about the way I couldn't change the style of the biography paragraph at the end without changing the style of the entire manuscript. WTF, Word?
Thereafter followed a lot of cursing and brute-forcing and frustration, but eventually everything looked acceptable and I sent the dang thing off. Immediately enough to possibly be an auto-reply, I got an email confirming receipt of my submission. So I guess that was a success.
I also finally got my butt in gear and submitted "First Breath" to a reprint anthology on almost the last day of their reading period. Go me. And frankly I'll be shocked if they accept it. I'm not anywhere near certain that it's a good fit for the anthology, or, if it is a good fit, whether it's good enough.
But I keep reminding myself of two things. First, this is a story that was already published at professional rates. Clearly it's "good enough" for some value of the term. Secondly, even if I'm not certain it's a good fit, I'm not certain that it isn't, which puts the dilemma squarely in the category of Don't Reject Yourself; There Are Editors To Do That For You.
So I sent it.
Next on my plate is "It's For You," a.k.a. the one about the phone that isn't there. My plan is to get that revised over the next few days and submitted over the weekend. Because the next few days are not about sleeping in and being worthless. They are about Getting Stuff Done. DO NOT SCOFF AT MY OPTIMISM BECAUSE IT IS INVINCIBLE.
Stop poking it with pointy sticks! Do not test the invincibility!
NO, REALLY. INVINCIBLE.
Blasting Through an Early Morning Draft
- 1,854 wds. long
Up and writing earlier than I intended. Birds start to tweet around 4:45 or so, and then it's no use trying to sleep. I tried anyway, shuffling and rewriting the mental index cards for the new story, until the sentences assembled themselves into WRITE ME DOWN fashion and I got up and went to the computer.
Thinking I was just jotting down notes, I actually blasted through an entire draft composed as minimal HTML in EditPlus. That's another weird thing about the way I work; sometimes I get unstuck when I change writing medium. The phone story shook loose when I went from yWriter to WordPerfect 5.1. "First Breath" came tumbling out when I unearthed my typewriter. This morning, the new story got a real first draft when I took the text editor I use for making grocery lists, writing blog posts, and editing PHP/MySQL, and I pretended I wasn't actually writing a draft.
It worked, I think, for two reasons. For one, I can see more of the text at a time composing single-spaced in a text editor than I can double-spaced in the little blue WP51 window. For another, the stripped-down text-editor environment made it easy to write simply. No long flashbacks about the protagonist's railroad-flattened nickel or philosophical maunderings about mingling guilt with fascination with a sense of power. Just simple sentences describing a select few key details adding up to the story I was trying to tell. And no more bogging-down.
As far as I know, I'm OK so long as I submit this thing while it's still August 1 wherever the editors of The First Line reside, or maybe as long as my email is time-stapmed August 1. So I think what I'm going to do this afternoon is take this draft for revisions to the place I've set the story: the Madison Street Diner, on Madison Street just south of Colfax. OK, well, the real Madison Street isn't an all-night diner, it's only open from 4 PM until 10 tonight, but why not, right? Then I'll come up with a real title (I hope), submit the story, and drive back to Boulder in time to meet friends for take-out food and a game of Dread.
Until then, though, I'm going to try to get some sleep. At least for a few hours.
Assembling Fiction and Other Stories (Also, Loons)
First off: A new review of Blood and Other Cravings has hit the internet this week. Reviewer Deirdre Murphy at Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys made me grin like a loon three paragraphs into the review. (Do loons, in fact, grin? They're birds. They have beaks. How do you grin with a beak?) LIKE A LOON, I SAID! DOWN WITH LOGIC! UP WITH GRINNING!
(There are many loons at this website. They are damn well grinning.)
Secondly: New story. Not the phone story. The other new story, the one I intend to submit to The First Line tomorrow. The due date is tomorrow, so I have to submit it tomorrow.
Is it done yet? Is even a single draft of it done yet? Well... no. Not unless you count the freewriting babble draft I did, using the appropriate first line as a prompt, at the laundromat back in mid-June.
But I have been assembling it. In my head.
So one of those beginning writer rules -- that is, the rules you're told to follow when you begin to write, which you continue to follow until you discover what your own personal rules are -- is "Thinking About Writing Isn't Writing." But staring at the word processor screen, moving a block of text from one place in the partial draft to another, editing the segue sentence yet again, then staring at the screen some more... that isn't writing either.
So I took a walk. Walks always help.
Walking the three miles home from downtown Boulder, I reexamined the pieces of scenes -- scenelets, if you will -- that make up this story. The story follows a structure that's sort of like this:
- Right now
- Teaser flashback
- Continue from right now
- More from the flashback
- Either back to present time, or else the rest of the flashback, I'm not sure
- Lather, rinse, repeat
- Finish up story in present time
You can probably figure out where I keep getting bogged down. And when I get bogged down in the structure, I start to wallow in details that don't really belong in the story. So the pacing gets bogged down too.
So during my walk I imagined writing each scenelet onto index cards. Not all of the text; just the first couple sentences and the last, in order to give myself an idea of where the segues are. This story is going to be all about the segues. Like, "This bit ends with the first mention of the umbrella. So the next bit begins with a flashback to the outerspace salesmen giving him the umbrella."
Yes, I said outerspace salesmen. Also, the umbrella is pink with silver letters that can only be read from very high up, and the silver letters say "KICK ME." The snow isn't really snow. It's outerspace gluey tar stuff that causes the end of the world as we know it. WHAT IS MY BRAIN.
(I suspect The First Line does not get a heck of a lot of science fantasy apocalyptic humor. But they do welcome all genres. Who knows? Maybe everyone is writing stories about space glue snow apocalypses.)
So now I'm home, and my feet hurt. In addition to new skating blisters from Sunday, I have sandal blisters. Blisters on top of blisters. Ow. (Next time I think "Oh, I'll only be walking a few blocks. I'll be busing home. Sandals are fine," it will trigger an autohypnotic safety mechanism that will not allow me out the house until I've wised up and put my running shoes on.) But I also have a story written on index cards in my head. The structure now makes sense. And in mulling over the structure on my walk home, I discovered that the protagonist is an entirely different character than I'd thought. The things I now know about him are the key to getting both structure and pacing deboggified. Hooray for deboggification!
And tomorrow morning early, I shall wake up and transfer the story from mental index cards to WP51 file to paper. And there shall be a proofreading and a "final" revision. And lo, it shall be good.
Or at least it shall be submitted.
Then I'll be free to revise the phone story.
It's About Writing This Time
As promised, this post is about writing. Actually Writing Blog: Does What It Says On The Tin. And I want you to appreciate this, because I'm on my way back from a fantastic roller derby event that I want to blog about So! Very! Much! But I will defer that pleasure for now, because I said my next post would be about writing. And so it shall be.
But it's not such a sacrifice as all that, because a mere three weeks or so before this I was at a fantastic writing event which I kept meaning to blog about. So now I get to do that.
Back in June, several of us from the Codex online writing group got together and had a writing retreat here in the Denver area. For me, this was a hugely needed thing. Like I've been saying, roller derby has been eating my life all up, bones and all. Stealing a week out of its hungry jaws and feeding those seven days to the poor starved writing beast was a matter of self-defense. It was a great big shove on the pendulum to encourage an eventual swing toward equilibrium.
Can I sorta-but-not-really interrupt myself here (of course you can, Niki; it's your blog) to mention that I now have proof positive that one can be a novelist and skate roller derby all in the same life? It's true! Exhibit A: Pamela Ribon, author of Going in Circles. Premise as I understand it, not having read it yet, is that a recently divorced woman joins a roller derby league to find and reinvent herself. I need to read it. Point is, Ribon is writing from life here. In second "Big Idea" guest post at John Scalzi's Whatever concerning her more recent novel You Take It From Here, she says she received the phone call that kicked off the new novel while she was sitting on the bleachers healing up from a derby injury.
I find Ribon's example immensely reassuring. It means my ongoing attempt to balance derby and writing isn't doomed to failure.
Anyway. Interruption over. Returning now to the writing retreat: A week in a house in remote Centennial. Surrounded by writers. Who are writing.
It wasn't just writing. All work and no play etc. There was also going out to eat (where we mostly talked about writing) and playing games (Dixit and Arkham Horror, both in their own ways appropriate for spec fic writers). But mostly it was writing, in the house or out at coffee shops. And critiquing each other's writing. And enjoying the very great privilege that was an afternoon's chat with local literary agent Sara Megibow. Mega awesome.
(Sorry about that.)
(Well, no, apparently I'm not, as I don't seem to be going back and erasing it.)
(I pun. Deal with it.)
The concrete good that I got out of this week of almost nothing but writing was to finally finish a draft of the current short story in progress. This required, as it turned out, not only the writing retreat environment but also finally getting WordPerfect 5.1 up and running on my computer again for the first time since Dell's customer service techs needlessly reinstalled Windows 7 on this machine. (I told them it was a hardware issue. They didn't believe me. They have a Process. But I told y'all this tale already.) Once I had the story up in WP51, it stopped feeling like a solid wall. I could think my way into the crevices and cracks where editing could take place. It was like magic. I swear, should WP51 ever get taken away from me for good and all, there'll be nothing for it but to customize my replacement word processor with a yellow system font on a blue background.
Anyway, the story is called "It's For You". It involves a phone that rings at odd hours from a mystery location, such that the protagonist is helpless to answer it; and a next-door neighbor with a more assertive outlook on life. Everyone at the retreat who critiqued it proclaimed it "surreal" and I suppose they're right. Anyway, this is now my main project: another rewrite followed by submitting it somewhere before the month is out.
This goal is complicated somewhat by a recent tendency for any random freewriting exercise to turn into a brand new story draft, complete with beginning, middle, and end. Which is... good? I think? One of the effects I was hoping the retreat would have on me? Probably? In any case, I now have enough new stories to keep me busy for the rest of the summer. (As though I didn't have enough older stories waiting for me to please revise and submit them, too.)
This ideas business. It's like, feast or famine all the time. But I guess that's what happens when you shove the pendulum writingward. I guess the real goal now is to take another stab at that "writing like it's my day job" thing. Because it is. Right? Right. Writer by day, Fleur de Beast on eight wheels by night. Then perhaps instead of feast or famine it'll be three well-balanced meals a day. With a modest roller derby dessert.
But I've only just gotten off a train in Denver and unpacked my suitcase in Boulder and done my Wednesday AINC reading shift. Now I gotta go view the video footage from our last home bout tonight with the rest of the Daisy Nukes. Then it's serious fun quality time with John, who misses me. And then there's the rest of the weekend, which involves scrimmage Thursday night, a mix-up bout on Friday, and the rematch home bout against the Shrap Nellies on Saturday.
I guess normality and sober dailiness will have to wait for next week.
Belated Notes From the Roller Derby Track
It is no secret that I've fallen somewhat shy of the Daily Blogging goal. I probably only ever seem to meet that goal during National Novel Writing Month, when my writing-dailiness is under scrutiny (real or imagined) and so I need blogging-dailiness to stand witness to writing-dailiness. The past few months have not been November; thus, very little dailiness.
And the thing about roller derby is, it moves fast. So if I'm not blogging at least a couple times a week, there's stuff you're not hearing about. Sorry about that. To make amends, here's a big old long State Of The Derby post.
This will probably go more smoothly if I define a few terms.
"WFTDA" - Women's Flat Track Derby Association. The organization behind the modern-day roller derby revival, making derby into an honest-to-goodness sport. They define the rules, the minimum skills needed for a skater to bout, the national tournament rankings, and more. Also they've just spawned WFTDA.tv, where they live-stream and archive bouts in hi-def. If you want to see what modern roller derby looks like, I can't recommend a better URL.
"BCB" - Boulder County Bombers, the league I skate with. They practice in Longmont. They are always taking recruits. No experience necessary! Will train from zero! Recruiting referees, too -- perfect if you want to be on wheels but not get knocked down all the time! (At least, not on purpose!) Also recruiting Non-Skating Officials -- if you can't skate, you can still track penalties, time penalties, keep score, and perform other vital tasks! Get involved! (Here ends the recruitment spiel.)
"Phase 1," "Phase 2" - Specific to BCB. Denotes levels of practice and training. Barring any special circumstances such as league transfers and the like, skaters join BCB at the Phase 1 level. This is where you learn basic skating skills: skate maintenance, speed-skater stance (get low! bend those knees!), cross-overs, three kinds of stops, and five kinds of falls. You build up strength, stability, speed, and agility. At the end of each month, Phase 1 skaters who have met all their dues and attendance requirements have the opportunity to test up to Phase 2. That's where you learn important derby skills like positional blocking, skating "in the pack," hitting, and taking hits. At the end of each month, Phase 2 skaters who have met all their dues and attendance requirements may undergo WFTDA minimum skills assessments. Once you pass that test, you get to scrimmage on Thursday nights and eventually get drafted onto a home team and participate in bouts (games). This is also when you earn your skate name and submit it for registration with twoevils.org.
Here ends the glossary. On with the show:
Way, way back in April, I made my second attempt at passing the WFTDA minimum skills assessment. Did I blog about my first attempt? That first attempt was at the end of March, and it was complicated by a recent hamstring sprain. Still not sure how that happened. I fell down during a rare Phase 2 scrimmage in early March and couldn't seem to get back up without pain. The next morning, the knee was so swollen I could barely hobble around the house. I was on skates again in a week, but it seemed like every time I took a good fall I risked exacerbating the injury -- not to the original severity, but certainly bad enough to end my practice for the night. This wasn't the primary reason I didn't pass assessments in March. No, that had more to do with failing to get 25 laps in 5 minutes (but so close! 5:03! If I just hadn't've fallen...) and displaying insufficient stability overall. Still, the sprain didn't help.
End of April, I passed WFTDA assessments. It felt like a near thing, especially considering I took a few falls that made my injured knee really angry. Thankfully the majority of those were during the final drill, the one I like to call "derby hazing" -- the one where each testee takes a turn at being the trainers' target, and must weave forward and backward through the pack while taking (and not avoiding) hip-checks and full-body hits from the trainers. I managed somehow to keep getting up after every fall, rejoining the pack just in time to get hit again, until the trainers signaled that they were done with me. Then I pretty much crawled into the infield and sat there working on my knee for the rest of the drill. Despite that, and despite some wobbly times during the agility tests, and despite all the many little things that made me sure I'd failed again, they passed me. (My 25 laps, this time, took 4:45.)
Then, the following week, I finally took my knee to a sports orthopedist, who referred me to a month of physical therapy. (The physical therapist hadn't treated a derby skater before. He asked a lot of questions about the sport.) Between that and a second-hand good-quality knee brace purchased from a league mate, my knee's well on its way to healing without my having to take time off skates.
As noted above, passing WFTDA assessments meant I'd earned my skate name and number: Fleur de Beast, #504. "It's like a fleur-de-lis," I tell people, "only with more teeth." (You won't see it at TwoEvils.org yet. Newly submitted names generally don't show up for a year or so. There's only so quickly two gals can keep up with all those incoming submissions.) The number, of course, is the area code for my home town of New Orleans, where the fleur-de-lis holds a lot of meaning. The logo, displayed above, was me being A) surprisingly clever with image editing and B) very naughty. I admit it: I got exactly zero permission from the Saints (fleur-de-lis), Southeastern Louisiana University (teeth and tail), nor from... you know what? I can't even find anymore the logo I swiped the claws from. In any case, other than use the resulting creation as an avatar on Facebook and BCB's message board, pretty much all I've done with it is slap it on my helmet. And on this blog post. Should I ever become awesome and super famous like Suzy Hot Rod or Scald Eagle or PsychoBabble, I promise to make a new logo.
So next came May and weekly scrimmaging and team practices. BCB currently has two home teams. The one I got drafted onto is the Daisy Nukes; the other is the Shrap Nellies. Those two teams faced off on May 18 in BCB's very first home bout, which SOLD OUT and sold out QUICK. Seriously, they turned about 100 or more people away that night. Clearly, Boulder County loves having a league of its own. So. No pressure on us first-timers or anything, right?
I was only in a handful of jams, and as a blocker every time, and that was fine. My second jam, I took a fall and couldn't seem to get up from it -- it took me a moment to realize that this wasn't Revenge of the Right Knee but rather my toe-stop detaching from my skate. So I hauled myself off the track to reinstall it. Whereupon the outside ref -- the referee who skates around the outside of the track and keeps an eye out for major or minor penalties -- jumped over me. Seriously: I looked up and there was a skate above my head. Twice. Later, that same ref leaped over a skater on her way to the penalty box. Refs are scary awesome.
My last jam was also the last jam of the bout. Incidentally, I'm slowly accreting verses for a filk called "Save the Last Jam For Me," about promising to come in fresh after the other jammers are all winded and tired so as to pull off that 20-point jam the league needs regain the lead and win the bout. I am not, however, that jammer. Still, as a newbie blocker, I managed to pry myself out of my reaction-only rut and actually initiate some hits against some of my nemeses on the other team.
I've been chalking up slow but steady improvement since. I'm still pathetically easy to knock down, but slightly less so than a month ago. I'm still not as effective as I'd like to be at getting through the pack, but I've gotten quicker at spotting a chance and going for it. One of my team captains told me I've got potential as a jammer, since I'm small and sturdy. She's tasked me with working on my speed as I approach the pack. I shall do my best. I've started attending Sunday morning scrimmages with Detour Derby in addition to my own league's practices in order to get that much more experience. I hope to make more of an impact as a player in our next home bout...
...which will be on Saturday, July 21st. Don't wait that long, though -- we anticipate another sell-out bout. Visit Brown Paper Tickets to buy your tickets in advance.
And that's pretty much the news, other than my upcoming trip to New Orleans to visit family and participate in the Big Easy Rollergirls' annual hosting of the Running of the (Roller) Bulls. About that, more later -- other than travel, I've still got to piece my plans together.
(Next blog post will be actually about writing, I swear.)
A Review and a Change of Pace, with More to Come
Hullo all. So, I owe you a big fat blog post about last week's fantastic writing retreat, a status update on where things are writing-wise since then, and also a general State of the Derby. But since you're not going to get all that tonight, have another review of Blood and Other Cravings.
Incidentally, I should note that although Shia and I pronounce our last names the same, my family spells it right. (You may commence to imagine my nose in the air to deliver this speech in a haughty *sniff*. But also imagine me grinning like an idiot, 'cause those were some very nice things that reviewer had to say.)
A Fitting Memento
So apparently I do have a physical object to remember Null by after all. In cleaning out the cats' supply cabinet this morning, I encountered his old collar, and Uno's. I stored the collars away when the boys became indoor-exclusive cats.
And of course there's the Beanie Baby tarantula, the first toy Null began transporting around the house late at night. Thing is, Null would never chase it or play with it when I was watching, at least not at first. But I began to notice that in the morning the toy was not where it had been left the night before. And when the toy in question is a big furry spider, that can be startling. It was some time before we realized Null's howling was connected to the movement of the toys, and not just your basic "Help I'm lost in the house where is everyone it's darrrrrrk."
So. Here's the spider wearing Null's collar and name-tag.
I'll put up some more pictures soon. Just got finished emailing myself all the Null pictures from my phone. There's also a few on my computer that are just priceless. Not as many as I'd like -- John and I just don't take them all that often. But there were a handful of moments across our cats' lives that just screamed "TAKE-A-PIKCHER, QUICK!" I should share them here, or at least pop them onto Flickr with a link from here.
And then it's back to blogging about writing. And roller derby. Stay tuned.
Love and appreciation to all my friends, near and far, who have been so kind to John and me these past few days. You keep our world turning.
One Minus Zero Is
It has been a point of amusement in our household for the last fifteen years that we're such geeks, we have binary cats. Uno and Null: one and zero. Uno came first, a preternaturally intelligent brown tabby given to us pre-named in the summer of 1996. When the orange kitten adopted us the next year by means of doggedly climbing up my back whenever I knelt anywhere within range, there was only one possible name for him.
It has been a further point of amusement that Null immediately began living down to his name. He was, it must be said, not very bright. Bright-eyed, yes, curious and responsive and talkative and demanding, but no great shakes in the brains department. Almost no sense of cause and effect, for instance. An un-catlike absence of all sense of dignity. He hadn't the first clue what to do with the mouse that popped out of our radiator that one evening. His hunting instincts, such as they were, were exclusively expressed through various small stuffed animals (most notoriously a Beanie Baby tarantula) which he would carry on multiple trips around the house, howling meditatively as he went.
But he was so sweet. He was our puppy-dog kitten; he'd roll over for belly rubs and he'd lick your face if you let him. He liked to sleep between my ankles all night long, or at least until I finally, reluctantly, dislodged him by rolling over and giving my poor back a break. He had the biggest eyes you ever saw. There was a while when he'd purr at the mere sight of food or loved ones, as though in gratitude that John or I or Uno or, well, food still in fact existed.
Null passed away early Sunday afternoon. His kidneys started to go on him last fall, as cats' kidneys often do. We'd done a faithful job of maintaining him for as long as he'd let us, but this past week he simply fell apart. His lips were suddenly covered in ulcers. He stopped eating. A few days later he stopped drinking.
Saturday night John and I slept with him between us. This time he didn't even try to pull himself over for a cuddle. Sunday morning, he was neither sleeping nor really conscious. All he could do was lie there, flattened out like a deflated balloon on the sofa pillows, only breathing because that's what bodies do absent instructions to the contrary. We picked him up and found that, like a newborn baby, he was incapable of supporting his own head. Around 1:45 PM, he coughed a little. Then he wasn't breathing anymore.
We gave him our last hugs. Then we drove him to the emergency vet, who confirmed that he was really, truly gone, gave us their sincere condolences, and charged us $71 for "communal cremation." That's when the pet family declines to keep the ashes. We also declined to have a clay paw print made to remember him by. I don't really regret that -- we have too many sentimental objects gathering dust about the house already. Still, now I wish I'd brushed him down one last time with the shedding brush before we gave up his body to the veterinary crematorium so that I'd have a handful of his fur to spun into yarn to... I don't know, braid into a ring? Hang from the ceiling? Make into yet another sentimental object to gather dust, I guess. I guess it's just as well I didn't.
Walking back to the car, I couldn't help feeling -- and I know this is irrational -- that we'd abandoned him. Pawned him off onto someone else. Given up, absolved ourselves of responsibility. It wasn't that I felt guilty for having given his body to someone else to dispose of. It was as though he were still alive and I'd abandoned him at the vet. Like I said, totally irrational.
And then there's the usual guilt that accompanies the death of a family member who's been sick in a high-maintenance way. Guilt for feeling relieved. Again, I know I shouldn't feel guilty; I know it's no indication that we did anything wrong. But Null had been requiring extra-special care for the better part of three years now. The paralysis incident in October 2009 left him with weak, stumbly back legs and no control of his bathroom functions. We had to express his bladder several times a day and clean up after him a lot. He was on an anti-seizure medication, so we had to clip pills into eighths and make sure an eighth went down his throat twice a day. When his blood tests began to show evidence of overworked kidneys, we started him on subcutaneous fluids three times a week and the vet visits increased in frequency. In the last month, his already wonky back half let him down entirely, and he often decided it wasn't worth dragging himself to the food or water bowls.
With all the attention he'd required, especially toward the end, it's no wonder John and I both breathed a sigh of relief when he was gone. It makes no real sense to feel guilty about that, but I did feel guilty. Worse, I felt responsible -- I'd known before he died that once he did I'd no longer have to be Super Cat Mom, and now I suspected myself of having been looking forward to his death.
This is all perfectly natural. I know better. But my feelings don't seem to know better at all.
The other weird thing is the habit-forming nature of stress and hyperresponsibility. I've blogged about that before in the context of big scary writing projects with fast approaching deadlines. The day after submitting the manuscript, I'd wake up dreading all the work still ahead of me, only to remember that the work was now behind me. I'd be unable to relax all day, sure that there was something I was desperately supposed to be doing. Just so with Null's absence: I'm constantly realizing it's been hours since he was last expressed and I'd better hop to it before he leaks all over the bed and I should make sure he's lying on an absorbent pad and is today the day he gets fluids and it's probably time I brought him to the water bowl or presented him with a little wet food on my finger or encouraged him to excercise his back legs before they totally atrophy or--
And then I realize, Not anymore, and I start breathing again.
At which point, of course, the guilt starts in once more, because my response to realizing that is thank the Gods.
Today we're both doing better, John and I. We're background-sad instead of foreground heartbroken, if that makes any sense. And though I'm still feeling the guilt, it's receded a bit so that I can enjoying the simplicity of our much-scaled-back daily routine. I had forgotten what it was like to not be giving a cat at-home end-of-life care. It's kind of nice. And now we have room to pay some overdue attention to Uno, who has been feeling terribly confused and neglected of late. We're giving him a lot of attention now.
But I miss Null terribly. When I stop to think about it, it hits me like a ton of bricks. Such was his illness that I can't remember when he last purred. I wish I'd known it would be the last time. I'd have appreciated it more.
Friday night, he was in terrible pain and he didn't want to be conscious, but he squirmed across the bed anyway so he could go to sleep with his head on my ankle. If he'd still been capable of purring, I know he would have.
Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretchedness (5/5)!
- 897 wds. long
Is it still Saturday? Whew. Made it. Here ya go: a story. Sort of. Sort of a story.
See, here's the thing. It's not complete. It's sort of an excerpt of a longer work that doesn't exist yet, and I don't really know anything about the longer work. So it's not so much a story as a scene, the scene that popped into my head when I began writing on a prompt about Human Versus Machine. It begins like this:
My alarm clock didn't wake me up that morning, but the smell of bacon did. Sadly, bacon is not a perfect substitute for an alarm clock. I was fifteen minutes late and losing time by the second. I bounded out of bed, threw on my grease-stained work pants and my bright red corporate polo, and hurried into the kitchen in hopes of snagging a few slices on my way out the door.
It didn't occur to me that this was an unusually early hour for Meff to be up and moving. It didn't occur to me that anything was unusual about Meff that morning. Unusually annoying, yes, as you'll see, but that's it. Yes, I was distracted, yes I could have paid more attention -- but you have to understand, we're talking about Meff here.
Meff was already at the table, six slices of bacon and a heap of white rice on his plate. "Help yourself," he said, his mouth full. "More rice in the pot there."
I noted the remaining four slices on their lard-absorbing paper towel. "I'll pass on the rice," I said. "Bread's more portable."
My roommate made an urgent "Mmmf!" noise, swallowed his current mouthful rapidly, and said, "Ix-nay on the ed-bray, bro. The toaster's gone evil on us."
You can read the rest of the scene here.
I think the rest of the story is from Mephisto's point of view. Or maybe it would be a series of scenes none of which are from Mephisto's point of view. Just a lot of unrelated witnesses to the moving trainwreck that is the life and adventures of Meff.
Anyway. I hope you've enjoyed this week. I have. Next week I really have got to make a sizable dent in the novel rewrite. Also I have a brand new short story draft I'm working on, which usually happens when I'm procrastinating on short story rewrites. I hope to get something completed and in the mail by the end of next week. (But then I hope that every week.)