“When I write stories I am like someone who is in her own country, walking along streets that she has known since she was a child, between walls and trees that are hers.”
Natalie Goldberg

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

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?"

"Uh-huh."

"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.

Soundtrack: Absurdly loud purring.
Uno LeBoeuf-Little, 1996-2013
Tue 2013-01-22 16:04:56 (single post)

I just finished rereading The Last Unicorn. It's my favorite comfort read when I'm grieving because I always cry at the end. The tears that come at the conclusion of a good book hurt less than those of personal grief. They don't leave me with puffy eyes, clogged sinuses, and a headache. They're safe tears, cried over something beautiful but very far away, something that isn't actually making a wreckage out of some very precious part of my own life.

But at the same time, the bit where I cry is sort of too much on the nose. It's the part where the titular character says,

"My people are in the world again. No sorrow will live in me as long as that joy--save one, and I thank you for that, too."

Exactly. You sorrow over the loss of someone dear to you, but that sorrow is only as deep as your joy in them was great. So in the end, even grief is something to be grateful for.

Which is to say: Thank you, Uno, for sixteen and a half wonderful, infuriating, stressful, lovely years. I'll be grieving your loss for a very long time, as befits how inseparable a part of my life you were.

This was my first time actively ending a pet's life. Null took that decision out of our hands, spiraling down from tolerable to miserable to dying so quickly that we didn't quite realize he wasn't going to recover until it was over. The dog I grew up with, Padoo, took the decision out of everyone's hands by simply vanishing one day when she was old and tired. The parakeet I had most of my school years died very suddenly too, with no sign of sickness until the night she simply fell off her perch.

But for Uno, we had to schedule his death. Sunday night, we knew. He tried so hard to eat, but he couldn't--every two or three laps sent him off into a fit of fighting with his mouth. We examined his mouth and saw the new tumors wrecking his gums and teeth and tongue, and we realized how quickly they'd appeared and grown, and we knew there was no more good for him to be gotten out of life. John said to me later, "I cried so much that night because I knew he'd crossed that line."

It's funny. Monday morning, after scheduling the home euthanasia appointment, I hung up the phone and I felt like a monster. I felt like I'd just ordered Uno's execution. All Monday afternoon, waiting for the vet to arrive, I had doubts. Uno was so comfortable lying between us on the couch--purring, bumping John's foot with his head, snaking a paw out for my dangling computer cord as I wrapped it up--that I couldn't help but think, He's happy. Can't we let him go on being happy? But Monday evening, after it was all over, the doubts were gone.

It was partially because I took a closer look at him while he was sedated and after he was dead. For the first time, I could clearly see the horrifying number and size of growths in his mouth. And his left eye, which had watered pretty constantly throughout his sickness, had this strange mottled look to it that suggested the cancer was attacking him there, too. It was time. Things would only have gotten rapidly worse for him. Things were already far too bad to ask a cat to live through.

But it was also because now that the fight was over, now that I wasn't trying so hard to extend his future, I could look back and see how bad it really had been for him day-to-day. If anything, I felt guilty for having let it go on so long.

But there's nothing to be done about that, either. And that last afternoon was all anyone could have hoped for. John and I were together with Uno, and Uno was content. We cried a lot, but Uno was happy and comfortable. And then Dr. Mones and Jenny came over and performed that last rite in a more gentle and compassionate manner than I could have believed possible. They never hurried us, despite whatever their schedules held. They explained everything to us about what they would do and how Uno would react so that there would be no surprises. They waited for our go-ahead for each successive step in the process. Dr. Mones even asked our permission before shaving a small area of the inside of Uno's back leg, though I don't know how he'd have gotten the needle in the vein if I'd said no. And when it was all over--meaning not only that Uno was gone, but that John and I had taken all the time we felt we needed to pet him and kiss him and say goodbye--they bundled him up in blankets as though he were a kitten sleeping so quietly it would be a shame to wake him.

(Dr. Mones gave me the tuft of fur from that mini-shaving he performed, asking me if I'd like it as a keepsake. It's in a little bag now with some of Uno's sheddings I'd attempted to spin yesterday afternoon into thread. Neither was any good for spinning, alas, despite the shaved fur being the softer stuff from Uno's underside. The bag looks like it's got fur from two different cats, the back sheddings being brown-gray and the underside shavings being a very light reddish brown. That bag, and Uno's old collar, are on the altar now, near Null's collar and Beanie Baby tarantula.)

I remember the awful experience of rushing my parakeet to an emergency vet in Metairie--if only I could remember, I'd tell you which one it was, and which doctor, because I'd strongly recommend never putting yourself or your pets in his/their hands. Mom and I waited in the lobby for hours, living on miserly scraps of news, and finally receiving for our troubles only a small bundle of taped-up newspaper, my beloved White Wing dead and wrapped up like so much garbage. And the vet addressed my mother as though I weren't even in the room: "I'm sorry, Mrs. LeBoeuf." Meanwhile, I stood there, sobbing, probably no older than 14, holding my sad burden and receiving no comfort from anyone in the room. No one at that awful clinic treated me as though I were present and grieving, or her as though she meant anything to anyone.

This was to that like day to night, like summer to winter. I don't ever recommend the experience of having your pet put to sleep, but if you're in or near Boulder and that sad duty falls to you, Alpine Hospital for Animals will treat you right. Just about every member of their staff, doctor or tech or receptionist, has been the model of compassion and empathy. They helped us care for both Uno and Null through their final sicknesses, and I could not ask for more kindness or support from anyone.

Our friends have been nothing but supportive, as well. John kept to his Monday night plans of running a game of Becoming Heroes, saying he needed "a distraction, and for the good guys to win." I came along so I wouldn't be in the house all alone, and it was a comfort to play a bit of Puzzle Pirates in the presence of friends having loud, animated fun. I also drove off and met a couple other friends for dinner. They gave me hugs and sympathy and listening ears and permission to grieve--never underestimate the importance of that permission--and we all ate far too much food and it was glorious.

Today I've been gentle with myself, not pressuring myself to clean up or work or anything. I reread The Last Unicorn, like I said, drifting in and out of dreams in which I watched Uno sit under the wooden stool in the living room and groom himself. And, as when Null died, I'm feeling that huge weight lifted off my shoulders: no more making sure I'm up/home/still awake in time to give Uno his next subcutaneous injection, no more persuading him to eat, no more helplessness to do anything other than witness his pain and decided when to stop prolonging it. No more cats in the house at all--no furry dependents to care for and clean up after. I've been more tired than I realized, not just with the end-of-life care but simply with the job of having pets at all. I'm sort of reclaiming that energy for myself now.

(After Dr. Mones and Jenny left, I thought, I don't want to ever go through that again. But then I thought, The only way to ensure that I don't is to never have another pet.)

One day we'll take on that job again. The house feels empty without cats. Waking up feels lonely without Uno and Null bounding up onto the bed to remind us that it's breakfast time. But for now, we're not in a hurry. We're taking a break from pets. Besides, there can't possibly be another Uno. He was one of a kind. As John pointed out last night, the world couldn't handle two of him. It would just keel over, and Uno and his doppelganger would be all like, High fives! That was easy. What can I conquer next?

On Not Being God
Mon 2013-01-21 09:26:57 (single post)

Uno had unprecedented difficulty eating his dinner last night. He bled a lot, too, not just bloody drool but thick maroon gobs. This was worse than his "normal" bad days. John and I cleaned him up and took a closer look at his mouth. There's a new tumor in there. It's the size of a robin's egg, distorting the line of his gum just behind the left canine and unmooring one of his remaining molars. And it looks like there's a third significant growth under his tongue, and the lower gum on his right has a scab-like anomaly resembling something I'd noticed on the left side did last week. No wonder he flinches when we try to wipe his mouth.

Damn it. We'd hoped we could at least keep him stable for a few more months. We've left a message with his regular vet, but we think when she calls back the topic of conversation will be the logistics of saying goodbye.

Lately - well, not today. Today, he's just burrowing under the covers and trying to stay unconscious. But in recent days he's taken to wandering the house as though looking for something, then returning to call out to me with that half-whine, half-baa word that makes up the bulk of his vocabulary. (He's never meowed or mewed. I don't think he's built for it. He mutters instead.) I'll look, and he'll stare back into my eyes with direct intent. It's clear he wants something from me. He's asking, pleading, for something. But it's not clear what.

I'm beginning to suspect the request is, "Ma? Can't you make it stop?"

These little creatures, they trust us implicitly to hold up the sky for them. And when we inevitably let them down, they don't blame us. They don't get angry. I don't think they even realize they've been let down. They just endure, waiting for us to eventually get around to fixing it. They know we can fix anything.

It's up to us humans to know that we've utterly failed them. It's not like there's anything we could have done, but that doesn't stop me feeling like a failure. I also know it's stupid to feel this way. So on top of feeling like a failure, I feel stupid.

But for Uno, it's very simple. Physical pain is simple. So is the comfort he gets from being near us. The emotional anguish of our unrealistic expectations of ourselves, that's a burden for us, not for him.

At least he's spared something.

Roller derby AND writing. It can happen. It WILL happen.
How the New Year Rolls In
Fri 2013-01-18 22:02:21 (single post)

But hey, before we get to this writing thing, there's this other New Year's marker that's worth mentioning, and I mention it now because it's got a lot to do with why I didn't actually end up blogging yesterday:

Roller derby.

The Boulder County Bombers' 2013 season is officially underway.

Unofficially, it got underway last week when the bout-ready skaters submitted themselves to the ordeal known as Hell Week. It involved a 6-hour practice on Sunday the 6th (really, more like a 2-hour practice followed by a 2-hour rules clinic topped off by a 2-hour scrimmage) and 2-hour practices every night for the successive five nights. We were allowed two absences, but that's still a heck of a lot of derby in a single week.

Then we had team try-outs on Sunday the 13th. Also a rules test, because WFTDA upgraded the official rules and we all have to be on top of that. Big news: No more minor penalties. No more keeping track of how many minors a skater has so she can go to the box when she racks up four of 'em. Some minors got downgraded to "no impact," but most got upgraded to majors, and majors get you sent to the penalty box. And seven trips to the box will still get you ejected from the game. So this is important stuff, and not just because of its impact on team strategy.

In any case, try-outs resulted in my getting assigned to our B travel team, the Bombshells. That's the team I played on last year, so I've already got the uniform. Also, the pink lacy thigh-high socks in progress will not be knitted in vain.

So I've got two team practices a week plus scrimmage night. In practice, it's going to look something like this:

Thursday noon: Throw some red beans in the crock-pot. And possibly a ham hock. Make rice.
Thursday 7:30 PM: Scrimmage!
Thursday around 10 PM: Get home, devour two bowls of red beans and rice.
Friday 6:30 PM: Team practice. Followed by more devouring of OMG PROTEIN.
Sunday 6 PM: Team practice, red beans and rice, yadda yadda.
Monday: Dear GODS, my jerseys and my shorts and my tights and all my padding stinks. WASH EVERYTHING.

(The tradition in New Orleans is to cook red beans and rice for Monday dinner because Monday was traditionally wash day. Metairie Park Country Day serves red beans and rice every other Wednesday lunch, and wash day isn't a factor. It looks like my personal tradition is going to be cooking red beans and rice on Thursdays and eating them all weekend long, and then having wash day. This is known as cultural drift.)

It sounds like a lot, but you should see the schedule of the skaters who made it into the A travel team (the All-Stars). And I sure as heck don't envy them who're skating on both the All-Stars and the Bombshells.

Meanwhile, Saturdays are MINE, MINE, MINE. If you ask nicely, I might share them. For a good cause. Negotiable.

Now, because I have been very good tonight (unlike last night) and actually kept my brain in gear after a hard team practice long enough to write this, I am going to reward myself with that bowl of leftover red beans and rice and, I dunno, Puzzle Pirates until my eyeballs fall out. Probably as Teshka on the Cerulean Ocean--she still needs her Seal o' Piracy for January. Come play with meeeeeee!

It's lonely at the top. (Of the sofa.)
Happy Solstice, Crappy New Year
Wed 2013-01-16 22:14:46 (single post)

Or, "Among the Things 2013 Will Bring, One of Them Almost Undoubtedly Will Suck."

Right. So. The turning of the year here at Chez LeBoeuf-Little has had its ups and downs. On the up side, we had a terrific Winter Solstice Eve with a fantastic mix of friends, fun, food, fruitcake, and fire. (This would be one of those rare times when "F-ing it up" is a positive phrase. So long as the fire remains in the grate where it belongs, of course. Which it did.) Also many equally lovely things that don't start with the letter F, like "non-F'ed-up egg-nog" (I will never live down the year I mistook the salt for sugar) and "too much pie" and "Avedan playing Skyrim until she must have got hoarse from shrieking at unexpected draugr" (draugr are always unexpected) and "I actually stayed up all night AND went to Drumming Up The Sun the next morning AND I didn't go alone, either, which was awesome because sleeping until 2 PM in Julie-and-Joe's guest room and then waking up to watch them play Legoland LOTR totally beats the stuffing out of falling asleep in rush hour traffic."

Those are some great up-sides, there. I ain't gonna lie.

The biggest down-side, though, was knowing that this would probably be our last Solstice with Uno, our beloved, first, oldest and last surviving cat.

Uno turned 16 this past summer but remained remarkably healthy to all appearances. But towards the end of November, Uno began eating less and less of his dry cat food. Offering him the wet stuff or even returning to the home-made mix (he'd switched to a prescription food when Null did) didn't seem to help. We suspected chronic nausea. Then, when he evinced pain at our attempts to look in his mouth, we brought him to the vet for what we suspected to be an abscessed tooth. And the vet took one look in his mouth (the one look Uno would allow) and said, "That's not a dental problem. That's a mass."

Mass. As in tumor. As in fucking cancer. Because he was too damn healthy, so something had to get him, right? Gods damn it.

We scheduled the biopsy for the next day, and then we cleared our schedules of everything else for the near future because we couldn't fucking think. I dropped a thousand-dollar freelance gig because there was no way I could bring enough brain to bear on it anymore. John and I canceled our plans to attend the Boulder County Bombers End-Of-Year Ball--that was a real bummer, but, as it turned out, a wise decision; the vet called us with the biopsy results that very night. So either we'd have missed the call or we'd have spent the rest of the Ball crying in our hotel room. Either outcome would have been non-ideal.

The average prognosis is 60 to 120 days, but it could be longer or shorter. We just don't know. For now, we're keeping Uno comfortable and enjoying what time remains. He's on a small army of medications--steroids and pain meds--and he's eating, with a little persuasion and a healthy appetite, two liquid meals a day (and twice a day I bless fellow roller derby skater Coletteral Damage for the blender I took home from her Take Our Stuff Because We're Moving Out Of State And Only Have So Much Room In Our Car party). He's still pretty damn bony from his brief experiment in starvation, but he's using the bathroom regularly so he must be getting enough solids and liquids. And despite his mouth giving him trouble--his tongue's perpetually out, he drools bloody drool, and he sometimes reacts violently to some sensation in there-- he cleans his face after each meal, comfy and casual like anything.

We worry every time he has a bad day that this is it, this is the downward spiral, are we selfish in keeping him alive? Is it time to take that last trip to the vet? But each bad day has been followed by a good day, one in which he sticks his nose pointedly into my food or hops up on the balcony rail to be king of all he surveys. And every day, good day or bad, ends with him purring himself to sleep in our arms, which is totally worth the bloody drool-stains on our shirts in the morning. As long as he seems to be expressing a fervent desire to stick around, we're going to enable it to the best of our ability.

So that's where we're at, right now.

I was going to write about writing, about how with a new year comes a brand new resolution to do it regularly and in quantity. But I've sort of used up my brain for blogging now, so... more tomorrow, I guess? It'll be happier stuff, I promise.

I won that.
Annnnnd That's a Draft
Fri 2012-11-30 23:44:43 (single post)
  • 53,489 words (if poetry, lines) long

It's not so much a revised novel as it is a brand new first draft written from a revised outline. It's got a lot of plot holes, its characters need more development, and there are places when I couldn't figure out how to get from A to B so I just jumped over to B and started writing anyway. But as a novel draft it wanders less than the first one. And, unlike the first one, which kind of dribbled off into December, it's got an honest to goodness ending. It's not the right ending, but it's an ending. It's got a denouement and everything.

Two small excerpts are up on my NaNoWriMo.org profile. For posterity, yo.

About the freelance gig we will talk later. Tonight I do not want to spoil my happy with thoughts of the miles to go before Friday the 7th is allowed to get here. Tonight I'm just happy that, this November - or, for that matter, at all - I wrote an entire novel draft from beginning to end.

Or I'll Put You in My Novel
Sun 2012-11-18 20:55:54 (single post)
  • 26,601 words (if poetry, lines) long

So I just did something rather unpleasant to my female lead. I'm sorry. It isn't even plot-related, not really. It's not that sort of rock. It's just... the world being the world. And me being exasperated with it.

Sabrina is Timothy's ex-girlfriend. She's an aspiring sculptor who is currently paying the bills by waiting tables at a diner. She met Timothy while in an art class at a vocational college in Taos; it's probably got a real-life counterpart, but I haven't done the research on that. Research is for December. But what little I've seen of Taos in person has given me the impression of a very artsy town. So, art. Yay! Also, Sabrina is of Mexican heritage, that being a rather important demographic in the U.S. southwest. In fact, it's rather an important demographic in the U.S. full stop, as a certain presidential candidate learned to his chagrin earlier this month.

(One of the problems with the first draft: Despite much of it being set in New Mexico, every single character was pasty white. This made me about as frowny-faced as realizing I had only one named female character. The second draft has Sabrina in the protagonist tier and her co-workers, Sonora and Rosa and Jazz, in the secondary character tier. It's a start. Rosa runs the diner where they all work.)

With me so far? OK good. Now, back in October, I had reason to drop my husband off at the airport. Having done this, I took myself off to the TravelCenters of America along I-270 and treated myself to brunch. Then I took home a hell of a lot of Popeye's fried chicken for eating over the rest of the week.

This may sound familiar. But what I didn't mention in that blog post was the conversation I overheard while taking revision notes and eating oatmeal.

It's a truck stop. Truckers go in and get fed. And while they sit at the counter and have second helpings of everything they order (at the Country Pride restaurant, every single menu item is all-you-can-eat; the waitress comes to take your plate and says, "You want seconds on that, hon?" whether you're a 250lb dude who just finished his steak and eggs or a 150lb writer gal who just had oatmeal), they talk about things that are relevant to the interest of truckers. Like, this one Denver-area loading dock guy who doesn't know the first thing about securing a load. Like, the recently approved increase on tolls on New York highways and its expected impact on long-haul freight. Everyone talks shop. Like you do.

But the bit that stood out for me was this one guy. I can't tell you what he looked like; guys who talk this way, you don't look at them, you don't want them seeing you listening in, because then they might talk to you. I can tell you kinda what he said, though, because I nearly snorted milk out my nose listening to him.

He was a genuine conspiracy theorist, I'll tell you what. He shared with his counter-mates his recent discovery, via this secret memo that "they" just released, this secret memo between President Obama and the president of Mexico (who will be hereafter referred to as Felipe Calderón because that is his name, a fact of which our conspiracy theorist appeared oddly ignorant for being so well informed on secret memos and the like) which revealed that Obama and Calderón we conspiring to flood the U.S. labor market with immigrants who would then "revert," that was the word he used, "revert" at a later time...

"What the hell are you talking about?" his conversation partners kept saying. "What memo? What do you mean?" In response, he would simply reiterate, which is to say repeat word for word everything he'd already said. He could not seem for the life of him to tell anyone where he read this, for instance, or who "they" were who uncovered this memo. Nor could he explain what he meant by "revert."

I am still befuddled to understand exactly what he thought was going to happen. Obama was going to relax immigration law specifically to allow cheap Mexican labor to flood the unskilled labor market, until at some point Calderón would give the signal and call all the workers to "revert" back to Mexico, leaving the U.S. economy to crumble in their wake? Or did I mishear him, and the word he repeated was actually "revolt," alluding to a future civil war in which good upstanding white workers will be forced at gunpoint to drop English for Spanish and replace their steak and eggs with huevos rancheros y bistec asado? I honestly do not know. This guy would not explain. He would only repeat.

Finally one of the other truckers turned to someone else and loudly revived the discussion about New York toll increases, and I heard no more from the conspiracy theorist for the rest of my stay.

What all this has to do with NaNoWriMo is this: Sabrina is on the road, half-unwillingly, with the Big Bad. She's helping him in some way to track down Timothy, mainly because the Big Bad has convinced her that Timothy needs their help. And so they have both stopped at a 24-hour diner modeled after that Country Pride Restaurant at the TravelCenters of America, only the one in Limon which I have not been to as opposed to the one in Commerce City that I have. And while she was there, I confess I made poor Sabrina, who absolutely did not deserve it, overhear this conversation.

Not that anyone deserves to get slapped in the face by random casual racism, mind. Or casual sexism, for that matter, which I have also run into at the TA. (Do not get me started on the guys ahead of me in line at the Popeye's who were relentlessly demanding that the woman behind the counter "smile, baby, come on! Smile for us!")

Forgive me. Sabrina totally did not deserve it. But it happens. Adding that conversaton to the scene not only helped ground the book in the real world (which has people in it and also racist people), but on top of that it did help to relieve my feelings about having been Racist Conspiracy Nutbar's captive audience. Though I'm sure if it had been Sabrina there rather than pasty white me, her feelings would have been a lot more intense and, frankly, more relevant than mine. And so, in the scene, they were.

The encounter added 600 words and three extra bit-part charecters to the scene, so I guess that's a win? Maybe I can have the Big Bad go back in there and eat them all.

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