“I find having a mortgage to be a great motivator to keep on working.”
Mo Willems

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

everybody gets presents
Wed 2014-04-23 23:10:02 (single post)

I've been saying "I'm 38" pretty much since the turn of the year--not, "I'll be 38 this April," because that sounds like trying to draw attention to when my birthday is and then expecting people to remember it, which I'm not; and not "I'm 38 and three-quarters" because that sounds like something little kids do when they want to sound older than they are and still get credit for being scrupulously accurate, which I'm not; but just, "Meh, I'm 38." Or "I'm about 38." Or even "I'm almost 40," which is kind of like the little-kid-trying-to-sound-older trick, but it's more like what a grown-up with a touch of impostor syndrome and too much baby-face does to try to get taken seriously by the 40-something set.

But today I am actually 38. At 4:15 a.m. Central Standard Time, however that translates to timekeeping in the United States 38 years later, I was exactly 38. Huzzah for completing another lap around the sun!

Since 2007, April 23 has also been celebrated amongst us online writer types as International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day. In honor of this, I humbly link you to several early, early online publications of mine--really early, like, "I'm not sure I actually want to try to get this reprinted" early--whose original homes have gone the way of late-90s websites and remain with us today by the grace of the Wayback Machine (in two cases) and of someone who decided to mirror the entirety of the old Geocities website community (in the third).

"Deadline Performance" (the ink blotter, ed. Chris Donner, 1999)
No, that's the right page. It's after Claudia Carver's piece, "Is It Writing Yet?" Which you should also read.

"Twice Told Conspiracy Theories, or 'Look at the cute little kitty!'" (The Raven Chronicles, July 1997)
Errata: Cats generally only have 18 claws, not twenty. I hadn't lived with one yet, so I'd never had occasion to count their toes. Also, the sentence about dandruff lost a clause and a half but I'm not sure what it originally said. My own file is in WP51 format and I haven't enabled this computer's copy of MS Word to translate it yet, or I'd check.

"A Mirror's Lies, A Moment's Rainbows" (The Raven Chronicles, Spring 1995, print edition)

Tonight being my birthday, John and I went out to celebrate at the Melting Pot in Louisville (that's "Lewis-ville, Colorado" not "Louie-ville, Kentucky"). We had a fantastic bottle of wine and a decadent four-course meal, three courses of which involved dipping things into delicious, delicious molten lava. John's favorite lava is chocolate-flavored. I'm partial to cheese lava, myself, although I think my favorite is filet mignon cooked in that spiced and seasoned lava they call "court bouillon."

While we were enjoying this, a mother and very small son duo gently interrupted our meal, conversation, and game of Ticket To Ride (the card game is compact and can be played almost anywhere) in order to give us a copy of Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters. This is a book that sounds right up my alley. From its back-cover blurb to its choice of front-matter (the paragraph from Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales that ends, "Would you like anything to read?"), it sounds like it might, alongside books such as Jo Walton's Among Others and Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, stand as a novel-length praise song to books and the love of books. I look forward to finding out for sure by reading it. Ravenously. Possibly without sleeping.

So I got a birthday present from a complete stranger. Thus was I reminded that April 23 is also World Book Night in the U.S..

April 23 is truly an auspicious day for a writer to be born on! Obviously. I mean, it worked for Shakespeare...

the stories pile up
Tue 2014-04-22 23:46:02 (single post)
  • 3,400 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today's writing went well. It was a productive day on all counts, so I'm pleased. Nevertheless, today's freewriting session caused me a certain amount of that mild distress that the practice, despite my defense of it, does sometimes cause.

Well, two mild distresses. But the first doesn't count. The first is the same mild distress I get from pretty much doing anything other than jumping right into the long-term project I'm sick of not having finished, Gods, why can't I get it finished, why can't I jump into it now rather than mucking about with Morning Pages and freewriting and brushing my teeth and watering the plants and taking a shower and putting clothes on, time's a-wasting, let's get on with it!

No, that distress doesn't deserve attention. For one thing, it's just another manifestation of the typical background low-level anxiety that attends any task that goes unfinished for any length of time. For another, that gung-ho "times' a wasting, let's get on with it!" urge mysteriously vanishes the moment I get to that point in my day when it's time, indeed, to get on with it.

So I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about this:

Today's freewriting blossomed out of the most recent of Gay Degani's "string of 10" prompts posted at the Flash Fiction Chronicles Facebook page. (Post should be visible even if you don't have a Facebook account to log into.) Do not ask me why, maybe it was the combination of "LEGACY" and "EAR," I don't know, what is my brain, but I found myself noodling up some epic worldbuilding involving an empire whose different dynasties were iconified by specific musical styles which informed the fashions and etiquette and mores of the court and the upper class, and then a sort of love triangle romance/coming of age story in which the three teenagers are involved across class lines, and also the philosophical idea that it's hard to be the person you really are when your society denies you the very words with which to express that, and...

And, oh crud, I appear to have come up with yet another novel. Or three. And when will I have the time to work on it? I still haven't finished rewriting the current short story in progress!

So I marked the document with the "Brainstorming" label and the "To-Do" status. If there ever comes a day when I simply have no idea what to write, I will do a search on the "To-Do" status in the Daily Idea Scrivener project, and I will be swamped in story ideas I've determined I need to revisit later.

Meanwhile, I have my assignment: finish revising "The Impact of Snowflakes" and start submitting that sucker. And while I work on that assignment, faithfully, doggedly, I exercise extreme self-restraint, and I do not go haring off after the latest intriguing story idea that turned up during recent freewriting sessions. Not the one about the musical dynasties, not the one about the Goddess in disguise as a golden carp in the aquarium at the restaurant, not the one about the hotel in the desert whose room 307B is a pivot point between the dimensions that occasionally eats its tenants, none of them.

I know that each one of these story ideas will benefit from the enforced inactivity. When I come back to them, the time they will have spent composting in the back of my head will have enriched their soil with the nutrients they'll need to blossom into the fantastic fully formed stories they want to be.

But in the meantime, it does cause me a mild distress.

when does the work week start again
Mon 2014-04-21 23:08:52 (single post)

It's Monday! That's great. I've been looking forward to Monday. This is the weird but logical outcome of formalizing a weekday writing schedule and then using HabitRPG to incentivize it. Stuff comes up Friday evening that makes me eager to get back to business, but if I want to count it toward my "5 hours of writing on weekdays" daily, I need to do it on an actual weekday. (Another side-effect: Guilt-free weekends!)

Except, it's Monday. That means farm work! I spent the morning prepping and planting 30+ trays of various melon varieties, then hacking with shovels and rakes (and implements of destruction) at a surface that needed leveling.

And it's also this particular Monday, which means leading Phase 1 roller derby practice. We had a great time, too. Everyone's energy and enthusiasm was just through the roof. This group of skaters were intent on ferreting out the secrets of every skill on tonight's agenda, and they were tireless in this pursuit. This meant I had to reverse engineer my own performance in order to come up with answers to pertinent questions. And that meant that I got a lot of practice on plow stops, skating backwards, and improving one's derby stance, just to grab some examples out of a helmet. Which is awesome for my own improvement. My knees are all the best kind of sore right now.

All this together means, in terms of logging Friday's story rejection and resubmitting that same story somewhere else and also working on the ongoing revision of the other story, I'm actually looking forward to Tuesday.

Tuesday's tomorrow! That's great!

deadlifting 25 minutes of words every morning
Fri 2014-04-18 23:49:02 (single post)

Freewriting! With the timer and the prompts and the stuff! Like morning pages, it's one of my daily processes that I sometimes feel the need to defend. Although less so, since the link between freewriting and Actual Finished Publishable Work is a lot more obvious. Still, on days when I have this short story to work on that should have been finished ages ago and no end is anywhere in sight, I sometimes wonder whether it would be more productive to just skip the timed writing and get straight to the grind.

No. It would not. Or, well, maybe it would be more productive, short-term, but I think there's long-term value I'd be missing out on.

Thoughts! I have them. Today they are numbered.

  1. Freewriting is where the stories come from. Story ideas come from everywhere: dreams, prompts, what-ifs, misheard lyrics, misread words, stray thoughts juxtaposed with other stray thoughts. Problem is, they never come complete with story attached. And thinking about it only takes an idea part of the way to its story. The rest of the way has to be traveled on the page.
  2. Freewriting is where stuck becomes unstuck. Whether I'm stuck on turning an idea into a story, or stuck on turning a story draft into a final draft, things often get unstuck if I set a timer and noodle to myself about the bottleneck. The timer is important here. Without it, I'd stop the noodling at the first impression of being out of ideas. But since I have to keep going until the timer dings, I end up pushing myself past "out of ideas" and into the territory known as "Where did that come from? What is my brain? Am I complaining? No."
  3. Freewriting is exercise. Exercise builds endurance. Endurance makes things look possible. I've been rereading Dorothea Brande's 1934 classic Becoming a Writer, which is one of the most compassionate books for writers you can lay your eyeballs upon. It aims not to teach writers the nuts and bolts of the craft, but rather those skills that the writer must assimilate before the nuts and bolts will be of any use to her. One of those skills is the capacity to write for extended periods of time without suffering fatigue of the body1 or the mind. She teaches that skill by basically assigning the student a freewriting session every morning, first thing upon waking, and gradually pushing the time spent in this pursuit until "the actual labor of writing no longer seems arduous or dull."
  4. Freewriting brings home the limitlessness of ideas. My freewriting file is called "Daily Ideas" after the crisis I was facing at the time I started it. I was beginning to feel like I had no other stories in me than the handful I was currently avoiding revising, and those were becoming poisoned by the weight of procrastination and dread I'd invested them with by avoiding them so long. So I began my Daily Ideas file in order to argue myself back into believing that I can come up with endless story ideas. I asked myself for no more than one a day, no matter how brief, stupid, petty or incomplete. It could be two sentences. It could be two pages. But it had to be a new (to me) idea. Adding the 25-minute freewriting component came later... and had the unexpected and sometimes daunting effect of turning those two sentences into a viable rough draft. Oh, no: Another story for me to avoid revising. But set that aside for now. The result was feeling once more rich in raw material, supplied with more story ideas than I could possibly work to completion in my lifetime. And that's OK. It's surplus we're going for here, and daily freewriting achieves it.

So that's my defense of daily freewriting, and why I stole a precious half hour of my day to do it when a story rewrite was begging for completion.

Sadly, the current stuckiness of the rewrite doesn't lend itself well to freewriting. It's not that I don't know what needs to go there; it's that I can't seem to make it not sound stupid. So I keep writing and rewriting and tweaking and erasing and rewriting yet again the end of the scene. Maybe next freewriting session will be a series of rewriting that bit over and over and over again without deleting each attempt. Sounds boring, but something might break through. We'll see.

1"The typewriter has made the author's way more rocky than it was in the old days of quill and pen. However convenient the machine may be, there is no doubt about the muscular strain involved in typewriting; let any author tell you of rising stiff and aching from a long session. Moreover, there is the distraction set up by the little clatter of keys, and there is the strain of seeing the shafts continually dancing against the platen." (back)

he ain't heavy, he just wants new reading material
Thu 2014-04-17 23:13:47 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 2,850 words (if poetry, lines) long

One of the real treats of my visits back home is getting to hang out with my brother. As kids, we were your classic case of sibling rivalry: nothing in common, irritated by each other's very existence, fighting tooth and nail all the time. As adults, we've become friends.

There's a part of me can't quite believe it. Habits die hard, after all, and my childhood relationship with my brother lasted from roughly age 6, the age I was when he was born, to age 18, when I went away to college. I haven't yet firmed up the habit of our adult friendship, since I'm only home two or three times a year for about a week at a time. And I usually see him for about four or five hours during each visit, tops. Most of that occurs during that one evening during each visit that I set aside to linger late with a beer or two and my laptop at the bar where he works. (It doesn't hurt that he catches my tab while I'm there.) So hanging out with him isn't just enjoyable. It's also a reaffirmation that, yes, we hang out. We're friends now.

Now, certain wags--most of them family members or other people who have known us since our tooth-and-nail days--will say that the reason we're friends now is we're no longer living together. Then these wags will laugh a big knowing laugh, winking and nudging, inviting me to admit that if my brother and I were housemates now we'd be at each other's throats within the week. These wags are, to put it bluntly, wrong.

Well. I shouldn't be too quick to state too firmly what would or wouldn't happen. It is given to no one to know what would have happen, as a certain fictitious Lion taught me many years ago. But I can at least state that I know myself better than many of these wags do. A lot better than one might expect. A lot of times, it seems the people who were adults while I was a child didn't actually begin to know me until I grew up. It's not just that adult-me isn't child-me. It's that many adults don't take a child seriously when she says, "This is who I am." They often assume that the child doesn't know shit, being a child and all, so they dismiss the child's claims to self-knowledge. So the adult ends up knowing very well the imaginary version of the child in their head, but often doesn't know the child at all. They express great admiration for the competent adult the child grows into, but they don't see how the seeds of that adult were there all along.

I'm reminded of this every time my mother asks me, "Hey, do you remember that time when you were little and you said...?" And she'll laugh. And I'll remember that time, and I'll bite my tongue and burn inwardly with old indignation, because I do remember that time. I remember exactly what was going on in my head when I said it. I remember how frustrating it was that Mom saw it as entertainment, a cute kid creating a cute anecdote for her to tell, while I was trying to put together a sincere expression of who I was, what I believed, what I needed emotionally. And now Mom's asking me to join with her in finding the memory a cute anecdote, because grown-up me must surely agree with her that child-me was tiresomely precocious but sometimes hella entertaining, right?

Anyway. That my brother and I are friends now has less to do with absence making the heart grow fonder, and more to do with time making grown-ups of us both. We are both more tolerant of other people's differences--heck, if we weren't, my marriage would never work. We're also both more easy to tolerate, having learned better how to make room for others in our worlds. And we've found things in common. We share stories of concerts we've gone to, drinks we've enjoyed, video games we've played, friends we've made and sometimes lost along the way.

And then there's the way siblings sometimes develop a sort of gently conspiratorial relationship as they grow up. They have better perspective now on the family that raised them, and, having gone through that experience as equals, they can compare notes. They start to get into cahoots with each other about it. They help each other understand the past, and they help each other keep an eye on the present as their parents grow older too. At least, so it was with my Mom and her siblings. So it is with me and my brother.

There are ways in which I can talk with Mom and Dad now that I couldn't then, but there are ways my brother and I can talk in which I'll never be able to talk with Mom and Dad. They will never entirely get out of the habit of seeing me as less mature, less wise in the ways of the world, less likely to have insights that are new to them and yet still true. Less likely, should our opinions differ, for them to see my opinions as valid, or me as having a right to them. To some extent, they will always feel responsible for my current outlook on life, and so every place where my worldview differs is a place where they are in conflict: Look how independent she turned out to be! ...and look how I failed to instill my values.

This isn't a conflict my brother's going to have with me. He was never responsible for me.

If anything, I'm the one who's a little guilty, now and again, of perceiving him through a limiting filter. He was five and a half years younger than me. I made a childhood career of dismissing him, underestimating him, feeling superior to him, and avoiding him. Sometimes I slip up and do to him what Mom does to me: "Hey, do you remember when you were, like, four, and you said...? Wasn't that hysterical?"

And so today I'm constantly in awe of the grown-up he turned into. I really shouldn't be. That grown-up was there all along, the same way I was there all along. It's oak trees and acorns, isn't it?

In any case, the things he remembers about child-me constantly surprise me. When the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie came out in 2005, my brother suggested we go together, because he remembered me reading him the books when he was young. When I played him the video of Lindsey Stirling performing the theme from the Legend of Zelda,he said, "I remember that was the first video game you really got into. You were writing down every single room in every single dungeon, every single square, every place where a monster came out--you were obsessed!" I had forgotten all those graph paper charts until then. The deep satisfaction of mapping my way through the first Legend of Zelda game--the first Nintendo game where you could save your progress, that's why the cartridge was gold--came back to me anew.

So anyway, it's Sunday, April the 6th, and I'm hanging out at the bar. We're having one of those long, rambling, segmented conversations that takes place in between and around his customers and friends. And--I forget how we got here--he says, "That reminds me. Why don't I have a copy of the book with your story in it?"

My brother wanted a copy of my first pro sale. Just... sit with that for a moment.

I can't even begin to adequately express how proud that made me feel. I mean, proud like a child bringing home her class project to show her parents. Look, Mom, Dad, look what I did! My brother--my little brother--wanted to look at what I did. Asked to take a look, unprompted.

It was like being the Grinch on Christmas morning. My heart grew three sizes, just like that. And I didn't even know it had room to grow.

Anyway, my brother texted me today to let me know that the copy of Blood and Other Cravings that I mailed him has arrived safely. I told him to be on the lookout for the print copy of Nameless #3 that I ordered for him, too. "Will do," sez he.

Um. Pardon me. I think there's something in my eye.

that writer dude just made my day
Wed 2014-04-16 22:16:15 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

Today was full of sucky things. There was waking up with the same sore throat I went to bed with and realizing that it had invited its friend, the runny nose, over to stay the week. There was that beautiful and completely legal hit to the sternum that I took during roller derby practice that had me asking myself that question no one ever likes to ask themselves, "Is it a bruised bone or is it a broken bone?" (When blocking backwards, always turn your shoulder in toward the incoming hit. I mean, I knew this, but apparently it takes damn near injury to drive the lesson home.)

And then there was that same roller derby practice called off early due to a fire less than a mile away. (Our first clue was all of the power in the building going out, leaving us in pitch dark. Our second was when we opened the garage door to let light in, and we saw the big column of smoke to the south and west of us. Apparently some railroad ties at 1st and Martin were ablaze, and the fire burned through the power lines.)

But today also had a very lovely thing in it. It's a review of NAMELESS #3 on Amazon. Apparently the reviewer thought highly enough of my story to include it with those he singled out for specific praise:

"Lambing Season" is a thriller that stands on its own two legs and is as original as I have read....nothing like that one out there!

Between the head cold and the very sore sternum (and also the waking up early tomorrow to take my sore sternum to someone who can answer the above question), I'm going to bed early tonight. But! As I do so, I'll be hugging that sentence like a teddy bear while I drift off into happy dreams.

women be unreliable narrators yo
Tue 2014-04-15 23:42:11 (single post)
  • 3,400 words (if poetry, lines) long

So here's a thing that's been frustrating me about the story I'm revising. Well, it's not precisely a thing about the story, but more of a thing in society which got thrown into extra-special hyper-embossed relief when I sent this story through several rounds of critique among several groups of writers over several years.

Content notes: Feminism, sexism, consent issues, rape culture.

I will try to keep this brief and not get too ranty. It's a rant-worthy topic, but I just don't want to spend too much time or energy on it tonight.

Also, I want to stress that I'm not pointing the finger of accusation at any particular person who has critiqued this story. You are all wonderful--yes, you, even you, especially you--and none of you are to blame for the culture we are steeping in.

So. Here's the thing.

The main character in "The Impact of Snowflakes" is Ashley (who, as I admitted recently, only got a name during the current revision). The other two characters are her best friend since grade school, Josh, and her other best friend since high school, Katie. Through the course of the story, Katie is alone with Josh and is attempting to seduce him; she's reporting her progress conspiratorially via phone calls to Ashley. Ashley is uncomfortable both with Katie's single-minded, almost predatory pursuit and with Katie's having pigeon-holed Ashley into the role of confidante to said pursuit.

Very, very early in the story, Ashley states that she's relieved that Josh isn't responding to Katie's overtures. She also states that this is not because she wants Josh for herself, not that way.

On every version of this story, during every critique session (it's been critiqued to death, y'all), almost every critic scribbled in the margin, "Suuuuuuure she doesn't." Or words to that effect.

Because I guess there's no possible reason a woman might not want to see a male best friend partnered up with a female mutual friend other than sexual jealousy? She can't possibly just be worried that the other woman isn't going to be healthy for him, or feel protective when she sees the other woman's advances making the man seriously uncomfortable? No? And if a woman states "I'm not sexually interested," it can't possibly be because she's not sexually interested?

Now, I'm not a perfect writer. My rough drafts make all sorts of missteps. So do my final drafts. It is possible that I've misweighted the emotional impact and pacing of the story such that Ashley's irritation with Katie's constant reports on her aggressive seduction campaign comes across as jealousy.

But it's not the comments on the cumulative effect of these interactions that worries me. Those I can respond to. Those I can adjust for. What worries me is that the very first time that Ashley says "I'm not interested in him that way," the reader doesn't believe her. It doesn't matter how I reword it or how I tweak the tone. The very fact that she says it at all, even once, is taken as evidence that she very much is interested in him that way but doesn't want to admit it.

Basically, this is what society trains us to think. If a woman says she's not interested, well, why ever would she bother saying it unless she's denying what she feels? If, in the face of our scoffing, smug disbelief, the woman insists that no, she truly is not interested, then we think the lady doth protest too much. Chillingly, we are taught to see a woman's "no" as evidence of her meaning "yes." The stronger and more emotional the "no," the more confident we are in the unspoken "yes."

If "no" means "yes," and if "hell no" means "oh yes, please, baby, do me now", what words are left for women to say "no" with and be believed?

Why, hello there, rape culture! Please to be getting the fuck out of my story!

I think the assumption on the part of the reader is that Ashley is an unreliable narrator. And in many ways she is. There are things she doesn't know, and there are details threaded throughout her life and clustered over the timeline of the story which she fails to compile into an accurate big picture. The unreliable first person point-of-view narrator is a pretty standard tool in the writerly toolbox. You can do a lot with the gap between what the narrator knows and what the reader concludes.

But the problem is, I don't want that assumption extending right up through the narrator's declaration of her inner state. Not in this story, anyway. On page two, she says "I'm not sexually interested in him." Having barely got to know her, still the reader assumes she's lying. Or repressing. Or in denial. And I honestly think it's not just the words on the page that prompt the assumption.

Because that's how any number of toxic romantic comedies in mainstream media work: She says she isn't interested, but obviously they're going to end up together, because she's the leading lady and he's the leading man and this is a romantic comedy.

Because that's how any number of romance novels work: She hates him, he pisses her off, he gallops roughshod over her boundaries, he silences her with a nonconsensual kiss, she seriously hates him, but she can't stop thinking about him, and then they fall into bed together and they have fantastic sex.

Because that's what we're taught as children: If a boy and a girl can't stand each other and fight whenever they're forced to be together on the playground or in a school project, common wisdom says they're madly in love.

Because when a college student living in a boarding house is made miserable daily by her next-room-over neighbor, a third party thinks it reasonable to tell her, "You should just have sex with him and get it out of your system."

"Mommy, Donald pulls my hair and pinches me! It hurts and I hate it!" "Oh, Sally, that just means he likes you. And it sounds like you like him, too. You should invite him over."

It's not just that my character is assumed to be an unreliable narrator. It's that real women are assumed to be unreliable narrators.

I don't know how to push back against this. As a writer with a certain amount of humility, I know that if my story fails to communicate what I want it to communicate, it's generally my fault. It's my problem to fix. But I don't know how to fix this. I don't know how to have Ashley say "I'm not interested in him" and have the reader believe her.

But I'm trying. I'm using flashbacks to try to clarify Ashley's perception of Josh. I'm fine-tuning the cumulative tone so that hopefully Ashley comes across more like "Katie, stop being a jerk" and less like "Katie, get your hands off my man." Like I said, I may have contributed some to that perception. I wrote the thing, after all. And I'm steeping in this culture too.

And I'm trying to combat those cultural assumptions by letting Katie preempt the reader with them. So Ashley will say, not in narration to the reader, but out loud to Katie over the phone: "Look, you'll get no competition from me. I'm not into him that way." And then Katie can say, "Suuuuure you're not." And hopefully Katie will come across sufficiently as an asshole that the reader's sympathies and belief will align with Ashley.

Honestly, that's the best I can come up with: Put that toxic tenet of rape culture in the mouth of an unsympathetic character in order to dissuade the reader of that tenet.

And then the only problem will be convincing the reader that Ashley really does consider Katie a good friend despite how obnoxious Katie is.

*throws hands up in air, tosses manuscript pages, cries*

No, no, it's OK. I can do this. I hope.

...Did I say I wasn't going to get ranty? Well. It was a rant-worthy topic.

the problem of Mondays
Mon 2014-04-14 23:25:19 (single post)

Today was a big day! Today was my first Monday back at McCauley Family Farm for the 2014 season.

For several years now, for a value of "several" I can't precisely pinpoint anymore, Monday mornings have meant several hours of volunteer farm work in Longmont. That can mean many things. I do whatever they need extra hands on doing: planting seeds, thinning seedlings, transplanting seedlings, weeding furrows, harvesting and processing vegetables, harvesting and processing seeds, spreading compost, moving irrigation pipe, whatever. It tends to mean one other thing for sure: I come home sometime between 1:00 and 2:00 PM simultaneously ravenous and exhausted.

So today I got home, made soup, ate vast quantities of said soup, and collapsed in bed. (I also met the technician from Glass America who fixed a chip in our windshield. The car got a rock in the face on the way to the VNV Nation concert.) It's questionable whether collapsing in bed was precisely necessary when the only physically taxing things I did today were (1) dropping tiny seeds into seedling trays, and (2) trying to ignore how freakin' cold it was (come on, Colorado, I know April is your snowiest month, but that's no excuse). However, I can confidently say that staying in bed until darn near 8:00 PM was a tad excessive.

Reconciling farm-work Mondays with my new ambitious writing schedule this year is going to be tricky. On the one hand, days like today make me feel guilty for using "I went to the farm today" as an excuse to sleep all afternoon and into the evening. On the other, I know there will be days when the farm work will genuinely leave me done in for the day. I suspect I won't be able to apply a single overarching expectation, even as simple an expectation as "at least one hour's solid writing, OK?"

I know this, though: The uncertainty of Mondays points to the absolute necessity of sticking to my writing schedule Tuesdays through Fridays. Not just because I have one less day to get things done in a week, either. I do actually hope to get something done on Monday afternoons. And good writing habits when I'm tired from some amount of farm work won't happen unless I solidify good writing habits when I've got nothing else to do but write.

For now, my Monday intention will be to keep up the morning pages and the evening blogging at the very least. (If I have no writing progress to blog about, hell, I'll blog about the day at the farm.) The rest will have to be a work in progress. We'll find out how it goes together.

spent all evening singing about our feelings
Fri 2014-04-11 21:34:52 (single post)

Today started with a tiny awesome thing, and it ended with a great big awesome thing.

I had my 4-month dental check-up and cleaning this morning at 8:00 AM. That is not usually an awesome thing, tiny or otherwise, but today it acquired awesomeness by resulting in my best report in years. When the hygienist poky-sticked between my teeth and gums to measure the gaps, she never said "four." All the way out to the wisdom teeth, it was "three two three, three two three, two two three, three two three." And that sonic doohickey that moans over decalcification and shrieks at the sight of decay? It didn't let out a peep. It didn't even mutter. The hygienist double-checked it to make sure it was on. And the tooth-scraping didn't go on for very long either. No lie, I felt like a character in that old toothpaste commercial montage where patient after patient looks up and says, "You mean, that's it?"1

Best of all, the hygienist said that if I can maintain this level of home care, we might consider putting me back on a regular 6-month schedule. That's the first time I've heard anything of the sort since they put me on the 4-month schedule in the first place.

You know who we have to thank for this? HabitRPG. I have a daily for "Morning Oral Hygiene" (brush!) and "Evening Oral Hygiene" (floss! fluoride!), and their streak counters are at 36 and 32 respectively. That's how many days in a row that I've done them without fail.

So that was the tiny awesome thing.

The great big awesome thing was the VNV Nation concert tonight at the Gothic Theatre.

I had never seen them live before. I've danced enthusiastically to their music at goth clubs and sung along in the car, so I knew I'd probably enjoy myself at the concert.

I did not consciously expect to be in active bliss for the entirety of the show.

First off, a VNV song is composed of pure joy. Even the sad songs. Every sparkling, dancing synth arpeggio is made of joy and delight and, and, and rainbow glitter, OK? Every single song. They just start running the notes up and down the keyboard like that and it sends a neurological signal straight down the spine and into ALL THE FEELS. This was a recipe for goofy, blissful grins everywhere in the audience. It wasn't just me, and it wasn't just the awesome derby gals I was there with, it was just about everyone I could see.

And as a concert, as a concert experience, which is to say not just in terms of witnessing a live performance but in terms of sharing a unique experience with the performers... well, considered that way, it was the best damn concert I've seen since the last time I saw Cowboy Mouth. There's that same conversation going on, where the performer insists on 150% from every single person in the audience, and where the audience effin' gives it, and the performer gives it right back. There's that same sense that the performer notices you, yes, you, and whether you're having a good time, and if you are, they know it, and you know they know it. There's that same banter and commentary of the performer responding to silly things in the audience. The performer is constantly performing with conscious acknowledgment that the audience is part of this shared experience, and that both us on the floor and them on the stage are aware and grateful to the other for meeting them more than halfway.

Except of course the tone is very different. In a Cowboy Mouth concert, you get this sort of loving, rabble-rousing harangue from beginning to end, where Fred alternately leads you and goads you and scolds you toward the emotional climax of the show. The the tone of the VNV show was more gentle, more wide-eyed with delight, like they were constantly and genuinely amazed at the high we were all having together. I got the feeling that they say something like "This has got to be the best show ever! You are the most amazing audience ever!" at every show on the tour, but not because it's a rote thing to say, but because the performers genuinely feel it every time.

They ended the show's second and final encore with "Perpetual," which of course I was looking forward to all night. When the DJs play that song at a goth club, it's like a call to the congregation to come together in worship, especially when you reach the last lyric line. Everyone goes super serious and emotional, and their dance style gets all interpretive-like, with grand slow-sweeping gestures and meditative looks on every face. And if it sounds like I'm poking fun, well, I'm only doing so to the extent that it's aimed at myself. That's what I do if that song finds me on the dance floor. I can't help it. It's that kind of song.

Well, throughout the song, the singer kept interrupting himself to joke at the audience, encourage us to sing along to the song's signature sparkly synth arpeggio ("I don't care what language you speak, I don't care if you know the song, everyone can sing this song! ...Within reason") , and to threaten the impromptu crowd surfers to "put him down or I will personally kick you out! Jeez. This isn't a Slayer concert!" And none of that dampened the song's usual emotional effect, not a jot. Quite the opposite: all the laughter just added to the sense that hey, we're all in this together, onwards and upwards, joyfully.

The end of the song went on and on, everyone singing together over and over again, "Let there be, let there always be, neverending light," while the lights came partway up and the band members alternately conducted the audience-choir and took video of the forest of rejoicing hands and flaming cigarette lighters and gleaming cell phones. And my feet hurt like the dickens because for the first time in ages I was wearing my stylish stomping boots with their big tall square heels, and it didn't matter, that moment could last for another hour for all I cared.

So. That was the great big awesome.

I'm not sure I could take every day beginning with tiny awesome and ending with great big awesome. But it's a very nice way to construct a day once in a while.

1I tried to find that commercial on YouTube. I failed. Granted, I didn't try that hard. Anyway, you probably know the one I'm talking about. Late '80s, I want to say. Maybe early '90s. Might have been a toothbrush commercial rather than a toothpaste commercial. Gist was, using their product was supposed to lead to less plaque and therefore less unpleasant tooth-scraping at the dentist's office. (back)

''Lambing Season'' by Nicole J. LeBoeuf, featuring a lovely variegated wool
distracted by proof of publication
Thu 2014-04-10 23:00:01 (single post)
  • 6,000 words (if poetry, lines) long

You know what kills productivity optimism stone dead? Waking up with a headache. A persistent headache. It's entirely unfair. I didn't even get a chance at the day, dang it. I think maybe it was a combination of my first night back at altitude and our thermostat being left, forgotten, at a point inappropriately high for the rapidly incoming spring. Both factors probably meant I needed a lot more water in my system than I'd been putting in. Or something.

So I have very little actual productivity to talk about today. But look! I have a book! Well, a magazine that's as thick as a book, anyway. And I'm in it! Hopefully that happy news will distract everyone, including myself, from today's poor performance.

If you would like a copy of this latest book-like edition of [NaMEl3ss] Magazine, the editors would be happy to set you up with one. Individual issue available as ebook download and as print; you can also purchase a 1-year or 2-year subscription which include both print and ebook editions.