“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
Stephen King

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Cover art includes images from OpenClipArt.org
this fictionette visited the invisible cities and afterward kept walking
Fri 2015-01-02 23:13:33 (single post)
  • 1,277 words (if poetry, lines) long

Your Friday Fictionette for the first week of January is "Moon Island: A Traveler's Guide." For the first time in weeks I've uploaded/posted/published everything on time--the excerpt here on the actually writing blog, the excerpt at Wattpad, the accompanying public posts in my Patreon Activity Feed, everything. I'm feeling rather industrious right now. (I'm also trying not to think about how long everything took me.)

There's something of the tone of "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" in this one, more obviously if you read the whole thing than if you just read the excerpt (insert blatant but brief plug for subscriptions here), but it's less to do with Le Guin's ethical thought experiment and more to do with the sense of wonder you get from the very last paragraph of her story. I was very much taken with the ethical premise and question when I first read the tale, but now what really sticks with me is the contrast between Omelas and the destination of those who walk away.

Throughout the story, the narrator coaxes you into imagining Omelas. She tries to make it easier for you wherever difficulties arise. She invites you to collaborate with her in outright inventing the place: "If an orgy would help, don't hesitate." Even the horror of the sacrificial child has a role in this task: she offers this detail as one last aid to making feasible the task of imagining happy Omelas. But what of the place toward which people who walk away from Omelas go? There the narrator simply gives up. She's in the same boat as the reader. "The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist."

Of course there's an assertion on the level of the ethical thought experiment: that humans may well be incapable of imagining a true utopia, but that won't stop us from "walking ahead into the darkness" to try to find it. But as a storyteller myself I'm fascinated with this meta-treatise on the limits of the imagination, and with the strategies we use to imagine the unimaginable. If we cannot describe it, perhaps we can describe something else, and position the indescribable in relation to it.

There's also a touch of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities in "Moon Island." It's been years since I read the book, but the flavor of it sticks with me: fantastical, fictional places that only begin to exist when the storyteller creates them in the listener's mind. But the city in Marco Polo's mind can't be the same as the city in Kubla Khan's mind. Even if they spoke the same language, which they do not, there would be translation issues. All current forms of speech are lossy data transmission systems. And yet a city comes into being within Kubla Khan's mind. This happens regardless of whether the city physically exists in the Khan's empire or was invented out of whole cloth by his explorer correspondent. That's the magic of storytelling. It's an act of creation. And what has been created can never be wholly lost.

So Moon Island now exists in my head, and that's a happy thing but also a sad thing, because now I want to visit it, and I know I can't. At least, not outside of imagination and dreams.

Drat.

a stitch in time to cheer up my inner child
Thu 2015-01-01 23:36:02 (single post)

Waking up on the train Wednesday morning the 31st, I had that dream again, the one where I go home and discover a pet that I'd totally forgotten about and been neglecting for years. As you might imagine, it's a dream full of guilt and self-recrimination. But because the pet is always alive and healthy, or at least mostly healthy, it's not too late to do something about the situation. So there's guilt, but there's also relief, a sense of undeserved reprieve, while I scramble to make things right.

Great timing, brain. If you're going to give me a kick in the subconscious about childhood aspirations and responsibilities, why not deliver it on my way to New Orleans, so I can maybe do something about it while I'm there? (Do what? I don't know. Go through my boxes in the attic. Go visit teenage haunts. Something.) But no, you had to drop it on me as the train arrived in Denver. Great.

Sometimes the dream invents a pet for the sake of giving me guilt over it. Once, I dreamed that a miniature horse was waiting for me in my old closet in my childhood bedroom. I opened the door, and there it was, just standing there, patiently waiting for me to feed it.

Most often, though, the dream is about a real pet I took care of throughout my childhood, an albino parakeet whom I had from ages eight to fifteen or so, and whom I had unimaginatively named White Wing. That's who the dream was about yesterday morning:

A too-small birdcage, maybe two feet by one foot by eight inches tall, crowded with quiet parakeets of all colors. One of them is White Wing. I had forgotten about them, hadn't fed them in ages, and this isn't the first time I forgot about them too. I hurry to give them food. I don't have the proper food I used to give them, just this bag of small sunflower seeds that my parents picked up. It's labeled for budgies, but the dark blue one with black accents is mildly sick soon after eating. I resolve to get the proper food as soon as I can.

White Wing is an especially appropriate focus for the dream because there was a period of time when I did neglect her. It was totally understandable: I had just been diagnosed with leukemia and whisked away to the hospital. I wasn't at home to take care of my budgie. But I wasn't even thinking about it until I came home and she wasn't in my room. Apparently someone told my parents that there was a chance I could catch something from her, or from the mites she might be carrying, while my immune system was suppressed, so they moved her to another room and cleaned mine very thoroughly. I had no idea they were doing that; I was busy being bored at the hospital, wondering when they'd let me go home.

(Note to self: There's probably something here in the dream about gratitude owed to my parents. In certain ways this visit home was fairly trying, which made it difficult to remember gratitude and appreciation.)

Having White Wing in the next room over, where I couldn't hear or see her without consciously going to her, rather than in my room where her activity was a constant part of my life, made it easy for her daily care to slip my mind from time to time. I'd remember late in the day with a sudden oh shit! And yes, I'd feel guilty about spending less time with her than I should.

So she's permanently etched in that part of my subconscious symbols lexicon. There are other associations that this visit would have reawakened, but I don't have the energy to go into them right now. They are not happy associations, and I don't want to deal with them at the moment. Besides, this post is getting long enough as it is. So let's stick with the "neglected responsibilities from childhood" theme for now.

(By the way, did y'all know I have a website all about dreams and dream interpretation? I have been neglecting it for far too long, too. The public dream journal is probably chock full of link spam by now. I need to clean out the database and give the whole site an overhaul.)

Anyway, every time I have this dream, I think about what I valued during my childhood that might have fallen off my radar. Am I making good strides toward the writing career I always envisioned having? I was fascinated by lucid dreams and out-of-body travels back then; when's the last time I tried to have a lucid dream? What about my religious/spiritual identity, practices, observances? Discovering Wicca meant so much to me around that time, but this year, being at my parents' house and also exhausted (or lazy), we didn't even observe the Winter Solstice.

Things like that.

Sometimes, even if I don't have good answers, I can honor this dream in a symbolic way. I can't necessarily reclaim a sense of spiritual urgency or suddenly get a book published overnight, but I can participate in some other activity I enjoyed during the White Wing years. For instance, I used to cross-stitch a lot when I was in and out of the hospital. It was something to do with the long, boring hours lying in bed. I worked any pattern or kit Mom brought me: teddy bear bookmarks, fleur-de-lis, streetcars, all manner of Christmas ornaments.

I did much less cross-stitch through high school and college, though I still found patterns from time to time to work as gifts: Witches Stitches' "Star Maiden" for my sister-in-law, an illustrated Prayer of St. Francis for Mom. But when I picked up knitting about fifteen years ago, it usurped cross-stitch entirely.

Well. Today, I started a new pattern: "Hurricane Tracking Map: Cajun Style!" by Leslie Wristers. I bought it at The Quarter Stitch during a visit home some eight to ten years ago--probably ten or more, come to think of it, as Katrina hadn't happened yet. But I never touched it until very recently, in early November, and even then all I did was go to the store and buy cloth and thread for it.

But I made the first few stitches on it tonight.

Look, younger me! I am cross-stitching again! And it's a New Orleans-themed pattern, too! I haven't forgotten you, I promise.

another night like all the rest
Wed 2014-12-31 23:43:08 (single post)
  • 5,300 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 1,255 words (if poetry, lines) long

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! Goodbye 2014 (and good riddance). Welcome in 2015--we're putting a lot of hope in you. No pressure, now.

As it's also the last day of a month, have a Fictionette Freebie. That's the link to its Creations page on Patreon, where anyone can now download the PDF of the full text. If you prefer to have it in plain HTML or on your mobile device, I've swapped out the excerpts here on the actually writing blog and over there on Wattpad for the full text.

I still haven't recorded the audio versions. Believe me, when I finally do, I will crow about it here. Heck, when I get my first Patron I will crow about it here like something that crows loudly and obnoxiously. I'm trying to think of something special to do to celebrate--I'll put it down as a "personal milestone" on Patreon. I think the tradition in some circles is to record a highly embarrassing video, possibly of one singing karaoke badly. I hear there are virtual karaoke bars in Second Life. We should go.

I should have some sort of New Year's Resolution to record here so y'all can hold me to it in 2015. But more than "write more, avoid less," I'm not exactly sure what to say. Let's see what I can come up with:

I'll finish out this week in the half-vacation mode I've been on since leaving for New Orleans. (I'm back now, by the way. Hi Boulder! I am in you! And you are very very cold! It gives me a sad.) Which is to say, I'm not holding myself to the five-hour-writing-day goal, but I am doing my morning pages, practicing my freewriting, producing fictionettes, and keeping a timesheet of these things.

Next week, the first full week of 2015, I'm back on the clock for real. My hope is accomplish a full work week, all five hours on each of Tuesday through Friday, and make significant progress (by which, I admit, I mean a significant start) on the revision of "Caroline's Wake." Before January is over, I want to be able to resubmit that story to the editor who showed such interest in it.

After that, I want to make a major new story submission every month of 2015. That means either a brand new story that hasn't ever gone out yet, or an old story that went out a few times but then went back into the editing queue. Meanwhile, rejected stories are not to sleep over. At most, they get a week for minor revisions. Then it's off the couch and back into the world with them.

And before 2015 is over I want to send Iron Wheels out to meet some literary agents. 2015 will be the Year of My First Finished Novel. It may not be the Year of My First Novel Sale, since that requires action which I can make possible but cannot compel--which is to say, an agent or publisher deciding to accept it. But I want to at least start collecting serious rejection letters.

There. I've said it. Now I have to do it.

Welcome in, 2015. You and me, we're gonna be good friends.

this must be that 'negging' thing that's all the rage these days
Tue 2014-12-30 22:00:05 (single post)

And of course our train trip would not be complete without some unfortunate interpersonal incident to inspire a full-bore feminist rant. It has become clear, in my brain, that a single tweet has done nothing to relieve my feelings on this issue, so you get a blog post about it. You're welcome.

A distressing subset of the population seems to think that, to paraphrase Jane Austen, a woman in possession of a book must be in want of a conversation partner. And it is overwhelmingly the case that it's a woman who's trying to read on a bus, train, or airplane, and a man who's interrupting her. Whole multi-volume encyclopedias, indeed, whole libraries, could be filled with examples of this... well, I'd call it a faux pas, but most of the time it seems far too deliberate a disregard of social signals. Like the soft "no," the non-verbal "leave me alone" cue (e.g. reading a book, listening to music on headphones, working on a computer) is demonstrably detectable in other circumstances (i.e. when it's another man who's reading or wearing headphones) by men who pretend not to "get it" when the person sending out the signal is a woman to whose attention they feel entitled.

If you're tempted to argue with me about this, don't bother. I've been subjected to it too many times, and I've read too many testimonies by other women who've endured it. Invariably interspersed among such testimonies will be That Guy, protesting either honestly or disingenuously, about how men have to be allowed to interrupt women reading in public, or else potential missed connections, and yes in most cases it would be rude but there's that one personal anecdote that totally invalidates every woman's experiences, feelings, and needs. "So you're saying men aren't allowed to talk to women in public transportation ever? Is that what you're saying? Is that what you want?" In your case? Yes. You in particular should not ever approach a woman on public transportation. Or in public, actually. Ever.

But I digress. My point is, today I experienced... well, not actually the rudest example of this ever. It certainly doesn't top Captain Awkward's story of the guy who waved his hand in her face while shouting "HELLO? HELLO?", or any number of women's experiences of having their headphones/earbuds physically yanked off their heads or out of their ears by importunate men. But it was probably the rudest and most clueless incident that I've personally experienced, and I've experienced quite a few. It goes like this.

I'm slouched back in my coach seat with Steven Brust's The Book of Jhereg, which is the first three Vlad Taltos novels (in terms of publication order) in omnibus form. I've got about 20 pages to go. And suddenly this hand comes out of the sky, reaching for my book. Reaching, specifically, for those last 20 pages. I flinch away instinctively, moving the book out of the looming man's reach, or at least deeper into my Personal Space Zone on the theory that he won't actually grab something that's pressed up against my boobs-such-as-they-are.

And while this almost-but-not-quite-tug-of-war is going on, he is speaking thusly:

"Oh my goodness that is such a big book! Did you really read that whole book by yourself so that there's only this much left?!"

Those are the actual words that came out of his actual mouth. To me, a grown-ass and arguably middle-aged woman.

(I'm suddenly reminded of a distant, elderly relative at the family Christmas dinner who said to me, "When you get a little older, you'll find...." Honey, in less than 6 months I'll be 39. My gut started complaining about coffee about ten years ago, my back started complaining about long hours at the computer fifteen years ago, and my knees started complaining about being knees some twenty years ago. Do you seriously think I've had no experiences thus far of getting a little older?)

Age is beside the point. Maybe, given my posture and my short stature and his top-down view, he mistook me for a young child. I don't care. That was an inappropriate thing to say to a reader of any age. Maybe if you're the child's teacher or parent and you've watched them struggle to master chapter books, maybe then you get to say, "Congratulations! I know how hard it was for you." But if you've never seen her before in your life? I don't care how young she is, your first words to her should not communicate, "I'm astounded by your ability to read! I had of course assumed you were illiterate." Few women or girls of any age will find that charming.

Besides, "Did you really read that whole book?" is kind of a stupid thing to say to someone whose eyeballs are intently glued to the 20th-to-last page. It's like saying "Did you really eat that whole thing?" to someone who is happily sopping up the last traces of garlic butter. No, sweetie, I dumped that steak in the trash, just to fool you. No, I didn't read the whole thing (by myself); I was just sitting here, posing, holding an impressively thick book open to the last chapter, breathlessly waiting for you to come by and compliment me.

Anyway, when I looked up to deliver a scathing response ("What an incredibly condescending and rude thing to say," sez I; "Huh?" sez he), I couldn't help but notice his uniform and name-tag.

That Guy was totally an Amtrak train attendant.

One: I'm pretty sure Amtrak would not be pleased to have its staff casually insulting passengers.

Two: He can't possibly have been surprised to see a long-distance passenger reading a book. Despite the prevalence of laptops, tablets, and smartphones, this is still a relatively common pastime on the California Zephyr.

So that's my rant. Boggle, ye optimistic, and despair.

the tail end of the vacation is not safe from pre-travel freak-outs
Mon 2014-12-29 20:15:13 (single post)

Hello! I am posting this from Memphis. I am on the train, and the train is arriving in Memphis. And I have almost completely recovered from my latest bout of pre-travel freak-outs!

Because pre-travel freak-out mode happens at the end of a vacation, too. I've got a train to catch, I've got to be ready to leave by 12:30, I've got stuff needs doing before then. Thus: Panic!

But it's inevitably going to be less freaky than the freak-out at the start of a vacation. It's the return journey, so the potential for freak-out is limited. I'm no longer planning what to pack; I mostly just have to make sure that everything I brought, plus the few things I've acquired, all make it into my luggage. And I don't have to clean the fridge or make sure all the leftovers are eaten or frozen, since the house we're leaving is inhabited. It's inhabited by people who might end up throwing out those leftovers in a week's time (sorry, Dad), but there is at least a non-zero chance that they will eat them.

So aside from packing, here's what was on my to-do list:

  • A last load of laundry, while I had access to free laundry facilities. Well, free in terms of quarters, anyway. Using it adds a few cents to my parents' water and energy bills, of course. And then there's the user cost of babysitting the washing process so that the laundry room doesn't flood. I let the laundry room flood, once, and I may never live it down. But I did learn how to operate a Shop Vac on that occasion, so something useful came out of it.
  • A trip to the grocery to fill my snack bag against a two-day coach-class journey. You go sleeper, you get free meals, so you only have to worry about developing an appetite on schedule. You go coach, you bring your own unless you want to be entirely dependent on the inevitably overpriced snack car.
  • A visit to Phil's Grill of Metairie, next door to the grocery, to bring us back lunch. A friend tipped me off that they did veggie burgers. John proclaimed it delicious, even more so than the veggie patty at Cowbell. (He preferred Cowbell's fries, however). Meanwhile, I had a medium-well Lagniappe patty (a mixture of angus steak and andouille sausage) with havarti cheese, red onions, sauteed mushrooms, and dijon mustard. Which I proclaimed delicious. (The sweet potato fries were only so-so, alas. But who cares about fries when the burger's this good?)
  • Transforming a jar of hot pickled quail's eggs into egg salad sandwiches for the train. The pickled eggs were one of a number of wares produced by a local canning outfit (whose name I have shamefully already forgot, though a quick Google suggests it may have been Joseph's Fine Foods) and sold at Rouses. I bought them on a whim. They are indeed hot, and vinegary like woah. I chopped them coarsely and mixed them together with mayonnaise, salt, pepper, Cajun Land seasoning, dried dill weed, and--here's where I'm a genius--muffuletta olive spread. Which is tasty but I must admit doesn't mitigate the vinegar any. So maybe I'm only sort of a genius.

All of which I got done between the time I got up at 9:30 AM and the time my brother picked us up at 12:45 PM. So you can see it wasn't nearly as much to freak out over as the pre-vacation pre-travel freak-out list was. And after an afternoon of riding the rails and playing on my computer, I've recovered quite well.

Tomorrow we shall be in Chicago for a bit before catching the train to Denver. And that is all for now.

An old fashioned on a green gown: Cover art attribution will be in my Patreon activity stream shortly.
a fictionette walked into a smoke-free bourbon street bar
Fri 2014-12-26 23:36:12 (single post)
  • 1,255 words (if poetry, lines) long

Joy! A fictionette for you. In the eleventh hour as usual, but still in an hour that counts as Friday. The excerpt appears here.

Obligatory Sales Pitch: Gain instantaneous access to the full text, and the full text of all Friday Fictionettes published thus far, by becoming a Patron at the low, low price of one whole dollar per month. Fictionettes may be downloaded as attractive, tasteful, and eminently readable PDF files. Higher amounts of patronage are welcomed and encouraged with more extravagant formats, like audio and print compilations, which I promise to create any day now.

OK! With that done, I shall make excuses for my habitual lateness.

You may remember that John and I are in the New Orleans area right now? Right. So. Today was our day to be tourists in the French Quarter. You can tell we were playing the role of tourists by our resigned willingness to pay $35 plus exit traffic stress for little more than five hours of parking. Usually I try to park like a local, finding a spot in the residential parts of the Quarter or off to the side tangential to the Marigny, but today I did not want to think that hard and neither of us felt like walking that far. So we got on North Peters and turned right at the first sign that said PARKING in huge, hard-to-miss letters.

What wonderful things did we do? We ate lunch at Angeli on Decatur, marveling at the existence of a New Orleans restaurant with a meatless pasta marinara on the actual menu. I know there must be oodles of restaurants down here that can do this dish, but we have historically suffered bad luck in finding them. We also tend to fail to stumble upon restaurants that do veggie burgers round these parts, which is why we did a bit of research before deciding on a restaurant for dinner. One of the results of our research was Cowbell on Oak Street. And while the burger itself was not destined to supplant John's current favorite (that would be the one at the Walnut Brewery in Boulder, I think; John may correct me if I'm wrong), the creme brulee he had for dessert made him drunk with delight. Also the scotch he ordered to accompany it may have made him actually drunk, with drunkeness. I only had a few sips of it; I had already enjoyed two cocktails at the smoke-free and wi-fi-enabled Bourbon O where we'd rested and played on our laptops after a couple of hours of sightseeing and shopping.

Speaking of shopping, I may have found a gift for my Secret Skater. (That's what you call a Secret Santa exchange when a roller derby league does it.) I may yet find something I like better before I leave New Orleans. We'll have to see.

Tomorrow the family convenes for Grandmama's funeral and memorial service. I'm actually looking forward to it. It means more time spent with my brother and my cousins, which is always in short supply. As children growing up in the same metro area, we were always in each others' faces and driving each other batty; as adults who've more or less scattered across the states, we're friends who don't see nearly enough of each other. If it takes a funeral to bring us together for a few hours, I'll put on a skirt and go.

Afterwards, there may or may not be an outing to the Airline Skate Center. John and I brought our skates on this trip, and if I have anything to say about it we are damned well going to use them. And the late night hours will bring another outing to Hurricane's, this time for what I'm told will be the farewell performance of a cover band that my brother's been telling me I really, really ought to hear.

So it's going to be a full weekend.

Talk to you Monday.

From the number of smartphones waving around taking video, I expect you'll be able to find tonight's show on youtube any minute now.
who's behind the door
Thu 2014-12-25 23:22:48 (single post)

Can't stop too busy rockin'--

Randy Jackson is playing Hurricane's in Metairie. Yes, that Randy Jackson. Frontman for Zebra, New Orleans's own contribution to the mid-70s-to-present-day progressive rock scene. As in, solo project China Rain. Apparently he plays Hurricane's when he's in town. Lots of Led Zeppelin and Beatles covers in addition to stuff from his own ongoing career, a few other random covers thrown in--pretty much the definition of rockin' out.

I have never actually seen the place this packed. I'm used to coming in on a Sunday evening when nothing's coming on and I'm literally the only non-staff person sitting at the bar. It's smoky and loud and there are a couple people who need to cool off, please (and consider that other people's bodies belong to other people, dammit--I was this close to warning my brother he might have to bail me out of jail because a particular egotistical hair fetishist might benefit from a broken nose and/or kneecap), but over all it's a great crowd. Lots of old school Zebra fans who are guaranteed to go nuts when Randy starts in on "Tell Me What You Want" or "Bears" did, indeed, go nuts in a fun and musical way.

Every once in a while Randy reminds us that there are "T-shirts by the toilet" for our T-shirt buying pleasure. That just happens to be where the swag table is, on the way to the restrooms, but I kind of want him to describe them as "freshly flushed" or something. That would be funny.

We're in between sets right now. Fans are shaking hands with Randy and posing for pictures with him. And I'm typing this up because I don't think I'm going to get another chance to before 1:00 AM, which is when I try to get these things done. Actually, I try to get these things done by midnight, but what the hell, it's Christmas and I'm in the Central Time Zone. I'm due a little slack.

That, by the way, might have something to do with the lack of writing content all week. I haven't been an entire slacker, mind, and there will be a Friday Fictionette tomorrow, but do give me a break. I'm on vacation.

Gotta go! Show's about to (re-)start.

the last pelican kaffeeklatsch
Wed 2014-12-24 22:17:26 (single post)

Today was sunny and breezy rather than overcast and rainy, so John and I took a walk down to the Bonnabel Boat Launch. It was an even more fantastic day for it than we'd realized--when we got past the kids' playground and down into the parking lot on our way over to the water, a pelican suddenly seemed to fly right at us. We ran the rest of the way and saw about eight of them just hanging out on the pier, a kaffeeklatsch of pelicans standing around with their beaks hanging down to their feet. Seagulls jostled around them like seagulls do, playing their eternal game of "I want your perch," but the pelicans just stood there, unflapping and unflappable.

We watched them for about ten minutes. Couldn't get enough of just looking at them. Brown pelicans are the goofiest-looking birds in the Gulf South when they're standing still. When they're flying, they're graceful and huge in a way that I never quite get used to. But when they perch, or when they spot a fish and take a dive, they look like clowns.

On our way back to the house, as we crossed the low, flat pedestrian bridge over Bonnabel Canal behind the pumping station, a pelican actually flew under the bridge, skimming the surface of the water for about twenty feet before pulling up and soaring away again. Two cormorants followed it, swimming a similar distance completely under the water before resurfacing in the pelican's wake.

"We should tell Mom about the pelicans," I said. "She'd be delighted."

John looked pained. "You know what she'll say, though, right?"

And I remembered.

Ten, fifteen years ago, Mom would tell me about the pelicans. She'd tell me how they were coming back to Lake Pontchartrain in huge numbers. She'd tell me how she'd count them as she crossed the Causeway Bridge on her way to see her mother and sister in Covington. Her mother was needing increasingly more care, such that first she needed to move into my aunt's house to have family close at hand, then to an assisted living home, then finally to a memory care center. Mom would drive over two, three times a week to spend time with her, take turns with her siblings taking her out for lunch or keeping her company or giving her day-to-day care. So Mom got a lot of opportunities to count pelicans on her way to and from the northshore. It was a good day if she got to see one diving for fish. The sudden cannonball splash made her laugh. She'd tell me that pelicans are proof positive that God has a sense of humor. She was the one who decided "kaffeeklatsch" was the appropriate collective noun.

But now her mother has passed away, and she herself is beginning to follow in her mental footsteps: losing her memory, as she always feared she would. With sufficient encouragement, she'll do crosswords in a book rated "fun" and "easy" to try to keep erosion at bay. She needs help remembering how common sayings go, what concur means, or how to spell kneel. And with the memory loss comes personality loss, the sharp wit and the sarcasm I remember gone (which, admittedly, is sometimes a relief; her sarcasm could have a nasty bite) from conversations now uniformly shallow, repetitive, delivered with a childlike smile. She still goes to work, she still drives, she still handles day-to-day obligations, but she doesn't discuss, converse, argue, or analyze.

When we came home on the train Saturday and I told her about all the pelicans we saw perched atop dock posts in Manchac, she just smiled absently and said, "Remember the rhyme Grandpapa used to say about the pelican?" Which she then repeated, because once it came to mind she must say it, inexorably, no use trying to stop her: the limerick I always misattributed to Ogden Nash but that Wikipedia tells me is by Dixon Lanier Merritt. Trigger, response. No conversational branches. Just push the button marked "pelican" and out comes the rhyme. Then comes the next part of the ritual. "And did I ever tell you the rhyme I made up about our basketball team? 'What a favored team are the Pelicans / We hope they'll score more than their opponents can...'" Yes, Mom. Yes, you have.

And the weird thing is, she's been like that a long time. At least as long as I've lived in Boulder and called home every week. Trigger, response. Push button, get familiar anecdote. Is that because the mental changes that have seemed so sudden have been growing on her for a longer time than I realized? Or is it because the mental changes have simply crystallized around habits she's always had, eroded away everything around them to leave them stark and bare?

I don't think I'll ever know the answer.

I've come to realize over the past couple years that we will probably never have a meaningful conversation again. The late night discussions we used to share at the kitchen table, when she'd just brought me home from the airport and neither of us wanted to go to bed yet, and we talked about religion and politics and philosophy and our worries and our fears and our hopes--those will never come again. The person I used to have them with is, for all intents and purposes, gone.

I just didn't realize until today that the person who counted pelicans and laughed at God's jokes is gone too.

small pizza with oysters and lemon, side of pink floyd, hold the xmas tunes
Tue 2014-12-23 23:12:31 (single post)

Today we will praise pizza, and the very best of pizzas. Sing, O Muse, of pizza! Pizza created by the Mellow Mushroom in many great cities across these wide United States--including that of Metairie, Louisiana--and in as many varied ways! Pizza with four cheeses! Pizza with charbroiled oysters and lemon juice and parmesan cheese! Pizza preceded by great portabella caps stuffed to their gills with roasted artichoke hearts, covered with a thick crust of cheese, and resting upon field greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette! Ah, pizza. Let us sing.

Boulder used to have a Mellow Mushroom, back when we first moved into town. It was in the retail plaza set back from the southwest corner of 18th and Pearl. It was there until I think 2001 when Gondolier moved in. (Said retail plaza is no more--the corner's under construction and everything in it except Frasca has been torn down. Gondolier is now in the Meadows plaza at Baseline and Foothills.). But I remember walking into the dimly lit, lofty space and seeing a gigantic scary buffalo head leering down from the corner above the kitchen. Not a real buffalo head, not a hunting trophy--just a huge plushy with goggly stoner eyes and probably a bunch of University of Colorado sports memorabilia caught up in its shaggy mane.

Surely someone once upon a time took a picture and uploaded it to the internet? My Google-Fu is failing me. The only record I can seem to find of that location's existence is on this page.

The Metairie location is upstairs in the Forum building at Vet's and Causeway. It's decorated with fleur-de-lis everywhere. Even the restaurant's name sign, which you'd think would be the same at every location in order to satisfy branding requirements, incorporates a fleur-de-lis which itself incorporates a mushroom. (I didn't think to take a picture at the time, and I think most of John's pictures have gone straight to SnapChat and thence to oblivion.) The decor inside celebrates jazz musicians. A monstrosity made of fake instruments piled in an inverted pyramid occupies the central place of honor as a color-shifting lighting fixture. They've done their damnedest to make this chain's New Orleans-area location feel like a New Orleans-area restaurant. Might I call your attention once more to the charbroiled oyster pizza? They also have the "Bayou Bleu," which features grilled shrimp and andouille sausage in a spicey bleu cheese base. How I wish I liked bleu cheese.

The selection of local draft beers is respectable. I tasted 40 Arpent Red Bean Ale (a red ale, of course) and Parish Canebrake (a wheat). If neither had appealed, I was ready to order a pint of Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan.

Every booth has a small flat-screen TV installed on the wall. One family utilized this to keep their kids entertained with cartoons on Nickelodeon. The diners eating next-booth-over had their TV tuned to football. We, of course, just used the AC outlet it was plugged into to keep our laptops running. (The in-house wi-fi worked great for me. John inexplicably had DNS trouble getting past their log-in/terms&conditions screen.)

My only real complaint about today's experience is that they took away the classic rock mix I was digging in order to play non-stop Christmas songs. This time of year, any restaurant that doesn't play non-stop Christmas songs gets my aggressively repeat business and vocal thanks (yay Dot's Diner yesterday!). The light rock and oldies stations are playing them on the radio. The mall is playing them. The TV is full of them. I think I can safely remain innocent of Grinch accusations if I say that not every single public place needs to board the Christmas train, right?

Or at least have the frickin' imagination to include some Hanukkah songs in the mix, yeah? (Shock! No single religion has a monopoly on holiday songs!) And if all you can think of is "Dreidl Dreidl Dreidl" or "Hanukkah O Hanukkah," do a little research. There are quite a few good tunes out there. The kids at Metairie Park Country Day sing a decent sample every year during their Caroling in the Atrium event. And tossing in "The Christians and the Pagans" wouldn't kill anyone, you know?

And for God's sake--any God you like--cut "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" out of your set list WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE. Especially any version sung by an adult attempting to imitate a lisping child. Ideally, the song should be sung to an upbeat tempo and by no one older than 12. All sustained attempts to whistle should be rejected out of hand. And any version sung in double-slow time should be banned by the Geneva Convention. Seriously, y'all, I only want one beer at lunch. I do not want to be forced to drink a second and a third to dull the pain.

Mellow Mushroom of Metairie! Looking forward to returning on my next trip home, when the holiday season is safely behind us!

never too old to need you
Mon 2014-12-22 23:41:05 (single post)

Sometimes interactions with my family make me feel as though my adulthood has been confirmed. Anything to do with alcohol, for instance. Sharing a bottle of Abita's "Bourbon Street" Imperial Stout with my dad. Sitting down at Hurricane's as my brother, the bartender, sets a napkin in front of me and makes beer recommendations. (Last night the recommendation was the stout from Arabi-based 40 Arpent, which was tasty all the way down the pint.)

Other interactions make me feel like a child again--some in a frustrating "will they never take me seriously?" way, but others with that "everything will be OK, Mom and Dad will take care of me" feeling that some people were fortunate enough to experience through their childhood. My parents weren't perfect--who is?--and once in a while they screwed up, or indulged in pettiness, or found me hard to like--it doesn't take an outright abusive or dysfunctional family history to look back and see moments like those--but on the whole I was a fortunate child who experienced that cared-for feeling more often than not.

Anyway, John and I went to my dad's pediatrics office and got our flu shots today.

Having a parent be my primary health care provider from shortly after I was born until the day I left home for college was, certainly, in some ways, a little weird. There came a time when it became unthinkable to ask Dad to diagnose certain ailments (mumblemumblepinwormsmumbleblush), and I resolved to make do with a hand-mirror and hard-won experience. I'm sure that time came as a relief to him, too; he never questioned my self-diagnosis, but just poured me a dose of the despised but effective medication.

Mostly, though, having Dad be my doctor was convenient. Too convenient, really. As a college student away from home for the first time and finding herself with a fever of 102.5 F on Friday night of a three-day weekend, I had to develop the skill of finding a doctor and making an appointment from scratch and in adverse conditions. And I still called home to wheedle a prescription out of Dad. "Yep, sounds like strep. Where do you want me to call it in?"

But again, I did get well trained in the art of self-diagnosis. If I told Dad, "I think I'm coming down with something. I should stay home from school tomorrow," he would not only quiz me about my symptoms but also test and verify. He didn't even get up from the living room chair. It was just, "OK, bring me my coat." The trepidation, the urge to plead and beg for mercy, the crawling dread of the inevitable that some children learned to feel upon hearing the words "Bring me my belt" or "You go out to the back yard and you bring me back a switch, and no wimpy one either," my brother and I learned to feel upon hearing the words, "Bring me my coat." In various pockets of that coat were the stethoscope, the otoscope, the tongue depressors, and the dreaded throat swabs. O the gagging! The ordeal! I learned early to recognize the symptoms of strep throat, and also to never, ever cry wolf.

The staff at Dad's office includes several nurses who remember me well as the patient who pitched terrible fits about impending needles well into my early teens. A year and a half of treatments and exams to do with childhood leukemia taught me nothing about accepting a shot without making a fuss. If anything, it made the tendency to scream worse. (Do not get me started on the increasingly traumatic experiences with installing an IV needle. Suffice to say that the last few times they simply had to gas me first.) But finally there came one afternoon during the summer that I worked a part-time data entry job at the old office, the one on Robert E. Lee Boulevard that Katrina totaled, when it was discovered that I was due an MMR booster.

I stood against the wall telling myself, You're too old to have a tantrum about this. I kept myself as still and calm as possible, breathing deeply and evenly, attempting to mentally remove all conscious awareness from the arm about to get stabbed. Those years marked the height of my interest in lucid dreams and out-of-body travel; I tried my damnedest to astrally project out of my left arm.

I was so proud of myself! I didn't let out a peep. My first time taking an injection like a grown-up, ever! And I continued being proud of myself as I slid down the wall into yet one more first time experience, that of falling down in a partial faint. (The nurse who'd administered the shot caught me as I sagged, and she made unkind remarks about how "the poor little baby needs her mommy." I remember hearing every word, and feeling her jeers unjust; hadn't I just taken that shot without begging or crying or attempting to flee for the first time in my goddamned life? Anyway, that's how I know it wasn't a complete faint: I remember every word.)

These days I try to get my flu shots regularly, not just to protect myself from the coming season's edition of influenza misery, not just to do my part for herd immunity, but also to continue proving to myself that I can take it like a grown-up. I may always need to prove this to myself. And though it may sound ridiculous at the age of 38 years and 8 months, it felt good today to also prove it to the nurses who knew me back when I couldn't take it at all.

Having proven my grown-up credentials beyond a shadow of a doubt in this manner, I suppose it wasn't too childish of me to have asked my Dad to set up our flu shots in the first place.

"It's OK. Mom and Dad will take care of me."

I suspect there's some joy in that for my parents, too: "It's OK. Our little girl still needs us."

She always will, you know.

Love y'all, Mom and Dad.

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