inasmuch as it concerns Nostalgia:
One who has survived childhood, so they say, has all the material one could possibly need for a lifetime writing career. And here I am.
someone's gotta clean up all this mess
- 34 words (if poetry, lines) long
Wow, I suck at this Social Media Self-Promotion thing. I keep forgetting to tell you about my latest poem publication. It's "The Mardi Gras Tree," and you can read it in the very latest edition of Eternal Haunted Summer--the Summer Solstice 2020 issue, whose theme is "Holy Days."
The holy day being commemorated in "The Mardi Gras Tree" is, as you might expect, Fat Tuesday. But it's not about the day of festival and celebration so much as it is about the hangover and mundane clean-up duty of the afternoon after the parades have all passed by, and the morning after when it's time to get back to work. The transition from one to the other happens much sooner than you might think. New Orleans natives know how the unofficial final floats in any parade are the police cars whoop-whooping at spectators to let them know the show's over, and after that the huge street-cleaning trucks with the round brushes and the jets of water scouring the street. Many a child raised in the area knows better than to leave before those vehicles show up--it ain't over until it's over, after all--and many a parent disappoints their kid by yanking them away before that happens--gotta get to the car and vacate your parking spot ahead of everyone else, for fear of having to sit bored in your car waiting for your turn to leave.
(That latter impulse I see at concert venues, with drivers fleeing after the last song proper but before the encore so as to spare themselves the inevitable traffic jam.)
I really like what editor Rebecca Buchanan has to say about my poem: that it illustrates "just how hard it can be to leave sacred space and return to mundane reality." I hadn't thought of it that way--Mardi Gras as sacred space--I'd thought of it more as a drunken Bacchanalia out of which we stumble blearily with a hangover and a certain dread of being confronted with whatever stupid shit we did while the rules of society were temporarily suspended. But that suspension of rules really is a liminal zone, a place where reality is on hold, a "time that is not a time, a place that is not a place" as we Wiccans often say about the magic circles we construct for the purpose of ritual. It was quite normal for a kid growing up in the area to have the entire week of Fat Tuesday off, which made it that much harder to return to everyday life the following week.
(Many of my friends and their families used the week to head up to Colorado ski resorts, a choice I found baffling. Why, I thought, would anyone leave New Orleans during the week of Mardi Gras? Didn't they know Mardi Gras was the best time to be a New Orleanian? Now, ironically enough, I'm in Colorado full time. I still haven't really learned to ski, though.)
Anyway, thanks to such neighborhood monuments as the titular crepe myrtle tree on Bonnabel Boulevard--and I'm sure there are landmark trees like it all over the Greater New Orleans Area; that's just the one maintained in my particular stomping grounds in Metairie--pieces of sacred space celebrate Fat Tuesday all year round. Come spring and summer, they rain petals and pollen down on unsuspecting passersby while their perennial plastic fruit clinks and clatters. "Throw me something, Mister." There are also the barely hopeful idiots in the French Quarter who'll half-heartedly offer anyone presenting as female a string of cheap beads if she should "take it off" and "show your tits"; I guess they're part of the year-round ritual space of carnival, too. I prefer the trees.
I wrote "The Mardi Gras Tree" this year as part of a Codex contest called "Victory in Verse." The contest ran four weeks. The first week called for short poems, twenty lines or less, which were otherwise unrestricted. During the second week, we wrote short formal verse. The third week was all about visual poetry: erasure poems, concrete poetry, found poetry, and other experiments. And the fourth week, dubbed "Take your best shot" (although I seem to persist in misremembering it as "Do Your Verse") featured whatever the hell you wanted to do at whatever length you chose.
The contest facilitator gave us a lot of prompts to spark contestants' imaginations, both pictoral and verbal. One of them was the photo I've included here. Given where I'm from, it was inevitable that it would catch my eye. Thus was born my poem "The Mardi Gras Tree," which I'm so proud to see featured in Eternal Haunted Summer, and so pleased now to share with you.
developing the means to turn my thoughts around
- 1,487 words (if poetry, lines) long
So I learned some things about myself and my workflow this past November. To start with, I learned that I very rarely manage to fulfill all my goals for a given day. Doesn't matter whether it's a kind and even coddling low-bar list, or a ludicrously over-ambitious goal that is sure to end in failure and self-loathing. Be it ever so reasonable, I'm not going to get through it. Some imp of the perverse, an attack of inexplicable fatigue, or just the usual cocktail of anxiety and avoidance, will waylay me between the start of a checklist and its finish. I'll try! I'll try really hard! And I'll tell myself, "Hey, self, if you're any good at all, you'll do this." And then I don't, so I come away feeling like I am in fact no good at all.
But I will try. The fear of feeling like I'm a no-good horrible lazy-ass hopeless case will provide enough motivation at the beginning to get me moving, and then I'll keep going on that momentum for a bit before the self-loathing kicks in, and I accept that I suck, and I shut down.
OK, it's not always as dire as that. Some days things are a lot more positive! The excitement about getting all this stuff done will kick me off, and the happy feeling of accomplishment over the first tasks will keep me going... and then exhaustion will kick in, or the sudden realization that I am TOTALLY OUT OF TIME, and I'll come to a halt while two or three items remain undone.
Either way, I'll generally get about two-thirds of the way through my agenda for the day.
So here's the epiphany: Over-ambitious goals don't have to end in failure and self-loathing. If I make myself a list that's about 130% as long as a list of reasonable length, I can trick myself into getting the reasonable portion done. And if I set my mind right at the beginning of the day, I can forgive myself the undone portion of the list as having been intended as bonus items anyway.
Brains are weird! If explicitly tell myself "These last few items are just lagniappe," I'd expect to completely fail to take those items seriously at all. I'd expect to ignore them, treat the rest of the list like the "real" list, and then only get about two thirds of the way through that. And yet I do find myself trying really hard to get to those bonus items. In video games, I have a completist mind set; this may be the brain-glitch I'm taking advantage of. Still, that being the case, I'd expect to experience a lot more crushing disappointment in myself when I don't complete the list. But somehow the message from that morning lingers: "If you get to these, awesome, but no big deal if not."
It all feels very contradictory. It's certainly not a strategy I deliberately set out to try. I more or less stumbled into it during the latter half of November, when I got really determined to finish and upload all those overdue Friday Fictionettes. I missed some days' revision and submission sessions, but dang I wrote some flash fiction on hyperdrive! And I felt good about it.
Speaking of which: The Friday Fictionette for November 15 just went up yesterday. It's called "The Story Master" (ebook, audio, blame the southern accent on a conversation we had over dinner Tuesday night) and it's based on a recurring family bullying incident, only replace "older cousins and sadistic uncle" with "horrible, sadistic ghost." Also, replace "Stephen King novels" with "graphic tales of violence and abuse, some possibly perpetrated by the ghost when he was alive." The graphic tales are only alluded to, not spelled out on the page, so I don't think any content warnings are called for here. The only one getting triggered here is me; for the rest of the afternoon, my brain kept reliving and futilely reinventing all the greatest and most toxic hits of that era. An overactive imagination can be a terrible thing, y'all. Anyway, I hope to release the November 22 Fictionette by the end of the weekend.
Back to the daily grind. The lesson I've taken away from all this is,
- When setting my day's agenda, consciously distinguish between "must do" and "nice to have".
- Put the "must do" components first, the "nice to haves" later.
- When I complete a task, take a moment to just bask in the happy of it before going on to the next.
- When ending for the day, consciously congratulate myself on how much I got done. Remember and relive the post-task happy. Refuse to scold myself over incomplete items.
As alluded to above, my brain is very good at reliving past trauma. It will do it on autopilot and it will do it on infinite loop. But it seems like I ought to be able to put that facility to use in positive ways.
When I was in college, I worked my first regular "real job" at the dorm cafeteria. The length of the shift looming ahead of me seemed terribly daunting. To encourage the hours to pass more quickly, I'd imagine listening to an album I knew and loved. I'd get it started by visualizing an audio cassette tape player's capstans turning while the first song "played." After that, the whole album would run through in my head, one song after the other, and it would almost be like really listening to it on the stereo. It wasn't quite on the level of true auditory hallucinations, but it was the next best thing.
So if my brain can do that, then it can certainly go and sit inside another good memory of my choosing. So that's what I'm going to practice, going forward.
the saga continues: skating happens, much venison is eaten
- Feeding The Beast
- Friday Fictionettes
- Mapping Territories
- Political Maunderings
- The Beast That Rolls
Have just arrived at Chicago Union Station. Will be boarding the train for Denver in just under four hours. Going by my experience on the outbound journey, there won't be a wifi hotspot on the California Zephyr (or if there is one, it won't get much reliable signal after the first couple hours), so if I'm going to upload a blog post today, I'd better compose it now-ish.
The Friday Fictionette for July 20 will also be late; I'm going to have to finish it on the train, but I won't be able to upload it before Denver Union Station. Still, it'll be a sight closer to on time than last week's "sometime this weekend, I mean Tuesday" release (see below).
Anyway, to continue the travel journal...
Tuesday, July 17, 2018: Mini family reunion over venison backstrap
Was deliberately antisocial when I woke up so I could get caught up on some writing tasks. Among other things, got the much-delayed Friday Fictionette for nominally July 13 recorded, packaged, and uploaded.
Breakfast: Made myself a little omelette-on-toast. Had an unexpected boiled egg on the side (I expected it would be a raw egg when I cracked it open BUT IT WAS NOT) which I chopped up and mingled with some kimchi. The kimchi turned out just fine, though if I had to do it with yellow squash again (and I might--the Diaz Farm back in Boulder is starting to harvest their squash and zucchini), I'd slice it into rounds and include it with the traditional cabbage kimchi. It didn't benefit as much from the stuffed cucumber treatment as I'd hoped.
So. Got those things done. Then Dad pokes his head in the door and says, "Let's go find some oysters for lunch." Which is how we ended up at Seither's devouring a dozen oysters on the half shell each. NO COMPLAINTS. NONE.
After that it was time to run some errands. I had postcards to write and mail and also I needed fountain pen ink. (Forgot to refill my pens before leaving Boulder.) Plus I figured while I was out I could finish illustrating the April Fictionette artifacts (still running a bit behind on them) and get them ready to mail out, too. So I headed over to the 17th Street end of Lakeside Mall where all three errands could be conveniently accomplished within a two-block radius.
OR SO I THOUGHT. I mean, well, they could, but not the way I'd imagined. I'd imagined visiting Scriptura for fountain pen ink, then walking across the street to Morning Call for coffee and beignets and postcard writing and artifact illustration, then dropping off all mailables in the blue drive-up boxes at the post office. In fact the coffee and stationery enjoyment phase happened at Puccino's because MORNING CALL IS GONE FOREVER AND I AM BEREFT. Oh, they've still got a location in City Park, sure. But is that within an easy biking or skating distance of Dad's house? No. Is that where I got taken to all through childhood for beignets and chocolate milk? No. Is that where I faithfully wrote every morning around 6:00 AM during my visits home from college and struck up a brief correspondence with a waiter who was also a writer? No. No, it is not. The location of so many formative memories is GONE. Some sort of smoke shop appears to be going in, but not a smoke-and-news shop of the sort that used to be next door to the Morning Call and where I often used to pick up copies of OMNI and F&SF for market research. Just a smoke shop, going by the sign. And it's not even open yet. There's a big blue garbage roll-off in front of the shop because apparently they are ripping out all the marble counters and mirrors and little round tables and crappy chairs and I AM GOING TO CRY FOREVER.
So, yeah. Postcards and watercolors at Puccino's. Dammit. And a latte. And a sad little slice of cranberry poundcake.
Meanwhile Dad's getting ready for dinner, because the time between meals should always be spent prepping for the next meal. (Food is important in New Orleans. You may have heard.) He's working on a particular Dad special, which is venison backstrap seared to medium-rare on the grill and served with a homemade béarnaise sauce. Also rosemary potatoes slow-roasted in a heavy, lidded pan on the stove. Also a package of frozen broccoli florets.
The occasion--not that it needs an occasion, really--was my brother coming over for a bit of a visit. Usually I visit him when he's tending bar at Hurricane's, but most of the nights I was in town he had off. He works the bar fewer nights now that he works full time during regular hours at an Uptown emergency vet clinic. So instead of us having a long, disjointed conversation over several hours of beer at the bar, we had a long continuous conversation over delicious food and red wine and a live DVD of Three Dog Night. It was a superior experience. I could actually hear what Ricky said on the first try, no one was smoking anywhere near me, and there were 100% fewer drunks demanding I get off my laptop and "have fun," or putting their arms over my shoulders and arguing with me over my right to tell them HANDS OFF. Yay for non-bar family reunions!
Wednesday, July 18, 2018: Mini high school reunion, mini derby meet-n-greet
Wednesday got off to a similar start: Anti-social productive beginnings to make room for socializing the rest of the day.
Social activity #1: Lunch with a high school friend at Giorlando's. This is something I try to make time for in all my visits home. In addition to giving us a chance to catch up on things since last time, it's a bit of an oasis politically. After tip-toeing around the news Dad always seems to have playing on the TV and biting my tongue so I don't yell back at the news anchors giving only half the story or the Republican senators on live cameras saying things like "Sure ICE operatives have raised performative cruelty and homicidal neglect to a fine art, but how do you think liberals pushing to have them shut down makes them feel?"... it's really, really nice to sit down to someone who's on the same page with me about, oh, human rights and fact-based education and diverse representation in media, those sorts of REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS.
Social activity #2: Public skate session at Skater's Paradise, the rink in Slidell. The whole afternoon after lunch I was fighting a case of the sleepies--well, not so much fighting it as not fighting it but hoping I'd be able to stop napping and get out of bed on time. I was starting to worry this was a pattern. When I was in town last October, I really wanted to go skating around the French Quarter on Halloween night; unfortunately, having already skated from Covington to Abita Springs that day, I had used up allotment of oomph, and so instead I stayed in bed and binged Stranger Things 2. I hadn't been quite so extravagant today, so thankfully I did manage to get up not only in time to make the skate session but also to enjoy another damn fine Dad dinner before I went. It was venison sauce piquante over pasta shells. Also some more kimchi.
(I told him that some time later I'd probably be picking his brain for the recipe over the phone; I had the recipe from Talk About Good! but I suspected his recipe was better. He said, "If it doesn't involve two cans of beer, forget about it." Which, fair.)
Anyway, Skater's Paradise is a pretty nice rink! Very smooth floor, polished concrete I guess but no trouble on my 88s. Good sound system, decent music selection given the audience, although the DJ did have a tendency to suddenly change songs midway through. And I got to meet and hang out with some of the skaters from Northshore Roller Derby. And also make up a little for missing a week's worth of my usual derby practice, alway an issue while on vacation.
So I got to skate and it was awesome. Then I drove home, set my alarm for stupid early, and went to bed. The end.
Food Talley for Tuesday and Wednesday, also something I forgot from Monday:
- 2018-07-16, 18:30 - Venison hot tamales! I knew the tomatoes were an appetizer for something, I just couldn't remember what. (Home: venison from Dad's hunting trips, tamales made by one of Dad's friends)
- 2018-07-17, 08:30 - Scallion omette on toast, yellow squash kimchi (home, made by me)
- 2018-07-17, 11:30 - Oysters on the half shell (Seither's)
- 2018-07-17, 13:00 - Sad little slice of cranberry poundcake (Puccino's)
- 2018-07-17, 20:00 - Venison backstrap with béarnaise sauce, rosemary potatoes, and broccoli. Also more squid-dressed tomatoes. (Home, thank you Dad)
- 2018-07-18, 12;00 - Crawfish fettucini (Giorlando's)
- 2018-07-18, 18:00 - Venison sauce piquante, Korean radish kimchi (home, thank you again Dad)
That sure is a lot of venison. Dad and his friends maintain a hunting camp in Alabama, so, no surprises there. ALSO NO COMPLAINTS. NONE. I will complain, however, about the lack of beignets on this trip. (ALL THE SADS FOR MORNING CALL.) I guess I'll have to make some when I get back to Boulder.
this time i'm taking notes
- 1,054 words (if poetry, lines) long
This is another Monday post announcing a Friday Fictionette that got released on Saturday, because I am a time warp.
The March 2nd release is titled "Taking Care of Bigfoot" and it involves that near-universal childhood discovery of what usually happens when you try to keep a wild animal as a pet. My brother and I learned that lesson when we brought home a small... king snake? I think? In any case, one of the many harmless varieties whose coloring mimics that of the venomous coral snake, giving rise to the rhyme that goes something like "Red touching yellow, dangerous fellow; red touching black, it's OK, Jack." (Exact words may vary by region and generation.) It was a red-touching-black snake. We kept it in a terrarium. We took it out occasionally for the thrill of watching it coil around our fingers. We caught live lizards and dragonflies and spiders for it to eat, but it didn't, and eventually the poor thing died. And our parents said, "That's what usually happens when you try to keep a wild animal as a pet."
(We had much better luck with the crawfish we saved from a weekend crawfish boil. We put it in an aquarium that at the time was full of guppies. Soon the aquarium was empty of guppies, and the crawfish was a good deal bigger. We fed it bits of hot dog after that, hoping it would grow into a lobster. It didn't, but it made a sincere and noticeable effort before going the way of all flesh--at least, the way of all fleshly beings on a diet of nothing but hot dogs.)
Not to spoil the fictionette, but I feel obliged to reassure you that no one's pet actually dies in this story.
Now I'm looking back at last week and wondering where it went. It's hard to remember. Most of the details are lost to history because my Morning Pages are illegible, for one thing, and for another, I utterly failed to make any blog posts at all. Maybe I can keep better track of this week before it decants into the weekend, when the Boulder County Bombers "All Stars" and "Bombshells" will each have their first away games of the season. (It will be in Cincinnati!) Once I get on the plane Friday afternoon, nothing much else of use is going to get done. So between now and then, I need to keep up with the daily stuff (so far so good), make time to work on flash-fiction revisions (today not so much), remember to account in my planning for time spent fulfilling other obligations (such as taking the Saturn in for its oil change and tire balance/rotation and also picking up a Boulder Food Rescue biking shift on the windiest darn day of spring thus far). Meanwhile, I'm going to try not to fall off the blog quite so dramatically again.
Hi! Lookit that, I blogged today!
I have been better at getting to bed on time. Go me. Going to bed at eleven feels luxurious. Now that I think about it, that might be where some of last week went: going to bed earlier but not getting up correspondingly earlier. Math, that spoilsport, says if you do the one but you don't do the other you get fewer hours in your day. Stupid math. Math is clearly why we can't have nice things.
the car gets energized and i get ennervated because wednesday
I have a new Wednesday routine! It goes like this:
10:00 - Give up on the morning writing shift. Just get the volunteer reading done and uploaded so I can get out of the house. (True fax: I think I forgot to do the actual uploading, I was that much in a hurry to leave. DAMN IT.)
12:30 - Park the Volt at one of the electric vehicle charging stations at Village At The Peaks (used-to-been Twin Peaks Mall). Start that sucker charging. (Current state of car custody: I get the Volt if I promise to charge it, or if I have a Darn Good Reason. Otherwise, I get the Saturn.
12:40 - Ensconce myself at the Village Inn for a long working lunch. (I still think of China Buffet, because I am weak. But Village Inn has actual good food. Also coffee and wi-fi. And a shorter walk from the charging station. And a free slice of pie on Wednesdays. "Even if all you order is a pot of coffee, you get free pie!" Noted.) Get the daily writing tasks done. It's Wednesday, so I don't expect much, but do at least that much, yeah? OK. I did.
3:30 - Walk on over to Cafe of Life and arrive 10 minutes early for my adjustment and traction.
4:20 - Walk on back to the car, which is by now fully charged or almost so. Lament having to use some of that fresh battery capacity on driving home from Longmont.)
Ta-da. The car is charged, I have time to do a little writing, and I get to my appointment early (rather than late, which had been happening recently, because having a car meant the luxury of dribbling out the door at quarter-til-four rather than racing to the bus stop for 3:15). I like it. Let's do this again sometime. (Free pie!)
Derby doings this evening consisted of sitting on the BRAND NEW FLOOR and scraping old tape off the track. Obviously we pulled up the track boundary tape the night we emptied out the barn for subfloor construction, because there was a rope under there, but the rest of the tape we were in too much of a hurry to bother with. (The tape that used to be ten-foot hashmarks is especially hard to remove. The tape that formed our exercise ladder and jump-around crosses was fresher, less skated-upon, and somewhat easier. None of it was easy, though. Razor blades, chisels, paint scrapers, and rubbing alcohol were involved in the process. Which is not yet done.)
You would think this wouldn't be very tiring work, wouldn't you? Just tedious. We were all sitting down to do it, after all. But
- my back doesn't like hunching over floor work so long, and
- it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the time we were done, and it is possible to get exhausted from being cold.
Mostly I got exhausted waiting for the car to warm up. I was shivering so hard I was out of breath from shivering. I was also irrationally angry--at no one in particular, just generally rageful--that we weren't home already. We got home and I promptly dumped myself in the tub, wasting in hot water all the energy I saved in charging the car. I think. These calculations are not exact.
(emotion-wrangling beyond this point - I said I'd warn y'all, so I'm warning y'all)
--apparently all that recent Working Through Childhood Trauma stuff I've been doing lately, here and in my Morning Pages and in my brain when I don't wanna has been chugging away in the background, because I had a dream about it this AM.
In my dream, I was moving into Awful Abusive Asshole Uncle's house. It was empty of everything but furniture. I wasn't inheriting it or anything. It was more like, it was empty, so someone might as well move in, and the rest of the family thought I might as well be the one. Anyway, someone had unpacked a few art canvases that used to be on the walls, abstract multimedia collages as well as portraits. There was a portrait of one of my younger cousins, whom I adore; I wanted to hang it on the wall going up the stair where my memory in the dream told me it used to be, but the nail had been removed and the nail-hole painted over when the house got emptied. I'd have to hammer a nail into that wall myself to do it, but not right now, because I had to go to the bathroom something awful.
I really did, too. I mean, in waking life. I may have mentioned my frustrations with my bladder's suddenly reduced retention at night? At least it didn't start to bother me until time to get up anyway. Nevetheless, I feel like it had dream symbolism too. I would have to hammer my own nail into the wall, but first I would have to process and dispose of some nasty substances. Get it? Get it? OK, well, I do. At least, I'm pretty sure I do. There's probably more to get later. There always is.
Anyway, there was also a portrait of my asshole uncle. And though I recognized that the portrait was gorgeous as a piece of art--just a really fantastic portrait of him standing there on a French Quarter street and everything in vibrant, exaggerated colors and the lines of his face emphasized in a way that showed personality rather than reducing the portrait to a caricature--I could not bring myself to hang it up. I didn't want to look at his face every day.
So I decided I would take one of the empty ottoman/storage chests that was positioned as a footrest in the living room by the big L-shaped couch, and put the painting inside it, face-down, and sprinkle it with salt to neutralize its energy.
That's right. I made up a magic spell in my dream. I haven't made up a magic spell in waking life in years, unless you count the creation of writing-dedicated ritual space I sometimes do with a candle and incense and an Enya CD these days. But I just made one up in my dream.
It's a damn good one, too. Right up there with taking a photo of The Bad Guy and rolling it up and tying it with string and sticking it in the freezer. I may have to do it in waking life. I think I know the item that can stand in for the portrait, too. I just need to find an appropriate storage space.
...So. That's the state of the Niki tonight.
new construction and reconstruction, neither being hardly done yet
I would like to be able to report a full day of working on all my writing tasks, including the novel-still-in-planning, but alas, today was almost entirely taken up by household chores and administrative duties. And, as usual, nothing constructive (except for this blog post) is getting done post-derby. Doesn't matter that "derby" right now means construction labor rather than skating; it's still physical work that turns my brain to mush.
The floor is coming along nicely, though. It's very exciting. A few small sections of the final floor are done, maybe an eighth of the total surface. I got to walk on it. I got to help haul pieces of plywood flooring into the work area so they would be in reach of the work crew nailing them down. I also got to pound nails into joists, which was immensely satisfying (except when the nails bent, the bastids). Spent time washing slabs of sport-court, too--well, I wasn't actually wielding the power washer, but I was part of the assembly line. I was schlepping slabs of sport-court to and from the wash stall, turning slabs of sport-court around, and picking bits of shredded plastic ground cover canvas out of the bottom of the sport-court tiles. In any case, we closed down the washing station when we emptied off the current pallet of sport court; and we washed the pallet, too. I am so excited for our new floor, you have no idea. (Unless you're one of my league-mates reading this now. In which case you have every idea.)
We're hoping to skate on it next week, but not expecting to be able to. It depends entirely upon the work crews we can muster between now and then. Tonight's work crew seemed huge. Hopefully that will continue.
Tomorrow doesn't bode well for writing, either. I get to take the Volt all over town on errands. The first of those is getting the car registered and license-plated. Also I'm to put gas in and charge the battery. And then there's chiro and groceries and who knows what else I'll remember I have to do. Then maybe I'll go skating at the Wagon Wheel, if the Wednesday night session is on. I miss skating. No floor means no practice means no skating. If I do not go to the Wagon Wheel, I'll probably just go outside, since the weather's supposed to stay sunny and clear and moderately above freezing. MUST SKATE.
Maybe I'll get in a little time on the novel while the car charges, who knows.
As for last night...
Woah-kay, emotionally charged blogging starts here. After last night's post, you knew it was coming. Stop reading now, or continue with a full understanding of what you're in for.
Anyway. Last night, after I published that blog post, I got bowled over by Manhattan-sized APPREHENSION and DREAD. I couldn't quite parse it. I didn't even want to look at it head-on, let alone try to understand it. I told myself, hey, what are you afraid of? Pretty much none of your immediate family are online beyond that necessary to forward urban myths and tasteless jokes to everyone else in the family. The only people reading this blog tend to be either school friends or writing friends or derby friends. Or some combination of the above. Or John's sister, or his mother, both of whom are A-plus phenomenal people. What I'm saying is, this blog's audience is made up of at least 99.8% people sympathetic to its author. It is safe to tell stories here about Why Niki Grew Up Dreading Family Gatherings.
But the APPREHENSION and DREAD weren't susceptible to this logic. And they were very specifically the APPREHENSION and DREAD that accompany GUILT. Put them in words, they go like this: "I done wrong. I gonna get punished. I been bad."
When I finally figured it out, I nearly laughed out loud, it was so damn classic. it was because I'd actually used the "a" word--abuse--to describe a long-running family interaction, and I'd done it in a publicly viewable space. I had outed a family dynamic as abusive. What a betrayal! What disloyalty! What an absolutely stereotypic taboo to defy. That's the common rule most abused children learn: this stays in the family. You don't tell people. You don't shatter the illusion that we are a healthy, happy family. That's the rule, and I have finally, unambiguously, broken it. Of course I was a mess of GUILT and APPREHENSION and DREAD.
(To be clear, in many ways, we were a healthy, happy family. But in many ways, we were not. I don't identify with the phrase "abused child," partially because it seems too absolute, too much one thing without allowance for anything else, and partially because--though I know this shouldn't be a factor--so many people had it so much worse, I don't want to dilute the term. Still and all, I absolutely identify some of how I was treated as emotional abuse. I can even understand where some of it came from! I can just about work out the rationale. It doesn't excuse the abuse, but it contextualizes it. It helps me square the circle of "loving, supporting family" with "abuse and abuse enablers." People are complex. They are capable of heartbreaking kindness and jaw-dropping cruelty. They are capable of carrying both off simultaneously.)
Weirdly, when I woke up this morning, most of that roil of emotion was gone. I felt pretty good, actually. Abusive Asshole Uncle has not been in my head at all today. If anything, the memories involving him are hanging out in the middle distance, easy to spot if I look for them, easy to ignore if I don't. That's restful.
I'm very likely not done blogging about it. Not only is it dramatically, demonstrably freeing to be able to concretely describe it all in words, and words that people other than me can see (when I break a taboo, I mean to break it hard), but also it's probably kind of important for me as a writer. Authors draw on their experiences when they write; I need to be clear what my experiences are. I need to be able to own my experiences and put them into words. I need to be able to put them into my words, look at them through my own lens, rather than continuing to tell myself the same stories the rest of the family told me and told themselves. I gotta know my own story if I'm gonna write new stories.
So don't be surprised if more stories about Abusive Asshole Uncle And His Team of Enablers show up here in the coming days. 'Cause they will. Where possible I'll try to put it after the writing-related stuff, make it easy for y'all to skip if you'd rather. But it's not always gonna be easily separable, because writing. Hope you'll understand. Anyway, you've been warned.
my brain is a jerk: christmas reminiscing
- 1,240 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 1,054 words (if poetry, lines) long
All right. Hi! New week. So: Friday Fictionettes for the past two Fridays were "Kill or Cure," which is about a symptomatic tree, and "The Miraculous Hide," which is sort of about Good King Wenceslas before he got to be all saint-like. I got 'em out both on time, more or less, but I never got around to announcing them here, so. There you go.
And now we are approaching the fifth Friday in a month, which means--woo-hoo!--I get a week off. Except I don't, because I still have to put together the Fictionette Artifacts for November and then do all the end-of-month stuff for December. And even if that were done, goodness knows I've got all the legacy catch-up work to do: backfilling the Wattpad excerpts, recording audiobook editions for the archives that don't have them yet, producing epub and mobi editions ditto. But it's cool. I don't have to do that and put together the next brand-new story-like object all at the same time, so things are vastly more doable than they could be.
So yesterday was Christmas. John and I did nothing special for it. We're more Winter Solstice types than Christmas types, which is to say, Pagan not Christian. Also our families are all multiple states away. So we did with Christmas the same thing we did with Thanksgiving: a whole lotta glorious nothing. We played on our computers and we cooked for each other.
Which right there puts it miles and miles beyond last Christmas in terms of enjoyability, i.e. I did not get into a shouting match with my bigoted, bullying, emotionally abusive uncle, and spend the rest of the evening sobbing myself sick. Yay?
Except I kept thinking about it. All my brain's idle cycles pointed right at it. I spent a self-indulgently huge number of hours just playing Puzzle Pirates all day long, which should have been uncomplicatedly fun, only it wasn't, because while my eyes and hands were busy with the mini-games, my brain kept re-running that shouting match and rewriting it and re-running the rewritten version and then revising that.
To be clear: My brain was not fixated on just one argument with my uncle. That shouting match catalyzed an epiphany about a lifetime of bullying at the hands of that uncle.
Wait. Wait up. Go fix yourself some coffee or something. Apparently I'm going to unload here.
Ready? Cool. Here we go.
Here's the thing. I think the reason he got so enraged when I called him on his hateful bullshit that Christmas afternoon is that no one else ever did. Everyone else in the family may grumble about him, but to his face they smile and reward him and tell him he's funny. Meanwhile, all my life, every Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter that he ruined for me, everyone told me I lacked a sense of humor. That's why I didn't find his bullying of me funny. And they told me it was my fault, the bullying; he wouldn't do it if I didn't give him such entertaining reactions. No one told him that there was anything wrong with a grown-ass man getting his jollies by verbally tormenting a little girl until she fucking lost it, and then laughing at her while her parents punished her for her unacceptable behavior. Everything he said, every word that came out of his mouth, was by definition golden, because it was coming out of his mouth.
Of course he hasn't changed a bit--why should he? He gets perfectly fine results as things stand; why should he do anything differently? And why wouldn't he be flabbergasted to the point of near-speechlessness that someone finally told him he was being a shit-head? If anyone ever tried to say it to him before, they sure as hell didn't make it stick.
I'm surprised it took me this long to come to that realization. I suppose I had some idea that, now that I was an adult myself, and not a powerless child, interactions would be better. And, well, to some extent, they are better. At age forty (well, thirty-nine at the time, but still) I'm not getting sent to my room or told to sit on the floor in the hallway and stare at the wall and think about what I've done. There is a different protocol for dealing with other adults than there is for dealing with children. And, being an adult, I'm a lot more capable now of putting my thoughts into words even while I'm furious, and of resisting my uncle's attempts to put me back in my place, the place he was comfortable with me inhabiting, the place that's entirely under his power, the place where I have to dance for his entertainment while the rest of the family laughs at his wit and my immaturity.
All of which added up to me being able to sit there and say, "That's some hateful, dehumanizing, transmisogynist bullshit you're spouting, not gonna pretend otherwise, I mean, you should be ashamed of yourself, and also you should grow the hell up, and, by the way, transwomen aren't existing at you just to spite you, and if you're tired of watching news stories about Caitlyn Jenner you can damn well pull up your big-boy paints, grab your big-boy TV remote, and change the fucking channel." And the worst he could do to me in response was sputter a bit and finally proclaim, "Don't get so fucking offended," like it was the last word on the matter (but it wasn't, because I could damn well spit back at him, "Then don't say such fucking offensive things, asshole," and walk out the room).
That's the worst he can do. But I can do so much worse to myself every day for the following year. I can relive that entire argument on a near-daily basis. I can also relive all the times he bullied me as a child, and I cried, and he laughed at me while I cried, and my parents told me I was defective for not enjoying it and/or morally weak for letting it get to me. That last shouting match doesn't exist on its own--it reconfigured my understanding of our interactions over my entire life.
I don't want to talk to him ever again. I don't want to see him ever again. But at the same time, I want to stand up in front of him and tell him, hey, you remember how you treated me while I was growing up? That wasn't even bullying. Bullying is between people of at least nominally equal standing. When a grown-ass man does it to a little girl, someone he has power over, and when he does it every time he sees her, from the time she's five to the time she's fifteen, that's straight up child abuse.
Wow. OK. So, that got real heavy real fast. Long story short: It's not that I fixate on 15 Minutes of Awful. It's that those 15 Minutes of Awful sort of recontextualized about 15 to 20 Years of Constant, Unremitting Awful. And that I'm liable to fixate on.
My fucking brain. My brain is a fucking jerk.
There's this fantastic Steven Universe episode, "Mindful Education," that kinda-sorta addresses the whole "I can't stop thinking about it, and it hurts, and I'm sick of hurting" thing. Rewatching it was soothing balm, but in a few hours the balm wears off. That's because the strategy of looking at the pain, understanding why it hurts, and being OK with the fact that it hurts, only goes so far. It's fantastic for surviving the painful thoughts, but it doesn't make them stop. And I can't spend another year going "Yes, I see that thought. Yes, it hurts. It's OK. I'm OK" on infinite repeat. I need to get my brain to stop running that damn program.
So here's what I did: I decided to actively fill my brain's idle cycles up with Other Narratives. I pulled up a blog I enjoy reading (one of several Steven Universe livebloggers, speaking of Steven Universe) and positioned it so I could read it while playing Puzzle Pirates. Then I pulled up some Mark Reads Discworld audio and listened to that while playing Puzzle Pirates.
The idea is, the longer I just sit there trying to play a particular video game while my brain keeps pushing the rewind-and-replay button on Worst Experiences Ever, the stronger grows the mental association between the two. It begins to feed itself: Playing the video game starts to cause the painful mental replay. But if I can associate the game strongly enough with something else, then playing the game will make me think of that something else--like, for instance, a gaggle of wizards arguing on a desert island, or the character development arcs of the Crystal Gems.
It's terrifying how easily programmable my brain is. The good news is, I can program it too. I just have to take, and keep taking, conscious action counter to the unwanted programming, until the unwanted programming has been thoroughly replaced my the preferred programming. That's all.
And in the meantime, well, I'm here.
you're gonna carry that weight for a long time
- 59,193 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 128.50 hrs. revised
As expected, I haven't been able to write much this week. Any time not spent sleeping or at derby practice, has been spent moving items from our old address to our new. There have been many carloads, and each carload required multiple trips up and down the stairs that I'm so pleased to leave behind. I can almost do those stairs blindfolded by now: Eight steps down, three paces to U-turn on the landing, another eight steps down and another landing worth three paces, one last bunch of eight and three paces forward to finally descend the three steps of the front stoop.
Most of those carloads have been packed solo, either because John did it while I was at derby, or I did it while John was working. A solo carload takes longer, and it takes a higher toll on the person making it happen. I was done today an hour before we had to leave for practice and scrimmage, but it was an hour spent half asleep because I simply had nothing left for anything more productive.
Today was mostly me, and my goal was to completely empty the office closet. Six clear-bin stackable plastic drawers plus a Rubbermaid bin and a couple bags full of crafting supplies, three stackable plastic file cabinets, two big boxes of miscellaneous removable data media (CDs, DVDs, 3.5" floppies), another box full of "all manner of useful cables" according to my Sharpie memo to myself, a great variety of stationery...
...and a surprisingly large amount of my own writing. Early NaNoWriMo novel drafts printed out for revision. Copies of my short stories with critiques scribbled between the lines and in the margins. Spiral notebooks with drafts, writing exercises, and notes toward rewrites. The three chapters of The Drowning Boy that went with me to Viable Paradise in 2006 and came back looking like they had bled from innumerable cuts. (Not that they all bled red. But oh, how they bled.)
There were in that great mass of paper several copies of other people's stories that they chose to share with me or to send by mail as part of a critique exchange. But for the most part, the author whose works were contained in that box was me.
It was almost too heavy for me to lift. But I managed. I got it down the stairs and into the car without breaking either it or me. I felt strangely reassured by both of these things. The weight of that box was a reminder of how prolific I really have been. And yet I am capable of lifting the weight of my own words. There's something symbolic in that.
Still, when I pulled up to our new front door, I was happy to accept John's offer to take one end of that box and help me lift the load. Just because I could do it alone didn't mean I'd always have to.
There's something symbolic about that, too.
a stitch in time to cheer up my inner child
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.
a fictionette walked into a smoke-free bourbon street bar
- 1,255 words (if poetry, lines) long
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.