Thanks for all the Fish

Allow the pictures and flattery to hypnotize you into thinking this blog post is NOT boring. You’re going deeper…

Dear readers, followers, and random people who stumble upon this page,

Hello, again, and thank you.*  Why am I thanking you?  Why, because you’ve been helpful, of course.  Let me explain.

Yes, I know I’ve been absent for a while.  Some of you are probably wondering where I’ve been, or even who I am, since you may have forgotten you followed me in the first place.  So here’s an update of sorts on life in general.

Gulp, indeed.

Gulp, indeed.

Much like this blog, I’m behind on everything.  I have “To do” lists in six different places, including my bathroom mirror (thanks to Tommia’s Tablet for that idea and making my fingers itch for my guitar).  The system is working, but more than ever I’m aware of how little time I have in a day.  It seems incredible that fifteen years ago I found time for hiking, flute practice, homework, video games, chasing rabbits around a yard, writing, household chores, and reading all in one day.  I never estimated in the time cost of daily house maintenance, bill paying, work (and the fatigue that comes with), and basic hygiene until I was an adult.  I’m grateful lately if I manage to get to the dishes and comment on blog posts.  I’m still wondering if I’m sick or if this kind of fatigue is (gulp) growing up.

Despite my seeming inability to get anything done, I volunteered myself to beta-read another writer’s fantasy novel.  I’m honored that they’ve entrusted me with their passion and hope I’m living up to the challenge of giving them an honest critique that focuses on their strengths and helps them improve any weaknesses.  They have beautiful prose, an engaging story, well thought world rules, and intriguing characters, so for the most part it’s fun!  I feel confident that their story has great potential and can succeed in the market once it’s been fully polished.  It’s exciting to be one of the people with an opportunity to read it before that happens.

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There’s a bonus to beta-reading I hadn’t expected, though, in how I approach and view my writing.  Rilla Writer has an excellent piece on how beta-reading can help us improve and see the snafus in our own work, and it’s part of a larger set of articles on how writing fan-fiction can improve writing skills.  Beta-reading has helped me see the positives in my writing while simultaneously helping my inner editor focus on what’s really important, and that it’s not the end of the world to have to go back and fix something.

I also learned something else about my writing process from Nanowrimo, where the lovely 4amWriter was gracious enough to keep me company (pssst…she also writes some useful posts on overcoming writing block and the dreaded inner editor that have been useful as well).  It’s true (too true) that I often write long-winded passages of explanation, and that particular fact drives me crazy and often stops me from writing.  Yet if I let that part of myself do the writing when I’m not sure what the exact words of dialogue are, I can see what I want to express and how to reach that point with greater clarity.  I’ve come to see my “telling” vice as a way to create a detailed outline, and to get to the point of what I want to say faster than staring at my computer screen hoping meaningful dialogue and action will spill out of me.  I’m starting to see my first drafts as fleshy outlines, and I’m finally okay with the fact that this is how my process works.  Having these two experiences means that I’m ready to face Camp Nanowrimo with less dread, and that I can tell my inner editor to be silent (for now).

TOHPuZN

No more of this timid bunny stuff. Although, he is adorable.

I’m facing the “adult life is scary” terrors head on for the first time in years.  Not just with lists, mind you, but with verifiable action.  Maybe I am tired, but a recent vacation has helped me focus on what really matters.  I recently got a retirement plan in place, and I’m submitting to a health physical for life insurance tomorrow.  I cannot express what a relief it is to feel as if I am doing something to secure my chance of a future (or Mr. Wonderful’s in a less than desirable scenario) where I won’t have to work until I die.

Some of my nearest and dearest are also buying houses.  I’m excited for them, but I’m a bit envious, because I’ve been putting off saving for one until I’ve reduced my student loan debt further.  The tie-up of a recent story (hurray for archeology and character building!) by jmmcdowell solidified my longing and resolve to start saving, and a sudden urge to dig out my chalk pastels and rekindle my past led to obtaining a newspaper and wistfully eyeing the market, which was when I realized while staring at an ad (and a bit of internet research): I qualify for those home-owning programs.  All this time I thought I had to be, well, poorer.

I am a bit nervous.  With this spate of life changes, I also went to the doctor.  They called me a week and a half ago in one of those “Call us back, now,” fashions, but I haven’t been able to get ahold of them since.  I suspect that means one of my tests came back and that all is not rosy on the health front.  On the other hand, everything I was tested for is treatable/fixable, and it’s nice to know that maybe this “tired” junk isn’t what getting older is supposed to feel like.  Hopefully I’ll be able to contact them tomorrow and see what the ruckus is about.  Let’s hope that whatever is going on doesn’t kill my ability to obtain life insurance.

It's a book cover.  With a scary needle...that inspires me to get a flu shot so that I can avoid more scary needles.

It’s a book cover. With a scary needle…that inspires me to get a flu shot so that I can avoid more scary needles.

Well, at least I’m sure that I’m not the victim of a flu epidemic.  Thanks to Carrie Rubin at The Write Transition who tipped the balance with a timely Facebook posting after my parents chronic reminders and being sick of being sick failed to inspire me, I did get a flu shot this year, so while my coworkers call off work and stumble about desecrating trash cans, I’ve been symptom free.  By the way, have you read The Seneca Scourge yet?

Then there’s life in general.  A special thanks to Goldfish, who is truly a Fish of Gold, for reminding me that it’s never too late to think about other careers or moving, even if I am stubborn and afraid of change.  I believe you can surmount the worst, Goldfish.  Oh, and it’s your fault that my chalk pastels and sketch books are coming out.  You post so many pretty pictures and descriptions of art that my pessimistic jerk-brain can’t come up with excuses fast enough.  Thanks for all the fish, without the so long part.  You know what I mean.

You light up my world, in your uh, water bulb.

You light up my world, in your uh, water bulb.

I blame all of you.  You know, in a thankful, you’re all awesome sort of way.

 

*There are more of you, of course, and I’m sorry if I missed you or didn’t manage to squeeze you in.  Some of you are really prolific and it’s hard to keep track!  You’ll get your day soon, I promise.

What Was I Doing Again?

It’s been difficult to write blog posts lately.  I start writing them in my head, sit down at the computer, click my word processor button, and while I’m waiting for my computer to boot the program (a whole second), I boot another program.  While it’s booting I’ll have time to check everything on the internet right?  I really should read all of those blogs I follow, and, hey, there’s a link, that looks interesting.  Before I know it, I have 30-50 tabs open on my computer screen.  It’s 3 A.M.  I meant to go to bed by 4 at the latest.  It is time for bed.  But no, I can’t go to bed.  Not yet, because I forgot to eat today, and I forgot to do the dishes so that I could make food.  My work clothes are dirty and I should wash them.  Well, I’ll just start by filling up the sink and doing a presoak.  Then I’ll finish reading the tabs.  No, I’ll have a cigarette while I pace rabidly.  That’ll perk me up, help me focus.  I could have coffee, no tea, no, too much caffeine.  It’s 3:30 A.M. now, and I have to be to work by 2 P.M.  Maybe I should set everything out for tomorrow so that I’m not late for work.

Everything’s all “Wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey,” as a well known television Doctor would say.

 

Okay, I’m back inside from my cigarette.  I take off my glasses because they’re steamed up from coming in from the cold, and see my hotpot.  Right, tea.  I fill up my hotpot with water.  I’ll just sit down at the computer again, and then I’ll…well, it would be fun to play a video game, right?  I’ll just shut down the Apple side of my computer and load the Windows partition.  What, computer?  I still have fifteen tabs open?  I’d better read those.  Read 3 tabs, open 16 more.  I should really get up and make dinner, but I’ll just finish reading these.  Of course I won’t open any more webpages.  But this one looks interesting.  Okay, it’s opened.  I’ll read it in a couple of minutes, after I read this other stuff.

 

There’s that eerie water sound.  Oh, tea!  I wasn’t supposed to make tea, because that has caffeine and I need to sleep.  I guess I could drink something herbal.  I’m supposed to be making dinner.  There are those dishes in the sink that I’m supposed to be washing.  It’s getting really late.  I’ll just wash the ones I need for dinner tonight.  Maybe I can get up early, or I’ll do them the first thing when I get home from work tomorrow.   All right I’ve washed a pan and plate.  I’ll just set those down right here next to the hotpot.  Oh!  Tea.  Right.  Okay, set that down over there, where I can drink it once I’ve made dinner.

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Crud.  I’m tired.  One more cigarette then I’ll make dinner.  I swear.  Back inside, I finally pour my food into pans and start it heating.  While the butter is melting I might find the time to brush my teeth, and set out a few things for dinner, so I start doing that, but every 30 seconds I’m running back to look at the butter to see if it’s melted yet.  I’m not used to these electric stoves; my timing is off compared to work, but finally I get to dump in the hash browns.

 

I realize I can’t see.  Where did I put my glasses?  One of those fifteen spots I lay them down?  Oh, golly, I have a lot of clutter.  I really need to clean the house.  Tomorrow I’ll…

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The glare from the light in the kitchen is painful and pretty at the same time. Those streamers of light are so interesting. I wouldn’t be able to see them if I was wearing my glasses. I should really find my glasses.

 

I ask Mr. Wonderful if he’s seen my glasses, and the third great glasses hunt of the evening begins.  I should really stop taking those things off my face.

 

The hash browns needed to be flipped, now.  I ought to start the eggs.  Where’s that other pan?  I never washed it, of course.  Resume cooking dinner, but it’s dreadfully dull just waiting like this.  I’m used to have 50 meals going at once.  I’ll read a book.  By the time I finish making dinner I’ll remember the five other things I needed to wash to make/eat dinner.  I’ll set the book down, wash another dish, pick up another book.  Okay.  Dinners done.  I walk back over to my computer and realize that I forgot to bring dinner with me.  I start reading again.  Eventually an article reminds me of something in my house/Mr. Wonderful manages to get my attention.  I glance over.  My dinner is cold.  I eat a few bites of it.  “Five more minutes, please?  I promise.”  I mean what I say to him, but when I look up at the clock another 45 minutes have gone by.  Mr. Wonderful is giving me that look.

 

“What?” I demand defensively.  “If you’d stop distracting me, I could get this done.”

 

He sighs, “Nothing.”

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Yup. Mr. Wonderful looks just like this.

 

I look up from my computer fifteen minutes later.  “It’s not nothing.”

 

“Huh?”  Mr. Wonderful has given up on me and started playing a computer game.  I can’t think with all that noise.  I glare at him.  He rolls his eyes and puts on headphones, but I look at the clock and finally the panic clicks.  The effect of my procrastination has finally dawned on me: if I don’t get my act together now, work tomorrow will be like slogging through waist deep sludge.

 

“Fine,” I say, forcing myself to shut my computer down and dragging my dinner over to the television next to him.  “Let’s watch something.  I need to eat anyway.”

 

I will do everything I didn’t do today tomorrow.  I mean it this time.  I will be better.  I can’t sleep for thinking about the thousands of ways I will be better.

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This is probably how other people see me. Worse, I believe it about myself.

 

The next morning when I wake up and stumble groggily around my house, I will find a cup of tea that I never drank, a plate half full of food on the floor next to the couch, five books on the counters/dining room table/sitting on a chair.  I won’t know where my keys or glasses are.  I will be frantic that I am going to be late again, even though I set my alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier than the day before.  I can’t figure out where my coat is.  When I go to put on my work clothes, I realize that they are still dirty and I forgot to wash them.

 

I will do it all when I get home in the evening.  Except that I won’t.

 

But…this whole scenario?  That’s if I even get to my computer.  I think I might need my ADD medications back.  If only I could focus long enough to find my phone and call my doctor.

At Least I Like Green

I am back, with a new look.  It’s not a look I particularly care for, but the header picture was the only picture I had on short notice and I didn’t want to use the default.  The picture is not my style, and it has nothing to do with the blog, but I suppose it’s calming in a fuzzy sort of way.  Be so kind as to bare with me, and I promise that I will do my best to change my grainy old i-touch photo eventually.  Hopefully, eventually will be sooner rather than later, but since procrastination is perfectionism’s best friend, and I seem to be easily distracted lately, I’ll do everyone the decency of not making a promise I’d probably break.

Also, I don’t seem to have a decent camera on hand.  I’m not really sure how that happened, especially in this digital day and age, but that appears to be how it is for now.

At least all of those blossoms and leaves gave me an excuse to make my blog green.  I like green.  The best perk of all, though, and the reason for the change over in the first place, is that the teeny tiny white print, especially on a black background, has been bothering me since the day I first got a blog.  If I do my readers the disservice of boring them, at least I can try not to give them eyestrain.

See?  I did it all for you!  We’re a long way from the end product, though, so feel free to add any input or advice you may have in the comment sections as I fiddle around with my blog theme.

It’s That Time!

It’s that time!  By that time, I mean NaNoWriMo time, of course.  After all, I announced my intention to take part when I started my blog last November.

I should be writing by now, as it’s 20 minutes past midnight here.  I was supposed to have my dishes done, eaten something, and taken a shower by now.  I was also supposed to be dressed in my writing costume, candle lit, and tea by my side (I recently developed a writing ritual to cue my mind into the fact that it’s time to write).  Instead I am writing a blog post for the first time in months.  Procrastination is a wonderful thing isn’t it?

The good news is I signed up a few days ago and I have some steadfast, wonderful writing buddies.  There’s Mr. Wonderful, who has been outlining his novel for well over a year, but who hasn’t written a word, so I’ve roped him in with me so he can get a start.  I might be procrastinating because a part of me doesn’t want to start until he gets home from work.  There are some wonderful people I’ve been introduced to by the threads, and a couple of my lovely fellow bloggers.  If any of the rest of you are playing and want another writing buddy, feel free to find me by looking me up by the same name I use here.

Now, a completely meaningful tangent (I promise):

Pre-kindergarten, I used to envy my siblings.  You see, my siblings got to go to school, and one of the best things about school, besides the fact that theirs’ made them a birthday cookie every year, was that it was the mystical far away place that taught children to read and write.  I had somehow, even at this young age, and probably due to my mother’s influence, picked up on the idea that words were some of the most important, beautiful things ever, and that knowing them would lead to big, special things.  Many children draw, but I used an incredible amount of scrap paper scribbling straight lines of cursive e’s and pretending that I was writing stories.

When I was six, my teacher told us all to write an essay on what we were going to be when we grew up.  I sat, petrified by the concept of the monumental task of deciding what I was going to be when I grew up.  Something about how the task was presented led me to believe that whatever I decided now, I would be stuck with forever.  What if I chose the wrong thing?  I watched all of my other classmates blissfully announcing that they were going to be firemen, or police officers, or ballerinas, and got more and more anxious.  Finally my teacher stopped in front of me and asked what I wanted to be, and suddenly it hit me, “I’m going to be a writer!” I blurted out.

A few short hours later, in the grocery store, my mother asked me how the day went, and I told her that I’d decided what I wanted to be when I was big.  I repeated my earlier declaration.

“…but you can’t be a writer,” my sister interjected, “I’m going to be a writer, and I decided first.”

“You can both be writers,” my mother told us when I became visibly crestfallen, probably thinking that one of us would probably change our minds at some point and it would be a non-issue anyway.

I think she underestimated our tenacity and passion, but she was right about one thing: this year my sister and I are Nanowrimo buddies.  I wish her the best of luck and wonderful discoveries and fortitude.  Most of all, I wish her joy in her story, because being lucky enough to read some of her earlier works, I know she has what it takes.

Best of luck to the rest of you, too!

Getting Into a Kitchen is Easy, It’s the Getting Out That’s Hard

It was 7:30 AM when I got the phone call.  I was barely conscious, having laid down a few scant minutes before.  I’d stayed up all night watching television with one of my roommates and then, long after the light seeped through the blinds, communing with Safran, who had first appeared to me a couple of weeks before.  I was completely obsessed with her already.

To be honest, I didn’t really want a job at all, but going jobless is a luxury only the rich can afford, or those with rich, helpful family members.  I am, and have, neither.  At that point I’d spent four years of my life cleaning hotel rooms, three months prepping and dishwashing at my university’s food service before I was forced to discard the job because there was no work in the summer and what work could be had was only part-time, two and a half years being a front desk clerk (“Guest Services” is a job-title that should be viewed with extreme suspicion), and an awkward five months at fast food when I couldn’t stand being a desk clerk anymore, and hey, they were paying $9/hr.  Of the jobs, I was too meticulous to be efficient enough to clean 20-45 rooms a day in eight hours, food service was the only one I remembered fondly, and fast food would have been acceptable despite some of it’s obvious and not so obvious drawbacks if the married owner hadn’t kept making passes at me.  The concept of further customer service filled me with dread, and I wanted only to hide in the back room of somewhere, anywhere that I didn’t have to cope with strangers who looked at me as if they’d just discovered a louse, or men who asked me if I’d tuck them in.  My last two jobs had given me daily panic attacks; the idea of finding a new daily nightmare was terrifying.  I’d begged a month of freedom “to work on my novel” from Mr. Wonderful after finishing my bachelor’s degree, but that was all I dared.

Dishwashing, Safran urged, you have to know something about kitchens and cooking.  At least you could observe the people, pick something up.  Why not?  So I filled out an application.  I could hide in the back of a restaurant and everything would be…

Sane.  Logical.  Safe.  Kitchens are none of those things, of course, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I picked up the phone, and listened foggily as the Chef explained that he’d like me to come in for an interview.  I wasn’t lucid; I could almost hear the doubt in the man’s voice as I stumbled in my effort to find coherent speech.

I had to scoop up some wrinkled, already worn clothes off the floor for my interview.  The slacks and blouse I’d bought for interviews would probably discount any idea that I was willing to do a dirty, wet job, but it hadn’t occurred to me to do laundry the night before; no where else I’d put in an application had called me back yet.  “I’m applying to be a dishwasher; I shouldn’t look too nice, right?” I asked Mr. Wonderful dubiously.  “Yeah, sure.”  He rolled over and went back to bed, not exactly the most reassuring response.

I sat in the kitchen’s office for a half hour, feeling apprehensive as I contemplated a post card pinned to the wall of a female model’s thong-clad derriere.  I think this is a bad idea, I told Safran, quite possibly the worst I’ve ever had.

She laughed.  You have to pay the bills, she reminded me, and I grit my teeth at her, give it a chance.

Maybe they won’t hire me.  I mean, I haven’t showered, slept, and I’m wearing clothes that are so crinkly they’ve obviously been laying on my floor for over a week.  I’m so tired I can’t string a sentence together.

Safran and I continued to argue.  She wanted this badly.  I wanted to run out the door, far away from the indication of potential sexual harassment that was taunting me.  I contemplated getting up and walking out the door, and then the Chef walked back in.  My escape plan was foiled, blast!

“Is this only a summer job for you?” he asked, and “Do you have any other jobs you’re considering?”  No, and well, okay Barne’s and Noble obviously wasn’t calling me back to sort books in a back room, and I wasn’t interested in driving to another city every day, especially in the eight months of the year when the weather would make this less than desirable, to dye t-shirts even if it would pay almost twice what this job was offering.  When I’d handed in my application at the t-shirt dyeing place, the atmosphere had been cold, concrete, and thankless.  I’d had to sign a statement saying that I understood that the job might cause permanent lung damage if I was even offered the job in the first place.  Yuck.

My answers to those two questions were apparently all that was required.  There was nothing rigorous about this interview.  I wondered why he’d even bothered to see me in person in the first place.

“Can you start today?”  I looked blearily at my application, handed in the day before.  It did say that I could start today; if I said otherwise now one answer would be in conflict with the other.

“Sure.”

Now I had less than a half hour to run back to my house, find my paperwork, and return with proof that I was a valid human being and tax paying citizen before breakfast went into full swing and the Chef had no time for me (kitchen hiring tip: never call on the Chef during busy hours; it’s a sure way to count yourself out of the hiring pool).  That was easier said than done, but at last, after reading all the manuals and signing all the forms, I stumbled home at noon and attempted to grab three hours of sleep.

On Thursday, June 14, 2007, I was blissfully unaware of what I’d just gotten myself into, but I was about to find out.

 

On a related reading note, both of these blog posts contain gems of truth about the restaurant industry, including some of the reasons why we may simultaneously hate and love our jobs:

10 Things You Learn at a Food Service Job

Hard Work Pays Off

Just Swallow Already

I am sitting at my computer as I write this and sipping plum sake.  I should be eating something, and I know this, but the phrase I should be eating is something I’ve been saying a lot lately, and it is still surprising to me how difficult it is to get up and make myself food, or even to convince myself I want food, and furthermore, that chewing and swallowing isn’t some sort of exceptional burden.  The anticipation of making food and then having to eat it seems more akin these days to someone telling me I’m a traitor to my country and therefore tomorrow I’m going to be broken on the wheel, eventually to be dragged behind a horse until dead (I hope it’s an exceptionally fine horse, sleek coat, fine carriage, that sort of thing), than it can be equated to the expectation of pleasant taste bud tingles.  Food is a necessity, but a burden, and an unpleasant one at that.  Chewing and swallowing is surprisingly difficult.  In my job these days, I know that food is exceptional if I actually want to eat it, if I can force it down it is probably sellable, and if I can’t bring myself to do more than taste it out of a sense of duty, someone else might like it but it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

So I went, sighing, to my little bookshelf covered in stuff I can eat, and found that Mr. Wonderful had left a bottle of plum sake sitting there, and both because I have had the sort of week that left me questioning whether or not hell exists and if I was already there, and because I seem to be out of my standard supply of protein drinks and bars that I’m consuming in increasingly expensive quantities in an attempt to stabilize and regain my muscles and gain weight, I grabbed the sake instead.

This thread probably sounds a bit strange, because hey, most of you probably idolize food and wish you loved it a little less.  It’s probably unimaginable to most people that anyone could forget to eat, or have issues eating.  You may be thinking I wish I had that problem, but I’m here to tell you that really, you don’t.  You might wish that you exercised more or ate in moderation, or even that you could lose a little or lot of weight, but in this wish of yours you’re probably bouncy and full of energy, and you have all your hair, and you’re not sick much of the time.  Your mind has enough calories whirring through it to focus on writing a sentence, or a paragraph, or even a 3,000 words per day goal count on your latest novel, and your neurons are well myelinated, and that is a beautiful thing.  You might envy the skinny girl or guy walking down the street, but the fact is that this skinny girl envies you (and loves those blog posts all of you write about food, especially the ones with pictures and tantalizing descriptions—keep ‘em coming).  This skinny girl wishes she had enough padding left to keep from bruising her tailbone every time she sits down to write a chapter and the mental state to do so, and enough flesh to protect her other bones from poking through her skin and getting irritated when they come in contact with other things for more than a few minutes.

I shouldn’t have a book character that lives and breathes food, because I don’t even know what that means anymore.  I used to love food, and I’m not entirely sure how this happened.

There is a silver lining, though, in that I can finally button the pants I wore five years ago without them falling down around my ankles.  Thank you protein drinks and bars for making this moment possible, and thank you sake for not making this post about my week.  No one needs to hear that, again, most of all me.

Camels, Kitchens, and Executions

In most of the pictures I’ve seen, the camels look like they’re smiling.
I found this image at Wikipedia, and its rights for use say: Approval for the use of this photo can be found at Dubai construction update Part 7 Page 12 at Post 223. Imre Solt’s exact statement is: “I, Imre Solt, put all my images found on the Dubai Construction Update sites on the GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License). I agree to the terms that my images may be freely redistributed and used, that they may be freely modified (and modified versions may also be freely redistributed and used), that any redistribution must include the full text of the GFDL itself, that the work (and modified versions of it) must be attributed to me (the creator), and that the images can be re-used for commercial purposes (as long as the use is under the terms of the GFDL and that the full text of the GDFL goes along with the work). I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw from this agreement.” He gave this statement on 17 August 2007.
There, I’ve fulfilled his wishes, I think.  Thanks, Imre Solt.

The novel I’m currently working on screams for more information on various subjects, and not just in the sense of underlying metaphors, mythologies, or fairy tale roots.  The following are just a few of the things my book and characters insist that I’m woefully naïve about, need to experience, or better inform myself of.

  1. Sometimes the fact that I seem to have a passion for characters that live through disturbing circumstances leads me to grisly places.  Lately it’s taken the form of reading books like Public Executions and watching videos on the holocaust and other atrocities.  I find this simultaneously depressing and inspiring.  I also think my capacity for the morbid might be going out of bounds.
  2. Some experiences can’t be gained by reading about them, especially if one is seeking a novel description or understanding.  How does a camel’s fur feel or smell?  Do they have slitted eyes and how do their pupils respond to the light?  What does their gait feel like?  Do they yawn or have any other movements or expressions I should know about?  I know I can’t afford to put off my book until I can arrange an expedition across the desert, but the most I can summon from my “knowledge” about camels seems to be that they have humps for water storage and that having one spit on me isn’t desirable.  Then there are all those questions about the desert itself.  I lived somewhere that was technically desert once, but that hardly included miles of rolling sand dunes and blistering heat, and my family stayed in one place and had the bonus of running water and electricity.  The best I’ve been able to do in terms of authenticity so far is give myself a case of mild heat stroke at work before going home and writing the account of my character’s experience with it.
  3. Safran’s father was a culinary expert/genius in his time, and he passed his love for the craft and some of his knowledge to her.  This might be the stumbling block that breaks me.  Sure, I can console myself with my first hand experience of the way kitchen crews gossip and play, and the basic principles of how cooking works, but today’s kitchens and food stuffs are a poor representative for what I’m trying to create.  Think for a moment about the differences in food availability, storage possibilities, and wood burning stoves (I’m guessing) of long ago vs. the flat tops, gas powered burners, ovens, and fryers of today.  Also, how does one scrub a pan if a soup or sauce burns or crusts?  Would the scrubber use a piece of hide, some sort of brush or sponge?  What would the dishes and pans look like and be made out of?
  4. “Feral” children.  See my blog post A Perspective on Feral Children for a rambling explanation on why this is so important to me.  In brief, when I pursue this topic I feel I not only have to be aware of things like critical periods of development, the different circumstances which create feral children, their role in previous media, and not only the length of time the child was deprived of normal society, but when in their lifetime the deprivation occurred.

My list isn’t comprehensive.  These little issues are only the beginning, and I can’t even begin to express how much admiration I have for authors who actually write historical novels, science fiction, or thrillers with legal and psychological ramifications.  My mind boggles at the idea of writing a textbook.  How do you do it, writers?  I must confess I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Long-Winded

I have a confession to make.  I’m long-winded, as in, verbose.

What?  You noticed that already?  I don’t know how…

It’s always been this way.  I don’t remember a single teacher in elementary through high school saying, “Now kids, make sure your story/essay is less than a page.”  Instead they always said, “Make sure it’s at least a page”, with the specification that the font, if typed, couldn’t be larger than 12 pt. and by the way, tab is definitely not a space key.  For other kids, writing was a chore; I woke up an extra hour before school and tossed off four pages of something that fit the requirements.

In fifth grade my teacher told us to write a fantasy story of at least five pages due in three weeks, and I started my first novel. Strangely, my teacher thought it was fine when I announced this plan, and as a result I handwrote my first 56 pages in approximately a week or less (although I never finished), and had about a hundred when I turned it in.  As a freshman, my teacher demanded that we rewrite the ending to Romeo and Juliet, in any style we held dear at a minimal 2 pages.  I handed in 20 pages of poetic verse and received no objections.  In all this time, it never occurred to me that being brief and concise might be something to strive for.

My college professors made it quite clear that there was a cap on space, because they had no desire to increase the hours spent grading, but alas, most of those requirements were for papers, not essays or fiction.  I wrote them, dutifully, and perhaps prior planning for paragraph layout and citations kept me in the proper page length naturally, but I still never learned to be brief, not when it came to anything “fiction”.

Many people blanch at novels; I shudder at the thought of even trying to write a short story.  It’s hard enough to keep that first novel between 80,000 and 120,000 words.  At last word count, I was at about 51,000 words, and from my outline estimate, I’m only a little over a third of the way through.

My comments are long, my blog posts are long, my stories, and usually my poems, are long.  Only a few days ago, after typing a comment and hitting the post button, I recoiled in horror at its length.  I know the people behind the blogs I follow, no matter how kind they’ve been about it, do not need to wake up to an essay in their comment section, just as I know that my followers have other blogs to read and posts of their own to write.

This is the point where public promises come in, because clearly my efforts to contain my wordiness privately aren’t working.  I’ve been trying for at least a year now, and I’d bet no one could tell that I was trying.

Disturbing fact of the week: it could have been far worse.

I hereby promise to write shorter blog posts, comprising no more than 600 words.  We’ll call those posts bite-sized.  I’ll get to tackling my comma obsession, other punctuation issues, and convoluted sentence structures sometime in the near future, I hope.

You’re welcome.

Choice

Ambivalence, that overworked device

Springs and cogs, stressed and wrought, imprecise

Mounting pressure as grit clogs the gears

Choices grind against the thrall of massing fears.

 

Armies marching toward the eve of dread war,

Clashing on bloody field reap injuries sore.

Still specters rise among the dead, seek hallowed light:

A haunted mind, besieged, knowing not rest or flight.

 

Perhaps if this barren land were just a dream

I could rip out the thread that binds the seam,

Separate the scraps and find peace in between

A haven where none would dare to intervene.

 

Treaty implausible, so it seems, for contending ideals,

Fractured dreams.  Yet if to one I grant the prize, the other appeals,

Oh, with fervent cries!  Can I suppress this other wish, stand steadfast;

Please, might I deny, forget…accept that now the die is cast?

Home Sweet Park

When I was seven, and the boxes were piling up in the house, and the movers came to load them up and take them away, my mother told me I would love my new home because it was right next to a huge park, and there would be so many exciting things to do there.  Perhaps because my father worked for the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, which meant that my entire life to date had consisted of living in settlements that couldn’t even deserve the word “town”, and that therefore the hour’s drive to the closest thing that was a town for church, groceries, a medical check up or whatever other necessities occasionally ended in the treat of a playground, I envisioned miles of flat, lush green grass covered in playground equipment.  A ferris wheel, in particular, would have been nice.  I’d gone to a county fair or two and seen the ferris wheels and had always wanted to go on one with the “big kids”, but I’d been too little.

Swings, and slides, and teeter-totters…oh, my!

I have no idea how long it took to get from point A (my old home) to point B (my new home), but at some point we passed through some sort of gate where we were handed a bunch of maps and some fliers about not feeding the animals, and how taking anything out of whatever place we supposedly were was against federal law, and oh, by the way, do not approach the wildlife.  We got one piece of paper that alarmed my childish mind a great deal, for it was bright caution yellow all over, and, as if the color itself weren’t enough it also yelled “CAUTION!” at me in big, black letters at the top.  Underneath it had a picture of one of the big, shaggy, horned brown things we kept passing and above its horns was an illustration of a man who had clearly been tossed into the air, and though I had no idea what gravity was at the time, I was pretty sure the cartoon man would be coming back down to earth soon.  I’d been watching those mysterious beasts and was also sure, from all their huffing and puffing and the way they kept ripping up clumps of turf with their hooves that I didn’t want to be close to them at all.

“Most people call them buffalo,” my glowing mother informed me, “but they’re actually not buffalo at all; they’re bison.  Bison bison.  That’s their scientific name,” and then, as the bison ambled along the road and obstructed traffic, she slid open the van door and started snapping pictures over my lap.  I could have poked the closest bison in the eye.

Alas, I don’t have any of my mother’s photos. I was reduced to borrowing from Wikipedia (again), because I’m never sure which photos are acceptable for free use. Bison can run into you at 30 mph with a crushing 2,000 pounds of force and, in their free range days were listed as the 2nd most dangerous mammal in North America (or so Wikipedia (sigh…) reminds me). The questionable bits I saw in its fur were probably actually just clods of turf.

“Mom,” I pleaded, thinking of the yellow flier, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”  I held my breath for the next five minutes as my mother went shutter-crazy, and told the bison repeatedly how magnificent they were.

“It has poop in its hair, Mom,” I said, “See there’s one rolling around in some now.  Please close the door.  What if it gets mad?”

Finally my mother acquiesced.  She did not say “Party pooper,” although I think she should have; it would have been excellent fodder for my blog now.  She stopped because she needed to save the rest of her film for other things, like elk, big horned sheep, moose, grizzlies, and black bears.  An entire roll of film would be saved for birds, of course.  Perhaps she would take a snapshot of the occasional geyser.  Maybe.  My mother has probably expressed her desire to work in a zoo at least a few hundred times in my lifespan.  Geological formations, mud pots and waterfalls, living at the edge of a volcano with the potential for an explosion 1,000 times the size of Mt. Saint Helen’s, and boiling pools tinted by bacteria that are capable of living in temperatures unthinkable to humans are all wonderful, but they are apparently a wee bit less thrilling to my mother than animals, insects, and fauna.  Which is to say that despite the animal love, my mother wouldn’t have minded being an ecologist, archeologist, entomologist, botanist, or well, any number of other science related occupations, either.

“It’s so beautiful,” my mother sighed, and I looked at the dilapidated forest and wondered what ailed her.  There were huge bald patches everywhere, and while a few very small trees were struggling from the ravaged ground, most of the larger trunks were tipped over, or broken.  The standing trees were missing chunks of branches and needles; quite a few of them were one-sided, as if a giant had come by with an axe and lopped them in half.  Large blackened trunks stabbed upward, tapering at the tip: death’s fingers grasping from below.

Maybe the giant was this fellow. Perhaps that’s why Captain America’s accosting him.

My father explained that there had been a terrible fire here a few years ago, and that it had wiped out much of the forest.  The trees would grow back…eventually, and the forest would be green again.  “Oh,” I said, thinking of the wildfires I knew little about except for the terror I felt every time I saw “Bambi” scrambling away from the flames.  My best real life knowledge was watching my father leave in a hideous green vehicle with government markings on it, dressed in a bright yellow suit, and I knew that fires must happen quickly because he always left the house a half hour or so after arriving or getting the phone call.  He had a certain purpose, a change in gait, at those times, so that even before he or my mother said anything, I usually knew where he was going.

Beautiful wasn’t the word I would have used.  Nevertheless, fire, in this sort of ecosystem, is actually necessary. Without it many trees and plant species would not be able to flourish, as the heat of fire is generally required for the sprouting of seeds and the clearing of excess debris/growth that might discourage new fauna. In 1988, this fire burned almost 800,000 acres, with 150,000 acres burnt in ONE day. Fighting the fire was the equivalent of smoking four packs of cigarettes a day, and local school children had to wear masks and stay indoors. The media terrified the nation with the idea that park officials were negligently allowing one of our greatest natural resources to be destroyed by flame.
P.S. Taken by a NPS employee, Jim Peaco. I’m led to believe this constitutes free use. If not, well, feel free to correct me.

The air, even inside the van, frequently smelt like rotten eggs.  “That,” my sister told me with the knowledge of an older sibling, “is actually sulfur.  You know it’s safe sulfur because poison sulfur has no smell and it would kill you.”  I thought about poisonous sulfur the rest of the drive, and held my breath intermittently for the rest of the trip.

Finally, after much driving, staring at scenery and wildlife, and stopping to look at waterfalls and wander a boardwalk or two, we drove through another gate, quickly followed by a very large arch, and stopped at the bottom of a hill with a spread of grass and a few conveniently located picnic tables.

“Well, we’re here!” my mother announced, “What do you think?”

“Where’s the park?”  I asked.

“You’re in it,” she said.

“It’s so small!” I imagined she was referring to the patch of grass we were picnicking on.  “You said it would be big.”

“Well, it includes all of that, too,” she waved her hand toward the arch, “and there, and there.”  She pointed a few more directions, and I started to get the general idea.  “We drove through it for hours this afternoon.”

This is the arch I keep talking about. It marks the north entrance to the first National Park in the world: Yellowstone. The inscription at top reads “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

“But…where are all the slides and stuff?”  I demanded, and she had to explain, of course.

Thus concludes the story of how I learned that there are different types of parks, and not all of them involve swings.  I got over my shock and disappointment with ease, and I believe, because packs of enthralled Californians like to tell me so, that I am “sooooo lucky.”

Despite the misunderstanding…they’re right.  So, today, Dad, I’d like to say thank you, for such an opportunity and walking through fire for us.  I know Mom was thrilled.  Happy Father’s Day!