Friday, April 30, 2010
On our second day in paradise, we went for breakfast at the Top of the Baths, where we had dinner the night before.
It's an easy walk up the road from our little Guavaberry hut. The plantings around the place are phenomenal, witness this incredibly happy white Bougainvillea.
Chickens set up the calls at dawn, sounding oddly like the coyotes from home. These will wander around under the tables until this one local guy gives them a look. The chickens know him and scurry out immediately.
All was peaceful and lovely until the cruise ship tour people made it up the hill and demanded rum punch. They were not peaceful and lovely.
We sat on our deck in the shade through the hot part of the day, catching the breezes and catching up on a bit of writing. Then we spent the afternoon and sunset on the beach. The water is clear and gentle. Fish everywhere. I saw a school of nearly 200 blue fish (I don't know what they are) from dollar-coin size up to bigger than my head.
Tonight is a big party at Leverick Bay. We're promised dancing and stilt-walking and barbeque.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
On the second day of vacation, they slept in.
And it was good.
It cut into the pool time and I didn’t get any wordcount in, but it was great. I love the fur-family and we both miss Zip and the kitties. Sleeping in without being walked on or whined at was quite lovely, however.
We went an ate breakfast and cleaned up and lo, and behold, it was time to head to the airport for our adjusted plane flight time of 2:00. Or 2:30.
See, this is how it went: I booked us on Sunshine Air at for a flight to Virgin Gorda. I chose Sunshine Air, after extensive and careful research, because they were the only ones who flew to Virgin Gorda. Mind you, I booked these tickets back in January.
The other day, I emailed the place we’re staying, Guavaberry Huts, to double-check that the Jeep rental people would be meeting us when we landed. Actually, they responded, the Virgin Gorda airport was closed and Sunshine Air would be flying us to another of the British Virgin Islands, Tortola, and someone from the Tourism Board would meet us, take us to a ferry that would bring us to Virgin Gorda, and there, at that ferry dock, we would indeed be met by the Jeep rental people.
I did try Googling why the Virgin Gorda airport was closed, and only found an article about crosswinds and how the airport was .
Sunshine Air did call, also. I received their voice mail when we landed in
Or 2:30, she says.
So, David and I go to the
We went and drank a couple of rum concoctions while we waited. The departure screens reassuringly reflect that we, indeed are on a flight to
We wait at the gate. And wait.
Like we’re going to wander off.
David eventually tells me the tv monitor shows our flight as departed, so I ask a guy who looks official by the Air Sunshine counter. He tells me he’s just the Door Guy. But that someone from Sunshine Air will fetch us. And they’d be wearing a yellow shirt. Door Guy has an important job because the sliding glass doors work only sometimes. Occasionally they convene a fairly large group of people to try their security codes on both the inside and outside scanners until eventually one works.
At 2:46, a guy in a yellow shirt, as promised, shows up and says Air Sunshine? Six of us gather around him. He doesn’t care about our boarding pass/receipts. He trots us out to his airplane – he’s the pilot, it turns out – and he points at me to sit directly behind him. I feel like I’m riding behind my dad, and not just because he has all kinds of crap on the dashboard.
We rumble down the runway and it feel like going too fast in our Jeep, especially when it catches the heavy tropical air. One passenger, who’s clearly a local, tells us we got the best pilot.
It only takes 30 minutes to
Tourism Board gal is lovely. She explains that we’ll take a ferry to Virgin Gorda. She introduces us to our taxi driver, who taxis us all of three minutes around the corner. Local guy turns out to be local to Virgin Gorda and the three of us board our "ferry," which is this extremely gorgeous yacht. I kid you not.
I ask local guy what the deal is with the airport and he says nobody seems to know. It’s a mystery. I mention the crosswinds in the article and another local guy laughs and says “The crosswinds were there before the airport.”
Lo and behold, the Jeep people do meet us at the dock. Everyone is spectacularly
warm. The island is gorgeous.
Our little house is amazing, with a tremendous view. Here I am, calling my mother on undoubtedly expensive roaming, to let her know we didn’t die.
As exhorted by our hostess, we went down to the private Guavaberry beach for sunset.
We went to dinner at th
e Top of the Baths, which was both delicious and gorgeous. And we were the only patrons.
I sit out on the deck writing this in the tropical night air. And finish with that same full moon, a little blurry from the moisture, but so very lovely.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
We left Santa Fe this morning at 4 am, the full moon dropping to the horizon as we made our way to Albuquerque.
I spend a lot of time in airports. But this is vacation, so I tried to set up this trip so we weren't exhausting ourselves just to get there.
It ended up feeling like leisurely hopping, from Albuquerque to Dallas/Fort Worth, to Miami to San Juan. This is a really neat sculpture on the E Concourse at DFW. It makes music while you walk through it.
It feels like found art, except that someone put it there on purpose. It's an unexpected delight, nonetheless.
We're spending the night in San Juan. Tomorrow morning we'll hang by the pool. I'll get a little writing done. Then we'll fly to Tortola and take a ferry to Virgin Gorda. I like this wending. With every stop, the weather has warmed and moistened. With each stage, the pace slows and we ratchet down to match.
(For my work cronies - we're staying at that same Isla Verde Embassy Suites. And the access road is still torn up in exactly the same way. It's as if time hasn't passed.)
This evening we had dinner and drinks on the beach. And I got to meet up with Melissa Arroyo, FFP's conference coordinator this year. She and I had only met online before this, so we had fun talking in person. She's a real dynamo. Now when we meet at the September conference in New Orleans, we'll recognize each other.
And son of a gun, this evening? There was that full moon again, rising up through the palm trees, seeing us on our way.
Monday, April 26, 2010
I thought this one looked like a giant white jellyfish in a sea of blue.
Actually, it looked quite a bit more like a jellyfish before I went inside to grab the camera. By then, it had started to drift and alter, as clouds do. They never stay the same for long.
Despite the fixed nature of my spreadsheets, my progress towards my goals change, too.
It turns out my lowly wordcount of Thursday was a harbinger. I'm learning that my not feeling well first manifests in low creativity. Which shouldn't be surprising at all. I did get 1,126 words on Friday, so I was all pleased by that. But then Saturday I just couldn't muster to write at all. Or do much else. And yesterday I woke up full-blown sick. Sinus headache from hell that was so awful it made me sick to my stomach.
For those of you who don't know, David is going to school to become a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This has side benefits for me. I laid in my own bed while he treated me, which felt loving and soothing. He says my Wei Chi, which is a military term and is like an army that surrounds your body, trapped a Cold Wind Invasion (also a military term). So my immune system stopped the invading pathogen, but it was trapped on the outer edges.
He used moxa on me, which blessedly dispersed the headache and I proceeded to sleep most of the rest of the day.
Today is for finishing up work projects, packing an preparing for vacation. Our house sitter comes tonight, so there's cleaning yet to do.
Sterling will have to wait yet another day. But I hope to put time in on it over the vacation. Right now I'm four days behind my goal finish date. I might be able to recover that. I might not. I also have a bunch of edits to work in from my critique partner, KAK, and you know how she is. I might be doing a lot of reworking, which is never a clean movement forward. It nevertheless counts as important work on the novel - a back and forthing difficult to capture on a spreadsheet.
So my goals might be mutating a bit, rearranging themselves when I have my back turned.
Just like all things.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Already the snow is melting as the sun hits it. But there was much dismay, wailing and gnashing of teeth over the mini-blizzard last evening.
Nobody likes going backwards.
I've discovered that much of my own emotional climate is tied to how my novel is progressing. You're probably saying, um, didn't you discover this before? The answer is yes. Yes, I did.
I'm revisiting that discovery, okay?
When Sterling was rocking along the last couple of weeks, I felt on top of the world. Looking down on creation. And it was good. Now I've hit the mucky middle and it's slow slogging. Intellectually I know I need to just keep going and find my way through it. I reassure myself that I can go back and trim and tighten those scenes I'm afraid are dragging as much as I feel. I know this is a natural part of the process.
Emotionally I just want to stop.
My puppy isn't fun to play with any more. Here, Mommy, you take it.
Yeah, this is the point where the grown-up has to take over and tell you to suck it up. You wanted the puppy in the first place, that means you sign up for the whole deal. That includes the un-fun parts.
Yesterday I gave myself a break. I kind of blew my wad on yesterday's blog post, which came out way too long, but at least amused a lot of people. I only put in 73 words on Sterling - the first time in weeks I haven't hit 1K on it.
David said it's like a physical work-out - some days you just don't have it. He, being the high school athlete, knows much more about that than I do. (Since I pretty much feel I rarely have it for the physical work-out!)
It's funny how my paltry 73 words feels like going backwards. Just like a little Spring blizzard does. It's not at all. It's a natural part of the process. Into every life a little snow must fall.
And then it melts, leaving you just a little farther on your way.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Or rather, David never has been and so I easily fell out of the habit once we were living together. He became quickly annoyed at the accumulating sacks of newspapers, cans and bottles. Granted, recycling was a pain in Laramie. For a long time you could only take recyclables to a certain place during certain hours of weekday afternoons. Even when they finally set up bins, those were usually full.
David liked to grump that he saw the recycle place hauling truckloads out to the landfill all the time. He particularly liked to tease our more avid recycling friends about it. They would frown, uncertain if he was making it up or not.
At any rate, like many things, it was easier not to and so I stopped.
Now, I work for an environmental consulting firm and the company is big on green policies. Which I suppose is only good and right. We have to purchase 100% recycled paper for our printers, should we be so wasteful as to print something out in the first place. We have to recycle our used paper, etc. And we have to take these pledges.
Well, we don't have to, but we're exhorted to. And if you know anything about me at all, I'm just not the kind of gal you force into making pledges.
But every year there's this big campaign where, in order to support the efforts of a major client, we have to go on the internet and pledge to replace our lightbulbs with the energy-savings ones. My boss, Laurie, who is fortunately also my friend, is probably shaking her head reading this, because she's heard me go on about the lightbulbs. At length. Maybe with the teensiest bit of ranting.
Suffice to say: I do not like them.
I do not like them in my house. I do not like them with a mouse. I do not like them because they make everything look green: eggs, ham, art and people.
Laurie doesn't get me on this. The aesthetic doesn't bother her. But this is also the woman who reuses corners of paper and the back of Post-It notes. She's literally taken balled-up used sticky notes out of my trash, smoothed them out and used them for notes. Yes, we've discussed her issues, too.
So, a few years ago, I caved, I did the pledge, and bought my two ugly-making lightbulbs. Laurie archly asked me if I actually installed them. I replied that I did: in the basement laundry room. (Laundry rooms are supposed to have icky awful lighting - it's practically a law.) She conceded that was good enough. Then the next year rolls around and we have to pledge again, what with more bulbs. I started to run out of icky places to put the bulbs.
This year's drive wound up yesterday. Only now they have this whole list of things you can do to be more green. Laurie commented that it's getting harder to show movement each year. Which is true - I actually already do everything on that list except the freaking lightbulbs. The ones I left behind in the old house when we moved. To help the new people be green, I told Laurie.
She suggested I put their names on the pledge.
I turn off unused lights and appliances. I keep thermostats low and turned down during low-use times. Growing up in the Western drought of the 70s, I'm a habitual water-saver. One friend gets irritated that I turn the water on and off when I do dishes. "Why don't you just let it keep running?" she asks. Because I can't.
And now we have curbside recycling, so we do that, too! Amusingly, I even mentioned this once before on the blog. Back in August David and I were going back and forth on recyclables that don't fit in the bin. Which brings us to yesterday.
Remember how I bought all that nifty new patio furniture? Well, it came in great big boxes. Heavy-duty cardboard ones. Our recycle pick-up comes every two weeks, so two weeks ago, I set two giant boxes filled with smaller scraps of cardboard next to the bin for pick up.
Shockingly the Waste Management guys did not take them.
(If you watch Breaking Bad, you can see our New Mexico Waste Management trucks. Kind of thrilling, no? Yeah, I didn't think so. But it's funny to us.)
We had a rainy day last week and David told me I should put those boxes out in the rain so they'd soften up and he could tromp them down and put them in the garbage bin. Our recycle bin gets really full at the end of two weeks. I said, no, I was going to break the boxes down and set them out for recycle again this week. "A lot of effort for some boxes," he says and I said I didn't mind.
So I spent a bunch of time cutting up and breaking down the boxes, bundling them into neat stacks, tied up with rope. With carry handles even. And we set them next to the very full recycle bin for pick up yesterday. The Waste Management guy arrives, sits for easily five minutes on his radio (I can spy on this from my office window). He backs the truck up like he's leaving, then he pulls forward again, gets out, contemptuously kicks aside my careful bundles of cardboard and lets the automatic truck arm empty the bin. And drives away.
David says, "That's why I wanted you to put that stuff in the rain so I could have tromped it down and put it in the garbage."
I should insert here that today is David's second-to-last day of finals and he's hitting full grumpitude saturation at this point. I'm not calling him on it because, well, I'm understanding and loving like that. So, I don't say anything to this.
I call Waste Management, very nice girl tells me that, yeah, in Santa Fe they'll take only what's in the bin. I ask if I'm supposed to cut these boxes into tiny pieces and dole them into the recycle bin over the course of months and she responds brightly that that's a great idea.
I tell her not so much.
So she tells me that I can drop the stuff off at the county. Coincidentally, the place is right by where I have a salon appointment that day anyway. I put the top down on the Jag, pull to the end of the driveway and load the cardboard into the back. David helps, grumbling that it's an awful lot of effort for some boxes at which point I, maybe not quite so lovingly, tell him that I don't mind, I'll do it myself and to go back in the house to study. He says, "Okay, I won't say another word." And I, very lovingly, do not say "Hallelujah!"
It goes downhill from there. The place the chirpy Waste Management girl sends me too is the lovely county office with no recycling facilities in evidence. I end up talking to the County Manager, who's a terrific gal and says "I do not know what is wrong with those people at Waste Management!" She draws me a map to the transfer station, by the landfill, by the dog park, all places I haven't been to yet.
So, yes, I drive out to the landfill in my Jag convertible, packed to the rim with cardboard pieces. The woman at the gate takes one look at me, says "let me guess" and waves me through. I find the big bin o'cardboard, where a very earthy/crunchy young man is emptying his vehicle of rectangles like mine. We stand in the sun and companionably toss cardboard into the bin.
And yes, I felt pleased with myself.
True to his promise, David didn't say another word about it, so I don't have to 'fess up to the further complications, which would have truly driven him over the wall. I'll have to think up another reason for why I now know where the landfill and the dog park are.
The pledge checklist doesn't include a category for "went to a lot of effort for some boxes," but I'm feeling like a good kitty-cat this Earth Day.
The best part? I didn't have to buy any of those stinking lightbulbs!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I suppose pretty much every place but designated wilderness areas are now a hopeless mix of the indigenous and the exotic, the civilized and the natural. Still, it amuses me to see the clusters of stately hybrid tulips glowing against the desert background of cholla and pinon.
We saw an ad the other day for Cholla Busters! They promised to come remove our cholla, never to trouble us again. David asked why someone would want to get rid of their cholla and I said, you know those people who mow the desert so the space around their house looks kind of like a lawn? Those people.
This morning on our jog I pointed one out to him - flat and open, not a cholla in sight. It creates an odd image, with the house as the only visual contrast. I'll take my camera with me to snap a photo if you all want to see. The house is on our usual route, so it wouldn't be any trouble.
Getting back to the morning run is paying off. No, I don't like to exercise either. But I love those results! I enter my weight and body fat into a spreadsheet every morning (love my spreadsheets!) and I'm pleased to see the body fat is trending down. I'm now at pre-Christmas levels. I know some people argue you shouldn't weigh every day or worry about the daily values. I chart my weekly averages, too, which does give a better perspective. I'm one of those people, though, that suffer from ignorance. In the years I didn't weigh daily, I managed to gain 20 pounds. It was quite extraordinary, as if I'd gained it overnight.
That's what I get for not paying attention.
So, it's good for me to track the changes over time. The days when I get unhappy news, I'm very tempted not to enter those numbers. As if, if I don't record that high weight, that obese category body fat percentage, it won't really exist.
(If you've never measured your body fat, you'd be appalled at how easy it is to be in the "obese" category. And there's nothing above it. You get Lean, Normal, Overfat and Obese. It can be quite daunting.)
But I make myself enter those high numbers so I can see how far I've come. Compared to those obnoxious highs, the lows start to look pretty exciting.
I suppose Spring brings out the contrasts in me, too.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
When we were house-shopping in Santa Fe last summer (which feels both forever ago and yesterday), our agent took us to a house on the other side of town.
It was a blatant attempt to upsell us. The asking price exceeded our upper limit by nearly $100K, though she assured us we could ask offer far less than that. Of course, she told us that same story on a couple of other houses, too, and when we did offer much less and they came back with indignant counters, our agent would sound all sad and act like we were crazy to think we could get it for that and the counter was actually an amazing deal.
I didn't like her much.
Anyway, this house on the other side of town was fun to see. The selling agent met us there - which is also kind of a no-no - and really pushed us on the place. We had to have it, they said. A divorce sell, the house sat on a hillside facing the Sangre de Cristos. The view everyone in Santa Fe wants to have they told us. Never mind that the patio and hillside were so overgrown that you couldn't actually see the mountains.
One room was a studio with 20-foot ceilings, which was neat, but not very useful if neither of us paints. With the odd shape, size and window-placement, it would have made a very unfriendly bedroom.
What with the stamped concrete, the high ceilings and open space, the house made for a dramatic showroom to entertain guests. It wasn't much for living in. The real adobe walls (as opposed to the "Disney Adobe" of stucco frequently used) set off the massive and somewhat disturbing paintings that hung everywhere. Divorce paintings, perhaps.
The art, the selling agent told me, with a conspiratorial grin, could be negotiated into the purchase price.
And suddenly I realized who he thought I was.
Who buys the art with the house? Someone looking for their ready-made Santa Fe showplace. It's like paying a designed to fill your bookshelves with attractive-looking spines, never mind the contents.
Art and books are usually personal things. You buy and keep them because you love them. You love them so much you want to have them right there within easy reach, or easy viewing, at every moment. Like all things, I suppose, at some point that becomes a business. How much will I pay someone to let me have it right nearby? The interesting thing is, it's not the artist who wants to negotiate that price: it's the middle man.
Right now, Penguin and Amazon are in a pissing match. As a result, Penguin's new releases are not available on Kindle. Not just delayed, not for a different price. Just not at all. A couple of those releases are from authors I like to buy. I'd like to read those books. But the lion's share of my reason for using the Kindle is to reduce the amount of space I devote to books. I want to have them, but I don't want them on my already overtaxed shelves.
Which means, I won't buy the hard copies.
The middle men want to make money from what we love. They will always offer us a deal, throw in a little something extra. The thing is, package deals always benefit the seller, rarely the buyer. Otherwise, the sellers wouldn't love to do it so much.
All I can say is, I would never buy the art with the house.
Monday, April 19, 2010
I spent some time this weekend digging out the culvert at the end of our driveway. We have dirt roads out in our community. Long driveways feed off the main roads and lead to the houses. Like most of the desert Southwest, we're subject to ferocious rains. Monsoon storms drop relatively huge amounts of water, which all runs down washes that are normally dry.
In this case, water would all run down the dirt road that connects to our driveway, primarily in the borrow ditch next to the road. The only problem with that is our driveway would be in the way of that. Thus, all the driveways here have culverts at the juncture of driveway and road, to allow the water to run under.
This works just fine as long as the culvert isn't filled with dirt.
Actually, I had two problems: a dirt-filled, neglected culvert yes, but also a wayward Direct TV van. I kid you not.
See? And you all argue with me when I say TV is evil.
During one of our last big snowstorms, a Direct TV service van slid off the dirt road and into our borrow ditch. Many people here treat deep snow as an opportunity to drive fast on crappy tires. It's mind-boggling, really. So, this guy comes barreling down the road - yes, I saw him do it - slid all over and into the borrow ditch. Then he tried to get out. Mud fountaining up through the wet snow. We watched, since we figured our mailbox was not on his radar, but really didn't want to have to go out and help. Finally a couple of passers-by who were much nicer than we are pulled him out with a cable and a pick-up truck.
(Incidentally, the Direct TV guy, once liberated, then attempted to pull a U-turn, though there are several ways out if you just follow the road and manage to stay on it. But no, he had to do a U-turn, that turned into something like a nine-point turn and nearly got himself stuck in opposite borrow ditch. If he had, we'd have been forced to go out and hurl his keys into the storm.)
It's too late to make this a short story, but the end result was our ditch got torn all to hell and gone, with enormous (now dry) furrows. I seriously considered calling Direct TV and telling them to come fix it, but I decided it would be infinitely less aggravating just to dig it up myself.
Besides, I need the exercise.
Now, when I was a little girl, I tried to build a pond in the back garden. I built an earthen dam and canals, various channels, waterfalls and progressive lakes. It was a thing of beauty, I tell you. Which all promptly dissolved into sludge when I added water. My first experience with Taoism.
The great thing about Taoism is you learn lessons by observing nature. This time I paid attention to where the water would want to go and dug accordingly. Eventually I want to line the culvert area around our driveway with rocks, to make it look a little more "on-purpose." So I cleared a space for the water to run. It doesn't look great right now, but I have high hopes that a good gully-washer will clear the way.
If I did it right, nature will help me out this time.
It will be a thing of beauty, I tell you.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The days are starting to shift here into the warm weather pattern.
Black-bottomed cumulus clouds cruise by like Spielbergian starships hunting for a tattered group of rebels. When the rain falls, it's both fury and benediction.
Most of my life, I've lived in places where the weather comes from a direction. In Denver, the clouds build up over the western mountains all day, until they build up enough gumption to pour over the top and into the basin below. We could track the approach of a winter blizzard by the recitation of pass closures in the mountains: Aspen, Vail, Rabbit Ears, Loveland. By the time Loveland Pass and maybe even Eisenhower tunnel closure, we knew it would be upon us.
It was much the same in Laramie. Not surprising because it's part of the same geography. The weather there streamed up from the mountains. Storms in Steamboat Springs landed on us an hour later.
Every once in a once, in both Denver and Laramie, a winter storm would charge over, then slow and back up again from the east. Those were the heavy snows.
Here, the weather blows up on top of us. The wind can gust from any direction. Storms pounce from any direction. I'm no meteorologist, but I think we get wet air streaming up from the Pacific currents in the southwest that combined with the Rocky Mountain chilled air. Our humidity levels drop from 45% to 10% as the day warms. Up above, the cool dry and the warm wet foment, spinning cumulus clouds that shoot off in all directions.
I suppose I could look up the meterology, but imagining the poetry of it all is more fun.
For predictability, it's no good at all. The forecasts are often wildly wrong.
But for drama? For the sheer delight of vista and power? Just fabulous.
You can tell which camp I'm in.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I had an opportunity to apply for a new job.
I've decided not to do it.
It's a good opportunity, local, pays well. I'm more than qualified and it would be an interesting opportunity to build a program from the ground up.
The opportunity also fell into my lap right at the time that things are uncertain in my day job. The career-type job I've been doing for 14 years now. Our big bread & butter project has been nearly killed and no one seems to know what the future will hold. As there always is in the consulting business, there's lots of uncertainty.
Applying for this local job would probably be the smart thing for me to do.
It's a city job and so come with all of the security a government job implies. Good benefits. No selling to clients. None of the "maybe we won't fund this project this year."
That's always the lure of the good job opportunity: security and certainty.
On the other hand, taking that job would derail my writing for a long time to come. I'd lose my well-established writing schedule. A new job, especially one requiring me to supervise a staff to build a new program, would absorb huge amounts of my attention and energy.
A long time back - late 90s - I made a choice to leave my PhD program and get a job that would allow me to hone my writing skills. I cut bait, ran with my MS, and took a job as an editor/writer. I wrote on the side and my essays began to see light of day in magazines.
Then someone offered me a better job. Nearly twice the pay, private company. Terrific opportunity. Of course I took it. I'm still with that company and I do a good job for them. Better than I had originally planned on, in fact. But I have my rhythm now. In the last few years, I've been building my novel-writing skills. If Obsidian doesn't sell soon, I think Sterling will when I finish it.
Writing is once again receiving attention in my life.
If I applied for this new job? I would be moving away from what I decided long ago was most important to me.
So, I'm making a deliberate choice. I'm not changing anything. If the day job does collapse, I'm better off picking up work here and there to pay the bills, so I can continue to write. This time I'm not opting for the sexy and secure choice.
I'm going for uncertainty. And all the possibility that uncertainty offers.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The sun is moving farther and farther north now, sinking over different mountain ranges. Funny to think that in only two months it will begin its journey back again, just as summer really hits its stride.
I know, of course, this is just my point of view - POV, in writer lingo. The sun doesn't travel north and south. I am the one moving, tilting back and forth on my planetary post, watching the sun from different angles. The sun is the fixed point of our little dance. We all know that huge battles have been fought over this very idea.
It's funny to think of it this way, but the battle between the Catholic and Copernican line of thinking was all about POV. Who, exactly, is the center of our story?
As an essayist, I started out writing in first person POV. The essays described my experiences in the world, thus they were all about me. I wrote to explain my perception. Very simple. When I wrote my first novel, Obsidian, I naturally wrote it, as was my habit, in first person POV.
A number of judges reading it commented that I was brave to try first person, since it's so difficult, but I did it well. Others tell me they categorically refuse to read anything in first person.
Sterling, the new novel, came out in third person, as did my little erotic novella for Loose Id. (Speaking of which, the official title will be "Love Lies Bleeding," which I like a whole bunch. The heroine's name is Amarantha and there are plays on her name throughout.) It's fun to play with third person. I suddenly feel not only omniscient, but omnipotent.
Turns out not so much. KAK, who is my official CP (critique partner) now, has been beating me up for my POV slips. (Never mind that she knows WAY too much about Meatloaf's musical history, if you check out her blog. She's otherwise a reasonably sane person.) I don't get to be omniscient at all, which kind of burns my ass because it makes me want to flounce back to first person. Then she tells me that I can't introduce another character's POV in Chapter 10. I thought it was kind of a brilliant stroke, but no.
"You're trying to make him the third star of the show," she says. "And he can't be."
There's a fine line between genius and disaster, I suppose. The other thing I'm thinking? I need to learn the rules before I break them. Like a painter must first learn to show perfect perspective before finding subtle ways to distort it to make a point, I need to know where my third person POVs are before I do wacky things with them.
Alas. Takes all the fun out of it.
I can see her point, too. There can only be one sun at a time. I'm already alternating chapters between two people - each the star of their own story. If I want to bring in more, then the center of the story moves somewhere else.
At least no one gets executed if I change my mind.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
But now that the weather is warming up, the critters are starting to emerge again. This is a coachwhip snake. The photo doesn't quite capture his lovely reds and pinks.
I got credit for first live snake spotting, much to David's chagrin because he's the king of snakes. (Isn't there something biblical about that?)
No, seriously, in his misspent youth, David used to collect rattlesnakes for Reptile Gardens in South Dakota. For those who've never had the pleasure, Reptile Gardens is part zoo, part sideshow, part tourist trap. Kind of the biggest ball of twine of snakes.
And they paid by the pound. Not a bad gig for a nice kid from northern Wyoming with a knack for wildlife.
At any rate, David's been revved to see the snakes of our new home, but so far had seen only one dead snake. I don't get a bunch of credit for this one, though - when I rolled out the garbage can to stuff it full yard detritus, he was under there. Turns out they're nocturnal snakes and not terribly fond of sunlight. He just laid there, all sleepy while I called David and the snake was duly identified and photographed.
It works that way sometimes - you get credit for luck, for happenstance, for stumbling upon something cool. And sometimes the things you labor over, hunt for, craft lovingly with care, no one ever cares about but you. The universe's way of putting us in our place, I suppose.
One way to interpret the Tao Te Ching says that only those things achieved without effort are one with the Tao. The implication is also that only those things that are one with the Tao are valuable.
I think both points are debatable.
Really it all depends on what value you assign to the thing. Both what kind and how much. There's something to be said for both the stories that drop into your lap and the ones you wrestle out of the ground. Other people may read them and assign their own values, but only the writer knows what the story means to her.
The wise writer would be thankful for both the gifts and the stories bought with blood.
Monday, April 12, 2010
(For the "before" picture, see here.)
Special bonus points if you can spot the New Mexican wildlife in the background. (And no, I didn't notice she was there when I snapped the photo.)
I always liked the idea of Sundays as a day of rest. Or, rather, I like that concept, as in Orthodox Juadism of setting aside an entire 24-hour period away from the work and busyness of life. To contemplate the nature of God or the universe. To study. To rest and reflect.
I also like the idea of being cloistered for religious contemplation and I'm not about to do that either.
Sunday is almost always catch-up day for me. It certainly was yesterday. I cleaned both the house and the front and back gardens. Fortunately this also counts as exercise. But I did begin the day with writing. Writing only on my novel. I typically don't post to the blog on Sundays. That's one little rest I give myself as a matter of ritual.
Sundays are also different writing days, because my Progress Count spreadsheet resets itself. I begin by wordcounts anew for the following week. There's this pristine quality to it because Sunday is the only day that progress for the day matches progress for the week. It would make more sense if I showed it to you and I'm not going to do that because people tend to freak out when I show them my spreadsheets.
My own little way of being anal.
On Saturday I went to a meeting of the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors (LERA) and this multi-published gal gave a presentation on her method of pre-plotting a novel. She does sticky notes. She does 3X5 cards. Then she types it all into a massive flow chart, scene by scene, prints out the pages and glue-sticks them together to make an accordion-fold map. It's her process and it works for her.
I thought about what I would do, if someone asks me to present on my process. Since a lot of that process involves staring into space, I don't think it would make for an interesting presentation. (Gardening, incidentally, is excellent for this kind of process.) I could, however, show people my spreadsheets.
This gal tartly noted that she gets checks in the mailbox for her work, as an argument to the folks who thought her technique seemed over the top. She feels this organization is key to her success. The pre-plotters have a knack for making those of us who dream our way through our books feel, well, like slackers.
That's why I have my spreadsheets, I realized. I track my target finish date - yes, I use functions in Excel to calculate my projected wordcount and current rate of progress against today's date. And I have the cells conditionally formatted to be yellow and say "not yet" or green for "yes!" depending on whether I've met the goal that cell represents.
Say what you will about rats pulling levers to get cheese cubes: I love to watch my cells turn green.
Is this a little bit nutty? Well sure, or people wouldn't freak out to see it. Does it work for me?
I sure think so.
I mean, I'm not getting checks in the mailbox. Not yet. But someday that will be a Yes!
Besides, I prefer direct deposit.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I know, I know.
A conscientious gardener woudl have long since cleaned this up. It's on the To Do list for Sunday. Ask me next week where the picture is of the cleaned-up pretty.
Remember how I mentioned that last weekend I got involved with Sterling and didn't do any of chores?
Well, this was one of them.
It's not always easy, balancing home life with writing life with career life. I remember growing up in the 70s amid the extensive conversations about "Superwoman" - the liberated woman's answer to having it all and whether it really could be done. Women were trying to be mothers, housewives and career women, all while never letting him forget he's a man. Of course, much of the pain came from the stretching of traditional roles - the obvious answer to women was for the men to do more with the kids and the house. Which many of them started to do. Some don't, but that's not what I'm here to talk about.
When a person is a writer, until you're paid enough to write full-time, you essentially have a second unpaid career. Or a second career that pays beans. It's like moonlighting at some crummy job with lousy hours, but not for the extra money. Okay, not a crummy job, a fabulous job. But the hours still suck, you're forever interviewing and you don't even get minimum wage.
A writer friend of mine was "outed" at her day job yesterday. It took her by surprise.
She writes romance novels, sexy ones. Turns out someone at her old job mentioned it to someone at her new job (manly gossip?) and the older male manager at the new job did a little bit of internet searching and found her ebooks...
He told her he thought it was just fine.
Yeah, it's weird and uncomfortable. She feels exposed in a way she didn't expect. And no, she doesn't use a pen name, so she wasn't trying to hide her superhero novelist identity. Somehow she thought the two worlds would never mix. Now they are.
I should also mention that she's a single mom (though she's now engaged a terrific new guy). She's been handling all of it very well for a very long time. She's still working at breaking into the mainstream publishers, where she could maybe make enough money that she'd have only one career to balance with all of the other jobs.
It doesn't help that romance is a snicker-generating genre. If she'd been outed as a mystery writer, she'd have more cache. I can see why she's bothered - it's like she's now a dirty girl.
Hopefully, that was the last of it. The manager told her he knew (bum dum dum!) and that he's fine with it. Maybe she can get away with just doing the job she's really good at and won't get any grief for the work she loves to do on the side.
Maybe I'll get my house and garden cleaned up this weekend.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
I remember coming down to Santa Fe with my folks when I was a kid -- right around this time of year, too. We'd often come down for Spring Break, sometimes staying, sometimes continuing farther south. I loved this look then, too. I'm pretty sure I even wrote an abysmal poem at some point about cardboard mountains propped against the western sky. It undoubtedly included something about my state of angst and wretched loneliness, which was, naturally, nonexistent.
But if there's angst to be found, an adolescent girl will dig it out.
Last evening I gazed at this view and thought how amazing that I get to see this every day now. Instead of wretched loneliness, I felt a rush of overwhelming gratitude. I took a moment to offer my thanks for all the blessings.
One of my favorite professors from college, David Hadas, who described himself as a non-practicing Orthodox Jew, had a favorite saying. It might have been from Martin Buber. He said that when terrible things happen to us, we raise our eyes to the sky and say why? Why me? But when wonderful things happen, we never ask "why me?"
Perhaps we are like favored children that way - we never question that we are loved, that we have a beautiful world to enjoy, that we have plenty. We might be just slightly spoilt that we throw tantrums when we don't get what we want, exactly the way we want it. But we mature and grow wiser, realizing that the bad comes with the good. How we decide to handle that defines who we become.
It's something for me to remember, that I'm incredibly lucky to have so many blessings in my life. Wanting more means that I'm alive and growing. In the meantime, I get to enjoy what I have.
Love and sunsets.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
How do you like where I hung our cow skull? I'm feeling very Georgia O'Keeffe.
It's hard to say if I'm imitating her, or Santa Fe design in general. Sometimes you do something just because it looks good. We happened to have this cow skull - which is kind of a long story. Suffice to say that David and I are both biologists and we have a lot of different bones and skulls. In this landscape they become less eccentric and more fashion statement.
RoseMarie sent me this article about a "new writer" giving up Facebook and Twitter. I kind of hate to give it the dignity of a link, because it's really very silly. "Article" is really a strong word. It's only 434 words long (yeah, I checked), which is comparable to my shorter blog posts. Really it reads like "Hey, this one friend of mine, who got an MFA? Well she gave up Twitter and Facebook, even though she was really good at it, you know? And she thought it totally worked for her."
I don't think I exaggerate there.
The "premise" was the "new writer" who's been published in Narrative Magazine, which is respectable but hardly earth-shattering, and is, um, exactly one publication credit, cut herself off from the social media to concentrate on her writing. (By the way, the phrase that she's "hoping to publish her first book soon" can be translated as anything from "it's not done yet" to "she's pitching to agents" to "she's working her way through the university presses. In short, we have no idea where she stands on it.)
But I digress.
The result of the grand experiment? Even in the full essay, she never mentions if she gets any more writing done. Of course, she comes from an MFA frame and one of the amusing things about that mindset is three months of "focusing on your writing" isn't really expected to produce anything in the way of wordcount. Deep thoughts can be enough. Her conclusion was she felt she "detoxed" from Twitter and maybe she needed to. Most of her musing is about whether she's abandoning her social media platform when she needs it most.
There's this guy on Twitter I followed recently. He followed me first, for a reference I made, so I followed back - he looked reasonably amusing and I usually give anyone who's not only posting links a shot. He's looking for a job. So he takes other people's posts and mentions that he wants a job. For example, someone will say "I'm a writer - I have the papercuts to prove it" and he'll reply "I need a job - I have a 'hire me!' sign to prove it."
He's clever and makes me smile, which is what it's all about. So, I bit.
I asked him where he is and what kind of work he's looking for. This is the opening he's looking for, right? If I could, I'd be willing to point him in some directions.
So what does he do? He replies, twice, about how he needs a job and how sad it is that millions of people don't have jobs. He tells me a state and a vague kind of work and gives me absolutely nothing to go on. Oh, and he tells me he got on Twitter because he'd heard it was a great place to connect with people.
And yet - he completely failed in his opportunity to connect with me.
I think that's the part people miss: if you're going to do the social media thing, you have to do it because you enjoy it, to really connect with people, not to manipulate the medium to get what you want. It's fascinating, really, how invulnerable the system is to insincerity.
I suppose that's the difference, too, between imitation for the sake of status and repeating an idea because of the image it creates.
Can I help it Georgia had a brilliant eye? Maybe the cow skull is just my little way of connecting with her, in a cosmic non-Twittery way.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Sometimes she lasts through most of the morning or even a lot of the day, prowling around under the bird feeder. Other times it's only for a few minutes. Still it's nothing like our old Wyoming wind. The high desert winds of Spring here gust in tumultuous waves, but they lack the icy knife's edge of the Wyoming winds.
We were warned that Spring here would be windy and so it is. I think of it like lake turnover - all of those layer of air warming up, rising and sinking. It's worth a little tumult to get the warmth.
I suppose that's the way of things - you can't get change without stirring things up.
Please don't nod and add "you can't get an omelet without breaking some eggs." I always thought that analogy was stupid. Who cares if the eggs get broken? You're eating an omelet! No, the analogy cries out for enduring something really unpleasant to get what you want.
(Incidentally, Blogger told me I spelled "omelet" wrong. I spelled it "omelette" - apparently I'm feeling very French this morning - but it doesn't offer correct spellings. So I typed it into Sterling as the beginning of the next chapter so Word would tell me. Now Chapter 12 starts with "Rowan made an omelet." This amuses me no end. I'd love to find a way to keep it. And you wonder where writers get their ideas...)
Sometimes the unpleasant things we endure aren't dramatic or glamorous. In fact, more often it's the humdrum, the grind that has to be overcome. David has less than three weeks left of school in this semester and he's grumbling about not wanting to go to class. I'm about 25% of the way into Sterling, nearing the Act I climax, which is a nice goal to be reaching, but there's a lot of novel left to write.
(Especially if my heroine is going to spend a chunk of the next chapter preparing breakfast. I really think she has more important things to deal with...)
Ah, now Isabel has had enough. She leaps up onto the table outside my window and meows as if the hounds of hell are chasing her. I let her in, for a bite of breakfast, maybe a little nap. After a break she'll try it again.
Just like the rest of us.
Monday, April 5, 2010
I like how Facebook and Twitter give me these little windows into peoples' lives and what they're doing.
Quite a few people have been doing "staycations" and commenting how much they're enjoying them. One family is staying in Chicago and rediscovering all the fun things there are to do there. Another family went the short distance from their small town in Arkansas to St. Louis, to shop and see the sights. My friend was particularly excited to have the opportunity to dispose of her #5 recyclables.
Not at all glamorous.
And yet, that's what people used to do all the time, right? Go to the village for market days. Travel to the city for provisions. Somewhere along the way, the stakes got raised.
I was supposed to clean the house this weekend and never got around to it. I try to clean it every other weekend. I'm far from being a fabulous housekeeper, so stretching the cleaning to three weeks means it'll really show by next weekend.
But on Saturday I got really caught up in Sterling and spend most of the day on it. Then on Sunday we went out to breakfast with friends and ended up tooling around seeing the sights. After that, I worked on the novel just a little bit more and the day was over.
I did get the laundry done.
It used to be that I'd procrastinate forever on writing. I'd do every chore imaginable, plus some I made up on the spot, to avoid sitting down at my writing desk. I had to trick myself, or force myself, to sit down and write. Now I eye the dust bunnies collecting in the corners and think I should probably get after them one of these days, maybe after this next scene.
I think it's healthy.
Sometimes people ask us how we stay entertained, both when we lived back in our small Wyoming town and even now in the "small" city of Santa Fe. It's hard for me to explain that I never run out of things to do. I write and David studies. We read and talk and sit in the sun. We take long walks.
I've come to think that, if you set your life up the way you want it, every day becomes a staycation. It's all about enjoying the place you're in and indulging in the things you enjoy.
Sometimes what makes you happiest is to get rid of that pile of recyclables. Other times, you just need to skip the chores.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
I love how Ho Tai looks like he's celebrating the daffodils here.
Of course, the lovely thing about Ho Tai is he looks like he's always celebrating everything. I suppose it says something that we have him in our garden. It tells you what I worship most. What I strive for.
Is it silly to say joy?
There are so many opportunities to read and watch the awful, the hateful, the depressing. People are angry and afraid and feel more free than ever before, it seems, to vent that to the world.
Heather Armstrong, better known as Dooce, and a blogger I admire, was recently invited to D.C. to participate in a forum on workplace flexibility. She's kind of a poster child for it, because she was famously fired from her job back in the early 2000s for something(s) she wrote in her blog. So much so that being "dooced" means having that happen to you. A phenomenon of the new era. Now she supports her family from her blog and works from home.
But apparently, people were angry that she was chosen. It doesn't surprise me, I suppose, though I didn't read any of the comments. Heather elicits a lot of strong emotions from people, largely because she lays it all out there and doesn't mince words. She also, like many people who are very good at what they do, makes it look effortless. So, she seems to be succeeding for doing nothing more than taking pictures of her dog and yakking about her children.
I've been going back and reading through her archives from the beginning. It's like a long, real-time memoir. I'm fascinated by the window she's allowed us into her life. That's the best kind of memoir-writing, in my opinion.
What people don't understand about writing memoir, or personal essays, which is what many blogs truly are, is that you're still making artistic choices.
In short: you don't tell every damn thing.
Even if it seems like you do.
There have been a number of discussions lately about how much of yourself to put on the internet and how much to keep private. Authors are encouraged by their agents and publishers to blog, but not everyone is good at it. Some authors are so concerned with their privacy that their blogs end up being little more than updates on books and appearances. Good information, but not interesting reading. Others go too far the other way and use their blogs as a dumping ground to vent about what makes them unhappy. Which, while it can be a way to connect with other people, runs the risk of being, well, not entertaining.
Kev warned me early on not to yield to the temptation to turn my blog into a rant, which annoyed me at the time. Most likely because he was right.
It's hard to predict, of course, how people will react to what you write. I'm still surprised by which of my posts get attention and which don't. I always enjoy seeing which elicit the most comments, both here and through other venues. It's fun, because no other kind of writing garners immediate feedback like blogging does. But then, I rarely get negative comments.
I find myself moving to shield myself from the negative these days. I stay away from most "news." I unfollow people who say things that depress me. I don't read the nasty things that people say about Dooce.
Am I burying my head in the sand? I don't think so. There's plenty of pain out there. I know what's going on politically - though my philosophy is to find out what I need to about candidates, elect the ones who stand for what I do and then I let them handle it. I feel like I hire them to worry about it so I don't have to.
Sometimes I share my pain here - mostly if I feel like it helps to tell the story. That's what it's all about, telling the story. Sometimes I even have a point.
Maybe that's why talking about joy seems silly sometimes. There's not much of a moral there.
Except, oh look! Pretty daffodils!
Friday, April 2, 2010
Suddenly, there they are!
Lots of writing pushes going on right now for some reason. Maybe everyone is realizing we're already through the first quarter of 2010 and wondering what they have to show for it. Now the sun is warming, the flowers blooming and all that work you figured you'd get done in the dark days of winter? Not so much?
So the RWA PRO group is having a 50K challenge this month. And there's this Thor's Challenge of 25K in 25 days. Another gal announced she's 200 days into writing at least 100 words per day. Everyone wants to beef up those wordcounts.
Speaking of which, I discovered this week that my scene break set of symbols "* * *" actually count as three whole words in MS Word. When the clock is ticking and the words aren't flowing and you're struggling to hit your 1K for the day, it's really tempting to stick in a few extra scene breaks. Everyone loves a scene break, right? Maybe I should develop a fancier scene break indicator, like
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Isn't that pretty? And it would be SEVEN words!
Of course, that's not really the point. Which is the thing to bear in mind. Wordcount goals and challenges can be great to motivate a writer to keep her butt in the chair and put the words on the screen, but what truly matters is what words they are. Even if you do fast draft and edit later, eventually quality trumps quantity. The NaNoWriMo folks are all about pushing you to finish a novel, which can be a valuable exercise. (Of course, they count 50K as a complete novel, which it isn't -- you need at least 80K, really -- but I've complained about that before, so I'll shut up about it now.) So, one thing the NaNoWriMo folks say is that, if you're stuck, you can have your characters sing something like American Pie. I haven't heard how many words that ends up adding to the story, but it's a considerably long song.
What, that's cheating?
Depends on what you're trying to do. If you want to prove to yourself that you can put down 50,000 words to form a storyish type thing, then sure. Is it a novel when you're done? Well, I can tell you right now that you're going to have to cut out the song lyrics, since the royalties to directly quote songs are off the charts, so to speak.
Yeah, in the editing phase.
My point being, why put something in to pad the wordcount if you *know* you're going to take it out in the final product? That's just indulging yourself as a writer and not really working for it.
This has been a slow writing week for me, wordcount-wise, largely because I've been going back and reworking. KAK has been giving me great feedback on the Sterling New Novel.
(Did I mention that one of the agents who read the full of Obsidian and was *this* close on it loves the concept of the New Novel? She called it a "sterling idea." So I think the new code phrase for it is Sterling. Even though that has nothing to do with the story. It makes me happy to look at it.)
So I'm working it up, hitting plot snags because this world is complex and - oops, I violated my on physical laws already in Chapter 8 - so I had to fix that thread. I'm shifting a few scenes around and adding in important information. I've made a lot of progress this week, just in a way that can't be measured by rising wordcount.
It's easy to value yang over yin. You know the concept I mean: the Taoist symbol of balance. Yang is active, male, thrusting out and growing; Yin is resting, female, drawing in and nurturing.
Accumulating wordcount is yang, then. Editing, the trimming back, in yin.
Those dark days of winter when you didn't do much but eat and sleep? That's a restorative time. The resting and rebuilding allows for the explosion of Spring yang.
The tulip bulbs hid under the rock for nine months or more, then burst through in a blaze of red.
Both phases are equally valuable.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Here's a Happy Spring image for you from this morning.
Never mind that I really need to clean out the iris bed behind them -- aren't the hyacinths pretty? (This is one of those glass half-empty/half-full tests.)
I've never been much of one for April Fool's Day. And, though I'm a certifiable smart-ass and very fond of laughing, I'm not much of a prankster. Pranks that rely on duping someone else are rarely funny to me. Maybe that's my Sensitive Soul aspect - I usually feel too bad for the person made to be a fool to dredge up much humor.
I remember one Christmas, a man my mom was seeing convinced her to play a joke on her sister and brother-in-law. The brother-in-law had a rep for being a prankster, so my mom's guy was intent on winning that little contest. They went and bought a lottery ticket using the winning numbers from the day before. Then my mom pretended to check her ticket against the newspaper. When they all matched, my aunt started going crazy with excitement. Her eyes lit up with all the possibilities that lay before them. A huge jackpot!
My mom blew it by starting to cry. I have a sick feeling about it still. Seeing that hope and joy and all along it was just a dirty trick...
Maybe I feel like we all spend enough time being foolish. In our day to day lives, we suffer disappointments great and small. We pin our hopes on perhaps getting that something on sale, to landing that lucrative multi-book contract or winning the lottery (same thing). We hope for love, for comfort, for joy. We pray that disappointment won't smack us in the back of the head.
It happens enough without us doing it to each other in the name of fun.
But then, perhaps the intent is to lighten all that. Perhaps, in a way, we're making fun of how the world punishes us. It's a way of practicing disappointment, without it being real.
However you spend the day, I wish you honest laughter, a bundle of Spring flowers and a minimal amount of foolishness