Monday, May 31, 2010

Memory Bin

Our garbage collection here is once a week, on Monday mornings. The trucks come quite early, usually before 7 am, lumbering down the street, seizing the standardized bins with the automatic claws.

We go running early, so we usually drag our bin out on Monday morning. But many of our neighbors do this on Sunday, often early in the afternoon. It's an unmistakable rumble, the sound of the two-wheeled plastic bin being dragged up a long gravel driveway. Sound carries here. Despite the distances between houses, we can hear the grinding drag from the next street over. Some people even put their bins out on Saturday, just to be sure.

Our immediate next-door neighbor puts his out on Sunday before noon. He's a vague kind of guy who may have done a little bit too much acid in his younger days. It might be a big remembering thing for him, to get that bin out there. So, much so, that he put his bin out yesterday. So did our neighbor on the other side.

"There won't be garbage collection tomorrow, will there?" I asked David.

"I wouldn't think so since it's a national holiday."

And yet, there were the sprinkles of garbage bins dutifully drug out to the road. This morning I peeked in one to ascertain that, indeed, it had not been emptied.

"For some of these people," David said, "I think garbage collection day is the only thing that distinguishes Monday from the rest of the week."

I can see that. Our neighborhood is full of artists and retirees. Week days, weekends, holidays - there's no real distinction if you're not working a typical corporate work week. Remembering something like when to put out the garbage can take on great significance.

I'll probably hit 20,000 hits on my blog today. I'm at 19,989 right now. It's kind of like watching for the car odometer to roll over to a round number. You watch for days and even weeks, reminding yourself to look. I almost always forget at the pertinent time. I'm sure that will happen with this. The next time I look, the numbers will have rolled over. It's just kind of nifty, though, nothing very important.

A lot of people stress the importance of remembering. Today is a day for remembering, the memorial. I've seen a number of messages on the social networks reminding people that today is to honor those fallen in service, not active duty personnel, because there's other days for them. Keep to the correct day for the correct observance seems to be the message.

So today is the day I'm instructed to remember my father, the man who died in the fiery wreckage of his F-4 fighter jet when I was three years old.

I've written about this before, so forgive me those of you who might grow tired of it. My father's death is one of the watershed events of my life, of my mother's life. It changed the course of what happened after, of who we grew up to be. We observe the quiet anniversaries of his life throughout the year, his birthday, their wedding anniversary, the day he died. We don't do anything; we just remember.

We can't not remember him.

So, though I'm writing about it on this day, Memorial Day isn't special for me. I don't care at all who gets thanked or remembered today. I'm not shuffling my memories and my grief out to the curb, so it can be collected on time.

I plan to spend some time in the sun, enjoying the life I know my dad would have wanted me to have.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Morning After

Stormy day yesterday. Now our rain catchments are all full and the birds singing crazy symphonies.

Last night Marcella IM'd me quite late to report that she'd gone from 87K to 91.6K that day and her new book is almost done, except for a few connecting scenes.

Her first book, Enemy Within, is coming out in November and she's supposed to deliver the sequel, Enemy Games, to her agent today. So, I dutifully told her how terribly hot she is and what a triumphant blaze of glory this is to get her book done and how she can send it off to her agent and relax and party all weekend.

Marcella replied that she was far more likely to collapse in a cold, stinking pile of exhaustion.

Which is always the way of it, isn't it?

I remember when my first lover, my high school boyfriend, Kev, and I first contrived to spend a night together.

(This is the time to stop reading if you have a low TMI threshold. And Mom - I'm not sure you know this story, but it's been about 25 years so I figure the statute of limitations is up on this.)

My folks were out of town, so Kev came over to spend the night. I had many things I wanted to try at that tender age of exploration, most of them romantic. So we spread blankets in front of the fireplace in the living room (which required shifting furniture). I'd read somewhere that safflower oil made the best massage oil. Kev had never had alcohol, so we drank a bottle of champagne. (Why, yes, I am an evil corrupting influence.)

We had a lovely, giddy, very hot and sexy time with each other.

We romantically fell asleep in each other's arms. And awoke somewhere around two in the morning, cold, sticky and miserable with pounding headaches.

It was a good welcome-to-adulthood lesson. For every blaze of glory, there's an ashy pile of debris to clean up afterwards. It became a running joke with me and Kev, especially if anyone mentioned romantic fireplace settings or massage oil. Our cautionary tale.

It's the way of the world, that for every sexy evening, there's a morning after. For every great artistic push, there's a time of whimpering recovery.

At least now we know to plan for it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

There Is No "I" in Book

A bit of Spring sunset tumult from last night. As with many things, it brewed up to be a big deal, but really produced very little.

Allison and I were talking about self-absorption yesterday. Self-involvement. Narcissism.

These terms get tossed at writers quite often. And usually, I think, by the people who want the writer to be paying attention to them, rather than to what they're writing. I ended up telling Allison that she'd been necessarily self-involved in completing her Revisions from Hell in record time.

Then I realized, that's not true at all.

She hasn't been self-involved; she's been absorbed in her work. Writers drew the unlucky straw of doing an awful lot of their work in their heads, in dreamy states that are arguably other planes of existence. It tends to make them unavailable for paying attention to the people around them, which can lead to rancor.

Blogging and memoir-writing - often the same thing - are also targets for the self-involvement critics. "Navel-gazing" they love to call it. If that's so, would going back and reading one's own blog posts be navel-gazing at navel-gazing?

I say no.

Once you produce the writing, it becomes something outside yourself. It's art. A painting is not the artist's self. A symphony is not the musician's self. An elegant bit of code is not the programmer's self. All of these things, to varying degrees, do reflect the person who created them.

It's an interesting thing to me, as I've mentioned before here, to go back and read my older blog posts. I particularly like playing "this time, last year." The May 27 post from last year is full of sadness about getting a "no" from the agent I really had set my hopes on. Quite a bit has changed for me in that time - my strategy, how I'm going about things.

What non-writers may not realize is, reading your own work rarely feels like a familiar thing. I'm often surprised by what I've written before. People have quoted my work to me and I failed to recognize it - which irritates them. I understand why it would, but it's lovely that they're quoting something I wrote. It just no longer sounds like a piece of me. It has its own life.

So, Allison, I take it back. You haven't been self-involved at all. You've been involved in your book.

And that's an admirable thing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pursuing the Vision

I really wanted to capture the blaze of iris yellow with the blue flax behind it, but I can't get the picture to come out right.

Yet again I can't seem to capture in an image what my eye sees. My lack of photography skill or equipment. Perhaps the human eye still trumps all else. The neurophysiologist in me likes that idea.

I'll keep working at it.

Every morning we take Zip for a walk and every other morning I run the distance. I do the Bill Phillips thing of pulsing my speed so I work up from slow walking to fast walking to slow running to fast running. Sometimes David jogs along with me, but his legs are so much longer than mine that he can pretty much stride along to all but my fastest jog. Which is clearly not very fast.

I try not to let this be a humiliating thing.

Frankly, I'm happy to be running at all, since I am most decidedly NOT athletic girl. Never have been. One of my friends has a son graduating from high school who, despite his startlingly good academic record, might be held back for failing a gym class. I can totally sympathize with this. In fact, all her writing friends chimed in and agreed that we all loathed gym. Why there aren't more evil gym-teacher villains in books I really don't know. Maybe we're all still afraid they'll make us do push-ups or something.

They even gave me the Greek body/mind ideal lecture in school, about how I should be wanting to build physical abilities as much as my mental ones.

Yeah, that didn't fly, either.

The thing is, people who love gym simply don't understand those of us who hate it. I even have an essay in Wyoming Trucks that delves heavily into hiding in the girls' bathroom during gym. When one of my recently reconnected high school boyfriends read my book, he commented that it really opened his eyes to what school is like for others, especially for his adolescent daughter. It had never occurred to him that not everyone loved bombardment. (A particularly cruel form of dodgeball.)

But now I run. Not by choice so much, but because Mother Nature pulled the nasty trick of swapping the slim little body I could stuff anything into for one that converts muscle to fat if I'm not actively working to prevent it.

(Hit me with a potato famine, though - I'll be all over it!)

Running, lifting weights, it's something I hate while I'm doing it. I take no joy in the moment like those naturally athletic people do. All the pleasure comes when I'm done, when I finish that last minute of sprinting, out of breath and blood pumping. That's when I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Writing can be like that, too. Sometimes the process of it is so grueling that it can feel like you're out of breath, with half the hill still to go. You long to stop, to walk, to turn back. But if you push through, sometimes you hit the exhilaration. There you are, flying down the hill, the sun on your skin and wind in your hair. You become the vision of the true athlete, the Greek ideal of beauty, fitness and artistry.

I suppose that's why we pursue visions. Their lure keeps us going, working ourselves so we don't grow old, fat and complacent.

I'll keep working at it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The other day I walked past this cholla and a bird flew out with an indignant squawk.

I think it was a towhee, though I didn't get a really good look at her, but the way she behaved made me think she had a nest. Sure enough, there it was.

I went back to the house to get the camera. It had been a little while by the time I walked back to her cholla, but she wasn't back yet. Either that or she came back and took off again before I saw her - one spends a lot of time looking down for spiky stuff when walking in the desert.

Taking the picture wasn't easy. Cholla would be a good substitute for lava in childhood games. the spines twist out in every direction, making it exceedingly difficult to get close. By the time I got a good angle, I could see that there was a baby bird in the nest along with egg. (It's the pink, fuzzy bit on the seven o'clock side of the nest.)

After that I fretted about whether the mother ever came back, but I don't want to check, just in case she did, but a third visit from me puts her off entirely.

There's no reason to think she wouldn't come back and every reason to think she would. I try not to worry about it.

A friend of mine from college is having a mastectomy. She's having lumps removed, then breast reconstruction. So far as I know, she's never used the C-word, though she refers to losing her hair and whether she'll be a "wig-type" or a "scarf-type," so I know she's having chemotherapy.

It's interesting what she's chosen to focus on. She's excited to get her "dream breasts" and has been taunting us with how perky she'll be into our older years. The hair will grow back. This is a temporary illness for her.

She knows something about living with broken parts since her young son is diabetic. She's sharing her journey with her children in the same way they've all shared the burden of diabetes. It's remarkable to me. I've known people who never their adult children about their illnesses until it couldn't be hidden. In this family, my friend has made it no shame, but a challenge for them all to share in.

My friend posted this poem that she wrote on Facebook.

My daughter writes the words she hears,
that confuse her
Single or paired...questions

Fake Boob
Lost Hair
Pink Ribbon

She hands me the drawing with the surgeon wearing a Joker-like smile,
a frowning me holding a handful of hair

Her eyes are concerned, but a smirk plays across her face
She and her brother start to giggle

"Fake boob"

My son asks "Will it be metal? Wood?"
"No, something squishy"



I laugh along with the children
While it still seems like a big joke

Nature is fundamentally unfair in who gets sick, who gets tumors, who gets diabetes. We try to parse the pattern, hedge our bets, but people develop chronic diseases anyway. All we can really control is how we deal with them.

I admire how well she's choosing not to worry about it.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Pretty Fantasy

This is our rescue beaked yucca, pre-planting.

We ended up riffing on this concept on Twitter, some of my writing friends and I. They asked how one rescues a yucca. I explained how this one came from Big Bend, Texas and was salvaged from land-clearing. These slow-growing plants are often destroyed by various kinds of development.

They asked about rescue yucca ranches, whether they were kill or no-kill. I assured them that all rescue cacti live happily ever after and receive ice cream every day.

This prompted great relief, especially from Adri, who was envisioning abandoned cacti with big sad eyes.

This is how writers are. Take one little image and spin it into an involved - and sometimes silly - story.

I spun myself this little fantasy the other day in the shower. No, not the kind you're thinking of. In this one, an editor from the house that has Obsidian called me enthusing about the book. I dreamed up the detailed conversation, which involved phrases like "three-book contract," "centerpiece of this year's offerings from us," and "brilliant new writer." It was a terrific fantasy.

Now, I know there's some value to this. All the positive-thinking guri (plural for guru, I feel quite sure) say you have to be able to envision the success. And I know we all have Walter Mitty-ish alternate lives in our heads, no harm done.

My problem is, my imagination is so vivid I begin to believe the fantasy.

All day, I kept wanting to tell people my good news. Hey! This editor called and offered me a fabulous book deal! In my head! Where I hear voices from people who aren't really calling me...

Oh yeah. There's that whole reality thing I have to remember to hang on to.

At any rate, I was amused at myself.

(And I still feel kind of excited about my imaginary phone call.)

And here's the rescue yucca, planted as a centerpiece in the garden facing the road. If all goes well, he'll grow up big and tall in this spot, a happy and attractive beaked yucca.

If you look closely, you can see a bit of ice cream smudged on his mouth.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Caution: Danger Ahead

The last couple of days, we've had this little ground squirrel coming up to scavenge under the bird feeder.

Yesterday, as I worked at my desk, I saw him behaving kind of oddly. He bristled his tail in the air and dropped to all fours, spreading his legs and stomping the ground in a wide stance. It looked territorial, but I couldn't see what threatened him.

He stopped and went back to eating seeds and then did it again.

I'd about decided he was just engaged in some kind of ritual display, when I saw the red snake pop his head out of the gopher hole.

That same coachwhip snake we found under the garbage can a month ago. Or, at least, I assume it's the same snake - he doesn't have a nametag or anything.

For a while these two faced-off, back and forth. It really surprised me, the way the little rodent bravely stood up to the snake, backing it into the hole again.

Eventually the detente ended, as many do, due to outside events. Isabel captured another mouse and brought it to me. I had to take it out the front door and the ground squirrel ran off. Shortly after that, the snake came out of the hole and glided off into the desert.

I feel like I should make analogy here, about standing up to our fears, to what threatens us, but we do anyway, don't we? People talk a lot about how you can't run away from stuff, but most of the time, none of us have that luxury anyway.

You have a difficult co-worker or boss, you get to deal with them every work day. Petulant teenagers ooze their petulance over everyone in their paths, leaving their families glommed like birds in an oil spill. Appliances break, crises occur, deadlines loom - and we have to deal with them.

Maybe the little ground squirrel isn't really brave - the snake is just something he had to deal with if he wanted to eat.

In the end, they both went their own ways.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Noble Effort

When we awoke this morning, Isabel greeted us with a series of excited chirping meows and significant looks at the big leather armchair. This can mean only one thing.

She caught a mouse. Oh, and it had escaped, by the way, and she needed help moving the chair.

Good morning to you, too.

See, in this new house, we're on all one level with no basement, no cellar, no crawlspace. Thus, none of my typical kitty box locations. So, David installed an insulated kitty door in the human door to the garage and I stuck the boxes out there. This makes for great nocturnal fun, what with chasing mice in the garage all night.

Then bringing them into the house.

Teddy was interested, too, but in a more academic way, since it was Isabel's prize. We lifted the chair, Isabel nabbed the mouse, David took it from her and released it back to the wild. Now Isabel is back in the garage, looking for more.

I had lunch with one of my Boston colleagues yesterday and we talked about how people feel about their jobs. She feels disheartened at times, she said, working with people who seem to care more about what time they get to go home than about the work itself. That their jobs seem to be entirely about working their flex schedules than what they're trying to accomplish. Worse, despite their focus on getting away from the job, some seem to not have any particular passion outside of it, either.

We're at a funny place with our company, so it's on her mind, what the ideal career would be. Projects are getting canceled; people are shifting around. In some ways, what project we move to is governed entirely by where the money is. But we were asking each other what we'd like to be working on anyway.

She knows I want to be a full-time writer, of course, but she wondered what in the company I'd most like to be doing. To some extent, I don't care so much. The project I worked on for so long was one I fell into. I became an expert on the subject, but not out of any kind of passion. I like learning new fields, so really any project will do for that. I finally said I wished the company would use me more as a writer. I think it's foolish that they don't, but there it is.

When I returned the question to her, she said she really didn't know. She didn't know in college; she didn't know when she got her Masters in International Relations, an admittedly vague field. I asked her what she'd envisioned and she thought maybe working for an NGO (non-government organization) or something.

"Ah," I said, "something noble."

"Yes," she laughed, shaking her head. "That's it - something noble."

The question of what we all do with ourselves has a unique answer for each of us. Some of us have day jobs of varying interest to pay the bills while we indulge our true passions in slices on either side of the work day. Some of us work at whatever and live for our families. Others of us live for our careers and care for nothing else.

I think what my colleague is getting at is that she'd like to be doing something that contributes to the betterment of the world. The exact method isn't important to her. I think that's part of why many of us write, with the idea of giving back stories to the world.

But really, in the end, most of the things we choose to do, we do because we like doing it. Whether that's having a job that lets you leave at 3:30 so you can pick up the kids, or having a job that gives you a thrill that you've saved a life.

Many writers note that the business end of it is no fun at all. I might have a noble idea of sharing my stories with the world, but the real reason I do is because I like to.

Isabel isn't catching mice to rid our garage of rodents. She does it because it's fun.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Secret Surprise

Yesterday we had visitors.

My colleagues Carolyn Gillette and Jim Jolley were in town doing some work, so they came by to see the house and we went out to dinner afterward. In the process of giving them the tour, I discovered that these iris are blooming in the Secret Garden. (Note that they're not yellow - heavily amended soil there.) Part of what makes the Secret Garden so secret is that you can't see much of it unless you actually go out there, which I just don't do as often as I should.

Part of that is because I have to go through the garage to get to the Secret Garden. Yeah, it's poor design. If I were to engage in any remodeling, that would be my first one - cut a door from the kitchen to the Secret Garden. As it is, you can see the garden from the kitchen window, which is lovely, but only gives you a long-distance, straight-line view.

It comes down to that I have to go out to the Secret Garden on purpose and I just don't all that much. It's the great impact of the computer age, I think, that they're not all that compatible with going outside. Well, that and a cool Spring. When I'm not working my day job, I'm writing, which I also do on the computer.

Or answering emails. Or IMing with people. Or reading blogs and interesting articles. Or critiquing other manuscripts. Reading books is about the only thing I don't do on the computer.

I begin to feel like I live on my laptop.

There are ways to get away from this, I know. I'm sure you're thinking of suggesting that I write longhand. Or go back to corresponding via handwritten letters. I could even spend time with flesh and blood friends, should I find some.

(Actually I'm having coffee next week with a real, live other writer. A new friend found on the studio tour. Amazing!)

But it's all academic - I'm not going to do those things. For now I'm wedded to my laptop for most activities.

Instead I'll add a bit of reading in the Secret Garden to my To Do list.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Irises and Impressionists

At last the iris are blooming. I notice everyone in our neighborhood has the yellow ones like this. I'm wondering if other colors don't do well in this soil. I'd like to try planting some others - perhaps a field of dark blue behind this blanket of yellow, but we'll see.

Many hybridized colors won't flourish in non-ideal soils and the flowers revert to the wild type. Pink hydrangeas in non-alkaline soils revert to blue, for example. Or in non-acidic soils - I forget which. If you want to grow pink hydrangeas, you'll have to look it up.

Yesterday I completed my second round of edits on the Loose Id novella, which is now called, forever and finally, Petals and Thorns. Beauty and the Beast was too close to other titles in their house and the big editors didn't like Love Lies Bleeding, as my direct editor and I picked out. They seemed to think it was kind of icky.


So, Petals and Thorns it is, with a thank you to Allison for not only suggesting it, but essentially loaning it to me, since it's the name of the gaming website she's run for lo these many years.

This second round of edits was dead easy. Actually the first round of edits were quite straight forward and didn't require much brain-strain. This round was mainly approving comma-insertions and space-deletions. From time to time though, my editor quibbled over metaphorical word interpretations.

The one she really doesn't like? "She felt his eyes on her." My editor says that means his eyeballs would be on her, which is, naturally, not the feel we're going for. I personally don't believe a normal person would read it that literally, but I conceded and replaced with the suggested (and tepid) "gaze." She also argued with "the rose drew her eye," wanting that to be "gaze," also. I said no, to draw the eye to something is a perfectly established expression.

To me, this is the literary equivalent of representational art versus abstract art.

(We won't get into that this is a BDSM novella and arguably not all that full of ze arte. I'm talking a general principle here - stick with me.)

I'm full of visual art analogies since doing the studio tour the other day.

My mom's David loves representational art. He likes a landscape, preferably with European elements. He likes it to be what it it. My mom likes art that takes reality and turns it. The Impressionists were the first to really break away from the strict European representational art. This is Renoir's famous painting Bathing Woman, 1883. It's famous enough that I couldn't find an image of it without the watermark.

When I saw the original, it struck me that he'd painted her skin green. If you look at the shadows on her skin, they're all these blues and greens. So much so that it's unsettling up close. Standing back, it creates this amazing feel of young, lovely flesh and water. He gave us the impression, not the literal moment.

I think that's what the literalist readers/editors get into. They're focusing so much on the words, that they lose the overall impression. I'm not going to fight over it for my BDSM novella epub, but to have someone's eyes on you gives a different impression than their gaze. It's a level of intimacy to me.

But this is the soil I chose for this particular story and it will have to take on the characteristics of that place. It will become the color it needs to be.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Good Times

Yesterday, my mom and I spent the day doing the funnest thing ever. At least, exactly tailored to what is fun for us.

My mom and Dave arrived late on Saturday. One of the perks of us being in Santa Fe is that we're now on their migration route between Tucson and Denver. They left this morning, heading north to Denver for the summer. Maybe for the last year. After this they might commit to Tucson full time.

We'll see.

But yesterday, my mom and I got to spend the day doing the Eldorado Studio Tour. It was a gorgeous day, so we drove the convertible with the top down. There were 117 artist displaying work in 83 studios, all around the community of Eldorado.

This provided fun for us on so many levels: we got to see the houses and the way people set up their studios. We looked at landscaping and entryways. We saw how people decorated their homes, how they dealt with their culverts (very important to me these days) and who had the best views. (I still think ours is one of the very best - we totally lucked into that.) We saw so many different kinds of art, talked to the artists and their spouses and met lots of fun and interesting people. I even met a spouse who's a writer and might be a new friend.

The guys would have hated every minute.

So it was serendipitous my mom came through this weekend and was able to spend the day with me. We were out for six hours. I bought some notecards from a couple of artists and a giclee page proof of Moonlight Madness by Julia Cairns - the pic above. It reminds me of some of the things I'm writing now. There's another painting by Daniel Huntsinger that really reminds me of Sterling in this very dark way. (That's not it, but it gives you a feel for his work.) I kind of want it and I kind of think it's too dark.

I'll probably go get it. I'm eying the spot on my office wall where it should be.

See how I am?

That's the best part: it's what my mom and I share.

Best day ever.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Taking the Leap

Yesterday Isabel discovered the finch nest in the juniper out front. She managed to climb pretty high before I intervened.

For the finch's sake, not hers.

It's pretty cliché, the story about a cat being stuck up a tree. They can climb up, but they can't come down again. The idea makes a good foil. The hero rescuing the cat, the fretting over the cat, the dubious moral about getting yourself into something you can't get out of.

The truth is, usually the cat doesn't come down because it doesn't want to. When it's ready, down they climb, just fine.

I've had enough of hanging out in my particular tree. I've taken what feels like a big step and I'm sending directly to a science fiction/fantasy house. One whose imprint I know like my own name, because it's been on every book I've read for the last 4o years or so.

It feels good, too.

As I discovered a few months ago, printing the book out is satisfying in a way the electronic attachment can never be. Mindful of those lessons, I used my best paper. This house earned extra points from me because all they want is a cover letter and the full manuscript. No dinking around with synopses or partials. All or nothing baby.

I sent it all.

And it feels like taking action in a way that nothing else lately really has.

And I tweeted the fabulous Robin McKinley to tell her I was sending it, not that she'd care, and that my cover letter says I want to be her when I grown up, so I was tweeting her for luck. And she tweeted back a "Good Luck!" Which, okay, is probably silly to get all thrilled about, but I did. I am.

Now we wait and see. I bet the cat will come down on her own.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Money is Time

We're in this in-between time here, with this one last tulip barely hanging on, and the iris not yet blooming.

The fierce, cold winds of the last week or two (apparently it was quite stormy while we were gone) shattered the apple blossoms and threw everything back into stasis. The butterfly bush, the lilacs, the iris - they're ready to blossom, but they're waiting, leaves a bit shriveled, looking for an extra boost of warmth.

Any day now.

The other day a guy came to our door offering cleaning services. He was a twenty-something and granola with it. He said he had a number of clients in our neighborhood; I nearly asked him to name names. We were both home and the guy specifically mentioned window cleaning, which we need done, so I asked him to give us a bid to do it. Since washing the windows has been on my to-do list for several months now, I thought it might be worth finding out.

$350. I kid you not.

And here I was thinking $50 or $100. Who knew I would be so far off base?

I tend to think of things now in terms of what my hourly rate at the day job is. Especially if it's something I don't want to do. When I was a grad student, young professional, I had way more time than money. Mainly because I had no money. Anything I could do myself, I did. Then at some point the ratio changed and I had more money than time. If I could pay someone to do it, great. Especially if it would "cost" more to do it myself, in terms of my hourly rate.

Am I the only one who thinks this way?

I make a decent living, but I figure it will only take an hour or two to wash the windows. No, I don't make anywhere close to $175. Washing the windows myself, it is.

We watched the guy walk away, hunched against the cold wind, joined by a woman his age in a flowing gypsy skirt. David wondered how they can charge those kinds of prices. I thought maybe it's worth it to some people to pay that kind of price.

Now that I'm thinking more and more about truly being a full-time writer, my mind is starting to go back the other way. I'm doing things more myself and find myself less willing to shell out the money to hire someone else.

I'm seriously considering hiring out to wash other people's windows, too.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Straddling Fences

This morning I moved the houseplants outside to start the hardening off process.

I noticed in my wisteria-love fest the other day that last year in Laramie I moved the plants out on May 28. (I explained hardening off there, too, if you're wondering what it is.) So Santa Fe has only moved me up by 16 days. Of course, we've been gone and I didn't want the house-sitter to have to nurse them. I might have done it sooner than this.

We'll see what next year brings. By all accounts it's been a cool Spring all up and down the Rocky Mountain states.

But it's snowing in Denver and Laramie, so I have plenty of smug to fill my bowl of contentment.

I talked to Catherine Asaro yesterday on the phone, about Obsidian, which she graciously read for me. She's really a wonderful gal and a terrific writer, so if you haven't read her, you should seriously pick up a book or two of hers. And I'm not just saying that because she read my mss and said lovely things about it.

So, while it was great to hear her tell me what a wonderful writer I am and how good the book is, there's no super-new news there. She thinks I'm not going to get an agent with it because it's too outside the box. She says that's what I get for forging a new path. Which sounds kind of cool and glamorous, except that it really means that it's difficult to sell.

"It starts out as excellent, gritty urban fantasy," she says, "then moves into also excellent fantasy. But from a feminine perspective, which is really different."

One of the things I've learned? When all those publishing industry folks say they're looking for something really fresh and original, they're not, really. What they want is the same creature dressed up in a fresh, new outfit.

Not that I'm bitter.

Actually, I'm not feeling bitter at all. Catherine says pitch directly to editors because I'll surely find one who wants this. So that's what I'll do. I'll keep working on Sterling, too, which (as I think I've mentioned twenty times or so) should fit quite neatly into urban fantasy, with no genre-defying cross-overs.

That always seems to be my deal - I do stuff that nobody gets, then five years later it's the thing. It would be nice to think I'm cutting-edge, but really that seems to be someone else most of the time. Suddenly my thing that no one got is all the rage or even old hat.

I could give you a bunch of examples, but they're boring. I swear it's true.

When Catherine said that forging a new path is difficult, I pictured myself in a blizzard, struggling through knee-deep snow. Too dramatic? That's how it feels. Ice pellets of rejection stinging your face, energy seeping out of your muscles until you feel like you're simply too tired to go on.

But what's the alternative? The literary equivalent of lying down in the snow to die. It would feel nice, I hear, the cold changing to warmth as hypothermia sets in. Yielding to the overwhelming sleepiness as the falling snowflakes bury you. Erasing you.


Forging onward!

(Anyone got some Polar-tek?)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Morning Skirmish

We were out of eggs this morning, so I popped up to our local grocery store to get some. And, since I was there anyway, I stopped into the coffee shop for a latte.

I like our local coffee shop just fine. The coffee drinks are good. It's cozy. They do amusing things like offer an "Obama blend" of Hawaiian and Kenyan beans.

They lack somewhat in efficiency.

This morning I was first up to the counter. This can be good and bad - no wait, but that means I drew the bossy, slow worker-gal. I ordered my nonfat, sugar-free caramel latte, set my cartons of eggs and bag of lemons on the counter next to the register, pulled out my billfold and a twenty, ready to pay. At this shop, however, you don't pay until they're done making your drink.

Another woman comes in, orders a soy latte. Because she gets the fast worker-gal, her latte is done first. Fast worker gal asks if I mind if I ring up the other lady first. What am I going to say? So I say sure, fine, go ahead. And the other lady gives me a look and gestures to the counter and says "Can I put my purse down?"

Now, where she's standing, there's counter room, but there's also gum and other things, not the big open glass next to the register. I step out of the way, holding my billfold and twenty, and she plops her purse in the middle of the glass space, glaring at my eggs and lemons waiting to the side.

This is her territory now.

I'm always interested by checkout counter territorialism. People like to take over the entire space and give it up reluctantly. It seems like undesirably territory to me, but there it is.

So she pulls out her billfold - no, she isn't ready - picks out some coffee cake, selects a credit card and gives it over. Meanwhile the slow worker-gal finishes my latte and sets it on the counter, too. She tries to slide it around the perimeter of this woman's purse to get it within my reach and the woman looks offended. I say I'll just wait for it until she's done.

The card takes time to go through. Then the pen doesn't work. The woman gets a bit flustered now and I wonder if she regrets taking over the big space. Finally she finishes, but takes her time packing up her things again. Clinging to the last vestiges of her moment. She leaves without looking at me and I know I'm probably oozing impatience, though I'm trying hard to look serene.

I'm out the door thirty seconds behind her.

As I head home, I wonder what story she'd tell her co-workers. Would it be the impatient woman in sweaty workout clothes who tried to hog the counter and wouldn't let her pay? Will she change it in her mind, that we walked in at the same time, or even that she was truly first and I edged her out by piling my groceries on the counter?

Perhaps she doesn't think of it at all. Perhaps she gets to work and lays out her things on her desk, at peace to have it to herself.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wistful Wisteria

A moment before this, an Isabel tail was sticking straight up through the iris blades, fluffed with furry excitement.

Alas, I missed the moment. Whatever she'd pounced on moved, or bit back, and she shot out of there like a bolt of grey lightning.

Fine cocktail hour entertainment.

And a lovely end to a lovely day. I worked my way back into Sterling. (Thanks to KAK for nattering with me about it.) We went for the first bike ride of the season, checked out the local garden place.

I bought a Wisteria vine.

Does this seem like not such a big deal?

It is. It truly is. In fact, it's enough of a deal that I've apparently already blogged about it before. I'm always amused to find, after almost 1.5 years of blogging, when I've used a label before on a topic I thought I'd never mentioned. But there it is: Wisteria. And the post is even titled Wisteria Hysteria.

It's interesting for me to read that post from May 28 last year. (Apologies if it isn't interesting for you...) We ended up not moving to Canada. And even though I could have dragged all of my plants to Santa Fe, in the end we flat ran out of room, at 11 o'clock at night, in the moving truck. So I neither had a plant sale, nor gave them away - I left a bunch of them there in the sun room, for the new owners.

I wonder sometimes if they've taken care of them or if they all got kicked to the curb.

I'm not allowed to wax sentimental about my abandoned houseplants, however. The bougainvillea made the cut, but the hibiscus and orchid stayed behind. The orchid was in pretty dire shape anyway and people would give me these "are you completely nuts?" looks when I talked about how it could come back.

I get those looks a fair amount.

But, yesterday I bought and planted a wisteria vine, which I know will grow here, because I've seen them on other houses. One house we looked at shot straight to the top of my list because it came pre-wisteriaed.

Now I have one to nurse along. Funny how things work out.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Home Again

We returned to the antipode of the Caribbean - back to our high-altitude desert.

Last night I slept in my own bed and dreamed that I was sleeping in the aquamarine water over a coral reef. I lay on my back, cradled by the warm water, white spires of coral rising around me and fish sailing by in bright colors. Isabel was curled up under my right arm and Teddy slept up against my left hip. I woke up to hear coyotes howling in the thin desert air, with the kitties snuggled up against me.

It's good to be home again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

But If You Try Sometimes

I'm catching you up now from our hotel room in San Juan.

So close, and yet so far from our Caribbean beaches.


So, on Monday, we went to breakfast and awaited the Phone Call. Sure enough, Little Dix called and said we could do the 11 am glass-bottomed boat ride. We bundled up our things into the Jeep and headed over to the fancy side. However, when we presented ourselves, it turned out the captain wasn't coming for just two people. Maybe we could go on Wednesday. I explained we were leaving Wednesday, though we didn't know exactly when. Our original flight from Virgin Gorda had been at 4, but Air Sunshine had yet to tell us The New Plan.

Did I mention Little Dix is a class joint? They gave us free Mango Coladas at the pool bar for our trouble.

And then we went to the beaches. Long Bay is a beach-comber's delight, with nifty critters fossilized into the rocks. Shells are everywhere. Snorkeling was great there and at Savannah Bay.

We took time out for lunch at Leverick Bay resort (where we saw the Jumbies). Did you know there are Kobe beef hot dogs? Delicious, too.

Both beaches are sunny and exposed, so we dragged ourselves home, sun and salt-bleached, to grill shrimp on our little barbeque grill.

Tuesday morning, we finally found out that Air Sunshine intended to put us on a 12:30 flight out of Tortola, which meant we'd have to leave on an 8:20 ferry.

At which I commenced whining. For good or ill, while I could call and pester Air Sunshine (Lord knows how much those calls cost me), they couldn't seem to call me. So they called Guavaberry, who were good advocates for us. Finally the bearers of sunshine agreed to a 4pm flight, but we had no choice but to take an 11:20 ferry to get there. If we took a later one, we'd have to deal with Road Town and the transfer to the airport.

Too late for the glass-bottomed boat tour.

And here I'd had my heart set. You see, David is not a strong swimmer. (Chalk it up to childhood lessons in a city pool filled from snowmelt.) So he can't swim in the deeper water and see the really cool fish. I so wanted him to be able to see it. I might have shed a tear or two.

Then David had the brilliant idea of calling the captain directly. It's hard to say who it was more for at that point - for David or for me-for-David. But it worked! The guy said if we came to him, he'd take just the two of us out.

Not super-easy, but not hard. We zipped over to the jetties at Gun Creek and caught the hourly free ferry over to the Bitter End Yacht Club - an all-inclusive resort on its own little island. Most of our fellow passengers were locals who work at the resort.

Not a bad commute.

The tour was wonderful. I even saw a sea turtle, which I'd not long before told David I no longer believed in, since I'd snorkeled in all these sea turtle places without seeing one. Then we had beers and calamari while we waited for the five o'clock ferry, which was packed with housekeeping staff and other resort workers heading home in end-of-day merriment.

Last night we went for a return dinner at Copper Mine. This morning we went for a last swim at Spring Bay and drove to the ferry landing (just past the harbor where we arrived, we were told).
We left our Jeep, unlocked, keys in ashtray, as instructed.

The ferry people knew nothing about our Air Sunshine deal, so we had to pay the $40 fare.

And we ended up in Road Town. We were *supposed* to take the OTHER ferry, the Air Sunshine woman irritably told us. The other one that also left at 11:20, of which there was no evidence. Now we'd have to take a taxi.

So we ate lunch. And shopped a bit in Road Town. We arrived at the airport around 2:30. No one was at the Air Sunshine desk, so we sat in the outside cafe and had a Coke. The Air Sunshine woman spotted my suitcase - which is really funny, for those of you who know what it looks like - and came to fetch us.

We were to check in or we'd get left, she said. I said the plane was for 4pm, wasn't it?

Or earlier, she said. The pilot had just left San Juan, so would arrive soon.

They bundled David and I onto our private plane at 3:30. They walked us out, pulled the arriving couple off and popped us on.

I watched the other couple walk in, thinking that had been us, just a week ago.

But it's good to go home while you're still having fun. We'll take our chain of flights home in the morning. Soon I'll be back to it. I've been turning Sterling over in my mind and I know where we're going next.

Vacation is over. I'm ready.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When You See the Southern Cross for the First Time

I skipped posting yesterday, for no particularly good reason.

Actually it all started with breakfast at Little Dix Bay on Sunday, so I'll start there.

As I mentioned on Sunday's post, it rained all night Saturday night. Torrential, cooling, tropical rain. It still rained on Sunday morning, so we slept longer, listening to it fall through the broad leaves. And then we decided it was an ideal morning to have breakfast at Little Dix Bay, which is the high end resort on the island. We stuffed ourselves and watched the gentle rain fall. Then we walked on the beach, which is endless. We were the only people on it, because rain is apparently poisonous to tourists.

Little Dix is so sauve, they give you a little photocopied mini-version of the New York Times. We read the articles while we lingered - and noticed they offer a glass-bottomed boat tour. We asked if we could do the Monday one, they said yes, if enough people signed up and they'd call.

We noodled around the island for a bit after that, visited the ruined copper mine and looked at houses for sale, debating the pros and cons of each. None have asking prices on them.

Then we hiked up Gorda Peak.

Up very slimy hill. Through jungle. We saw a soldier crab, several giant hermit crabs and nearly stepped on snakes three different times. It was a bit unsettling.

We also saw these yellow and brown butterflies, that we think are zebra butterflies, though the colors are wrong. They have this lazy, languid way of flapping through the heavy moist air.

And, of course, the view from the lookout tower at the top was incredible.

We investigated some new beaches, ones we returned to yesterday, so I'll save those pictures for now.
Sunset found us on our deck again. Then we went to the Copper Mine Shaft Cafe for an incredible meal - and really strong drinks. If you have occasion to drink a Caribbean Blue Martini, resist the urge to have more than one.

The best part was a Cambridge professor and his wife who live here now showed us the Southern Cross on the deck. We're only 18 degrees north of the equator here. I had no idea we would be able to see the constellation so easily.

It was thrilling, actually. And I didn't have to go to the Southern Hemisphere to see it.

When we got back to our Guavaberry Hut, a little dog greeted us as if we were his returning owners. He came right inside. His tag said his name was Humpty, with owner's name and location on the other side of the island. His tag also said: "I wander. Love me. Feed me. Release me."
I gave him some water and he politely asked if he could get in the chair. I patted the cushion and up he leapt to spend the night. In the morning he wandered off.

We left the house more expeditiously than usual in pursuit of the glass-bottomed boat tour.

A story for tomorrow.

Oh - and last night? We found the Southern Cross in the sky from our own deck, now that we know how to look.

Yes, just as thrilling the second time.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Day of Too Much Perfection

Yesterday was spent much like every other, which was perfect.

We took our usual breakfast walk up to the Top of the Baths, where our breakfast buddy waited for us.

Then we hiked the trail down to The Baths and crawled through the caves to Devils Bay.

Each bay seems more perfect and lovely than the last.

The afternoon whiled away with sunbathing, beer-drinking and snorkeling. We went to a great place for dinner - The Village Cafe - where they provided us with amazing barbequed ribs, chicken and jerked pork. The best meal we've had so far, poolside and with a live band. Everyone was so wonderful to us - and again we were the only people there.

Perhaps it's the end of the season here. Perhaps it's the economy.

Seems to me like it's the perfect time to be here.

As night came on, the rain started to fall, which pleased everyone here. They've been having drought. A cooling, drenching rain fell all night.

Which also seemed just perfect.

P.S. This morning I bought an underwater camera. I know, I know - you were thinking, if only there were FISH photos! Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Smells like Caribbean Spirit

If I could post scents, I would.

So you could know what it's like to walk down the road and smell the honeysuckle sweetness of Frangipani. Or the earthy smells of ferns. Or the smoky mesquite of the mangrove woods.

I'd also give you the taste of aquamarine salt water and white shell sand. Cold beer on a hot afternoon.

I spent a lot of time in the sun water yesterday. Here's me, emerging like something less than Aphrodite from the waves, snorkel mask tangled in my hair.

In the evening we went to Leverick Bay and at the spicy jerk barbecue on the beach. We drank Red Stripe and Presidente, ate too much and danced to reggae. Turns out pretty much any song can be set to a reggae beat.

Then the Jumbies danced for us. The picture isn't good, but it gives you the feel.

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