Wednesday, February 29, 2012

He's a Metaphor for How Immature Your Personal Philosophy Is

Jesus believes in second chances, and so do I: 

As a caption to the photo:

In other news, I finished my horror novel on Monday. Yay! I edited about half of it yesterday and am doing the other half today. It's pretty damned exciting to me, reading it over; it's a good book and I'm very pleased with it. Much better in raw form than the Greenland book was. I even have a title: All the Available Time. Test readers, shout out if you want to help me see the forest in this one's trees. Maleesha, you're first; everyone else, roll up, there'll be plenty of copies to go around.

I'm mostly taking the day off from my copy-edit job, as I've done really well at it for the last couple of weeks, and it's a rainy Wednesday, which makes me want to curl up with a cup of tea and Infinite Jest, and what good is a weird work-at-home schedule if you can't do that on rainy days?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Everything's Really Wrapped Up Nicely

So now, as I announced on Facebook the other day, I am finished with the climactic scene of my horror novel, my evil little girl has been defeated, I've written 82,000 words, and I'm ready to wind the book down and have my characters live sort of happily ever after. Except some of them are dead.

I think the death thing wound up all right in the end. I had originally thought that I'd kill a character I really, really liked and leave alive a character who was all mixed up and not the most likable person there, but I switched 'em up instead. In this way, my resourceful character lives, and the other one doesn't get the chance to un-mix herself, which is really a shame. It was a nice compromise for my emotions.

I think it'll only take me another few days to write the rest of the book. I think. Unless there's more there than I thought, to wrap up. This one I really would like to set aside for a couple of weeks before I start revising it to an open-door draft. I've got some short stories and other fragments that are straining at the bit to get written, so I'm thinking those will occupy me once I'm done with this book. But maybe not; maybe I'll get to outlining my next book, the Marilyn book. Or revise a short story that I think has potential but needs sustained effort. Or just take a breather.

Infinite Jest is taking a lot of my mental energy. I mentioned before that my ability to advance in it comes and goes. I'm in a phase where it's coming (heh), and am just about at page 600, after spending a million years between 450 and 500. I'm guessing that everybody finds different aspects of this book interesting, depending on the individual; I find this long conversation between two spies in Arizona, interspersed throughout all the other stories all braided together, to be deathly boring. But during one of the most recent segments of their conversation, I learned something that ties together two big aspects of the plot. I had never presumed it was a waste of time to read the segments about them, of course (if any author has a method to his madness, it's Wallace), but it was still nice to be rewarded conceptually for dragging through tens of thousands of words that are like stones dropping on my head.

In other news, I got the idea in my head a week or so ago to do the Warrior Dash. I think the only reason I want to do it is to say that I did it. I've been wanting to accomplish a 5K for a couple of years now, and just haven't settled on a time or place, or gotten around to training myself to be able to run that far in a sustained fashion. (I can run about a mile and a quarter before I've had enough. I know that's not very far - please don't make fun of me.) The Warrior Dash looks like a lot of fun and a genuine challenge for my soft-shell never-really-tested body, even if it does also seem kind of insane and really not a good idea for my soft-shell never-really-tested body. I keep waiting for a good bit of logic to talk me out of it, and I keep not running across anything, except for not really wanting to put in the effort to lift weights and run a few miles a few times a week to train. And that's no reason not to do anything, not wanting to put in the effort.

As you may have noticed, I've been trying to write consistently every other day here, after that embarrassing gap of a couple of weeks while I tried to get a grip on my schedule. The problem is not having as much to say about writing every two days as I do about other things. Since it's just us, here, I don't really mind that, as long as you don't.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tasks for This Weekend

1) Write big giant showdown scene, climax of horror novel, without further hemming, hawing, ado, equivocation, or otherwise wastage of the reader's time.

2) Do not knock wine off of desk and all over floor like last time.

3) Sweep & mop kitchen floor. (Later, if stuck.)

4) Stop checking Facebook every 10 minutes. You're too old for that shit.

5) Download Chrome update, which necessitates closing your permanently-open browser windows. This is what bookmarks are for, you dolt.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Is How Wars Get Started

Yesterday I was scheduled to teach at 8:30, and when I arrived, there was a parking place open in the smaller parking lot to the side of the facility, where thus far I have never parked. As I pulled in, I saw a car behind me with a bumper sticker reading "Who is John Galt?". I rolled my eyes and went on in and taught a really pretty not-so-bad class, if you ask me, and when I came back out, the car with the Shruggy bumper sticker was still there. So I thought I might take a picture of it and post it on Facebook with a snarky comment about what exactly this bumper sticker announces to me about you if I see you tooling down the road with it attached to your car.

But then, after I put my stuff in Matt's car (which I happened to be driving yesterday rather than my own), I saw that there was a simply colossal, very new, white Suburban idling at the entrance to the small lot, obviously waiting for my space. I grabbed my phone and made a hasty attempt to get a picture of the sticker, but technology was not cooperating. I was annoyed about feeling rushed by the stalker Suburban, so I thought I'd pull out of the space and let this person park and then take a moment of my own idling in the parking lot so I could get my picture.

I backed out, and because the lot is kind of narrow, I got rather close to the line of cars on the other side, many of which were parked nose-out. When I was clear enough of the space that the Suburban could get in, I put my own car in park and opened my door. I didn't realize until I opened the door that I was quite close to a dark-colored Acura sedan, and the edge of my door tapped the Acura's license plate lightly. I pulled the door in a little and started to get out.

A horn honked. Matt's car's horn is kind of sensitive and I have accidentally honked it on more than one occasion, so I looked around a bit to see if it was mine, and I saw that behind the wheel of the Acura was a woman holding a cell phone up to her ear. She was screaming. Balls-out, utterly bereft of human control, shrieking. At me.

I can only presume that she heard my door tap her license plate (I am not misusing the word "tap" here, I wish to emphasize) and thought that I must have actually hit her bumper, or scratched the paint, or something, when in fact it was just the license plate. Yet still - she seemed to have gone from zero to 180 mph in about half a second, because of what couldn't have amounted in the worst case to a mild scratch on her bumper.

I couldn't understand what words she was shouting at me, although I could clearly hear her voice through the protective barrier of her car. I lifted my eyebrows a little and got back into my own car, and then backed up a few yards (as far as I could without hitting a dumpster), ready to flee as soon as the Suburban was done parking.

Which it wasn't. The woman in the Suburban had decided to back her ridiculous Cunard White Star vehicle into this space, and I honestly don't think I've ever seen a parking maneuver that was proceeding more slowly. I sat there, waiting for her to get the fuck out of the way so I could just leave. The comedy of the situation was not escaping me, and I knew that a) no harm was done and b) the woman in the Acura was waaaaay overreacting, so I wasn't feeling guilty or upset or anything. But I really wanted to get out of there in case she perchance had a license to carry a handgun.

On the way home, I reviewed these events, kind of incredulous at the way it had all unfolded, and so quickly. All because I wanted to get a picture of a bumper sticker. The various chess pieces and their parts to play; the conjunction of time and space. One person with a hair-trigger temper, and another one who was late for her Pilates class, and a third who meant well but was driving a car she wasn't accustomed to. As I told Matt later, this is how wars get started.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Concerning Hobbit Drafts

First: this. What a desperately needed shot of frustrated genius (and pathos). Happy birthday, DFW, and Godspeed.

Second: Today I've decided to put my Fictator hat on and just deal with these deaths that I don't want to write in my horror novel. Since I discovered a back door to one of the deaths I didn't enjoy writing, I've pondered taking that back door for some of the other deaths as well, making for sort of a death-free horror novel. Everybody gets a pass; readers' hearts need not break. But this is stupid and wussified and I know it, and I really have to just get on with it and kill (kill kill) instead of waffling like crazy such that no work at all gets done.

There. Bam.

Of course, since I haven't written in a few weeks at this point, I had to go back and refamiliarize myself with what I'd written before I buckled to waffling. I thought of the draft so far as a sort of Uruk-hai in utero, something that I'd need to scrape the mud off of and wince at, rather than the pleasing elf-creature that I ever hope for when I think of my writing. What I found was better than I thought. More like a hobbit.
Lucy was not behind her. She was not finished with Lucy. She didn’t know for sure that if the devil offered to bring Lucy back, if he sidled up in a red bodysuit and plastic tail and dickered with her for something (for anything, if she was honest), that she wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t consider the bargain. 
It needs work, naturally. It will always need work. Hobbits are not elves, and unfortunately never shall be. But I don't feel so overwhelmed anymore. Uncertain, mournful, mad at myself, reluctant, all those things, you bet. But not like this thing is going to swallow me up. It only took Matt to remind me that I am, in fact, the boss of my characters, and a dead virtuoso to remind me that all writers get frustrated, to get me back in front of my real work.

Too much other work has been a distraction lately, dammit. I wish it was easier to remind myself that this is the work that matters.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Kind of Marathon Where You Sit on Your Couch

For the last week, I've been marathoning episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, between two and five a day. This is how I enjoy watching television: on DVD sets, in great vast gulps of hours and hours of the show at a time, galloping through the entire series in a matter of days or weeks. After Matt bought me the seven seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show as a gift, I watched all 168 episodes in less than 30 days. I am uncomfortable with public knowledge of this habit (which, YET AGAIN, is why I'm sharing it with the entire damn internet), because I know it seems a little crazy, because I kind of don't want to do anything else but eat and sleep and finish out the next disc while I'm in marathon mode. It's not pretty to witness.

But in every case I've done so far (Star Trek: The Next Generation, MTM, The Sopranos (years ago, didn't get past the 3rd season, that box set has been on my Amazon Wish List for about five years), Firefly, Dead Like Me, others), it is so superior to experience a whole berth of a show this way, without coming up for air. It means that the show hangs together thematically as an entire body of work, and the evolution of the show is crystal-clear in a way you just don't get from gradual consumption. The different moods of the seasons of MTM were fascinating to see. For instance, Mary's responsibilities at her fictional job changed very suddenly in about season 5, and that altered all sorts of things about the structure of the show and how the other characters interacted with her. Whether that was done because of the departure of her two best friends, or because of feminist motivations, I don't know, but it was a big shift. And I think it was only so noticeable because I was watching, on average, two and a half hours of the show per day.

Monty Python is an interesting experience, because sketch shows are by nature uneven. There doesn't seem to be a progression toward better or more interesting or even just different work as the seasons (in England, of course, they're series) move forward. But they refer back to earlier work in a sort of unique way, and watching it all together means I generally have the prior work still hanging around in my neurons, and can realize exactly how funny they're being by referring to it.

I haven't come to any conclusions about the show on the whole by watching them all this way, except that I see now they've got a limited stable of the types of sketches they do. I.e., this is an interview-show sketch; this is an Eric Idle sex-or-language sketch; this is a domestic-hilarity-ensues sketch; this is a sketch so far into the realm of absurdity that it's just Pythonesque and doesn't have a more specific type. Hence, I can generally get my arms around the intentions of the sketch type, if I can identify it. This is more analysis than I've ever been able to accomplish with comedy; I'm not really skilled at it. So that's sort of edifying. Maybe I'll have more to say about the shape of it all when I'm finished. I'm halfway through now.

Speaking of edification, I am over page 400 in Infinite Jest. My ability to advance in it seems to come and go. I've been hovering between 390 and 420 for the last couple of weeks, instead of getting on with a few dozen pages a night as I was doing. But I will finish it, I will. If for no other reason than I really want to get on and read this.

Along with Monty Python, I've worked a great deal in the past week. There's been a lot of work for my copy-edit job, and last week marked the final week of the crazy glut of subbed yoga classes in which I've been drowning since before Christmas. This upcoming week is the first normal one, teaching-wise, in ages. Also, I've had some wonderful readers get back to me about my book, and they were so helpful. That was more work (even if it was great work to do), as I had to get back to them in detail in the hope that they'd further get back to me. I'm still waiting to hear from at least two more folks, but after that I think I'll be ready to edit. I feel pretty confident that I know what I need to do. I'm very concerned about further growth in the word count, but there's really nothing for it. I hope I can slide by on the "fantasy" label, as fantasy novels are generally longer.

And a wholly separate reader got back to me about a new story that I wasn't sure about, so I owed her analysis on her own story and on her analysis of mine. There was further work I did that I didn't even mention, and work I should have done this week and didn't get around to. Plus, I was quite ill on Tuesday. It was a full week. I kind of want a vacation. Monty Python is comforting, but it's really compressing my time. Damned marathoning.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

If I Write It Like This, and You Read It Like That...

I don't know what to tell you. I still haven't written anything in over a week. So here's Just Some Stuff.

I am just under page 300 in Infinite Jest. Yay! I'm finding it easier to read than I did when I started. It's not much more compelling to me, per se, but reading this book is kind of like a hobby all on its own, beyond just the hobby of reading. Wallace writes so particularly, often being at once convivial and excessively intricate in his style, and now that I'm more accustomed to it I'm finding it enjoyable. Kind of la-dee-dah, even if you don't go anywhere with this, I'll still read it, it's fun to read. He also inspires me to break the rules.

Aspects of my work life were very yucky over this week.

I attempted to re-create in my kitchen one of the only restaurant items for which I get such a ridiculous craving that no number of days will stamp it out, and nothing else will do: southwest egg rolls from Chili's. This follows on my successful experiments with at-home hot & sour soup, pork fried rice, and barbecue chicken pizza. Matt noted that all the stuff I bought to make the southwest egg rolls at home probably meant that it cost just as much to make them here as it would have if I'd gone half a mile to Chili's and picked them up. So he didn't get to have any.

They came out all right. I tried both baking and deep-frying; the lack of a fan in our kitchen means that deep-frying is a rare occasion, because the whole house smells like cooked oil for days after a fry. The baked ones were passable and the deep-fried ones were excellent. The sauce didn't really work out at first, but was better the second day. The idea of made-from-scratch ranch sitting in my refrigerator is still pretty cool, even if it doesn't taste exactly right.

In the time I have between now and today's next required event, I really want to lie on the couch and zone out on a movie. I had an unpleasant medical appointment today and I want to eat pita chips and let some self-pity carom around in my head. What I should do is work a little more.

Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" is like a low-level obsession of mine in the last couple of weeks. I haven't liked her since I was about 11 and owned the CD of hers with "If You Asked Me To" on it. I have never been so tired of a song as I was of "My Heart Will Go On [While You Stay Here and Drown]" (no, not even "Semi-Charmed Life"), I am bothered by her thinness, and I think she kind of overdoes it, in general, when singing. But one day a few weeks ago I just had to hear "It's All Coming Back to Me Now", and I YouTubed it, and yesterday I listened to it on repeat like 15 times while I worked. (So many reasons why I don't want to activate Spotify.) I have NO earthly idea where this came from. It's kind of worrying.

If I ever get back into my book, you'll be the first to know. And I hope things will ease up soon so I'll be able to. But, sigh, not this weekend.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Tarnish of Time

In 2010, I got an idea. I had started wearing makeup more regularly than in previous years (the reasons why are a lengthy footnote, not worthy of this post), and I discovered that virtually no makeup removers really worked well. They either required excessive swiping at my eyes with alcohol-based products, ow ow ow, or they were greasy, or they, like, didn't remove anything. I decided to try cold cream, that old standby of 1950's movie stars and today's theater stars. And it worked perfectly. And it made my skin happy. It was by far the best makeup remover I tried (although it was also the messiest), out of a dozen at least.

However, the only scents of cold cream I could find in the commercial market (and in a lot of searching, I could only find two brands of it) were flowery. They smelled like a grandmother. Which makes sense, you know, because young people don't really use cold cream. But if you ask me, they should, because it works so perfectly at taking off any makeup you have on, waterproof stuff, primer, lipstick, eyeliner, whatever. So I thought the thing to do would be to create and market a line of cold creams with hip young scents, like cucumber melon and lavender vanilla, and corner the makeup-removal market, and become rich and fabulous.

After talking to Matt's aunt, a very knowledgeable serial entrepreneur, I was faced with the problem of whether there was a "need" in the makeup market for my cold creams. I mulled over this for about a week, and finally decided that no, I guess there really isn't a need. There are tons of makeup removers on the market, and trying to wedge in another one was probably not a good idea without big corporate dollars behind it. A very small survey indicated that most women my age weren't as dissatisfied with their makeup removers as I had been. I was quite disappointed, because I had been really gung-ho about my idea (and frankly still think it's a pretty good one, and if I become rich and fabulous by some other method, I might spend a little of my wealth on creating this product anyway, just to see what happens), and it hurt a lot to chuck it on the pile of Unworkable Ideas.

The funny thing I noticed about my idea was that after a few months of kicking it around in my brain, it began to seem tarnished and unlikely. As time passed, it sounded more and more as if it was a stupid idea, far-fetched, and even if it could be pulled off by, say, Burt's Bees (maybe), it sure couldn't be pulled off by lil' me, with a negative amount of business experience and no assets and nothing but an idea to re-new-ify an old (ancient, really) and near-forgotten and still-awesome product.

As the weeks have passed between me and the finished first draft of my Greenland book, the same tarnishing effect has happened. I haven't gotten any detailed feedback except for the one friend, and everyone else has used the word "interesting", without specifics, which makes me think it is a PIECE of SHIT, and they're too nice to tell me so. And I look back at the draft and I think, what was I thinking? How did I even begin to believe that I'd written a coherent novel, when it was just a big jumble of genres and characterization and absolutely no plot momentum aside from And Then This Happened? I can put sentences together, sure, but this novel is the worst thing ever and no one will even tell me how to fix it because IT CAN'T BE FIXED.

I know that all writers go through ups and downs as to how they view their work. I believed in this book once, and I'll believe in it again, surely. This is just a rough patch, a moment of gaping black insecurity that I'll hop handily over and be on my way.

But I think it's affecting the current work, too. For the last week I've found all sorts of things to do other than work on the draft of the horror novel (yes, I have been legitimately busy and legitimately mildly ill with a cold), which is at 72,000 words, and I've got to write this final act, now, make real decisions about the structure of the fantasy elements and stick by them, decide who's going to die and who's going to stay dead, stand by those decisions. I am a big wimp, though, because two of the characters I intended from the very start to kill 4realz are so nice and lovely that I don't want them to stay dead. I've got to break the reader's heart, that's my job, but I don't even want to break my own.

And I look back and wonder if the structure of this thing, the whole conceit of the villain and her abilities, is just idiotic rather than cool. If I'm not just whistling merrily through a landfill. If I haven't actually made a real bungle of it all, and it doesn't hang together, and I am the worst writer in the history of the written word, all the way back to Ung the Caveman and his charcoal scribbles on the wall of his cave. Ung, at least, had a consistent vision for his scribbles, right? Me, I crib from my dreams and hang feathers on it and call it art.

Or, no! I'm worthy! I'm brave and true! I need to get down to business and finish the draft and believe in it strongly enough to move on to the next project. Go me! Jump over that gigantic ravine of insecurity and walk on down the path, where there be scary monsters and super creeps, but I can defeat them with my mighty pen.

Or, I'm already at the bottom of the ravine and weakly calling for help. And people are throwing books down at me, books with tomatoes on the covers. And they are big and leave bruises.

Or, I should just stop all this and get to work.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fishing Tackle for Outliers

I am momentarily out of ideas for things to write about from my own life, so instead I'll tell you a story I was thinking about the other day.

In 2009, I obtained a paralegal certificate from a nearby community college. It was some of the most pointless and least fun education I've ever received, and the less said about it the better. However, one of the classes I took was taught by a district court judge. District court is the "lowest" court, where they deal with misdemeanors and traffic offenses and stuff like that. They're very high-volume, and the work they do is essential, so I'm uncomfortable calling it "low"; however, a circuit court or a state court has jurisdiction over district court rulings, so technically it's a correct term.

The judge told us that she had witnessed, too many times for it to be a fluke, that many if not most cops have a sixth sense. They just know when there's hinky stuff going on. She used as an example an interesting case we read that I still remember, although I admit I don't remember it perfectly.

Maryland cop's driving behind a guy in a van who is going the speed limit, driving safely, ho-hum. Cop sees van guy cross over the solid white line at the edge of the highway once and then twice, and decides to pull him over on suspicion of...something. The guy's paperwork is a little weird; he has an out-of-state provisional license and the van is rented from yet a third state, as I remember, but there's really nothing about him or the setup that's beyond the realm of "a little unusual". I don't remember the subtext as to how the cop manages it, but he finds cause to look in the back of the van, and finds, as our teacher the judge described it, "the motherload." There are suitcases back there full of the wacky tobaccy, some enormous number of pounds of it, and wham-bam, dude goes off to jail.

My poor memory of the actual case notwithstanding, I love thinking about this situation, because to me it proves that sixth sense. The cop had no reason whatsoever to pull someone over for mildly crossing the white line. I cross that white line ALL THE TIME, when I'm doing such normal and law-abiding activities as sneezing or changing the volume on my radio. Yet somehow, this time, he found a giant score of law-breakage.

I thought about it the other day because I drove on 50 during the late morning on a weekday, and found two speed traps where I never, ever find speed traps during normal commuting times. It occurred to me that maybe they catch a lot of law-breakers this way, by setting up speed traps at times when no one at all would normally be going to work. That put me in mind of Mr. White Line and the instinct. Of course, maybe they just find it easier to pull over speeders during light-traffic times. Maybe it has nothing to do with catching the outliers at all.