Friday, February 27, 2009

and the key is... there is no key

It's amazing how many times I can come to the same conclusion over and over again, and still feel like it's something new every time. A few times a year I realize that routines and strategies do not work for me. Or, to be a little more accurate, they work for a short period of time, and then they gradually become less and less effective.

Several months ago I decided that sending chapters to a group of alpha readers would keep me moving along at a steady pace, with the bonus of getting feedback that might help me with subsequent chapters. That strategy lasted for two chapters before I abandoned it for NaNoWriMo, thinking that it sounded like a rewarding and productive experience, and then I'd have all sorts of material that would only need revision before I could send it off to the alpha readers. Well, NaNoWriMo was productive and rewarding, but most of what I wrote that month remains unrevised and my alpha readers have seen nothing from me since late October.

Next I decided I needed a more detailed outline, and set to work on that. I got most of the way through it, and then decided that the last remaining questions would not be answered until I wrote my way through them. I began to write parts of the story I had neglected during NaNoWriMo. Very soon, I was stuck again.

Seeing the pattern yet?

During all this time, I thought I needed to finish the story at hand before I could start coming up with some new ideas. I decided to finish a complete draft of the novel and then let it rest while I wrote some short stories. A couple weeks ago, frustrated with the novel, I decided its temporary retirement should start immediately instead, and I started brainstorming ideas for short stories. I came up with an idea I liked, made lots of notes on it, couldn't decide what direction it needed to take, and soon I was writing poetry instead.

This week, I read a book that did lots of things wrong. It gave me lots of concrete examples of what not to do in a fantasy novel, and before I knew it, I was thinking about my novel again. Today I went back to work on it, so far with success.

The moral of the story is: I can't set my writing strategies in stone. It seems like just about every time I say I'm going to put something aside, I get a new idea for it. So I'm not going to work exclusively on the novel, or the short story idea, or my poetry. Writing seems to go much better when I just follow my impulses wherever they're trying to go. At the very least, switching projects is far more productive than sitting at my computer in frustration because I can't figure out the next scene. There's a difference between working at writing and trying to force it when it just isn't ready. I think the trick for me will be figuring out the difference.

Monday, February 16, 2009

from the ashes

Let me tell you something I love about Portland. This evening I discovered that street parking downtown is free on President's Day. I discovered this because when I attempted to pay for my parking, the little kiosk told me I didn't have to. I feel this compares favorably to that time in Princeton when I accidentally parked in a space with a 30 minute meter and only realized that the time had stopped increasing after I had put in an extra, useless dollar's worth of quarters.

But Princeton still has the Bent Spoon going for it. That's not just tough to beat; it's impossible. :)

This evening's excursion downtown was something of a landmark for me: I found my destination and my way back to the Broadway Bridge without consulting the handy little Streetwise Portland I keep stashed in my glove compartment! :) I really am starting to learn my way around! This was very reassuring, since just last week on my way somewhere new I got in the wrong lane of an exit and ended up about half an hour late to my appointment. Fun times. There's one more piece of Portland I learned a little bit more about...

Anyway, this isn't another epic-length post. I don't have any fun new anecdotes to ramble on about. Life continues. The music is coming along; I can play the first two and a half pages of my favorite piece more or less smoothly. My novel is going into temporary retirement while I turn my attention to short stories. I'm putting together a synopsis for one right now. It's still not fully developed, but it involves fire and amnesia. Oh, and a phoenix.

Well, I still have tasks on my list before I'm allowed to sleep. Not that putting off sleep is going to be all that difficult, what with that espresso I had about three hours ago. It'll probably still be awhile before that runs its course. Still, I should be getting back to work. And establishing some rules for myself against evening caffeine consumption. I should be doing that too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

setting change

I made it prettier.

Monday, February 9, 2009

pressing on

On Saturday, I learned several things I would like to share with you:
  1. Elevation takes some getting used to.
  2. My siblings are capable of pushing the bounds of my endurance farther than I previously thought possible.
  3. The halfway point of a snowshoeing trek is not, in fact, the point at which you stop and prepare to turn back. It is earlier than that.
  4. Item 3 should be kept in mind when planning when to eat lunch, especially when the snowshoeing doesn't actually begin until approximately 12:40 pm.
  5. Halting an uncontrolled slide down a snowy slope works differently with snowshoes than with a snowboard.
Perhaps I should elaborate on these lessons?

The story has a preface: I was sick all week. Well, sort of. I was only really sick on Monday, but I didn't really feel healthy again until Friday, partly because I kept trying to run around Portland with Rachel and Jack and eat like a normal person, which my body told me very firmly it was not yet ready for. On Friday it finally told me that it supposed I had let it rest enough, so I felt more or less ready to go snowshoeing with my sisters and their husbands on Saturday. You know, aside from the fact that they're all much more fit than I am...

So, on Saturday morning, equipped with borrowed clothes and rented boots and snowshoes, I set out with the other four on the lengthy drive to Mt. Rainier. Much of the drive was beautifully misty, but by the time we reached our starting point on the mountain we were at an elevation of about 5,400 feet and had left the pretty mist behind. This was a very good thing, because it actually turned out to be an unusually clear day up there, and the view we had of the Cascades was absolutely amazing.

We strapped on our snowshoes and headed in a direction where signs indicated there were trails, but all the snow kind of covered the trails themselves, so we pretty much picked our own path. Or, rather, we let Adam pick our path, because he knew where he was going. I had been a little afraid that the snowshoes would be heavy and clunky like snowboarding boots. Luckily this was not the case. The snowshoes were pretty light and relatively easy to maneuver in, as long as you didn't try to step backward.

We started immediately uphill, and it felt like we'd barely gone anywhere when I was already tired and engaging in a minor battle to keep breathing. Before long I felt... well, not really sick, but like it was an echo of a possibility. Yeah. Not so much used to being way high up on a mountain, and going higher. I had dressed in layers, but the first time we stopped for a second I stripped down to my borrowed t-shirt. It was really sunny, and we felt quite warm for being surrounded by so much snow. Luckily I keep a bottle of sunscreen in the glove compartment of my car, which I remembered at the last minute and we took up the trail with us, so we fragile-skinned redheads remained unburned (though I swear that even with two coats of the stuff on my face I thought I could feel my skin lightly crisping). It was my one contribution to the trip. Well, besides my car.

Thus it was that very shortly into our trek I was already really feeling it, and started to be unsure of my ability to keep up with the others. But you see, when I do things with my siblings, that doesn't really matter. My mind doesn't really admit the existence of options. They were snowshoeing, and I needed to keep up with them, so I was going to keep up with them. I blame Becca for this little quirk in my psyche. You see, she used to make me come with her on walks.

Yes, that's right. Walks.

I somehow don't think that word is conveying the ominous sense I was shooting for. If you'd ever tried to keep up with Becca on a walk before, you'd understand. Walks with Becca are intense. They are very fast and very long. In the beginning, I used to complain when I had trouble keeping up or if I had a stitch in my side. Eventually I learned that this was not effective, as Becca's response was usually, "Suck it up." She told me if I ignored it and just kept up the pace, it would go away. She was right, but sometimes I hated that she was right. Not hated her - just that she was right. Anyway, walks with Becca taught me endurance. So you're snowshoeing with your siblings and your leg muscles are already burning and so are your lungs? Well, suck it up. Keep up the pace; it'll go away.

Thank you so much, Becca.

We pressed onward, and I found that very short rests and sips of water gave back an amazing amount of energy, and also let my breathing slow back to normal. This was a good thing. We went up steep slopes, onward and upward (which phrase abruptly reminds me of Willy Wonka's glass elevator). Being already pretty high up on the mountain, we had awesome views on every side. There was the actual peak of Mt. Rainier above us and looking deceptively close until you saw the dots that were actually people, putting everything into more accurate perspective. And behind us sprawled the Cascades. As we went gradually higher and higher, Mt. St. Helens started to peek up from behind the range, and other mountains came into view.

Then came the Lunch Conversation.

BECCA: Is it time for lunch yet? Who else is hungry?
OTHERS: We don't know.... We could eat here, but we could also climb that really big slope first and then eat.
BECCA: Well, which do you want to do?
EVERYONE: *is indecisive*
RACHEL: If we eat too soon we might be really really hungry by the time we get back down.
RUTHANN: Seems like it would be easier to come down with a full stomach than climb up with one.

Oh, the unwise Ruthann of Saturday afternoon! We trekked onward without eating just yet. Shortly thereafter, I found myself in front with Becca. (See! I could keep up!) We looked up at our destination, a still-distant and very high and steep slope from which we hoped to get a fantastic view.

SLOPE: *looks intimidating*
RUTHANN: That looks farther away than it did earlier.
BECCA: Yeah. It's also steeper than it looks.
SLOPE: *looks frighteningly steep already*
RUTHANN: *no longer thinks she really wants to climb that slope at all* Did I really think it would be a good idea to climb that before eating lunch?
BECCA: Why yes. Yes you did.

I don't have any of the pictures from Saturday, but even if I did, they would not give an accurate impression of just how steep that slope was. A couple times my snowshoes actually slipped, but not far enough to even make me stumble (the real slipping came later). I started counting out a hundred paces between breaks for breathing and water. It's good to have small goals. :)

Eventually we did make it to the top, and the view was totally worth it. The day was so clear that we could even see Mt. Hood in the distance. We celebrated by finally breaking out the homemade PBJ sandwiches - homemade bread, homemade jam, and... well, not homemade peanut butter, but the tasty kind from Trader Joe's, which is more than good enough for me. :)

Gentle Reader, I would like to tell you that the triumph of our ascent was the conclusion of these adventures, but alas, it was not so.

BECCA: We'll get down the mountain faster if we sit down and slide. Plus, it's fun!
RUTHANN: How does one go about doing this? Do we still wear our snowshoes, or do we take them off and hold them?
RACHEL: Seems like a lot to hold, along with the trekking poles.
BECCA: This is true. If you dropped a snowshoe, you'd have to climb back up for it.
RACHEL: Plus we don't want to accidentally impale ourselves on the snowshoes. I'm keeping mine on; I think I can slide while still wearing them.
EVERYONE: Let's all slide down the very steep mountainside while wearing our snowshoes!

Despite the general enthusiasm over this idea, we began our descent by cautiously walking. Becca decided it would be a good idea to get a better view down the slope and make sure there was no one on it before we all came careening down. Missing this memo, Adam whooshed by us all from behind. He either did not hear or did not heed Becca's calls of "honey there are some people just below the lip here coming up, honey you should slow down, there are people down there HONEY WILL YOU STOP SLIDING BEFORE YOU KILL THE INNOCENT CROSS-COUNTRY SKIERS!"

Fortunately, Adam descended on the opposite side of the slope from the column of innocents. Behind me, Rachel began her own controlled descent that made her giggle with glee. I still don't know how she picked up the knack of being able to stop quickly and easily. Sadly, at that time I did not realize that I wouldn't figure out how she picked up that knack.

RUTHANN: That looks easy and fun.
SNOWSHOES: we will betray you to your death
RUTHANN: ...What now?

I sat down and made what I thought was a pretty good attempt at imitating Rachel, only to discover that once I'd picked up a bit of speed in my slide, I was having a world of trouble coming to a stop. I tried to dig in the ends of my snowshoes, but this was ineffective, and I was wary of clamping them down into the snow while going too fast for fear that this would cause me to flip straight over them and tumble on down the mountain. Instead I tried turning them sideways and digging the wider ends in, which is how I would stop myself on a snowboard. This does not work so well with snowshoes. I think I may actually have begun going faster. I scrambled around trying to find a way to come to a stop, digging in my feet, my elbows, the handles of my trekking poles but not the points for fear of flippage. And also my hands. My hands that were stupidly wearing fingerless gloves. I finally came to a stop below Rachel and Becca and just above and to the right of Jack.

RUTHANN: I think I should walk the rest of the way.
SNOWSHOES: we will betray you to your death
RUTHANN: Shut it, you!

I attempted to stand, and the treacherous snowshoes slipped right out from under me and sent me on another uncontrollable slide - this time approaching the lip below which a column of innocents was slowly ascending.

RUTHANN: Jack, help me!
JACK: *reaches ineffectively* I can't!
HANDS: (long suffering) We'll take another one for the team.

I managed to stop again before reaching the ascending party, but my poor hands were numb and stinging. My thumbs later felt like they were bleeding, even though the skin wasn't broken. I mentioned this to Becca.

RUTHANN: I think I got snowburn on my thumbs.
BECCA: *laughs* Snowburn? That's an oxymoron all by itself!
RUTHANN: All by itself? What's an example of something that's an oxymoron not by itself?
BECCA: ...Shut up.

Anyway, I thought it best to stay where I was until the other party had climbed up past me. My sisters and Jack slid past me with much less difficulty than I was having, and I eventually made it down through a combination of scary and painful sliding, which unfortunately led me through a section riddled with deep, lumpy footprints, and some very careful walking. The rest of our return trip was much less eventful.

And that is the story of our Snowshoeing Adventures! In conclusion, I enjoyed snowshoeing, but when it comes to sliding down a mountainside, I much prefer the control one has with a snowboard. I actually saw a couple guys snowshoeing with snowboards strapped to their backs. Maybe someday... but a ski lift is much easier. :)