Monday, August 31, 2015

It's all Downhill from here

Last week, Arizona, Wallaby, Grandma J and I packed a ridiculous amount of stuff into two cars and went to Vermont for a week, in Arizona's and my first official together vacation that did not involve staying at a family member's house or me doing writing stuff with other authors. Despite a bit of last-minute angst when the owner of our vacation-rental-by-owner was late getting us the code to the key-box, and me coming up with all sorts of disaster scenarios (as you do), there was little to no drama, and the four of us spent a very fun week together.

We hiked.

We did silly tourist stuff.

We took Wallaby to his first playground (where he was far more interested in playing in a puddle than on the swing set, but that's cool, too).

My apologies for the lack of Grandma J footage, but she ducks photos. Trust me, she was there, and we couldn't have had the same fun without her. Because with her and Wallaby off doing grandma stuff, Arizona and I hit the slopes. Not to ski, but to load our mountain bikes onto the lift, ride it to the top, and roll down at breakneck speed.

And, no, neither of us broke our necks, or anything else. In fact, we emerged from a week of gravity riding with minimal wear and tear on both us and our bikes--which, given my history of wrecking myself whilst biking, is pretty impressive. But it got me thinking that a whole lot of my bumps and bruises have come, not while shooting downhill, but while pedaling up.

When you're going uphill, you're putting a whole lot of work into each stroke, trying to balance and counterbalance, steer, plan for the rocks and roots up ahead, and generally keep your helmet over your heels when the whole assembly wants to wobble and prove gravity. (Though, as Arizona is fond of pointing out, I can't actually prove gravity. I can only generate more evidence in favor of its existence. Snicker.)

When you're going downhill, all you need to do is keep your joints loose and your balance more or less upright, and let all that potential energy you gathered on the uphill do its thing. Yelling "Wheeee!" at appropriate intervals is also encouraged.

Which, come to think of it, is a whole lot like writing a book--or at least it's a whole lot like how I write a book. I slog through the first half, wording and rewording, writing, deleting, cursing, and generally feeling like I'm pushing a giant, unwieldy ball of worms up a mountain. But then I get to the top, with those worms turned into story dominos that are poised to fall into place, and I go flick, and send them tumbling down the other side of the hill. I keep my fingers loose and my balance more or less upright, and I write faster and faster, gathering momentum as I roll down the hill.

So now, as Arizona and I do our best to shake off our post-vacation hangovers and get back to our Monday morning routines, I'm encouraged that I've only got another week or so before I reach the halfway point in my current project. The worms are more or less behaving, the dominos are starting to fall into place, and pretty soon I'm going to get to stop pedaling quite so hard and ride the momentum down the hill.

And won't that be fun?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Giving ourselves permission to fall

This past weekend, Arizona and I attended a group mountain bike ride near our Little House in the Trees. Organized by the New England Mountain Biking Association, this is an annual event that we attend every year. 

Last year, I was benched (literally, as I sat my expanding ass on a picnic bench) and felt totally out of the loop of lean, Camelbak-wearing bikers who milled around, talking about their favorite gear, trails, and post-ride beer stops. This year, with my mom watching Wallaby, I was able to don my gear, put in my registration (at a table manned by a guy in a neck brace from last week's ride) and join the fray. 

(To those of you who know me well enough to ask, no, I didn't perform any spectacular aerial dismounts, thankyouverymuch.)

There were roughly three levels of gear on the attending bikers: those who weren't sporting knee, shin and/or elbow pads because they were beginner-ish enough not to have them; those who had what I consider to be an appropriate level of padding for a bouncy-fun ride;  and those who weren't wearing their pads because they were hard-cores freaks intending to ride below their level, whether because they had their kids with them, because it was forecasted to be in the nineties, or just 'cause.

Me? I wore All The Pads, and even did the old hike-a-bike around a couple of obstacles I just wasn't feeling that day. Because after spending the past couple of weeks hovering over Wallaby (who has decided that crawling is so last week and it's time to get vertical), I'm more aware than usual of the whole thud-OW thing. So much so, that I'll confess that I (sigh) bought my kid a house helmet.

In my defense, he's huge for his age, cruising early, and hits hard. And as Arizona said (bless him), "Let's get him started early thinking that when you're wearing the right protective gear, you can push the boundaries."

And you know what? He's right. And it applies to writing, too. With decreasing advances, increasing pressure to do more of the editing and marketing myself, and a kiddo making the sticking-to-deadlines concept a questionable one at best, I am, for the first time in fifteen years, not under contract to a publisher for my next book. Instead, I'm working on two stories for self-publishing, one as Jesse Hayworth and another as Jessica Andersen. 

I've got my crash helmet firmly fastened, my loins girded (whatever that means) and am ready to take the plunge for real. Wish me luck, ReaderFriends. And for you this week, I wish you soft landings and more time spent going "whee!" downhill than working your butt off to pedal up.

With love,


Monday, August 10, 2015

The English Language Really is Whackadoodle

I think I've mentioned my deep respect for my scientific editing clients, many of whom are writing in English as their second or third language, and depend on professional editors like me to help them keep their tenses and participles straight. 

Aside from one or two papers I have sent back to the authors with a carefully worded request that they work with an English-speaking colleague to bring the manuscript up a couple of notches before I take a crack at it (e.g., the one that a Russian scientist wrote, submitted to Google translate, and sent in for editing--yikes!), they're so much better than I could do if asked to be coherent in a foreign language. 

(I've got some high school French to my credit, along with equine survival Spanish: Pas grano por favor, el es muy gordo! As for science? Nope, nope, nope.) 

Okay, so there have been some giggle-worthy editing moments, like an entire paper written about the genetics of rainbow versus Asian crap (aka, carp), and a long-ago college entrance essay (back when I was doing general editing as well) from a girl enthusing about how much she loves to play with blue balls (some sort of rhythmic gymnastic thing, as I recall). And I can always tell which of my clients is doing speech-to-text or dictating to a non-scientist assistant. But that just serves to remind me what a thorny language our English can be!

I've been reminded of this in recent weeks, as I've gotten more aware of what I'm saying to Wallaby, modeling a language that I love to play with, but that has some really whacky rules when you come right down to it. And the complexity!

When training a horse (apologies to those of you who cringe at animal v. kid comparisons, but that's the way I'm wired), I always try to have the same word or cue mean the same thing. "Whoa" always means "stop forward motion," "foot" always means "pick up the clomper in question," "stand" always means "plant all four clompers and stay there," etc. Same with the cats, though as you probably know, cats reserve the right to reinterpret their humans' input at will. 

Granted, Wallaby is going to be capable of far more complexity. But at what point do I introduce it? Right now, "gentle touch" always means "do your best not to use maximum force when grabbing me/the kitten/etc." and "not food" always means "you get two tries for your mouth before I take it away and put it out of reach." But have you ever stopped to think of how many words we use for the same thing? 

Bunker is Bunker. She's also a kitten, a cat, a kitty, and an unholy terror (being four months old now, and in maximum destruction mode). She's black-and-white or tuxedo. She's soft, warm, purring, naughty and adorable, all in turn (and sometimes simultaneously). She's Bunkie, Bunkster, Bunker T. Menace, and Darn-it-Bunker ... 

I'm sure each language has those same issues, but English adds in some real whoppers--like words that sound identical but aren't spelled the same and mean very different things, and, heck, times the same exact word means different things. Is it any wonder my editing clients stumble sometimes? And how amazing that the human brain can learn such complexities starting at such a young age!

Even then, though, I suspect there will always be some confusion as to why things are the way they are. So I'd like to share with you two of Wallaby's biggest complaints to management from this past week:

1. Why is it okay to pick up leaves off the ground and eat them sometimes but not other times? (I was all "ooh, fun!" about eating straight from the garden, then vetoed nibbling on the hydrangea. Mommy is mean!)

2. Why is it okay for Bunker to eat the eggs I drop off my tray, but I can't eat the kibble she drops from her bowl? (Mommy. So mean.)

Still, though, life is pretty good when you've got a kitten and a cardboard box.