Got my package from Heatonist. This’ll be fun.
If you’re in the US, go vote today.
I could give you lines and lines why, but you already know why, don’t you? So I’ll give you this instead:
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Oh man, I have been exhausted this week.
My writing progress was minimal. I kept up with morning pages and with my flash fiction challenge, but that was really it. My intention was to do NaNo prep stuff — get a story outline in place, do some character sketches, etc. — but I just didn’t have the bandwidth.
Diana and I put on the first ever Shenanicon this year, and it was a whirlwind six weeks of planning and phone calls and ordering and task lists and and and. But it was great. And, as far as I can tell, it seemed like it was a success. People enjoyed themselves, we got to meet some Bscotch fans and put faces to the Discord handles. It was basically an extended, somewhat-structured party for the fans.
But it did mean that anytime I tried to think about anything else this past week, I’d remember another checklist item that I needed to attend to. So… a little distracting. After yesterday, I’m basically all out of spoons and at the limits of my decision fatigue. I told Adam that I’m not going to make anymore decisions for the next week and I don’t want to think about any additional convention planning stuff until November is over.
And then we’ll start figuring out next year (there are rumblings but no promises)…
In any event. I went into a hole this week (thus no updates to the blog except for the prompts). I dragged myself out long enough to tap out this scatterbrained post, and now I’m going to go hole up again and keep recharging my introvert batteries. And then this upcoming week will be NaNo prepping in earnest.
(I was going back and forth on the whole semblance of anonymity thing. But after a little while, referring to people as A or D or other letters just got kind of annoying? Unnecessary? Also, three of my most oft visited family members’ names start with S, so that would be a whole thing. And then, after another moment of hemming and hawing, I thought fuck it and went with names. As I said, no more spoons.)
We had our good friends M & M over for brunch this past weekend. Well, it started with brunch at our place and then sprawled out into the evening time too, which was amazing. They are some of the best people.
I tired a new recipe for our brunch, a variant on eggs in purgatory. Eggs in purgatory is an Italian dish of eggs cooked in a tomato sauce. The sauce is usually kicky and bright, infused with umami and spicy heat. The eggs are soft, with the whites barely set, and the yolk creamy and golden and runny. You top it with cheese and eat it with toasty bread and it’s just one of the best things.
When I was thinking about brunch dishes to prepare, it came to the forefront because it’s easy to put together, and you can do a good amount of advanced prep, so that when you have company over, you’re not in the kitchen trying to fry up individual over-easy eggs.
And, of course, it was fine.
Not that having foreknowledge of that did anything for the nerves. Is there some number of times I have to prove myself right before I’ll actually believe myself?
Tuesday night was my first time at any sort of writing group. As it was my first attendance, I mostly sat quietly and observed. Though really, I’ll probably do that for my second and third times as well. (Maybe fourth or fifth. Although at some point my impatience may outweigh my reticence.) As with any larger group (there were about 30 people in attendance), the levels of discussion varied quite a bit. And everyone wrote different things, though speculative fiction was in the majority.
We spent about an hour discussing humor, its function in writing, how to approach it. Here are some things I wrote down about it:
- Re: using a sense of humor to convey instability or opposition to social norms — does humor have to be funny?
- Humorous things:
- Rapid recontextualization
- Punching down (is this actually humorous?) vs punching up
- Comic drops
- Juxtaposition of dissimilar things
- Call outs (references)
- Call backs e.g. running jokes
- Anti-humor – the joke is that it’s not funny.
- Don’t try to write jokes. Write a character with a particular view of the world and let them loose.
- A great joke that undermines the character weakens the story.
- Humor vs comedy: Robert Mankoff – “All comedy has humor, but not all humor is comedy.”
- Humor is broad – whatever makes us laugh. But the laughter can make or reinforce a point you are making. It can be used to control tension.
- Comedy is intentional. The laughter is the point of comedy.
After the discussion, we split off into groups to do critiques. I won’t detail that bit as much here, but let’s just say that if you ever needed an example of highly differing tastes…
Another point that just got reinforced for me was this: most people don’t actually know how to give good feedback. It’s one of those things that people take for granted as easy or natural to do, but is a difficult skill that needs to be learned and practiced (just like everything else). But since you can’t make people be better at stuff, you can shift focus to the way that you receive and interpret feedback instead. Hence, Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen should be required reading.
All in all though, I had a good time. It was nice to be around people who had similar interests, particularly since my day to day is very much solitary now. There are a few kindred spirits there, I think, and I’m curious to see how this building community thing will go. I’ve never actually had to do it in such a deliberate way before; I’ve always had a cohort of people around me, and we were always just thrown together without much planning (At least on my part. I imagine there was a lot of planning i.e. scheduling on someone else’s part, though probably not with the aim of forming friendships.). So I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to go about this, though I guess like any other relationship, it’ll be about listening and showing up. And I can do that.
After parting ways with my family, A and I took a train from Bordeaux to Paris and then Paris to Brussels. Honestly, at this point we were pretty wiped out from traveling. Also, while in France, the sun riled up my eczema and I had contact dermatitis to some sunscreen and then got a heat rash. So we resolved to take it pretty easy in Brussels. We saw a few museums (we’re both suckers for a good natural history museum), sat in cafes, and ate tons of chocolate. There isn’t a lot to recap here, so I’m leaving you with a bunch of pictures.
Since we were in Belgium it seemed like the perfect time to do some comparison chocolate eating. Our favorite was Elisabeth Chocolatier. It’s maybe mid-tier, so somewhat affordable. The chocolate is exceptional. The flavors are varied and interesting. Plus, it features chocolate and confections from local artisans.
And that was our summer trip to Europe!
It was one of my New Year’s resolutions to find more community this year, so I can’t even claim that I didn’t know this was something I needed to do. Still, I dragged and dragged and dragged my feet until this month because the idea of putting myself out there with a bunch of strangers prickles my skin with anxiety. (Why these things give me stomach-clenching nerves while talking to patients and families and running codes when I was doctoring didn’t so much is a whole different thing altogether.)
It’s easy enough to put off doing something you know you’re supposed to do; reassurances of tomorrow or next week can go on forever until you’re dead. But then sometimes it feels like the universe is telling you a thing (I know, I know, confirmation bias), and it just seems wrong not to listen.
When I went to MRK’s author event a few weeks ago, it was after I had spent a good several days mustering up the courage and stolidly ignoring my jerk brain. But the thing that really cemented it was that I went ahead and bought her books through the Left Bank website and indicated that I was going to pick them up at the event. Because then, the etiquette bit of my brain chimes in and is all like “But you said…” and it seems like it would be rude not to complete that social exchange.
So I went. And it was fine. And I did not die of embarrassment. Really, no one much paid attention to me (duh. and thankfully). Except. I ran into an author friend of one of my brothers-in-law. I had met this person twice before, I think — once two years ago and then once again almost exactly a year after that at consecutive birthday events. (Not my birthdays. My bro-in-law’s.) We reintroduced ourselves and got to chatting, and soon enough, he introduced me to a couple of his writerly friends and told me about a writing group they all attend. (Universe: Go find a community already. Sheesh. DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU?)
That writing group meets tonight. And I’m going.
I mean, I was feeling waffly up until this past weekend, but I have to now.
The author friend wrote me an email yesterday morning to check in and attached the pieces that are going to be critiqued. He went to the trouble of making sure I knew where it was going to be and where to park. He took the time to write such a nice, thoughtful email. And then etiquette brain was like, “Now you have to go. He went to so much trouble!”
Plus, I have told A, my sibs-in-law, this author friend, and now you that I’m going to attend. So, etiquette brain, who does not like broken promises and does not like people going to any trouble, won’t let me back out even though I still have most of the day to make myself nervous.
Thanks, etiquette brain.
We took the train from Amsterdam to Paris to meet up with my family. The high speed trains a pretty comfy, although the tickets we got ended up putting us in a weird private car across from another couple. You can’t even look out the window. I tried very much to just focus on a book. They ate snacks very loudly.
Once in Paris, we walked around quite a bit. Saw the Eiffel tower from afar, saw the Louvre courtyard. It was still blindingly sunny and distressingly hot. Which meant many shade breaks and stopping in cafes for fortifying sugary snacks.
The plan was to be in Paris for one night and then take the train to Bordeaux the next day. But then, it turned out that the train was cancelled due to some electrical failures. My mom spent a long time in discussion with the hotel concierge, and then we ended up in a chartered van, driving 7 or so hours to meet the barge for our river cruise. It’s not really travel unless something goes awry, is it?
We spent a week on the barge cruising along the Canal de Garonne with little day trips to see the surrounding countryside. There were fields upon fields of sunflowers everywhere we went. In the evenings, we had amazing meals prepared by the owner of the boat who has been honing his culinary talents for the last ten years.
It was luxurious and ridiculous (in a good way) and not something A and I could have ever done ourselves. We got to drink a good amount of wine. I learned some things about wine-making and armangnac distillation. We got to pet a bunch of goats. And, of course, I got to spend a lot of time with my family (it’s pretty difficult to wrangle all of us together at once).
I also now have someone who is willing to send me delicious recipes. Admittedly they are all in French, but that’s what Google translate is for.
Long overdue travelogue, but better late than never and all that. Or something. The main issue with waiting for so long before putting any words down about it is that I then have to piece together stuff because I’ve forgotten a lot of it. Or maybe that’s a good thing because then there isn’t as much minutiae, and there are more pictures. Picture me shrugging here.
At the end of July, A and I went on a trip to Europe. This trip was two years or so in the planning by my mother — she wanted a way to wrangle my family altogether and finally found a week that worked, so she booked a barge cruise in France. Since it’s been years since A and I have traveled somewhere else alone together, we decided to extend the the trip fore and aft. A had never been to Europe before, but didn’t have particular feelings about places to go. And I have been to Europe before, and wanted to go to Amsterdam and Brussels. So we started off in Amsterdam.
We spent a good amount of time just wandering around. Neither A nor I feel strongly about seeing all the sights or doing all the things; we tend to like to just be in a place. See a couple of things. And then eat a lot of food. So we were both perfectly content to spend most of our days walking about.
Apparently we showed up during an unseasonable heatwave. Most of the friendly locals kept commenting to us about how uncharacteristically hot it was. To which we, with sweat dripping off every surface, would reply, “Huh. You don’t say.”
Except we didn’t say that because neither of us say things like “You don’t say.”
Instead, we had to limit some of of sojourns so that we didn’t melt like butter in a hot cast iron pan.
The first full day that we had in Amsterdam was also the day of our tattoos at Ink District Amsterdam. We strolled along some of the canal streets in the morning, had some Dutch pancakes (fittingly at a place called PANCAKES), hit up the Amsterdam museum, and then went and got our ink.
The next day, we went to Micropia, which is an exceptionally well done museum about microbes. There were microscopes all over the place, bubbly flasks, and a stamp scavenger hunt. There was also a huge tardigrade in the lobby.
On our last evening in Amsterdam, we decided to have some Dutch food, so we went to Greetje which was around the corner and down the street from our hotel. We decided on the tasting menu because why not try all the things? It was ostensibly three courses, but much more like 17 courses. The starter is a “tasting” of all six of their starters, there was a main, and then the dessert was a “tasting” of all eight of their desserts (they have a pretty generous definition of “tasting,” generous and delicious). And that’s not including the bread and amuse. Or the coffee that came with butter cake. We basically had to roll our way home. If you’re ever in Amsterdam, I highly, highly recommend checking this place out. All the food was wonderful.
I managed to snap a pic of the starters and the desserts, both served “high tea” style. I ate the bread, my amuse, and my main before I thought to snap pics of those.
The next day, we were on our way to France. I wish we had had more time in Amsterdam. Maybe sometime in the future we’ll be able to go again. Preferably not at the height of summer…