Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fishies!

Rob has used some of his Christmas bonus to buy himself a larger fishtank (75 gallons), which he has spent today cleaning and setting up. No major fish will go in until we're back home to watch it, but it's pretty impressive just sitting there. Tomorrow he'll drop in a couple of guppies, who will get a week or so to make themselves at home (and possibly make more guppies), before he starts dropping his cichlids in - whereupon the guppy population will quickly plummet to nothing.

He's also gone back on his word to give me his 30-gallon tank when he moved up - but he promises that my anniversary gift will be a 30-gallon tank of my very own. This will leave us in the somewhat ridiculous position of having three 30-gallon tanks, one 75-gallon tank, and 4 fishbowls (bettas and feeder guppies). It's nice having all the fish though. Some of Rob's are quite lovely, even if they are a vicious lot. Aaron's are mostly not quite so pretty, but he does have some really nice long-finned Rosy Barbs that look like they might spawn soon. I'm still debating what kinds of fish I'd like to try in a tank of my own. Glofish are tempting - they're just so cool (transgenic fish, they're crossed with jellyfish genes), but they're also peaceable, and so small that even a mildly aggressive fish will make hash of them. I'll have to start looking around the local fish stores and see what I fall for.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mashed Potatoes and Sore Ears

Well, I've been properly Snarked. My query hook to Miss Snark was deemed "Mashed Potatoes in the Sunday dinner". I had the form down, but apparently I'm a little to bland to catch an agent's attention right now. So off I go back to the drawing board to cook up a hook with more zest.

Aaron woke me up at 5am day before yesterday "Owwww. Mommy! Ooowwwww!!!" When your child goes straight through step throat (with double ear involvement), without a word of complaint, you pay attention when he says it hurts. So off we went to the doctor, where Aaron had the shortest ear exam on record. The doctor didn't even get the tip of the otoscope in Aaron's ear before backing off and announcing "That's an ear infection all right. I could almost see that from across the room!" Poor kid.

So we get to take antibiotics along for the ride to Grandma's house. At least Aaron is starting to feel better today. When asked, he says his ear feels funny, but refuses to discuss it further than that. I suspect that it's clogged and itchy, but not hurting anymore.

People are dropping like fall leaves around here. One of our kids left mid-class because he didn't feel well - and looked so bad that our resident doctor made him lie down while he waited for his mother to come pick him up. Another mother reported that her son's choir concert had three separate kids throw up on stage. Thus far, the ear infection is all we've had, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Two Christmases ago, we had the joy of Aaron starting to throw up early Christmas morning. Aaron doesn't do nauseous by half-measures. If he throws up once, you can pretty much guarantee repeats. On Christmas he was throwing up every 20-30 minutes from 6am until almost noon. He insisted on coming down to the living room, though, and at least trying to unwrap presents, though his enthusiasm was understandably muted.

I'm crossing my fingers for no repeats this year.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Thoughts on Breathing

On Tuesday, I was the only one to show up to class, so Sensei and I had a very nice, highly instructive one on one session. We covered the four empty-hand kata I know thus far (Seisan, Seiuchin, Nahanchie, and Wansu), plus three self-defense patterns that he is adding to the requirements for belt testing. While I won't have to know them until black (there are nine altogether), he's teaching three at green, three at purple, and three at brown.

Toward the end of the session, we got to discussing the two brown belts who have left the dojo since I arrived. One is essentially a black, just without the belt, as he never was able to make the time commitment for long enough to push through and test for the black, even though he basically had all the skills necessary. Sensei still has hopes that they may be able to work out an arrangement that will allow L to put in the training time, just elsewhere (he now lives quite a distance aways).

The other brown belt left for reasons I'm not clear on (and that aren't really any of my business), but she had a lot further to go before she would have been ready for black. She was (and is) an excellent brown belt, but she had worked herself into a corner, and getting out - well, it would take a tremendous amount of work and time.

The problem is that she didn't breathe correctly. In every other way, her technique is all over mine, so I feel a little funny commenting critically, but she breathes backwards. It's something I see all the time in the world around me, and all the time in white and yellow belts, but most upper level belts have started, by sheer necessity, to breathe more properly.

You see, to breathe correctly, you need to use your diaphragm and your belly. Hold your arms out straight to either side, shoulder-level. Now rotate your thumbs until they're pointing straight behind you. Feel the position your ribcage is in? That's good breathing position - and that should never change. Drop your hands, but leave your chest and ribcage in the same position. Now put a hand flat on your belly, just about on your bellybutton, and the other hand in the small of your back. Breathe in deeply. If you're breathing correctly. both hands should be pushed out, the belly more than the back, while your ribs should not move. Doing this while maintaining muscle tension in the abs takes time and practice, but will reap huge dividends in stamina.

Breathing backwards is exactly the opposite. The belly and back don't move while the chest and even shoulders do the expanding and contracting. The problems with this as regards karate are two-fold. First - you simply don't get as much air for the effort this way. Moving your ribs is hard work, much harder than moving the diaphagm and belly, and you don't get nearly the lung expansion - so you exhaust yourself much quicker. This is where most beginners run afoul of bad breathing, and why most of them begin to change, even if the Sensei does nothing to correct it. Sooner or later they exhaust themselves, their bellies loosen, and poof, they start breathing more correctly. The body knows what's good for it, and so the more this happens, the more the student tends to start breathing that way, often even without realizing it.

Secondly, breathing backwards will get you into trouble even if you develop the stamina and lung-power to work around problem one. This is where our brown belt ran into trouble. You see, if you're breathing with your rib muscles, then those muscles are not available for other work, and vice versa. If you want to throw your very strongest punch, and you breathe with your ribs, you cannot breathe while punching, because you will leach muscle power from the punch. So our brown belt was fine fighting, and fine during most practice, but when she would practice katas full force, with all those techniques coming one after another, she would run out of steam very quickly - long before she could possibly have gone through all of the empty-hand kata. Unfortunately, as ingrained as her breathing pattern was, I suspect she would have to break almost all of her technique down, retrain her breathing, and build it back up with the new breathing worked in.

Breathing is something our Sensei does fine himself, but he doesn't particularly teach it, other than the old stand-by of having the students breathe out with every technique. I'm beginning to think, that if I start teaching a regular weekly class, I should work up a lesson on proper breathing. Most of the techniques I know come from singing, though, and I'm a little uncertain as to how they would be received by a karate class. I mean pushing against a wall while singing will teach you not to use your chest muscles in no time flat, but how are a bunch of pre-teen karateka going to respond to being asked to sing in karate class?

Something to ponder. I've still got time.


PS - for those interested, I've sent in the hook for Ghost Dancer to Miss Snark's Crapometer for critique. (It's #133, not up yet)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Because I haven't posted in too long.

Books read thus far in December:

Grasp the Stars: I wanted to like this one; I really did. The protagonist is interesting, and the other POV characters aren't bad either. It was the hodge-podge of a plot that made me put it down at the end and go "Meh." There are threads of what could be fascinating plots lying about all through the book. We have a 3000 year old, immortal (though killable) alien, with a secret that even she doesn't know half the time (intermittant drug-induced amnesia), a candidate for the Earth Council, who doesn't know it, with an existing councillor plotting against her (and she doesn't know that either), and a mysterious ancient artifact, with several possible translations, some quite provocative. Unfortunately, the author weaves all these in and out and around each other, without ever really getting ahold of one and pulling. Too bad.

Being a Green Mother - Piers Anthony: This is a middle book in his Incarnations of Immortality series. Some of them are very good, some are pretty bad, this one is okay. I've read it before. It's not a book that improves with repetition, though. The Piers Anthony tropes become more obvious when you reread it. If you read PA, and haven't figured out his tropes, I'm not going to give them away, because once you find them, you almost can't read him again. Even his good books are chock-full of all his favorite obsessions, and the bad ones have nothing but.

Outland - Tad Williams: I loved the Dragonbone Chair trilogy, so I thought I'd give this a try. Another meh, unfortunately. The plot is good, the characters are good, the only problem is that he writes so many damned words before you get to the payoff. Or to put it another way - I hit the end of nearly 800 pages, to discover that the plot was only just getting going. It's really more the first part of a reallly, really long book, than a stand-alone. And frankly, I'm just not sure my love of the characters and what plot I've seen is enough to sustain me through another 1600 pages or more.

The Paladin of Souls - Lois McMaster Bujold: Another reread. This time though, it's a favorite book from a favorite author. Ista dy Chalion is definitely in my top ten favorite characters of all time, and this book never fails to delight. Following Ista as she frantically struggles to get her loving family to let her do something, when she's supposed to be living in genteel, quiet retirement as the dowager royina, is something that most people, locked into a role that doesn't quite suit them, would relish.

Blood & Iron - Elizabeth Bear: The second book I've read from this Bear. I like her writing, and I will continue to read her stuff, but this book somehow didn't quite connect with me. It may simply be that the protagonist is a little too much like my mother. My relationship with my mother is difficult in some weird ways, and I'm not sure I want to be reading about her in my spare time, even as an elven changeling.

All Dressed Down and Noplace to Go: What can I say? It's Dilbert.

Flinx in Flux - Alan Dean Foster: It's a Flinx and Pip adventure. This time Flinx stumbles upon a (lovely, female) gengineer who's been kidnapped, rescues her, and returns her from whence she came. As ever in Flinx's life, though, things aren't that simple. He rapidly finds himself holed up deep in the unexplored caves of a mostly uninhabited planet - and then things get weird. I like Clarity as a character, and in general like this the way I like most Alan Dean Foster books. They're not deep, but they make darned good reading. Plus, I have yet to figure out how he makes his books so darned cheerful. He's the only man I know who can write a cheerful, feel-good read that involves the bloody slaughter of three planets worth of people. (No, not this book)

There were a few other books in there as well - one on dog-training, two on writing, a few others, but none of them are springing to mind this moment, so I won't worry about them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Note to Self

Check the ingredients of new chai blends before having a big mug at bedtime. The old blend was spice-based and caffeine free. The new blend is black tea based and features an impressive caffeine blast.

Of course I didn't think to check this until it was 4am, and I was still wide awake. For that matter it's now 8:30am, and I still couldn't go to sleep if I wanted to. I'm not even a tiny bit sleepy. Tired, yes. Sleepy, no.

In other news: NaNo was succesfully completed. Official wordcount was 50,127 on Nov. 30, around 2pm.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

NaNo NaNo

At long last NaNo seems to be progressing apace. If this continues this may be the first Nano (National Novel Writing Month for those who haven't run into it before) where I'm not desperately behind in word count in the last few days. Fifty-thousand words in thirty days is a pretty doable amount if you write every day, but if you skip a few it turns into a monster pretty quickly. For last years Nano I was so far behind I had all but given up coming into the last three days. I had more than 12,000 words to go, and little time during the day to write.

Then a rather nasty miracle happened. My kids got sick sequentially. I spent three nights running, up all night, but mostly unoccupied. I was hanging out in the guest bedroom (also my office) with whichever kid was sick. They would sack out on the bed, and I would type while waiting for the next round of vomiting. Three days later, I was absolutely staggering, but I had also managed to stagger over my 50,000 word mark. Of course many of those 12,000+ words had to be discarded for complete incoherency, but for Nano purposes, they counted!

This year it's looking completely different. I'm not only on my count, I'm actually ahead. I'm over 35,000 words - so only 15,000 words to go, and more than a week left in the month! I should pass 40,000 words by the time we get to my in-laws on Wednesday, and if I can't hack out 10,000 words in four days of hanging around in my Mother-in-laws living room, I should give up on this writing idea. Which would (gasp!) finish my word count three days early. I'm even happy with how the story is developing. It's been interesting attempting to draw a character with aphasia. So much of character in stories is done with dialogue that it's a challenge to have to work entirely in other ways, but I think I've made a good start of it.

My next challenge is to try to fit an exposition on the Lundehund (the Norwegian puffin-hunting dog) into the story somewhere. Nano challenges are traditional, and mine this year, courtesy of L, is to fit all the articles I write for Damn Interesting! into the text somewhere. This prevents me from losing possible word count to the need to create articles instead of novel, but also makes necessary some very strange plot twists. Such as when a minor character got turned into an antipope and then murdered. They seem to be working out though. In my experience from two previous Nanos, the weird plot things you do for challenges often end up being the best, most distinctive parts of the book. Like the 500 year old lawyer in Ghost Dancer that resulted from L's challenge to include a character from her book (set in the modern day) in my book (set in the twenty-eigth century).

Of course, L makes me look like a complete slacker. She passed 50,000 words on day 13. Stinker.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Teaching

Sensei is out of town for the rest of this week, so K - the other senior adult - and I will be covering the classes. I only found this out Tuesday - so I haven't had a chance to prepare, but I also haven't had a chance to get nervous.

The other thing that cropped up as a possibility (after the new year), is that Sensei may not be able to make some of the scheduled class times on a regular basis, and would need me and/or Karen to simply take over teaching those classes most weeks.

I told him I was willing, and I am, but the idea of being responsible for a regular class is a bit intimidating yet. So I am at one and the same time both scared and extremely flattered. That Sensei trusts me sufficiently to be willing to turn over a weekly class if necessary is a good feeling. (Though is it horrible that I also thought, somewhat gleefully, that teaching the class would also likely lead to testing for purple soon? I feel ready for the test, so I'm mostly waiting on Sensei to decide to let me take it.)

On the other hand, I'm really hoping that whatever the conflict is doesn't turn out to be something negative for Sensei. He didn't say anything definite, but his very reticence is a little alarming.

It's a good thing all this is happening in Nano month (26,000 words and counting!). I'm too damn busy to stew over it the way I would normally. I'm eating up all my time trying to figure out how the antipope gets killed!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lennox Legacy

Well, I'm back from Ohio and the Lennox Legacy Tournament. We had six people in all show up from our dojo, which is the most I've seen even in local tournaments. That we got that many to a tournament six hours away seems quite miraculous.

The tournament was a lot bigger this year than last. Last year there were five contenders in adult intermediate kata (men & women combined). This year we had almost a dozen. Last year there were two of us in women's adult intermediate kumite. This year there were eight of us.

I'm satisfied, though not thrilled with results. Personally I took a third in weapons (which I am thrilled about), was middle of the pack in kata (which is fine considering how new I am to this kata), and nowhere in kumite. Both of us adults from my dojo finished nowhere in kumite, probably due to the lack of practice lately, plus the small number of adult students in the dojo to practice on. We felt reasonably encouraged though, as none of the fighters in our division seemed out of reach to us. They weren't faster, or more skilled particularly, they just adjusted for our fighting style faster than we did for theirs.

There was one guy in the intermediate adult ring who was majorly impressive though. He took gold in kata, in weapons, and in the mens kumite. Nice guy too - so if anyone knows Taz, tell him congratulations!

The kids had a mixed day - we had two beginner little girls, and two pre-teen boys - one intermediate, one advanced. There was a mix-up in the beginners 8-11 ring, and several competitors were allowed in who belonged in the intermediate or advanced rings. Seriously, there was a brown belt in the beginner's ring. As a result one of our girls took 4th. Had the more advanced people been removed, she would definitely have medalled. Our intermediate guy took a medal in kata, as did the advanced guy. One took 2nd and one took 3rd, but I'm not sure which was which.

The only disaster of the day was with advanced 8-11 fighting. The coordinators moved which ring the kumite was in, after the kata had finished, and they failed to announce it over the loudspeakers. Since our advanced boy had wandered over to the ring next door to watch the intermediate boy fight, he missed the switch, and was not allowed to fight, which upset him terribly. He would likely have done well, too. We have a plethora of intermediate-to-advanced preteens in our dojo, so they get the kind of varied fighting practice the adults don't, and generally do quite well in tournaments. I do wish they would be more careful about that sort of thing in the kids' rings. If there's a screw-up with the adults, that's one thing, we can deal. For the kids it can feel like the end of the world.

After the tournament there was a bo seminar by Hanchi-dan Duessel. It was fascinating, and I learned a lot, though I came away feeling like my head was just stuffed. There were some distinctly odd moments though, as the bulk of the participants were black belts, some quite advanced, and Sensei Duessel spent a good deal of the seminar instructing them (quite severely) on how to properly go about teaching bo. He appears to take quite personally the general failure of Isshin-ryu dojos to properly teach weapons' basics before starting the students in on kata. We did cover a lot of the basics in the process of showing how to teach, though, so there was plenty there at my level for me to bring away and work with.

All-in-all I had a great time. The more people I meet in the larger Isshin-ryu community, the more comfortable I get at these events, and the more I enjoy them. Of course it would be nice to start walking off with more medals, but in the meanwhile I'm enjoying myself anyway.

Monday, October 30, 2006

It's All In How You Do It

For some reason, body language has been a topic of discussion in several different places in my life this week. In the dojo, with my husband, with friends, on-line. It's weird how different people keep bringing up body-language in general, and my body-language in specific in response to different topics, and with different viewpoints. My husband tells me my body-language is authoritative, that I walk and act like someone who knows what she's doing. My sensei is perhaps the only person in my life who calls me "dainty" (I have to suppress a giggle every time he does, it's just such a weird adjective to use about me). He says that I move like someone trying very hard not to hurt the things around me. My college roommate says I have feminine body-language - she qualified it immediately as feminine-dominant.

I have no idea who in this little tableau of discriptives is describing me accurately. Perhaps they all are. The descriptives come up in response to different situations, so that's a possibility. My roommate is trying to explain why she has been mistaken for a guy on several occassions (from the back), despite being short and small, and having uncut, butt-length hair, while I never have, despite being tall, blocky, and frequently having short hair. Her explanation is that I move like a woman, while she doesn't. Which I can buy. Actually L moves like a heron. If you've ever seen a great blue heron stalking frogs in a small pond? - that's how L walks. I'm not sure how a heron walk overrides tiny with butt-length hair, but she doesn't move like most people, let alone most women.

My sensei, on the other hand, is describing how I move in the dojo, and particularly when performing kata. Why I limit my power so stringently in the dojo, I'm not sure, but I know I do. In kumite the unconscious throttling down works well for me. I pull my blows well without having to slow down to think about it. In kata, and working on the bags, though, it's not what I want to be doing. At my current rate of improvement, I have about another decade of being called "Ms. Dainty" in front of me. Interestingly, I had a similar problem learning to play piano. It took almost a decade of steady work for my piano teacher to get me to play a good forte, let alone a fortissimo. I simply seem to be afraid to make too much of an impression on the universe - or something. It's weird.

The first describer, my husband, on the other hand, was trying to explain a phenomenon that has puzzled me my entire life. I don't attract help. Ever. If I'm hauling furniture, wrangling children, or walking somewhere alone in the dark, I'm entirely on my own. In college it was really notable. As a women's college, Wellesley had a strict policy against students walking alone at night after dark. They had an escort service you were supposed to wait for. If the foot patrols (which were ubiquitous) found you walking alone, they would drop their route, and walk you to where you were going. If a patrol car spotted you, they were supposed to give you a lift - though they weren't as good about it as the foot patrols. Every friend I had got stopped and escorted at least a couple of times each year, even though they didn't try to walk alone much.

I never did. Not once in four years. And I walked everywhere after dark. I would walk from the dorms to the Science Center, to the Student Center, to other dorms, even completely around the lake at least once each year. I was seen by foot patrols, patrol cars, even the official escort service. They would give me a nod, and keep on their way - absolutely invariably. It was really weird - even a little spooky.

It's the same in airports. I once traversed the length of the Phoenix Airport, 7 1/2 months pregnant, carrying a 20-month old kid, with three large suitcases and a car seat. I carried the car seat about ten yards, went back, picked up the first suitcase and brought it up, went back, got the next suitcase, and so forth, carrying S the whole while. I went past the entire lineup of skycaps, and untold numbers of other people, (close to a good 1/4 mile) without a single offer of help. Not even to get me a cart. I'm not decrying the rude people of Phoenix, mind you. They simply provided the most extreme example of a lifelong phenomenon.

I don't do anything deliberate with how I move. I have good posture, the legacy of two stringent grandmothers, and I've worked hard on making my walk ergonomically sound because of a history of hip problems that I don't need to be exacerbating. So I'm deeply puzzled as to how I ended up moving so very differently as to provoke such striking behavior (or lack of behavior) in the people around me. I also wonder if the daintyness Sensei complains about isn't an effort to soften the effect of whatever it is - to make me seem less dominant, or threatening, or something.

Whatever it is, I don't necessarily think I want to change it. The same something that prevents people from offering help, also seems to prevent most kinds of casual harassment. But it would be nice to be able to control it, so that the next time I actually need help, I have some ability to turn it off, and possibly get some.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Parent-Teacher Conferences

It's that time - first quarter report cards, and parent-teacher conferences (mandatory for first quarter in elementary school here). Joy of joys, I have laryngitis this week, and no voice, which has rendered me just a wee bit less articulate than usual. It was really good to get to meet both teachers, since we were out of town for the Open House when I would normally have met them.

A's (#2 son) conference came first. His teacher is really, really pleased with him. His SPED evaluator is astounded. We're delighted. A had his SPED evaluation nine months ago. At that time, he was entirely unable to write, or even color for more than a few seconds. He had poor muscle tone in his hands, and poor fine motor control (2-year delay). His academic tests showed below average to low average across the board, except for verbal fluency, which was above average. Except that he also had social speech problems and a speech impediment, so his vocabulary and grammar skills weren't exactly doing him much good.

Today? A has high-average to above-average academics across the board. In some things he's already past the goals for the end of kindergarten. He was the only child in his class to know what a sentence was and be able to create them on demand. He has started playing with other kids than his best friend (Side note: His best friend has been hospitalized for four days now with fever and abdominal pains. No diagnosis yet, exploratory surgery tonight, fingers crossed.) He's writing sentences with awkward, but legible handwriting. Essentially he's progressed almost a full academic year's worth in two months. Plus he's liking kindergarten a lot, so he's not failing to have fun while making all this progress. His teacher says he's "delightful" and "a great kid to work with".

S's conference was today. That also went well, though not as astoundingly good. Academically he's doing great - as always. His teacher told me about twenty times how astoundingly smart he is. I really wish there was a better way to respond to that. "I know." sounds so complacent, or smug. But really, he's been stellar academically since he was a baby, so it isn't a shocker to hear. Behavior has always been S's sticking point, but he does seem to be doing better this year. No tantrums at all, and only a couple of incidents of foot stomping or hiding under his desk. He continues to daydream (with accompanying noise-making) when bored, and he's very intolerant of mistakes by other kids when working in a group setting. His teacher wants him evaluated by one of their autistic-spectrum specialists in the classroom setting, to see if she has any suggestions. Like A (who's official diagnosis is autistic-spectrum disorder), nobody thinks he's actually autistic, but some of his behaviors are similar, so some of the same methods may help. I'm okay with that. I like the SPED system in this state and school district. Among other things, if the child "graduates" from the SPED system, they give you copies of everything, and then destroy the records. That way, all the information still exists, in case something recurrs, but the SPED categories don't follow your child forever.

Both teachers seem really nice, and both seem very fond of my kids. I think this is going to be a good school year.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Teaching

Well, I didn't exactly run a class on Tuesday. Apparently the word had gotten out that Sensei would be out, and only one boy showed. I think I've mentioned him before - the one who needs a rheostat so we can turn him down a notch or two. We had an interesting private session. He's about halfway through with Seisan, and I worked with him on it intensively for an hour. I was frankly astounded. For a kid his age (12) to work for an hour on a short section of kata, with good concentration, and no complaint at all, is really noteworthy.

Once we got off of Seisan, however, things got less wonderful. He was trying to talk me into teaching sais (which I barely know anything about myself), bo, knife practice, juggling(?)...anything and everything he could think of. He wanted to break boards, he wanted to kumite. He even offered to tell Sensei that he had just "watched me and figured it out" if I would just teach him some more advanced kata.

I found it interesting, but tiring, reining him in. I told him in no uncertain terms that jumping ahead in kata was not permitted, and used myself as an example. He found it completely incomprehensible that I would return to being a white belt after having been a brown. Surely there must have been some way I could have convinced Sensei to let me keep wearing it? When I told him that going back to white was my choice, not Sensei's, he was completely flabbergasted. The idea that I shouldn't be wearing brown if I couldn't live up to what a brown belt implies, seemed to elude him entirely. I could have faked it, couldn't I?

I hope he gets some maturity (and common sense) soon. He's going to be a fabulous karateka when he does, but until then, he's in constant danger of injuring himself by trying stuff he's not ready for, or of getting kicked out for bypassing Sensei to try to con his way into learning said stuff.

In other news, Sensei's surgery went well. He gets the huge club-like forearm protector off in about ten days. Then it's a matter of healing and rehabilitating. The student one senior to me will be teaching the next two classes, and he's cancelling Sunday, but he hopes to be teaching again by Tuesday.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Countdown to the Legacy

The Lennox Legacy tournament that is. I'll be sending in my registration sheet on Wed, the tournament is in Ohio in two weeks. I need more practice on my kumite skills than I'm likely to get, and I need to practice my kata like there's no tomorrow.

The kumite thing is going to be hard. My biggest problem in kumite is that I tend to overanalyze, trying to run the fight with my mind, instead of my body, and it slows me down. I'm not the fastest person going to begin with, and if I start analyzing too, it's just hopeless. Unfortunately the only real way I've found to get around this is to simply fight, and fight, and fight some more, until what I need to do becomes automatic. Tournaments are invariably the worst way for me to show good kumite, because I always start off thinking hard, and loosen up as time goes on. I can't tell you how often I've finally hit my stride - just as I'm about 1 point off of being eliminated - and then can't make it up enough, and out I go. I think it's part of why I did so well at the local place last year. I was in the beginner's division, and the poor woman I was paired up with first was no threat at all. She had no fighting experience, and really had no clue what she was doing. She did, however, serve to get me into "fighting mode", so that when a bout with a more experienced opponent came along, I was ready to go. I wound up by fighting (and winning) against a woman five ranks higher than I was, though I think the skunking I gave her was mostly shock. Once I won the first two points, she just stopped trying to score, and strictly defended.

So the question becomes, with no chance to really stretch myself in kumite between now and then, how do I keep from getting eliminated before I even start? Sensei offered back about six months ago to spar with me before competition starts, but he's having hand surgery on Tuesday, so I don't think that's in the offing (and I'm certainly not going to ask for it). It's a conundrum.

On kata, things are also strange. I should be competing with Wansu - and it's really my only choice if I want to be competitive in this venue. Naihanchi is a lovely kata, but it simply doesn't hold up in competition. On the other hand - I don't know all of Wansu yet. I'm almost there - about 4/5th of the way through, and I'm pretty comfortable that a) I will know it by then, and b) I do what I do thus far well. Still it feels really weird to be prepping a kata for competition that I don't actually know the end of yet.

In other news, I'm teaching my first planned solo class on Tuesday (Sensei's hand surgery as mentioned above). It should be interesting. I had to sit(nearly literally) on one of our Tuesday regulars today for failing to respect a senior belt who happens to be his age. Fortunately, for all the trouble this kid gives most of his seniors, he seems to respect (or is that fear?) me almost as much as he does Sensei. That is to say, enough to do what we tell him to do - when we're looking.

Sensei says he should be back teaching Thursday, but we have a back-up plan in place, just in case. I'm really glad he's getting his hand fixed though. He tore ligaments back in April, and it's taken this long to get him to surgery and have them reattached. For all that time he's been teaching with a left hand that simply can't take any sort of punishment. Learn from Sensei - block with a closed hand, not a loose open one!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Writing & Criticism

I'm not a lover of drama. Actually I generally avoid it at all costs. I'm the sort of over-socialized person who never once screams or swears during labor, and apologizes to the nurses for making quiet moaning sounds. The attraction of creating a scene simply eludes me. Why would anybody want to do that?

I realize that my attitude on the matter is far from universal - and probably not even terribly healthy. Sometimes a little drama is good for the soul. Nonetheless, some people, and writers are often prime examples, seem prone to the kind of passionate responses that make good opera, but poor life.

Writers in particular are very prone to react badly to criticism intended only to help. Even when they say they want it. I'm beginning to understand why so very few professional writers will give any opinion on work from people they don't know very well indeed. It's not just because of the time, or the fact there's no real recompense, though I'm sure those play a role. It's that you can put serious time and effort into giving someone the very best critique you can. You can be specific, honest, thorough, and even tactful - and have their response be to blow up in your face. If you do review things generally, but don't review something specific, they can bemoan your apathy and lack of commitment to their work (Err - it's their work, not mine, right?). The same person who demanded brutal criticism can fall over in despair in reaction to a far from brutal critique.

I'm dealing with this right now with a specific author. Her work is wonderful in some aspects, but has a long way to go in others. Not surprisingly - at least to me - her biggest difficulty seems to be writing a cooly academic character consistently. But her plotting is tight, and her descriptions, when they go right are wonderfully lush.

What do you do when you're committed to trying to help someone's work, and they turn out to be this un-self-aware about how they handle criticism? I really, really want to help - but now I'm clueless as to how. If I simply encourage, I'm not helping the writer develop her craft. But when I critique, there's a sudden outburst of despair that simply leaves me stunned in its intensity. She's got me stumped.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Shhh - Don't Tell!

We've come up with the perfect gift for Sensei. He is eligeable for his go-dan (recieved his notification about two months ago), but the process to get his belt costs a couple of hundred dollars and he can not afford it. Really can not afford it. As poor as we currently are, we're rolling in the dough comparatively speaking, because our problem is the recent excessive outgo, rather than sheer lack of income. Left to himself and his own income, Sensei would never get that next rank, since even if he had the money, he'd undoubtably find a better use for it - something for his family, or something for his students.

So we're all contributing to get together the money to get him his go-dan for Christmas. This involves some serious sneaking around. We have to find out the exact amount (getting ahold of some of the other upper-level black belts to find this out), and contact Master Shimabuku in Okinawa to see if we can do it direct, or if we just have to give Sensei the money and sit on him to make sure he uses it for his promotion.

I feel all conspiratorial :-D

In other news, both of our brown belts have left recently. One joined the Army, the other had just recently returned after a long hiatus, and now has left again for reasons unknown (at least to me). I assume she talked to Sensei about it since a) he seems quite clear that she's not going to around regularly, and b) he's not particularly upset about it, which he definitely was when she quit the first time and didn't talk to him about it. Sensei will forgive about anything except leaving him out of the loop.

As a result of this, Sensei told me straight out the other night, that I will probably be his first black belt. This feels a bit weird. At the moment I'm only a fairly recent green. I still have purple, brown 1, and brown 2 to go through. Plus I'm not the senior student, I'm third in seniority. I have to agree with his assessment, our most senior student is only 12, so isn't eligeable for black for four more years, while the #2 senior student is a practicing physician with three small kids. Her practice time is limited, so her progression through the ranks tends to be slow. She was an orange belt when I joined, now we're both greens, with me about a month behind her in seniority.

Still it feels awkward to be the subject of Sensei's somewhat ambitious regard. He's been teaching for about eight years, he's itching to have a black belt of his own, and would have had several by now but for circumstances. I have no idea what it would be like to be a black belt under him, I'd be breaking in the position, which also means I'd be setting all the precedents. Ground-breaking is not generally my preferred occupation.

On the other hand, I have between 18 months and 2 years at a minimum before I'm ready to test for black. I suppose I shouldn't get ahead of myself.

Most black belt candidates (that I've talked to anyway) feel unready. I guess I just get to feel that way somewhat longer than most.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Testing - but not for me

One of our requirements this summer was to go to one of the TKD belt testing days, and watch how they do it. I was in Boston during the last set of tests, so this Saturday off I went.

It was very different from my sensei's testing. First off, it was huge. Forty people, ranging from second dans testing for third, to tiny tots testing for their first stripe (They get five, and then they graduate to the regular kids' class as a white belt). We were there four hours watching tests.

They started with the black belts. I was mostly not impressed. Of the half-dozen testing, only one (the youngest of them all) had what I would consider good form. The dojo head corrected them as a group at least once - for having their thumbs hanging out during knife hand strikes! Two of them were hardly chambering their kicks at all, and only the one really chambered hard and well.

The two testing for promotion to first dan were worse. I would - personally speaking - have knocked them down a rank or two for their performances, not promoted them. Ironically they both very nearly failed for failing to break the required boards, but each managed after a dozen-plus tries. I would have failed them at the first form. Neither of them could make a decent fist! One had her thumb straight - sticking out past her knuckles. The other had loose hands, and a cocked wrist. Neither of them could have punched anything hard without injuring themselves. Sensei bawls out white belts for form breaks less egregious.

Interestingly the lower belts generally looked better. Why, I'm not sure. But most of the lower belt testees seemed appropriately skilled for the levels they were testing for. Did they change teaching styles recently or something?

At least now I know why facing the TKD black belts in kumite has never particularly fazed me. If I can block their feet (and I have pretty sharp defense), they have nothing up top to threaten me with. Though if we keep sharing classes on the weekend, that may change.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Congratulations! It's a novel!

Well - at least it's a second draft of a novel in formatted e-book form with a cover. Close enough for the nonce.

Ghost Dancer, the e-book exists! It's alive!

Now I'm working on the synopsis and the query letter. I want to start sending it out to agents - real live agents *shiver*. The first draft of the query letter was horrible, but I have hopes for the rewrite. Surely if I can chug out a 200+ page novel, I can manage a measley 1 page query letter, can't I?

I'm also still working away on Ghost Dancer itself, but I'll probably keep doing that until the day it appears on a bookshelf.

So - my writing goals from now until Nov. 1 (NaNo!) are:

1. Write good query letter.
2. Polish the first chapter until it gleams.
3. Write the synopsis.
4. Start sending out query packages to appropriate agents. (1-5 are between now and Oct. 1)
5. Finish first draft of The Flayed Queen.
6. Brainstorm plot points for this years untitled NaNo novel.
7. Come up with a working title for this years untitled NaNo novel.

If anyone would like a look at Ghost Dancer, contact me and I can e-mail it to you. Far future science fiction - Sapient space ship, her navigator - a girl who desperately wants a normal life, but the universe really is out to get her, and a plot to take over the Human Polity which overtakes them both.

Back to the Basement

Flooding. Again.

Last time the basement flooded, S was in it at the time, so he was right on the case - and we still almost lost the carpet to mildew. This time it's a complete loss. The basement was ankle deep before we even knew the sump pump had failed (a piece of elastic had gotten wound up in the mechanism). Actually, it's entirely possible we would have flooded even had the sump been working properly. At the height of rainfall today we had two heavy duty pumps going - 4,000 gallons an hour going out - and we were just barely keeping up with the influx.

I had a weapons seminar that I was supposed to go to at 1pm today. I had to call them to say I couldn't come. Life sucked.

But about an hour later, the rain slackened, the pumps started actually making headway, and my beloved husband gave me a hug and told me to call and see if they would let me join in late. So I did, and they did!

So I took a 2-hour (instead of three hour) seminar from Weapons Connection. Mostly we learned basics for a short staff (I'm blanking on the proper term). It's about a third the length of a bo. I learned all twelve, but my head is feeling dreadfully stuffed, and I don't know how much I'm going to retain by the time I get to physically try them out again Tuesday. Fortunately Sensei Gauntner video-taped her two students running through the drill, so we should have some back-ups for our over-strained memories. We also got to see the basics for sai (I've learned the first three of 12 already), tonfa, and nunchuka, plus kata for all of those, and a couple of other weapons I've only heard of, never seen. The gusan (a jo length stick, but with slightly flared ends), tettsu (a small, sharp, three pointed thing, meant to add spikes to your hand techniques, this kata was particularly viscious), and tekko (think brass knuckles designed to look like a stirrup). It was very cool.

Then it was back to the basement. As of tonight our carpet is sitting in sodden rolls on the curb, where the garbage men will get it Friday. There are some smaller sections that S left for me to handle over the next few days (they require extensive, but relatively light, moving of items). If our fastidious lawn-obsessed neighbor objects to our new landscaping, he can bloody well haul the carpeting off himself. We're bushed.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tired...

Home again. The wedding went off well, the kids were unbearably cute, and unbelievably well behaved, and I'm utterly wrecked. Or I was - I'm beginning to strike back up into the land of the living.

Visiting A at the easiest of times is a marathon for me. Were she not physically constrained by CP, she would be a go-go-go person. Since she is, the people hanging out with her end up operating in that mode, trying to get done all that she needs and wants to get done in her life. Shall we note that this is a woman with a BA from Wellesley (summa cum laude), a JD, and about to get her Ph.D. in education (while maintaining her own tutoring business)? The lady's got drive.

So while I was there it was 16+ hour days, running from hospital to florist to mechanic to videographer, and trying to squeeze in time for food and sleep in the interstices.

If one more of her relatives had congratulated me on what a wonderful wedding I threw for her, I was going to slap somebody. I mean it's one thing when a stranger is a complete moron about the abilities of someone disabled. It's annoying, but it's usually ignorance speaking, and amenable to shaming and/or correction. But how the %$**!!! could these people have been related to A, have known her for her entire life, and still be so utterly clueless? Do they think someone else took her law finals for her? Or is writing her thesis?

I mean really. It's nice that A's relatives think highly of me, but on the whole, I'd rather they thought highly of her. She deserves it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dress-making 101


Time to pull out the old sewing machine. It's been a few years since I've made anything, but in two weeks I get to be Matron of Honor at the wedding of a dear friend, and I need something to wear. Not being a fan of shelling out $100+ for poorly sewn acetate, I've decided to make my dress instead.

This dress is what I've chosen. Purple being the wedding color, I've got a deep purple silk, and a lavendar lace for the overlay. (It's hard to see in these pictures, but the dress is two layer.)

Wish me luck. I used to be quite a competant seamstress (I made my own wedding dress.), but I haven't sewn a complete item of clothing since shortly after my first son was born.

The wedding itself should be interesting, if it doesn't kill me. The bride is an old and dear friend, finally marrying the guy she's been dating for more than five years. Unfortunately her family (read her parents), are a fairly crazy bunch. I fully expect to be running completely ragged the week before the wedding, mostly putting out fires set by well meaning relatives. For example, we've already had to nix her mother attempting to have the florist put large boquets along the aisle. As if a bride negotiating the trip with crutches really needs a few more obstacles thrown in her way.

Update on the pulled groin muscle. Yep, it's definitely pulled. At least for right now my left kicks (all sorts) have to stay below knee height or I regret it. Deep Seiuchin is also out, as well as anything that involves a straddle position. The good news is that at my current rate of improvement I should be fully functional by the time I get back from the wedding on Sept 8 (I leave a week from Friday, on the 24th). At that I got off lucky. One of the TKD black belts broke her foot. Sensei thanked me for bringing the ice chest & packs, and said that next year we're going to haul it right in the door, and set up a first-aid station with sign. This year I was handing out ice packs from the back seat of my van because we weren't sure of the reception we'd get if we brought it inside, but a lot of people who could have used the ice didn't see us.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lots of Little Pieces

The Break-a-thon is over. 1000 boards have been demolished. It took about 40 people 19.5 minutes to do the deed. We raised somewhere around 2500 dollars for the National MS Society (The final tallies aren't in yet, but we were at $2325 when I left, without counting concessions or on-the-spot donations.)

I'm a bit the worse for wear. We'll see how bad it is tomorrow and Monday. On one side-kick break, my holder, apparently unused to seeing his breaker charging him, backed away just slightly, and I over-stretched into the kick. I made the break, but pulled my left adductor (inner thigh muscle). The TKD people make their side-kick breaks by using what we would call a spinning side-kick, while I used a step-behind side-kick that covers a good deal of ground. Other than the pull, I'm pleased with the day. I broke about twenty boards - knife-hand both left and right, palm-heel, stomp, front snap and side-thrust kicks, most were 9" boards, but the organizers overestimated how many small boards we'd need vs. large ones, so by the end the adults were breaking the kids' 3 and 4" boards.

On the slightly intimidating side, Sensei took me aside shortly before the breaking started and told me that his special project for the next three months is getting me ready for the Lennox Legacy tournament. Meaning, apparently, that he intends to work my butt into the ground, and expects me to win kumite and possibly kata as well. My tournament performance so far has been highly mixed. I won the Grand Champion beginner's woman trophy at our local tournament last year, and even beat out the intermediate Grand Champion in the fighting ring - but that's a very small tournament. At last year's Lennox, however, I placed last in both categories, albeit not by very much. That's been my performance pretty consistently so far. Local tournaments, I do very well. In away tournaments, even fairly small ones, I place nowhere. I don't know if its a mental problem, or a statement on the quality of our local dojos.

I look forward to the intensive course anyway. I always love being pushed.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Growing Up Bullied

Amanda, at Pandagon, has a recent post and thread regarding a new video game showing a bullied kid getting even - not by gunning people down, but apparently through such things as throwing bags of marbles on the floor, and other such stuff. Some school administrators are denouncing the game, and Amanda is commenting that the main reaction to tragedies like Pearl and Columbine has been to crack down on the people being bullied as violence risks, rather than to crack down on the bullies.

This post isn't about that one though, even though I think it's dead on. Rather, in the comment section, where people are relating their own tales of being bullied, a commenter says that all these people relating their stories are immature, have anger issues, and should just get over it. Everyone had a miserable time in HS, even the jocks and cheerleaders, and those who have commented are just a bunch of whiners.

Somebody needs a swift tap with a clue-by-four.

The two most common comments I heard from adults as a kid were "You don't have a problem, really. Everyone thinks they're unpopular," and "The kids bothering you are just jealous. Ignore them; be a boring target, and they'll get tired of it and go away."

From this I mainly learned that no adult was ever going to even believe me, let alone take me seriously or help me as I tried to cope with my life in middle school.

Said life included such joys as being unable to eat lunch normally, because sitting down at a lunch table with any other kid inevitably got my lunch spit upon, used in a food fight, salt or mustard, or some other condiment dumped over everything, my tray "accidentally" spilled on the floor, or some other way of making sure I couldn't even eat, let alone enjoy my lunch.

It included being kicked, tripped, pushed down stairs, whipped with a jumprope, and having my possessions stolen at every opportunity. Ignoring them simply caused them to escalate, trying to make me react.

And lets not forget the teacher who harrassed me and attempted to molest me - probably because I was so isolated that I made an attractive target. In retrospect this teacher also actively helped further my isolation by favoring me in class in ways my fellow students were bound to resent.

All of this went on, day in and day out for four straight years. In those four years I can't remember a single day of being happy, of having a good time, of even being able to relax my constant vigilance against what my fellow students might do to me next. I was literally praying to God every night asking for him to let me die before morning so I wouldn't have to go back to school.

The worst thing about this is - my story isn't particularly unusual, and it's far from the worst one I've heard. I wasn't even the only person in this position at my school. There were at least two other similar kids in my grade, and at least one in every grade. That's somewhere between six and twelve kids living in utter daily misery in one school. Many others wobbled in and out of unpopularity, or gained temporary target status, but we were the permanent pariahs, and none of us lost that status by any method but moving.

Too many adults, like this commenter, think that kids are exaggerating, or that their lack of perspective makes their misery greater than circumstances warrent. They forget that misery is not dependant upon maturity. Often they will blame the bullied kids for their own status - as if any kid, under any circumstances, deserves the kind of treatment a school pariah recieves. They will tell adults relating these circumstances to "just grow up and get over it."

Remembering the circumstances of one's youth is not failing to grow up. Trying to make others understand those circumstances is not failing to get over it. It's a perfectly rational attempt to make other adults understand, because maybe, just maybe, if we can get that point across to enough people, it will stop being okay to look the other way when school kids torment others for being different. Perhaps if the problem is the downtrodden striking out with violence, the solution might be to prevent them from being downtrodden, rather than to stomp them harder?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Breaking Things

First off, I did pass my test. It was pouring rain in buckets, and only I, Sensei and one 9 year old white belt were there. Sensei was more stringent than usual (all that time, and no witnesses!), but I didn't make any significant errors, though he made some suggestions for improvement in my kata. Mostly that my stances could be purer - Seisan wider after turns, Seuichin deeper, transitions clearer. Kumite was brutal - Sensei himself until he decided he was tired. Breaking went well, I went through everything on my first try.

The three classes I've had since then have been prepping for the dojo Break-a-thon, which benefits the MS Society. That's this Saturday, and I've been alternating between practicing my own breaks, and helping some of the kids with theirs. We're supposed to be breaking 1000 boards in 30 minutes. The Taekwondo people (who own the dojo), set this one up. We generally don't teach breaking until middle belts, but the TK side does it from white belt, so a lot of our little ones want to participate, and we're trying to prep them.

One of our newest (the same 9 year old boy who was at my test) is waaay over-eager. If Sensei didn't keep such a tight watch on safety, he'd have injured himself by now. He's this way with everything - pestering me to teach him Taikyoko I by the end of his first class (after Sensei told him "Not yet."), hitting up everybody in sight to teach him anything they know about anything. It's always nice to have an eager student, but this one worries me. His ambitions are so far ahead of his actual ability at this stage of the game that he's a menace - mostly to himself. He wants to break the big boards with a seikan, when he can't hit a makiwara straight with one, and he can't break a little board with a kick. The most worrisome part is that he's willing to be deceptive - play a senior student off of Sensei, or fail to mention previous attempts or failures, in order to get people to let him try what he wants to. It's going to get him kicked out if he doesn't cut it out. Sensei's already warned him twice, and he's only been here 8 weeks (if that).

In other news, school started today. #1 son is in third grade, and reports that his teacher seems nice, and that there are about four kids he knows in his class - none of them kids he's had problems with before. #2 son started kindergarten. Unfortunately he was put in the wrong class (away from his best friend), by mistake, so the first day was marred by constantly looking for Ashley. We have it straightened out now, and tomorrow he starts in Ashley's class, which is making both him and Ashley feel much better about the whole kindergarten thing. He was so tired today after school that he lay down for half an hour after he got home, which is unheard of. Other than Ashley's absence, he seems to have no complaints about kindergarten, so I'm pretty confident about tomorrow going well.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

And A River Runs Through It

Our basement that is. It's wet. It's very, very wet. We had a major downpour last night while I was at karate. I came home to my husband charging up and down the basement steps with buckets of water. Our sump pump had had a major malfunction, resulting in any water it pumped out of our basement landing next to the foundation wall. You can see why this is a less than opitmal way of dealing with a flood.

Long story short - I spent all night up sucking water out of the carpet with a wet/dry vacuum. S then spent most of today working with a rug doctor. We are beginning to be cautiously optomistic that we might get to keep the carpet without massive mold and/or mildew. In service of which our house is currently being kept at near refridgerator temps.

Oh, and my jump drive got smashed in the general rush of hauling stuff out of the basement. Fortunately I'm pretty good about backing stuff up, so I only lost my last three pages of writing, but it's seriously hampering my ability to work back and forth between computers - not to mention that I can't print anything out until I get a replacement.

I am SO getting even with Sensei for making last night a "How many pushups can we do?" night.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

About That Novel...

OK - I have a deadline. By this deadline I have to have a workable Ghost Dancer mark 2. This is both cool and scary. Cool because I will have a formatted, semi-official e-book version of Ghost Dancer available. Something I can send people to (Look! I wrote a book!). It will have a cover, and everything. Scary because the friggin deadline is July 24th. Yes - less than two weeks from today. To take an 80,000 word manuscript with significant plot holes and turn it into a complete book. I'm estimating that it needs to go up to 95,000 words first, and then I start editing down for congruency, language, and all that fun stuff.

I did find a nifty little word meter to drive me onward.

'Zokutou'Zokutou
81,983 / 95,000
(86.3%)


I also found a fabulous little site called Pandora which will give you a customized radio station. Lots of fun to play with, and gives me some nice background music to write to.

Oh - and in case the deadline isn't scary enough my mother and brother are showing up Sunday and Monday respectively. I need to clean the guest room (easy), and my younger son's room (difficult) to prepare for the arrival.

Plus the belt test. I'm so glad I feel very prepared for this one. I would be so freaking out if I were still trying to get stuff down.

ETA - OK, that word meter didn't turn out so hot. I'll have to see if I can find another one.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Rescheduled

My green belt test has finally been rescheduled for July 21. The new date actually works really well for me since my brother and his family will be visiting from Germany, and my mother will be up as well to see them. I'll have a cheering section for the first time ever. Whether I'll be testing by myself or not is still up in the air. One of our preteen blue belts is also ready to move up to green - almost. He's at that precarious stage where he knows what he needs to know, but is still prone to mental blowouts under stress. Sensei will be watching him for another week, and then deciding.

After the test it's Gulf Games. It's an biannual private board gaming convention that S usually attends. I've been to three thus far. This year it's in Louisville (really Jeffersonville, across the river), so we're acting as hosts. Then immediately following that is the family reunion. This is my father's family we're speaking of - and it's huge. Five sets of aunts and uncles, 21 cousins, most with spouses (I'm on the young side of the cousins), and untold numbers of kids, all hanging out at Roan Mtn. in East TN for a week.

I'm getting some martial arts out of it too. One of my cousins is an instructor (blanking on his style) up in the NE, and has promised to bring along some weaponry. I just have to decide what I want him to show me - bo, kali sticks, or sais. I have both bo and sais, and am leaning towards them, since they're part of Isshinryu, but the kali sticks intrigue me. If I saw James more often, I could wring him dry, but I've only seen him twice in the last ten years, so I may not get a lot of chances.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Writing is Fun - Not Throttling My Family is Hard

I've been spending my week hip-deep in Ghost Dancer rewrites. They're going really well so far, much better than I would have anticipated. I even thought up a really good, and yet reasonably logical plot complication to throw at my poor beleagured heroine. (And boy howdy is she beleagured. The poor thing thinks she's relatively normal, but the universe really is out to get her.)

I love being a writer. Where else do you get to chuckle evily about condeming a planet's worth of people to a horrible death - and still consider yourself a good person at the end of the day?

On the downside, if I were writing my own life script, I'd have timed this rewrite for the fall. After the boys have gone back to school. It is amazingly difficult to write an intense scene involving death, depression, or psychotic breakdown - and then hop up in the middle to fix some mac 'n cheese, or push a swing. It feels like an exercise in multiple personality disorder. In a memorable moment yesterday, my character was going through the aforementioned psychotic break, brought about by the horrible death of her family - and in between sentences, I was speaking in the voices of dead fish in boxes for my younger son, who was playing a Scooby-Doo game. Horrible grief and loss - dead fish voices - severe attack of agoraphobia - dead fish voices - continue on for an hour.

I mentioned this difficulty to S - not because he can really help right now. The plant he works for is in shutdown, which for him (as opposed to everybody else), means he's working 16+ hour days, and we practically never see him. - but because I was hoping for a smidgen of sympathy. He looked at me like I'd grown another head, and said "Really love, learn to compartmentalize." Because trying to get into somebodies head while they're having a breakdown, and write accurately about it while voicing cartoon charactes, is exactly like working on a spread sheet, and having somebody call you up about a broken valve. Grrr.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Finally Getting Somewhere

I've been having the same blasted dream for a couple of weeks, and it was driving me crazy. In essence, I would be stranded somewhere with two big strong guys, whom I trusted. I would be beat up in some way that prevented me from walking effectively (broken hip, smashed knee, you get the idea). It would be a matter of life and death to get out of where we were - and for the final kicker - I would be, for some unknown reason, unable or unwilling to tell these big strong gents that I couldn't bloody walk. The dreams largely consisted of dragging myself along with the aid of a staff, or walls, or whatever else happened to be about, while my companions were preoccupied with finding our way out - assuming that I was in pain, but capable of limping along.

Pretty nonsensical, but that's a dream for you. The point wasn't hard to figure out though. I just needed to realize which aspect of my life was stuck, where I had the necessary help, and yet couldn't or wasn't using it.

I finally pulled GD - my first novel out of the closet, and have started the rewrite. Interestingly, the dreams stopped (at least I haven't had one in three nights now) almost immediately thereafter. My various first-line readers seem to have given me a ton of advice, some conflicting, but much of it helpful. I also find it telling that the most common person to appear in my dream as a companion was Sensei - who was also one of my first-line readers. None of my other readers showed up, that would have been too easy to figure out I guess - or perhaps it's just that none of the rest of them are strong enough to pick me up.

The rewrite is going well. I've only actually rewritten a few paragraphs so far. First I'm reading through myself, and trying to proof, look for cliched or poorly worded stuff, and trying to condense commentary from five readers onto one copy, so I can work on the computer with only one stack of paper beside me. After all at 273 pages, five copise would be a pretty intimidating stack of paper.

My big issues thus far 1) a tendancy to revert to default positions if I haven't thought out my world well. I.e. when Kira takes a test, it looks very much like a modern day college exam at a high-tech school, rather than something you would see 500 years in the future. Places where the plot intercedes avoid this, but it happens a lot in small things. 2) A tendancy to short-hand cliches. When I'm writing fast, I tend to use the common phrase rather than hunt for the perfect one. Perfectly allowable in a rough draft - killer if left in. 3) Gaps in the plot, where I skipped ahead because I got stuck. This one is a function of NaNo. When trying to write a novel in a month, you simply don't have time to stop and work out all details. If you know A, and you know C, but you don't know B, you just skip ahead (at least I do), and if B occurs to you later, than you go back and fill in. Many of my gaps did get filled in while I was still in NaNo mode, but many didn't. I need to figure out which need to be written in, and which can be handled with a quickie bridge (...three months later...)

Last, but far from least, I need to backfill my ending. Since I only actually decided on my ending in the last few chapters, it doesn't always lead logically from the earlier stuff. Since I like my ending, I need to go back and rewrite said earlier stuff so it all hangs together well. No more having the big baddie walk in from nowhere three chapters from the end.

I'm working away hard on this now. If I can, I'd like to have this version done by the 17th when my brother comes to visit. Failing that, I'd like to manage the 25th, which is when the family reunion starts. I have at least two prospective second-line readers in my family (trust me, my family doesn't gush over tripe. They're tough.) that I would like to be able to give copies to at the reunion. If I can finish by the 17th, then my brother can give me a once over so I can correct any doozies before then - he was one of my first-line readers.

After the second-line readers report back, then I start the hard part - putting together a presentation package, and convincing myself to send this puppy out into the cold cruel world.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Blame Becky - she tagged me!

I suppose I have to do a meme sooner or later - and this one seems pretty innocuous as the breed goes. Enjoy, Becky!

1. Who was your best friend? Jeff
2. What sports did you play? None. I was not athletic at all.
3. What kind of car did you drive? Car? I didn't get my driver's liscence until a couple of months before I went to college.
4. It's Friday night, where were you? In my room, reading a book. Even when I had a boyfriend, dating wasn't my thing.
5. Were you a party animal? Never
6. Were you considered a flirt? The very suggestion would have made my friends die laughing.
7. Ever skip school? No
8. Ever smoke? No, and never wanted to
9. Were you a nerd? Yep. And a geek, and about every other term in the book.
10. Did you get suspended/expelled? Are you kidding? I never even got detention.
11. Can you sing the Alma Mater? Alma Mater? I don't think we had one.
12. Who was your favorite teacher? Madame Turner, my French teacher, who went way out of her way to make a newcomer (I changed schools between Jr. & Sr. year) welcome.
13. Favorite class? AP Biology.
14. What was your school's full name? Pittsford-Sutherland High Schooll
15. School mascot? No clue
16. Did you go to Prom? No. I asked one guy, too late, and never worked up the gumption to ask someone else.
17. If you could go back and do it over, would you? Possibly, if I could do only Senior year. Toss in any grade school or HS before that and I'd throw myself off a bridge first!
18. What do you remember most about graduation? The school bus yellow graduation robes they made the girls wear - which blended perfectly with honor codes, so no one could tell which girls were honor students.
19. Favorite memory of your senior year? Walking in to my first day of class, and realizing - this is not my old HS.
20. Were you ever posted up on the senior wall? What is a senior wall?
21. Did you have a job your senior year? No
22. Who did you date? Nobody. I'd just managed to escape the long-term boyfriend WHO WOULD NOT GO AWAY. I had no desire to start up again.
23. Where did you go most often for lunch? The cafeteria
24. Have you gained weight since then? Oh yeah
.25. What did you do after graduation? Got my BA, moved to SC and got married.
26. When did you graduate? 1987
27. Senior picture: I managed to avoid having any photos at all Senior year. PSHS has no pictoral proof I ever existed.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Lawn Fetishes and Macho Men

Our next door neighbor has a lawn fetish. He mows the lawn twice a week - minimum. He fertilizes, waters, rolls - all the myriad little things that make a lawn look like a golf course. We do none of these things, which appears to mystify him completely. He, of course, mystifies us. S and I mow the lawn every one or two weeks, as needed, and otherwise ignore it in favor of the far more interesting vegetable garden or flower beds. You can see our neighbor's brain ticking over as he watches us digging in the garden. "Why are they wasting so much time on the vegetables when their lawn is in such sad shape?"

Recently we've discovered that we can make him torture himself just by doing things to our lawn. It started by accident. I mowed our lawn about two days after he mowed his. Before I had even finished he was out mowing his lawn again - about a day earlier than usual. We quickly found out that we can make him mow his lawn anytime, under any circumstances, just by making our lawn slightly shorter than his. It's become a game by now. It's going to rain tomorrow, can I make him mow in the rain by mowing just ahead of it? Check. Can I make him mow in the dark? Check.

The Germans probably have a word for this. It's a little like schadenfreude, but not quite. The joy of backing someone into a corner, so that they either have to give up a little on their fetish, or torture themselves. There's a mild sadistic joy in watching them torture themselves, but it would be a greater pleasure to watch him give up on mowing just once, and go play with his little girl.

I've seen similar behavior in karate on occassion. Most usually it comes from teenaged boys, or younger men, in the form of eccessively macho behavior. Generally the most obvious, and most annoying (at least to me) manifestation, is that they cannot let a girl (defined as anyone with XX genetics) win. I've been known to play the same sorts of games with the boys at the dojo that I do with my neighbors. If I do thirty pushups, the guys afflicted will have to do more than thirty. If I break two boards with a punch, then they will too, or break their hands trying. Or, since Sensei is very careful about possible injury, complain bitterly when he won't let them take on too much.

Fortunately there's not too much of this at this dojo. There's only one boy who suffers from a bad case of macho, and his father and Sensei mostly keep him in check. Which is a good thing, because he cannot get it through his head that at 37 years old, 5'8" and 200 pounds, there are a lot of things I can do, that he (11, 4'5", 98 lbs) is not going to be able to do yet. Plus, he does have respect for my rank and additional knowledge, which helps. He had a counterpart at my old dojo who was much more of a problem (to himself more than to me). This was a boy who outranked me, so respect for my rank didn't figure in. He thought that gender plus rank trumped size and strength every time, and it was downright easy to make him run into the wall of his own expectations. At the summer picnic all I had to do was get in the pool, and he did the rest. Because obviously a guy who's a brown belt is better in the water than a girl who's only an orange belt (who was a part-time swim instructor with lifeguard training). He half-drowned himself trying to do everything I did, only better, while all I did was fool around in the pool like I normally would.

I don't quite know what to do with the guys who suffer from this. There's some joy to be had watching them torture themselves, but it would be much more satisfactory if they could just realize - they're doing it to themselves. If they'd give it up, maybe we could all settle down and learn karate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

That's What I Get for Making Predictions

Chuck one belt test.

S's mom went to the doctor this week, and found out she's lost another five pounds. That makes a total of thirty-five pounds since last fall (she's only 5'2" if that tall). Her doctor has diagnosed diverticulosis, put her on a strange diet involving lots of calorie dense food (for weight gain), and lots of fiber (for the diverticulosis), and is threatening her with more drastic measures if she doesn't start gaining weight. S is adamant that we're going down to see his parent's this weekend, and I wasn't about to say no, so I called Sensei, and told him I couldn't make Friday. He was really nice about it, but Lord only knows when we'll get it scheduled again. We've got a number of other students coming up and ready to test, and I don't want to delay anyone else's test to fit mine in. (We only do two or three at a time) All of the other testees are kids, and frankly, their change in rank means a hell of a lot more to them than it does to me.

All of which doesn't mean that I'm not disappointed. I've been ready for this test since forever, and I really, really want to get to work on Wansu and the other requirements for purple.

Sigh.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Summer Birthdays Suck

I feel like the worst mother in the world.

#1 son's birthday was yesterday. He's been planning his party for almost two months. We created a ringtoss game in the shape of a Triceratops head. He made a bunch of toys all by himself for games, baked a birthday cake (Lemon/White Chocolate), and did all the get-ready-for-a-party things.

Nobody came.

We sent out the invitations about four weeks ago, during the last week of school. We had RSVP's from three kids - each of whom would have brought a sibling or two, for a total of 6-8 kids. I wasn't counting on any of the others, though I had some hope that one or two might show up anyway. Instead, even those who had said they would come didn't, and I was left with a sobbing 8-year old, who didn't understand why none of his friends would come. S and I did everything we could think of. We looked up phone numbers and called people. I even drove out to the house of one family whose home phone was unlisted. Nothing doing, nobody was home. Eventually we took the kids out to Chuck E. Cheese's, which seemed to ameliorate the day a little. It didn't help though, that even dear old Chuck E. didn't come through. Normally the mouse comes out to sing Happy Birthday to kids, but apparently they couldn't find anyone to don the mouse costume yesterday, because he never came out.

Poor kid - what a completely sucky day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pushing Through Fear

For those who know her (and those who don't), Kameron Hurley of Brutal Woman wrote a kick-ass post called On Fear and Being Stronger. She's talking about her adjustment to discovering (at age 26!) that she now has Type I diabetes, with all the scary stuff that entails. She already remade her life once, when she decided to walk away from the person she was and the life she knew to become the person she wanted to be. Now she has to do it again, only this time she has to figure out how to remain the person she is and wants to be, while dealing with a whole new set of circumstances. She likens it to stepping into a fighting ring with a bigger opponent. It's not that you're not afraid - it's that you make the commitment to push forward anyway.

Kameron's pushing forward anyway. A month after she was in the ICU, she's lifting weights again, thinking of starting a yoga class, and about to sign back up at her boxing gym.

More power to her. I've let fear stop me far more than I should. I was amazingly timid as a teenager, and as a young adult. Finding karate at 25 was a godsend. A neighbor wanted to try the local dojo, and brought me along for moral support. Since I had toyed with the idea of trying a martial art for ages, I agreed.

Frankly, if I'd known what I was getting into, I'd have never set foot in the place. Gabbard's dojo was, frankly, brutal. Good - my gods they were good - but very, very tough. I felt lucky to survive the first class, and I could barely get out of bed the next morning.I had sore muscles, sore joints, and bruises everywhere.

I loved it. I went back the next night, and the night after, and the night after that. For weeks I attended every class they would allow - usually four a week. I got stronger. I learned that getting punched might hurt, but it wasn't the terrifying thing I had always thought. I still hadn't faced my biggest fear, though - the fear of getting hurt.

Then six weeks in, we had a bit of a different assignment. Gabbard Sensei dumped everyone in the ring. Four black belts, and twelve lesser belts. The job was to pin each of the black belts. We could work in any teams we wanted, from one on one, to twelve on one. Nobody left until each black belt had been pinned. The two other newbie women and I choose to tackle the youngest, smallest target together. He put up a terrific fight, but sheer weight and size eventually brought him down. (He was perhaps 5'2", we were all in the 5'6"-5'8" range.) I was on my knees, holding his shoulders, when another black belt, being pressed hard from the front backed into me. Thinking he was being attacked from behind, he spun, chambering his leg and hit me full across the face with his knee. In all probability he cracked my right cheekbone - though it was never X-rayed. That whole side of my face was amazingly black, purple, and red for weeks. It was over two months before Gabbard Sensei let me back into the ring without a mask to protect my face.

That was my first, and so far almost only significant karate-caused injury. But what was significant about it to me, wasn't the injury itself - it was what I did about it. I held onto my target's shoulders, finished the pin. Joined in the finish of the last black belt. Bowed out of the ring formally with everyone else - and then went and got ice. I discovered that my worst fear of injury, wasn't actually fear of the injury. It was fear that I would collapse if I were injured. That I would cower, and hide, and never, ever do such a thing again. I also discovered that my worst fears weren't true. I cried - or rather I leaked tears that I couldn't stop - but I also finished what I set out to do. I showed up at the next class wanting to be there, and amazed at myself that I truly did want to be there.

If karate had taught me nothing else, ever, that one moment would have made it worthwhile for me to go. The discovery that my fears themselves were infinitely more painful than the reality I was afraid of. Also the discovery that I wanted to learn, far more than I wanted to be safe. I'm a more courageous person now than I was before, and that is precious indeed.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wow!

S and I had an out-of-town friend stay over last night. He's in town for a business meeting, but came a day early, and spent last night playing board games with us, and a couple of S's friends from the local board-gaming group. One of whom I had met, and his brother, whom I had not.

The brother turned out to be an absolute font of knowledge about all things relating to martial arts. We kibitzed all through a game of Caylas (he was playing, I was spinning), and then afterwards we moved over to the other section of the basement for an impromptu lesson.

All I can say is that it's a crying shame that this man isn't an instructor. He used to be, but a truly devastating car accident about ten years ago put him out of commission as a martial artist. He can certainly still teach, and demonstrate, but mostly does not do so. I finally got to see (and feel!) the famous Bruce Lee one-inch punch, an indulgence I'm going to be paying for for a while. We discussed body mechanics, pressure points, breathing, a whole slew of stuff. I'm going to be struggling not to forget 9/10ths of it before I can encode it to memory. I really hope I get more opportunities to talk with and learn from this guy. He not only knows much about several different styles (including Isshin-ryu), but understands both the science, and the philosophy behind much of it. I'm dying to get more chances to pick his brain.

Now I just have to explain to Sensei tonight why I have an imprint of somebody's fist on my chest - and it isn't his!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Two Weeks in May

For two weeks at the end of May, eighteen years ago, I had absolutely no obligations to anyone but myself. It was a unique moment in time, one that has never been repeated. After my final exams, there were two weeks before commencement. I had to stay for commencement, but only because I was a member of the choir - I was a frosh. For two weeks I had no classes, no boyfriend (he was three states away), no friends, no enemies, no family - absolutely no one and nothing that I was obligated to do. It was a stark contrast with my normal life, which I tend to stuff to the brim with obligations. Instead I slept, read, took walks, ate when I felt like it, and generally lived a quiet, somewhat contemplative life for two weeks.

I found that within only a few days a number of remarkable changes took place. I had a clean room that stayed clean the entire two weeks - something that has never happened before or since. I went to bed as soon as the sun went down, and got up at sunrise - ditto. I barely even remember eating - I only did it when I was hungry, and otherwise didn't think much about it. I volutarily took long walks around the local lake, meandering along, with or without book in hand. In short, I relaxed - deep, visceral relaxation. It's one of the few times in my life at that age (HS through college) that I don't remember having regular self-hate sessions. I talked to my parents on the phone perhaps once. My boyfriend a time or two more than that. I wasn't in the least lonely, I discovered, because there was no one there. Lonliness for me, seems to have little to do with being alone, and everything to do with being near people who don't acknowledge my existence, for whatever reason.

It was an enlightening couple of weeks. It's a period of time I wish I could duplicate, even as I realize how incredibly privileged I was to experience it even once. Toss in an obligation and my tension seems to immediately return, and yet life is obligations. I'm bound to my husband and children, to my friends, to paying a mortgage and putting dinner on the table. In order to have made a life that in any way resembled those two weeks, I would have to have consciously carved away my responsibilities - and I would not voluntarily give them up.

Still I understand what drove Thoreau to Walden. I have never felt closer to myself than in those two quiet weeks. The challenge is to find the spirit of them under the noise of daily life.

Monday, June 05, 2006

On The Hunt

I've got an article due for Damn Interesting tomorrow, and no idea what I'm going to write for them. Sigh. The irony is that I have a ton of interesting topics I want to write about - but they're all biology. I try really, really hard to keep at least 1/3 to 1/4 of my pieces outside of biology - either technology, or sociology, or anything else that catches my fancy. Just to keep from landing myself in a medical/genetic rut.

Unfortunately all my current ideas are running biological: some interesting medical conditions, hybrid bears, the shrinking of the whale-shark, underground orchids, and on, and on. I have no trouble coming up with odd biological stuff up the wazoo, it's the variety aspect that gets me. I had hopes for an article on the reversing of the genderfication of pink and blue (Pink used to be for boys!), but haven't been able to find enough documentation. I'm currently looking at the origin of high-heels, and the Adulterous Bible, but both look like they'll need more research than I can put together by tomorrow.

So of course I'm writing a blog post. Aye well, something will come up. Either that or tomorrow's article will be about bears.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Date - Finally!

Sensei has finally given me a date for my green belt test. June 23. Since he's been saying that I was ready since April, I can only say "It's about time!" I'm more than ready for anything and everything on this test, and have been long since. Lest this sound over-confident, I was an ni-kyu at my last dojo before we moved, and I had my eight year hiatus. This is for my yan-kyu. I won't be up to my old level for two more tests.

As much as I enjoy Sensei, and our dojo, I do get frustrated with his short-term memory problems. He has trouble remembering day-to-day what a given person has already learned, or whether or not he has said anything about testing. Since he also doesn't tend to write things down, it can be a long, long time between when you're ready for testing, and when he actually manages to schedule you. It doesn't help other aspects of class, either. I've had him compliment my naihanchi one day (a rarity, he's hard to please, though always kind), and ask me if I knew it all the way through three days later.

Fortunately for my sanity I'm not too concerned about my actual rank. I'll get there when I get there. Some of our more eager beaver students are chewing at the walls over the repeated delay in test dates. It's a good thing we joined up with the larger TKD dojo, since their structured testing schedule seems to provide at least a little impetus to Sensei to get things scheduled while he still remembers. Before we joined Kentuckiana MA tests could even be scheduled, and then not happen because Sensei had simply forgotten about them (happened six times over three months before I tested for yellow). Now, as long as he actually schedules the date, the dojo manager makes sure the test happens.

It's a good thing Kevin, who is testing with me, and who is one of the eager-beaver students, didn't join us until we were here. I think he'd have quit by now.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Insomnia

Sleep and I don't get along. Never have. As far back as I can remember - even at four and five years old - I would lie awake for what seemed like ages waiting to fall asleep, and once asleep I would wake up half-a-dozen times a night.

When I was on Paroxetine the first time, I actually began to sleep reliably at night. Unfortunately the longer I was on it, the less dramatic the effect seemed to be. However, some of the differences in my mental habits at bedtime made me start thinking about how I go about falling asleep.

I'm beginning to wonder if I have such trouble with sleep because I don't think I deserve it. My habit, since I was pretty little - maybe seven or eight years old - has been to imagine stories as I'm falling asleep. Generally those stories involved me being asleep, and the circumstances that led to it. What I'm beginning to notice is that the themes of those stories, even from the very beginning, seem to revolve around sleeping because I've worked so hard, been so injured, or exhausted myself so much, that I literally have no choice but to fall asleep. Like I don't have the right to a good night's sleep unless I've saved the world single-handedly that day. Certainly not when there's a sinkload of dishes waiting for me. Of course to the younger me, the idea that without a decent night's sleep, I wouldn't be likely to feel like catching up the dishes in the morning, didn't really occur to me. It's occuring to me now, though, and I'm wondering just how much effort it will take to change my mental narrative. Can I find a way of getting to sleep at night that doesn't involve beating myself up for not being superhuman every day? That doesn't feed the next night's insomnia even more?

I don't know if it will "fix" my insomnia. After all I didn't start with the story-telling until after insomnia was well established. But it might be worth doing in it's own right - after all, who needs to be beating themselves up every night?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Very Cool


A conversation with my parents today reminded me of a man from my first ever writers' group. He would bring chapters in of his book, The Resurrection Tree, for reading. They were invariably thought provoking and well written, and I remember hoping that it would make it into print so I could read the whole thing.

Well it did. I went and looked it up on Amazon, and voila - The Resurrection Tree.

It goes on my wish list immediately, and the next time I make a book order, it's coming home. Congratulations, Charles!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Some People

I just found out that one of the few people on the planet I truly don't like, is married to a woman I have great admiration for.

And I really have to wonder why.

It's not so much a matter of "What does she see in him?" I deal with that all the time myself with S. To a lot of people on the outside, our relationship seems to look pretty weird. I'm pretty well aware that someone can have redeeming qualities in a relationship that aren't apparent from the outside. It's more a matter of respect. As in, he seems to have no respect whatsoever for her - so why are they married? I know both of them on-line only. I knew she was married, even though I knew nothing whatsoever about her husband. I not only didn't know he was married, I was certain he wasn't. His attitude toward women is very much "Whee! Polygamy! Pretty ladies!" in on-line interactions, in a way that seems very adolescent - and clueless, sexist adolescent at that. Top that off with someone who's angry at the world, and rigid in his views on others acceptable behavior, and you have a thoroughly unpleasant person, and one I think likely to be dangerous in a relationship. Not necessarily physically, but certainly emotionally. Also the type of person likely to be vengeful if he views himself as wronged.

He may well act differently toward her in person. I hope to God he does. But to me the behavior he exibits to others is a big red flag. The man who disrespects every woman but you, will one day come to disrespect you as a woman.

I'm keeping my mouth shut, other than the minor rant here, because it's their marriage, not mine. But I'll be hoping and praying that he gets a clue before she gets hurt. Worse than just the fallout of his thoughtless, antagonistic behavior, which she is already suffering.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Invisible Inaccessibility

As I've been spending this week trying to find a suitable venue for a party with at least two guests in wheelchairs, and it is (or at least was a few hours ago) Blog Against Disabalism Day, I thought it appropriate to write about the frustrations involved.

The party in question is a wedding shower for my friend A. Since I live out-of-state, I need to find a restaurant or similar place in A's hometown where we can go have her party. The alternative would be to hold it in her apartment. The latter would guarantee accessibility, but would put at least 75% of the shower work on the bride, which doesn't seem like a good option. So I've been talking to various places, trying to find someplace that can accomodate a couple dozen people, of whom two will be in wheelchairs.

Seems simple, doesn't it? Just call a few places up and ask about their accessibility, right?

It doesn't work that way. Those of you who use wheelchairs regularly are undoubtedly familiar with the phenomenon - most places that call themselves "accessible" are at best, barely tolerable. The handicapped bathroom may be accessed by a door in a blocked corner that no wheelchair could get around. The level entrance may be on a block with no curb cuts whatsoever. The restaurant with the wide doors, may have tables placed so closely together that Mario Andretti couldn't drive a wheelchair through the maze. Yet all of these will be called "Handicapped Accessible", and their employees will be cheerfully oblivious to their failings. No place can be truly trusted to be accessible, regardless of what they say, unless someone who knows what they're looking for has been there, on the ground, looking.

I talked to one place about their accessibility. Their events coordinator had no idea what I was getting at. They had the accessible sticker, didn't they? What was I concerned about?

"Can you get from the nearest parking lot to your building easily?" I asked. She wasn't sure. She thought so...yes, the parking lot in the basement had an elevator. When asked about clearence for a tall wheelchair van, she had no idea. Curb cuts on the block? No idea. Accessible meant that their doorways were wide, and they had rails in the bathroom as far as she knew.

Fortunately for my peace of mind, her restaurant is not where I ended up booking us. That honor went to a different place. When I was talking to their manager, I brought up the accessibility question, expecting the same waffling as always. Instead he asked me a question in return "What kind of wheelchairs will there be?" he asked. "The different chairs can have different footprints, and I want to make sure I leave enough turning room."

I think I'm in love. Or possibly in heaven. After weeks of calling and asking, I can actually book the wedding shower someplace where I can have some confidence that the bride can get to her own shower.

Now if only she didn't have to deal with this kind of crap every day of the week, and twice on Sundays, I'd be a happy woman.