Weekly Update, 4/23/2018 to 4/29/2018

Brief Update

It was a busy week for me, sandwiched between two larp events. Still I’m generally happy with the amount — one game to play and one game to NPC seems just right for me.

One of my writer pals, Coral, is starting up a remote D&D 5E campaign in the Forgotten Realms setting, so I spent some time this week rolling up a character (human variant rogue, named Tamarys) and getting used to the Roll20 platform. The last time I played D&D was a high level 3.5 campaign — also Forgotten Realms! –and I’m still learning just how much has changed. Our first game is on Friday.

This week was my friend Melissa Caruso’s book birthday for The Defiant Heir, the second book in her Swords and Fire series. My copy arrived as expected, and I started reading it at Mad3 this weekend. One of the staffers said to me at the end of the event that she was impressed that I was reading the book before game-on instead of any of the ginormous RP write-ups I had to memorize. What can I say? It was super compelling!

Incidentally, I did a ton of RP and a ton of fighting at Mad3. Coming into it immediately after another larp weekend seems to have helped tremendously with my motivation; instead of feeling (too much) of my usual anticipatory dread, I just was excited to get out there and do stuff.

Accomplishments

Writing
– Wrote… some? on the Lioness mini-mission. (Didn’t keep track of how many, but I’ve reached 10,905 words on this new beginning).
– Wrote blog post, “Big Paradigm Shifts in Editing Lioness”
– Submitted “Mirrors” to Apex
– Submitted “Granny Hubbard” to UFO7

Other Media
– Listened to The Art of Charm #683, #695-696, #700
– Listened to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, “Jupiter’s Children”
– Listened to Larpcast #106, “Fifth Gate Wrap Part 2”
– Watched the RiffTrax of Junior Prom
– Made a character for a D&D 5E game

Larp
– Wrote my PEL for Shadowvale E3
– NPCed for Mad3

Health
– Did Zombies Run S2E15 (2.35mi in 39:07)
– Had a therapy appointment
– Had a hair appointment

Habitat
– Dropped a box of donations by the Savers

Rejection Log

– 1 day rejection from UFO7 for “Granny Hubbard vs. the Giant Slime”

Picture of the Week

This birb showed up on Sunday at Mad3, likely to feast on all the discarded millet. We weren’t sure what it was — a dove? A white pigeon? A vicious albino razorhawk? πŸ˜‰ It had a band on its leg, though, so it was probably some sort of domestic fowl.

Big paradigm shifts in editing Lioness

Yes, I’m still editing πŸ˜‰ I received feedback from several of my beta readers, which has given me enough to move ahead. Unfortunately, some of the major problems they’ve reported have caused me to restructure the beginning. Namely, I have been concocting a “mini-mission” to start the book, which partially incorporates existing work, but which is partially new writing.

One of the big problems is: the entire magic system doesn’t get revealed until two-thirds of the way through the book. There are hints long before that, but they don’t make a lot of sense out of context. One reader told me something like, “yeah, I went back, and now I see all these hints that you made, but it still didn’t add up for me at the time.”

So in the “mini-mission,” I’ve been trying to make the magic system clear. I’m using the “rule of three” from larp-writing , which states that if you want your players to know something, you need to put it in at least three places in the game. (Replace “players” with “readers” and “game” with “book”). So Yfre, our protagonist, witnesses one of the characters use this magic at least three times in the mini-mission.

I got to the third time and I was like… that isn’t enough. You can’t believe that this insatisably curious spy would just leave it at that, with nothing answered. So I had her push him; actually ask him what it’s all about. He’s cagey and evasive about it, but he admits the existence of magic: “yeah, that thing you were nearly hanged for? Is real.”

And there we are, in chapter… three? with the first concrete notion that there is magic here.

And for a moment I was like… whoa. Should I really do this? This is a big paradigm shift. Why would I want to reveal that there’s magic right off the bat?

But why wouldn’t I?

And suddenly everything just sorta fell into place. Why not, indeed?

There’s a mystery later on in the book, where someone is assassinated using that magic system. As-is Yfre has no notion that magic exists and is capable of killing someone. It takes her a long time to piece that together. Sixty percent of the book, in fact.

But if she goes into that scene knowing that such a thing is possible — even if she doesn’t know the details — what changes?

Surprisingly little. Because you still don’t know who committed the crime, even knowing that magic is possible.

I’m experiencing a number of big paradigm shifts like this, where something seems impossible, until suddenly you do the calculation and discover, no, actually, that will work. And you can literally feel your thoughts rearranging themselves, something sliiiiiiiiiding into place, like you’re just solved the Rubik’s cube of your story.

Another example happened much earlier. My alpha readers told me they felt Yfre didn’t have enough agency in the climactic final duel. Well, I said, what do I do? She’s not a warrior; I can’t have her participate in the duel.

Or… didn’t she literally just create a bit of magic that makes someone good at swording? I mean, not great, but maybe good enough to do this one thing

And now I can’t imagine that final scene without her taking up a sword.

(Of course, more commonly in editing there are the times when you change ONE LITTLE THING and it alters everything. That stupid red letter. Figuring out the continuity of who had it at what time took up a lot of energy).

So, it’s progressing. If I can cobble this together before July, I may try Pitch Wars again.

Weekly Update, 4/16/2018 to 4/22/2018

Brief Update

Shadowvale was this past weekend, and as usual, it was great. The cold was an issue — I spent Friday night shivering in my bed — but as usual staff and NPCs did everything they could to make the game awesome despite the unforeseen circumstances.

I especially appreciated the rogue mods I went on. Stuff went wrong, but fixing those botches made it seem like something out of a heist story.

Also I was pleased that after last event — where I literally knocked myself out with a trapped box — I managed to open and disarm a box with two trap triggers on it. Thus our crew actually got paid as well as getting info πŸ˜‰

Alsoalso: one of the players has set himself up as a sort of tavern keeper, and in the tavern he had a lockpicking practice setup — a mount for pin and tumbler locks (sort of like the door they’d normally be set in), and five different locks you could try (1, 2, 3, 5, and 7 pins). I knew the theory of picking these sorts of locks, but up until now everything I’ve picked in game has been a simple warded lock. I eagerly set to working on these.

I managed to open both the 1 and the 2 pin locks; I worked on the three-pin one a while, but eventually gave up (it was pretty rusty, which didn’t help). But I was buoyed by that the rest of the weekend, let me tell you.

In practice it didn’t seem much harder than picking a warded lock, except for having to keep pressure on the tension wrench. There wasn’t that much finesse to it; it was mostly mashing different picks around in there until the tumbler turned. I expect with more pins you have to do more individual work per pin, and less raking and praying. But it was a big step forward for me, nonetheless — I’m ready for more difficult locks in mods now!

Links

I adored this video of the esteemed Dr. Nerdlove playing through Super Seducer. If you ever wanted to play a pickup artist game made by Tommy Wiseau, this is the closest you’re going to get to living that dream. The good doctor’s commentary turned pure cringe into must-see TV — just skip the first five minutes while he’s getting the video set up.

Accomplishments

Writing
– Wrote 505 words on the new Lioness beginning
– Read through line comments from a few different beta readers

Other Media
– Listened to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, “Leviathan: the Wolf of Whale Street”
– Listened to Writing Excuses 13.6
– Listened to The Art of Charm, episodes 693-695. (Apparently this podcast started its life, some 10+ years ago, as a pickup podcast, but these days it’s more general “how to develop social skills” sort of stuff. I don’t think it was ever the more toxic variety of pickup stuff, but if anyone knows differently, I’d love to know).
– Watched the RiffTrax of The Fairy King of Ar. Corbin Bernsen, you can do so much better than this movie. Also you will perpetually be Shawn Spencer’s dad to me; sorrynotsorry.

LARP
– PCed Shadowvale event 3
– Picked my first pin-and-tumbler lock!

Health
– Did Zombies Run supply run (2.24mi in 35:03)
– Did Zombies Run S2E14 (2.39mi in 37:09)
– Had a therapy appointment

Weekly Update, 4/9/2018 to 4/15/2018

Brief Update

Not really feeling this sudden return to winter. I woke up this morning — APRIL SIXTEENTH — to a couple of inches of slush on the ground, and that was not okay.

Had a busy and productive week, followed by a mostly unproductive weekend. I am basically packed for Shadowvale next weekend, however, which is a lot of anxiety off my mind.

The video card in my desktop computer died suddenly this weekend (it was a GTX 970). I have a new GTX 1060 wending its way to me, only slightly ridiculously overpriced (thanks, Bitcoin miners), but paid for entirely with Amazon rewards points, so I can’t complain too much.

In the meantime Matt slotted in my old GTX 480. It’s a seven-year old video card, so I won’t be playing my heavily modded Skyrim game with it, but it runs WoW beautifully (thanks to the engine being old as dirt). Might be ready for another role reversal raid this evening…

It was a good week for finishing books, though! Crooked Kingdom ended in an A+++ satisfying way, and I hope to write a proper review of the Six of Crows duology soon. For now it’s enough to say that I think I liked this book better than the first one, and that I keep going back to the Goodreads quote page to remind myself of the sometimes silly, sometimes profound things my favorite fragile-yet-criminal-mastermind teenagers have said.

I also finished The Tombs of Atuan this week, which I’ve had on my shelves since I was a kid, but had never managed to finish until now. It’s kind of a jarring surprise, if you’re coming straight from A Wizard of Earthsea — our pal Ged doesn’t show up until halfway through the book, and otherwise we spend a lot of time doing ordinary dark priestess stuff with Arha/Tenar. Going in with that knowledge, I didn’t mind so much; in fact I was fascinated by how Le Guin manages to show intense emotions with a fairly distant POV (at least by today’s standards of YA narration).

I’ve moved on to The Farthest Shore as my print book of the moment, and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe as my next audiobook. The latter is a real treat for someone like me, who’s read and re-read Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle stories, as almost every proper name is a reference to something. I’m also enjoying it as an exploration of aging, which is a facet I wasn’t expecting.

I watched some more Versailles this week, but I’ve reached the point I reach in a lot of trashy semi-historical dramatic series, where my ability to stop noticing all the ahistorical details is worn down. I really don’t like the entire plot about Clermont; she’s not a real historical figure, her motivations are shallow and pasted on, and I don’t believe she could outsmart the people she outsmarts.

Links

Women Aren’t Nags — We’re Just Fed Up. I feel that Matt and I have a pretty good division of emotional as well as physical labor in our house, but there are still areas where I feel the frustration and decision fatigue the author talks about.

I’m not just doing it for the likes: does writing mean anything if no one sees it? Shared with me by Dave*, who understands I have some investment in this question! I liked this quote in particular, regarding why writers write:

In our faintly remaining hearts, though, we know it is because we are deeply emotionally wounded and want nothing more than to re-create a simulacrum of what it’s supposed to mean to have a successful life (i.e. one enriched by meaningful relationships), a normal interaction with those around us. And, to boot, we want to be acknowledged for the genius of our ability to so accurately present that simulacrum–one that we ourselves will never get to participate in as a result of some defunct emotional mechanism within our husk.

I’m not sure I agree with this assertion, that you have to be wounded to write, but I’m not sure I disagree, either.

Accomplishments

Reading
– Read Frugal Living for Dummies by Deborah Taylor-Hough
– Read Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo
– Read The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Writing
– Wrote 1875 words on new Lioness beginning
– Wrote blog post, “Quitting raiding and not quitting raiding”

Other Media
– Watched episodes 3-7 of Versailles
– Listened to Writing Excuses 13.5
– Listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin #162

Social
– Dinner and writing with Phoebe at Panera in Waltham

Health
– ~30min walk x 2
– Freeform walk/run (1.5mi in 24:04; ZR app crashed on me)
– 10 x jackknives
– Zombies Run S2E12 (2.26mi in 36:46)
– Boffer sparring with Matt
– Had a therapy appointment
– Had a massage

Rejection Log

– Factor Four, 10-day form R for “Mirrors”

Quitting raiding and not quitting raiding

I’ve decided that I’m done with raiding in Legion. At least, srs bsns raiding. And for once, it isn’t due to drama!

This all came about because I am super bored of Antorus, and if I never have to step foot in there again, it will be too soon. I’m also frustrated with healing, of feeling like I never measure up to the other healers in the raid. Finally, I just want my Monday and Tuesday nights back.

When the raid leaders announced on Monday that we were teaming with the guild Light Brigade to try mythic Antorus, and that everyone interested should sign up, my reaction was just…. ughhhh. Matt was gung-ho about it, though, so I felt like I should want to do it. And as a healer, I feel a little bit more dedicated to showing up to these things than I was when I was maining a dps. (Although LB has plenty of healers of their own, so there’s no real shortage). I had some internal conflict about this, but wiping all night on Felhounds (we’d already downed Garothi) sounded about as much fun as cutting my eyes out with a spork, so that decided me.

So I spent much of Tuesday night journaling and writing, and Matt spent it wiping on mythic Garothi and Felhounds. I’m fine with this division of labor.

All that said? Monday night’s raid, before I’d made my decision, was pretty great. We decided to do a “role reversal” raid, where everyone was asked to play a role they don’t usually play. Since I most commonly heal or do ranged dps, I brought my druid Wodehouse as tank, with the other tank being Gylm/Malefic on his druid Elwindar. Matt came as Aulfilde, his monk, in healing spec instead of tank, and Mel (who usually heals) came on her mage Menw. Zal was back, playing his warlock (!!!), and other folks mixed it up as appropriate. Then we jumped into normal Antorus.

It was… a little anxiety provoking, at first? I kept apologizing for everything. When we wiped on normal Garothi (due to too many healers down and light dps), I blamed myself, even though I had almost nothing to do with it.

But I warmed to the role by the time raid time ended, and in total we ended up clearing through Imonar.

Some observations:

On Garothi, I’ve learned why it is that the tanks always go out of range just when they most need healing (Fel Bombardment)! I was a little worried, but hey, Frenzied Regeneration was maaaade for that.

“Do tanks run out for Eradication?”
Gylm: “Yes.”
Zal: “No.”
… well, okay, then.

The two of us, in bear form, are standing on the hill above Felhounds. Gylm’s got whatever artifact appearance makes him red and surrounded in bone armor; I’ve got the blue-ish tint of the baseline artifact appearance.
“I call Not It on fire dog,” I say.
“Well, I was going to suggest we go by coloration, anyway.”

It was good to have another druid tank; we could compare notes on many things. “Just for reference, do you use Rage of the Sleeper to avoid the fire dog fear?”

Soooo many bosses that cleave. Never realized how much I would have to be aware of that taunt asterisk and gtfo to avoid getting stacks of something or other. Fucked this up a couple of times on High Command and Imonar, I’m sure. Also discovered the fun bug whereby sometimes taunt doesn’t work on the High Command bosses.

Just in general, I feel like tanking requires a whole different level of awareness. For example, I have terrible awareness of where on the game map everyone is; as a healer or dps, mostly I just need to know if stuff is in or out of range. But I actually need to be aware of the other tank’s position quite a bit of the time.

Crossing between Imonar’s platforms is so much easier when you’re not stuck at the back of the pack, dispelling everyone who was hapless enough to step in a trap!
“When’s the taunt swap on phase 3?”
“There isn’t one. You taunt when I die.”

“I don’t bother fixing my mogs when I’m in bear form all the time,” I say, “But:” *shift out of bear form, shift from worgen to human*
Bree looks at my mog — which includes things like leather straps across my chest and big furry paws for the Claws of Ursoc — and says, “Oh, Sil,” with a tone of dismay.
“That’s not even that bad,” Matt points out. “You got rid of the booty shorts.”
Gylm points out, “But Sil, don’t you know that a good mog improves your tanking ability?”

When we’re wiping on Portal Keeper, and only the tanks remain:
“Shadowmeld, shadowmeld!” Zal yells.
“Not a night elf,” I remind him.
“Oh yeah, you’re that smelly wet dog.”

Ultimately? It was fun to try this new twist on something I’ve done a zillion times. But I’m still going to step away until BfA comes out.

Weekly Update, 4/2/2018 to 4/8/2018

Brief Update

I celebrated my 38th birthday on Friday — mostly by remembering how much it sucks to get drunk after age 35. I still feel kind of awful after my happy hour tour of West Hartford, two days later — although “hungover” feels a lot like “ennui” at this age.

It should tell you how crappy I was feeling that I visited a famous used bookstore with acres full of books, and didn’t buy a single thing.

Also, the wildest thing I did in my old age drunkenness was read fanfic for a series I haven’t finished, and thus spoiled myself on the ending of Crooked Kingdom. Ah well. I’ve since listened some of the scenes that were spoiled for me, and they were still amazing.

Although, massive props to EB, who not only dealt with my drunk ass, but gave me an amazing birthday trip nonetheless — including books, Victorian death rooms (part of the That’s Weird exhibit we went to), goats, brunch, and rich people’s manors. Her big gift to me was a copy of Millay’s The Princess Marries the Page, a play she wrote at Vassar. I look forward to reading it, as I’ve never actually read any of her plays.

Links

Matt Sachs brought this amazing thread about Buckingham and Charles I’s Excellent Adventure (in wooing the Spanish infanta) to my attention. I knew about some of this, but the DETAILS, man. Trying to pay a ferryman with a gold coin. Bribing small boys. Philosophical conversations about goats. Historical daddy kink. Pretty much the genesis for the diamond studs plot of The Three Musketeers.

All I have to say to this is MY SWEET BOYS.

Accomplishments

Writing
– Wrote blog post: “The only person in the world who loves books”
– Wrote 411 words/worked ~1h on Lioness
– Entered a bunch of old poems on paper into a Word doc

Other Media
– Listened to By the Book “Season 2 Wrap-up”
– Listened to Writing Excuses 13.1-13.4
– Watched episodes 1-2 of Versailles

Health
– Did a Zombies Run supply mission (1.44mi in 25:46)
– Did Zombies Run S2E11 (2.26mi in 38:19)
– Did Zombies Run S2E12 (1.85mi in 29:12)
– Decided on a therapist to see long-term

Social/Travel
– Celebrated my birthday at the Melting Pot in Framingham, MA
– Visited EB in Hartford, CT, and:

  • Did a tour of the That’s Weird exhibit at the Connecticut Historical Society
  • Saw the tavern signs collection at CHS
  • Did happy hour in West Hartford
  • Visited the Book Barn in Niantic, CT
  • Had brunch at the White Horse Tavern in Newport, RI
  • Toured Chateau-sur-Mer in Newport
  • Visited the Common Burying Ground in Newport, and saw the graves of Ida Lewis (famous lighthouse keeper) and Ann Franklin Smith (early 19th century journalist)
  • Saw the grave of Mercy Brown, supposed vampire (not, as I kept saying to annoy EB, “Mercy Brown, vampire slayer.” Truly, history is written by the vampires slayers, not the vampires).

Picture of the Week

I didn’t take many pictures of my weekend adventures (see: ennui), but this one stands out.


LIES.

The only person in the world who loves books

...

So I made a joke in my most recent weekly update that when I post my various maunderings on in-progress books, I feel like the only person in the world who loves books this much.

What do I mean by that? Well, if I’m particularly enjoying a book — as I am the Six of Crows duology, or my (re)read of the Earthsea books — I produce a steady stream of commentary. You may have seen me do this on social media, but let me assure you, you only see a small portion of what I produce.

Why don’t I share more?

I’m not sure it’s interesting to anyone else.

If you haven’t read the book, it’s probably not interesting, and it’s usually spoilery up to the point I’ve read. If you have read the book, you may not have any patience for my partial understanding of the story up to that point. Some of it is cogent — like “I thought this plot twist was handled well for X reason” — but some of it is just silly fangirling, like “what Leverage characters would I map the Six of Crows crew to?”

A lot of it is one-off thoughts, most appropriate for social media

That very thing I am trying to use less of; that very thing I am trying to keep from taking over my life. But when I want to compare the otak from A Wizard of Earthsea to a porg, it seems appropriate for a social media post, but not so much for a blog post. Where do I share this urgently important thought???

Some of it ends up in my weekly update; sometimes I text or message someone personally with a clever thought. More often than I like I break social media silence to share it! And very rarely indeed it ends up in my Goodreads feed, which is probably the place it most belongs. (Although that, too, is social media, of a sort. Not monetized as aggressively as Facebook, certainly, but it has its small place in the attention economy).

Limitations of the media I do use

On the other hand, enough of it is long-form content that I think I would quickly outstrip the limits of the Goodreads progress updates field. (Just confirmed: yep, only 420 characters allowed, and no way to mark spoilers). You can do long-form and spoilers in reviews, but full-fledged reviews aren’t my problem — I write a lot of them here.

And there’s also the fact that audiobooks (which are a lot of my reading) make it hard to say “I paused on page 3 and had this thought.”

So I guess I’ve established that I’m comfortable using Goodreads for short, non-spoilery progress updates on print books that I’m reading, but longer form, spoilery updates that stop short of reviews? I’ve got no place for those.

Want to see an example of this, in all it’s unedited glory? After listening to a chapter of Crooked Kingdom on my commute, this is what I produced.

I’ve blanked out the spoilery bits with a background-color:white style; highlight to read them.

More Crooked Kingdom maunderings…

I listened to the Wylan chapter this morning where you learned what happened to his mother. It was heartbreaking*, and perfectly timed — the reader (at least this reader) figures out what is going on before Wylan does, but not so far ahead that it came across as predictable. It was definitely that perfect “sudden but inevitable” plot twist.

* I was going to say “heartrending”, but that has another meaning here.

(It probably helped that it’s not a plot twist, per se. While it changes Wylan’s motivation — in that he has accepted how evil his father is, and no longer wants to get back in his good graces — it doesn’t really change much about the plan going forward).

And while I’ve been harsh on this narrator, he did a pretty good job in this chapter — enough so that he at least faded into the background.

Particular things/moments I liked, more spoilery now:

– The “let’s go steal all my father’s money” that closes out the chapter. A Leverage homage (?) that isn’t nearly so heavy-handed as some I’ve seen. (Great, now I’m going to picture Kaz as Timothy Hutton instead. I liked it better when he was played by George Clooney in my head. And damn, now I’m mapping the crew members and it’s totally a thiiiiiiing, except for the part where there are different numbers and you kind of have to map both Matthias and Jesper to Elliot).
– Jesper’s incredulous “You lied to Kaz Brekker and got away with it!” moment.
– The irony of Marya not recognizing her son — the inspiration of so many of her paintings — because now he’s wearing Kuwei’s face.
– Playing music to her. (Even if I do wonder how the hell he shoved a flute in his shirt). I had a few moments of “just what the hell is Wylan going to SAY to her?” and this was the perfect response to that. To quote my beloved Millay, “comfort that does not comprehend” is exactly what was needed there.
– Even though Van Eck is just this onion of awfulness that we keep unpeeling, Wylan still has pleasant memories of him reading to him, or bringing him tea when he was sick. Because real people, even awful real people who try to have their dyslexic sons killed and wall their wives up in insane asylums, don’t behave consistently all the time. And on Wylan’s side, real people also have complex relationships with family members who are terrible people.

And more spoilers, about the previous Nina and Matthias chapter, this time:

And I do have to say: what the hell is happening to Nina? The bones of saints? Zoya showing up in the Ravkan quarter of Ketterdam? That whole chapter was Grisha trilogy nostalgia, though I was thoroughly chortling at Nina trying to explain “princess and barbarian” to Matthias, or their very serious, “I don’t understand how you can consider Alina Starkov a saint” conversation.

I still wonder how Nina never met Alina, if this is only two years after Ruin and Rising, she fought on her side, and furthermore that she knows Genya and Zoya and David and every other grisha of note from the trilogy. Was she not part of the group that went underground with them? Maybe I need to re-read and see if I can find her there. (I already pull that book down to consult the map all the time, because it’s the only print Bardugo book I have… though I suspect the map in the SoC books is more complete). I also wonder how she isn’t more disgusted at the mention of Retvenko, considering it’s preeeeeeetty clear from his POV chapter that he fought on the Darkling’s side of things in the civil war.

So yeah, that sure was a wall of text.

More than the logistical concerns, however, it comes back to this:

What do I want when I post stuff like this?

I want to have a dialogue with someone who’s as excited about the book as I am. Someone who is there for analysis, both trivial and literary. I want what I had when my friends and I were both excited about Babylon 5 in high school — the tiny kingdom of in-jokes and buzz that we inhabited.

This brings me back to my young adult years, where I was so desperate to talk about the books I was reading that I would randomly ask people on the street if they read fantasy. It’s cruelly hilarious that this loneliness persists today, when fantasy is mainstream.

I suppose if I were more invested in pop culture, I could inhabit that little kingdom; I could squee about the latest superhero movie or the latest episode of Game of Thrones to my friends. But few are the people I know who have read the books I read; fewer still who want to engage with them in the same way I do.

And some of this is taste. Like I know a lot of my book friends love Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. I’ve read the first one and enjoyed it, but I don’t feel the excitement they have for it. And so when they squee about it I have little to offer. Likewise I know, of the top of my head, five or so people who have read the Six of Crows series, and while they all agree it’s competent, engaging, fun, none of them are as into it as I seem to be. None of them want that fannish engagement with the book.

My best experiences with this have been in writing communities. If there’s anyone who cares as much as I do about books, it’s SFF writers. But that too depends on tastes matching up. My VP17 Slack has channels for The Goblin Emperor, for example, but also channels for things I don’t care about, and certainly no channel for squeeing about the oeuvre of Leigh Bardugo. (I could create one, but if no one else has read it, what’s the point?)

Ultimately, though? I want people to love books exactly as much as I do, no more or less, in exactly the same ways. That is a literal impossibility, as well as a literary one.

So I guess… what do I do with this shit? Who actually wants to read this? Should I just resign myself to the fact that the answer is “no one”? Put it in a diary and save it for my inevitable biographers? πŸ˜‰

Weekly Update, 3/26/2018 to April 1, 2018

Brief Update

Life in Liselandia is good. I am operating at peak efficiency. Beep-boop.

I had intakes with two therapists this week. Or rather: one and a half, because the first one literally broke her ankle walking around her office after her previous appointment. So uh, I filled out some paperwork, but then we had to reschedule so that she could go to the emergency room.

I see my bone-breaking talents have expanded to include service providers.

Speaking of service providers, I was very happy with the work done by the handyman I hired for my kitchen. This guy seriously left my kitchen cleaner than it was when he started. We’re considering him for the bathroom remodel we’re planning.

Crooked Kingdom continues to be so, so good. Heck, I broke my FB silence in the dim hope of having someone to squee at about it. Although when I post things like that I always feel like I’m the only person in the world who cares that much about books…

Links

More from the guy who almost always inspires my social media fasts, Cal Newport: Beyond #DeleteFacebook: More Thoughts on Embracing the Social Internet Over Social Media. Here he discusses “two additional approaches that individuals can put in place right now to begin their transition from social media to the social internet.”

(Might want to read his article about the social internet, too, to learn what he means by that).

I’ve been trying to cultivate approach #2 lately, right here on this blog, but I find it difficult. It’s one thing to say “build your own platform” when you’re Cal Newport, best-selling author, but when you’re Lise Fracalossi, web developer and aspiring fantasist — who just wants to discuss a durn book with someone — then it’s a lot harder. I feel like the only way I get any investment in what I write is if it’s on Facebook. That might be shallow investment, as Newport argues, but at least it’s something.

But you know, I’ve had the same problem since forever. And I think it’s just that even if people are engaged with your content, they are unlikely to comment. Not that I am insufferably boring. Right?

*crickets*

In funnier news, this piece from Nat Silverman on McSweeney’s had me chortling: Ready Player Two: Girl Stuff. It is all good, but I just about lost it at this:

Back then, she had called it the Sparkleship, but I wanted a more intellectual, literary name. So I re-named it Astolat, after my favorite fan-fiction author.

(All this makes me think I should harness my 80s and 90s geek girl nostalgia to write an answer to the rampant misogyny of Ready Player One).

Accomplishments

Writing
– Worked for 1h 30m/wrote 1053 words on new Lioness beginning
– Submitted “Mirrors” to Factor Four
– Submitted “Granny Hubbard” to Galaxy’s Edge
– Sent revision of “Pinions” to a reader
– Wrote blog post: The Poet and Her Book: On Reading the Biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Reading
– Re-read A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other Media
– Listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin #158-#161
– Listened to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, “Bird Intelligence” and “Life Beyond the Shield”

Health
– Had appointments with two potential new therapists
– Did Zombies Run S2E8, 2.38mi in 39:47
– Did Zombies Run S2E9, 1.76mi in 28:59
– Did 30min walk
– Took an (~)hour long slow ramble in the woods
– Did Zombies Run S2E10, 1.96mi in 32:17

Habitat
– Had a new over-the-range microwave and kitchen faucet installed
– Cleaned out and organized pantry
– Cleaned the oven (or: took off the first layer of crud, at least)
– Did two loads of laundry

Work
– Finished the JavaScript Best Practices Codeschool course

Picture of the Week

A twofer this week — my new microwave and faucet.

The Poet and Her Book: On Reading the Biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Content warning: this post is full of poetry, sentimentality, and far too many stories about young Lise.

“I’m 80% Edna St. Vincent Millay by volume,” I’ve joked before. My friends know to share anything Millay on my Facebook timeline. I have a memorized line of hers for any occasion. It worms its way into my writing, in small and large ways.

(Just using Lioness as an example: the poet Merveil, that Yfre and Bizel quote at each other, for example, is very much based on her verse; Estevien describes his religious experience in a way very similar to the events of “Renascence”).

And really, this is no surprise. Her poetry was a tremendous part of my life, starting roughly in 1993, when I dug Mine the Harvest, her posthumous collection, out of a box of books my mom had taken out of the house of the poet George Abbe. (There’s a story there, but for another time). I was an impressionable age — thirteen — and so I eagerly read and reread every single poem in that volume. I don’t think I understood most of them at first; I don’t think I even understood how you were supposed to read line breaks in poetry, at the time.

And yet those verses spoke to me. They invoked my own blossoming interest (ha) in the natural world and my fascination with the mysteries of life and death.

This book, when I am dead, will be
A little faint perfume of me.
People who knew me well will say,
She really used to think that way.
I do not write it to survive
My mortal self, but being alive
And full of curious thoughts today
It pleases me somehow to say
This book when I am dead will be
A little faint perfume of me.

Excerpt from “Journal”, Mine the Harvest (1954)

So thoroughly did I take to it that later that year — tasked with making a poster to introduce me to eighth grade — I chose “Song” from that volume, and illustrated it with flowers cut out of a gardening catalogue. Maybe I hoped that there, like Edna’s “beautiful Dove”, I might be happy here; might even sing.

Later, I would discover other volumes that had been part of my life all along: A Few Figs from Thistles on my mom’s bookshelf, a book of collected poems in my high school library, a neglected copy of Poems Selected for Young People that I already had. I layered these together, took on the task of memorizing more intentionally, and was already well studied in her work by the time my mom gifted me with her Collected Poems in high school.

For the sake of some things
That be now no more
I will strew rushes
On my chamber-floor,
I will plant bergamot
At my kitchen-door.

For the sake of dim things
That were once so plain
I will set a barrel
Out to catch the rain,
I will hang an iron pot
On an iron crane.

Many things be dead and gone
That were brave and gay;
For the sake of these things
I will learn to say,
“An it please you, gentle sirs,”
“Alack!” and “Well-a-day!”

“Rosemary”, Second April (1921)

Somewhere in those years, I scribbled on the front page of that volume, “Oh, Edna; you won’t ease my troubles, but you do sympathize.” (Little did I know then that if I’d wanted to be really familiar, I should have called her Vincent).

When I was applying to Vassar, my essay spoke of my love for Millay and for Mary Oliver — both Vassar grads. (Oliver, I just learned recently, visited Steepletop when she was 17 and befriended Norma Millay, and apparently does a ton for Millay preservation. Why I am unsurprised?)

I learned over the years just how subversive Millay was — that she was almost certainly bi, that she and her husband Eugen had an open marriage, that she wrote frankly about sex at a time when women didn’t, etc — which only increased my love for her.

I

I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.

II

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!

“Assault”, Second April (1921)

I’m not sure when my mom — always my Millay dealer — gave me Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford. Sometime in college, I am sure, because I remember it sitting on my bookshelf in my senior-year apartment.

And yet I just finished reading it.

It’s… not everything I could hope for, but it is quite good. Sometimes I feel like it’s withholding information I would dearly love to have — possibly my appetite for trivial details about Millay is unquenchable. Other times, I feel like it has reached biographical perfection, putting its finger on Millay’s heart. (And of course as I write that, I recognize the echo of “Renascence”).

How strange it seems
That of all words these are the words you chose!
And yet a simple choice; you did not know
You would not write again. If you had known–
But then, it does not matter, — and indeed
If you had known there was so little time
You would have dropped your pen and come to me
And this page would be empty, and some phrase
Other than this would hold my wonder now.
Yet, since you could not know, and it befell
That these are the last words your fingers wrote,
There is a dignity some might not see
In this, “I picked the first sweet-pea to-day.”
To-day! Was there an opening bud beside it
You left until to-morrow?–O my love,
The things that withered,–and you came not back!

Excerpt from “Interim”, Renascence and Other Poems (1917)

I wanted to know, for example, how somebody as young as Millay could write something with the crushing grief of “Interim.” There are mentions of it in the biography, letters from Vassar to her mother and sisters, talking about entering it in a contest — but that’s about it. I want to know: is it biographical? Had she lost someone in this abrupt way? Who?

Or, I wanted some speculation on the sickness that kept her abed for nearly a year in the early 1930s. The letters she wrote through her husband talk of seeing the world as if there’s a mesh in front of her eyes, of terrible migraines. There are no answers to those questions contained in the book, and her headaches seem to suddenly go away when she rushes off to Paris to be with George Dillon.

The book also stops abruptly with her death — found with her neck broken, having fallen down the stairs at Steepletop, her home in Austerlitz, NY. It doesn’t even mention that later it was ruled that a heart attack was what caused the fall and probably her death.

I also find myself frustrated with the obstruction of Millay’s sister, Norma, who clearly revised the narrative of her sister’s life over the years. There’s only this biography of Millay, perhaps because Milford was the only person who was able to sufficiently placate Norma! Even then, Milford says that everything she took out of Steepletop, Norma insisted on “interpreting” for her. It seems like Milford dealt with this as best she could; Norma manages to be a not-entirely transparent narrator. It’s not her biography — but her presence, her take on Millay’s life, still casts a hue on the story.

I wonder, sometimes, of the elision of these points is intentional. During her life, Millay was asked to put out a volume of her love poems with her notes on who each of them was about (!) She refused, although she joked to her publisher that she “reject[ed] your proposal but appreciate your advances.” She gets offended when Arthur Ficke asks her if a particular sonnet was written to him; only on his deathbed does she admit that yes, it is. (“And you as well must die, beloved dust/and all your beauty stand you in no stead”). I think Milford possibly understood this well, and stopped short of this sort of voyeurism. (Although, maybe not in the choice to include some of Eugen’s smutty letters… burn all the letters, indeed).

The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.

The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.

Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!β€”
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

“The Courage That My Mother Had”, Mine the Harvest (1954)

But then there are the moments when the biography sings. The story of how Millay and Eugen drove her mother’s body home from Maine, for example — with the goal of burying it among the mountain laurels on the hills above Steepletop. How the ground was frozen solid and they had to dynamite, and the sound of it boomed over the hills for days. “Now granite in a granite hill,” indeed.

Another moment involves the wife of Millay’s brother-in-law, Charlotte Boissevain. They didn’t get along when Millay and Eugen were staying at their house on Cap d’Antibes; later, Milford interviews Charlotte Boissevain about the event. This bit from the interview struck me:

“Standing before her bookcase with its signed copies of first editions of novels by her friend Rebecca West and by Joseph Conrad and H.G. Wells, [Charlotte] began to speak, pointing to a book of Millay’s poems inscribed to them both: ‘There. There is as much as she’s ever written to me, to us — her words are precious, to Edna. And how do I see her? Edna — with a wall around her.'”

This felt like a perfect description of the intense loneliness of being a writer. (There, her echo, too; I think of “intense and terrible — I think — must be the loneliness of infants”).

Those hours when happy hours were my estate, β€”
Entailed, as proper, for the next in line,
Yet mine the harvest, and the title mine β€”
Those acres, fertile, and the furrows straight,
From which the lark would rise β€” all of my late
Enchantments, still, in brilliant colours, shine,
But striped with black, the tulip, lawn and vine,
Like gardens looked at through an iron gate.
Yet not as one who never sojourned there
I view the lovely segment of a past
I lived with all my senses, well aware
That this was perfect, and it would not last:
I smell the flower, though vacuum-still the air;
I feel its texture, though the gate is fast.

“Those hours when happy hours were my estate…”, Mine the Harvest (1954)

What is funny to me is how often Millay is viewed as this saucy jazz baby poetess. She rebelled strenuously against that notion; she fears, as she gets older, that she will be never be taken seriously, that “mature” Millay will be disdained. And yet every article that appears about her in the press, it seems, infantilizes her further, describing her clothing and how “doll” or “child”-like she looks, even into her fifties.

But for me — it wasn’t early Millay I fell in love with. It was that exquisite observation that Mine the Harvest is full of, a sort of natural philosophy through poetry, written almost entirely in her last year of life. It’s bitter to think of her during that time: her husband dead of lung cancer, alone except for housekeepers and gardeners. But also sweet: finally having overcome her morphine addiction, writing her best verse.

Mature Millay was beautiful, and that time period was so short-lived. I wanted to dwell longer there. And that, regrettably, is not something Milford’s biography allows.

I will continue, then, to make of my own life a memorial to her.

Stranger, pause and look;
From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
Search the fading letters, finding
Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!

Excerpt from “The Poet and His Book”, Second April (1921)

Weekly Update, 3/19/2018 to 3/25/2018

Brief Update

I still exist! I have been keeping away from social media because, quite frankly, it’s depressing. If you want to find me, well, you know how.

I finished two books this week. Six of Crows ended on a far more unresolved note than I was expecting; thus I’ve gone straight on ahead to Crooked Kingdom. I had some minor quibbles with the first book — some things which did not make sense, or stretched credulity (for example, who are these random Shu who attacked Wylan and Jesper and were never mentioned before or after? Is climbing six stories up an incinerator shaft really the best time for Inej to decide to take up piracy?) But overall it was very, very good, and that last conversation on the boat between Inej and Kaz was basically perfect. Broken fictional teenagers, I guess, are my bailiwick.

As for Savage Beauty… well, I have complex feelings on it, which keep not resolving into a post. Suffice it to say, it was quite good, but did not satiate my (possibly insatiable) appetite for Millay trivia.

Given the recent passing of Ursula K. Le Guin, I decided to (re)read the Earthsea series. I first read A Wizard of Earthsea maaaaany years ago, when I was thirteen or so, but never was able to get into the second book. Mostly my memories of the first book are haunting — mental images of a wide sea and endless running from shadows. This time around I’m taking the time to enjoy the poetry of Le Guin’s writing — her use of consonance, or how she varies the length of sentences, for example.

(Also, I’m totally imagining Ged’s furry friend, the otak, as looking something like a porg).

This month in the habitat project is the kitchen. We attempted to DIY the leaky kitchen faucet and the broken over-the-range microwave, both of which have been issues since we moved in. It, uh, did not go well. We couldn’t get the water turned off to even start on the faucet; likely there’s too much sediment in the pipes to close fully. The microwave, we attempted to at least get off the wall to see what the venting situation was, but after taking out the three ginormous bolts holding it to the cabinet, we weren’t able to find the last place it was attached. At that point I decided our time was worth more than this, and found a local handyman to come in and fix both issues.

We also ordered a coffee table for our living room (which has been without one since forever), although we’ve decided to hold off on buying a sectional for a while. (The process of trying to select one was thoroughly exhausting!)

After reading this depressing article about what it’s like to live without retirement savings, I’ve become motivated anew to work on my finances and live more frugally. (Some of you may recall I used to have a blog on this topic). I’m finding it challenging to balance this new imperative with the goal of making my house more habitable. I try to remind myself that my spending is in line with my goals, and that having a more comfortable house will make me more eager to spend time here, reducing costs overall. (As well as adding to the value of the house itself).

(Also, don’t worry too much about me — I’ve been saving for retirement since day one of my working life, and I already have a fair amount socked away. But a recent trip through a retirement calculator left me short of where I would want to be, so improving my savings rate is on my mind. Right now the big change I am trying is bringing my lunch more often. Saving $7, 2-3 times a week, really adds up with time).

Finally, I’m getting off my duff and looking for a new therapist. I haven’t had one for three years, but it’s becoming clear that my alternative is just dumping my problems on my friends, which is really not good for anyone concerned. I have intakes coming up with a couple that I’m auditioning.

Accomplishments

Writing
– Worked ~45m/wrote 790 words on new beginning for Lioness

Reading
– Read Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
– Read Savage Beauty, the biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford

Other Media
– Listened to Stuff to Blow Your Mind, “The Nuts and Bolts of Boltzmann Brains”
– Listened to By the Book, “The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck and Guidebook”
– Listened to Stuff You Missed in History Class, “The Easter Rising of 1916”, “The Daring Imposter Cassie Chadwick”, “The Minuscule Science of Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek”, “The Luddites”, “Giorgio Vasari”
– Watched Take Your Pills, a Netflix original documentary about ADHD meds
– Finally was able to correctly identify all countries on a map! Yes, even you, Niue, you devious little island nation.

Health
– Zombies Run supply run, 1.72mi in 31:06
– Zombies Run supply run, 1.75mi in 30:12
– 1.4mi walk
– 2.6mi walk
– Set up intakes with two separate therapists

Habitat
– Acquired a new over-the-range microwave, and kitchen faucet
– Hired a handyman to replace microwave and faucet
– Purchased a new coffee table for the living room
– Vacuumed upstairs and down
– Washed sheets