Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Come on, Get Happy

What is the value of happiness? Recently, I engaged in an online conversation in which a friend of mine decried the idea of happiness as worthless. To him, there is no meaning to life, a theory which he claims is proven and inarguable.

Naturally, I wanted to argue the point.

This isn't just because I have a degree in arguing; I remember what it's like not to believe in being happy. I remember the empty feelings that depression breeds so well. A perpetual hitch in the midsection like being caught on a rollercoaster that never regains an upward trajectory. From the inside of that dark canopy, it does seem to be incontrovertible. Fact. Misery is the norm, and happiness is for deluded suckers. From the outside, I find myself wanting to prove the value of happiness to someone who can't appreciate it.

I know that it’s a futile exercise. There is nothing that can break that bulwark from the outside. Only the person inside it can break it. Only the person inside it can choose to break it. Those choices aren't easy and sometimes you need medication and therapy to make them. The best anyone else can do is try to motivate them to make that choice for themselves.

I can ask him why he keeps pissing into the wind if he doesn’t like getting wet. I can ask him how his philosophy is working out for him, if he likes the way that it makes him feel. I can demonstrate that there are other ways to consider the world by being happy.

But I cannot push a wet noodle up a hill.

No matter how much I might want to.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Author Event: John Scalzi

Last Thursday was a momentous occasion. John Scalzi, for the very first time, visited both Boise and Idaho. He is an Idaho virgin no longer.

To celebrate, he stopped by the Boise Public Library and held a reading (sponsored by Rediscovered Books, which does not - at the moment - have the space to hold such an event). Personally, I had never been to the William F. Hayes Memorial Auditorium, and so, in that both Scalzi and I were breaking new ground.

Since I have a Boise State parking permit, my husband and I chose to park there and then walk to the library, considering that there may be a crowded lot at the library. As we crossed the wooden bridge into the Anne Frank Memorial, I spotted Scalzi entering the library with an escort - identification certainty of 95%. I mean, I've never met him before, but he posts a lot of pictures of himself online.

We entered the library, and I immediately identified the location of the restrooms, because I need to know these things. Then we walked into the auditorium.

It's not really an auditorium. It doesn't fit my conception of one at any rate, which would have to contain, minimally, a stage and tiered seating. This is a meeting room. A classroom even. Chairs were lined up facing a table and podium, and behind the chairs was a long table covered in books. (All by John Scalzi - conspiracy or coincidence?)

I chose a seat near the front. Not the front row itself, mostly because it was occupied, but also because you never know which people might spit when they talk.

My husband and I settled in to wait, observing the room filling, noticing that Scalzi was chatting with the event organizers in the rear, and giggling a bit that the couple behind us did not recognize him, despite having walked right by him, close enough, because of the dimensions of the entrance, to have touched him in passing.

When it was time for the reading to begin, Scalzi was introduced to applause and then proceeded to outline the evening's events. He would be reading from an upcoming work, and then from some humor pieces and from his blog, Whatever.

I would love to explain in explicit detail the content of the reading from his upcoming urban fantasy, but I'm under strict orders to simply lord the fact that I know and you don't over you. Therefore, I must sum up that experience up as follows: I enjoyed listening to Scalzi read aloud from his work. His reading voice is not monotonous or boring, and it's neat to hear character inflections from the author himself. This novella sound really neat, and you should be jealous of me. And my husband. And everyone else who managed to attend one of Scalzi's many tour stops. Still a limited club!

The next two pieces he read for us were from an ancient website known as America Online. I am, in fact, old enough to have had an AOL account. Just - I was 13 when we got it. The pieces were from when he wrote for their humor section, which I'm pretty sure I never read, being more interested in chat at that age (I got my reading fixes from books - made of paper!). They were topical for the time of year, focused on back to school, one aimed at gradeschoolers and one at parents. Both were amusing.

Scalzi then read from a relatively recent blog entry from Whatever, "Standard Responses to Online Stupidity." I, being a regular reader of the blog, had already read that particular entry. However, again, the experience of having it read aloud by the author was quite enjoyable. For some reason, especially the single swear word in number 8.

Once the reading portion of the evening was concluded, the signing portion could begin. There were a few rules, reasonable limits on the number of books that could be signed at a time (if you wanted more, you were free to go back to the end of the line). Photographs were welcome, and Rediscovered Books even offered a photographer. We snaked our line through the chairs, so as not to trail out into the library, and I got in line to wait while my husband walked over to where he could take the picture when I got there.

I chatted a bit with other people in line, commiserating with one that the event had a distinct lack of ukulele and yodeling (to which Scalzi replied, "I heard that!"). The wait was not too long, since I had been sitting near the front, and there, I finally asked the question that had been burning inside me since July 22nd, when my husband and I went to see a movie for our meet-iversary and I saw that our theater offered Oreo churros.

"Oreo churros - abomination or awesome?" I said. I had to repeat it, partially because he was surprised I think (and partially because I was nervous and speaking softly).

The face of a man who likes churros. 
Scalzi proceeded to give me much more than I expected. Not a simple yes or no, but an enthusiastic explanation which boiled down to the cinnamon churro flavor being an intrinsic part of its churro-ness for him. Nothing against others who like Oreo churros, but for him they are not properly partaking of churro-ness - although a churro flavored Oreo would be acceptable.

This question gave him something to use for personalizing my book, and I now am the proud owner of a copy of Old Man's War inscribed thusly:

I then got my picture taken with him, because I could. All in all, a nice way to spend a Thursday evening.
Before next time, I will teach Ambrose how to use the zoom.
Or maybe I was told to write that. You wouldn't know. After all, you weren't there... or were you?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Best Laid Plans

I'm not even supposed to be here today!

I had been planning this summer's solo hike for over a year. On August 15th, my husband and I would drive to the Willow Creek campground outside of Featherville, ID. The next day, I would set off on a short, but epic, 60 mile journey, taking either three or four days. My husband would be waiting for me at Grandjean, keeping an eye out on day three and trying not to be anxious on day four.

I knew I could do a 20 mile plus day with  pack and elevation. I tried it out in late July and it worked. An afternoon thunderstorm and rain couldn't stop me from doing it, nor the hot sun and hard climb of the early morning.

I reduced my pack's base weight by going with a no-cook eating schedule and not taking any reading or writing materials. On August 13th, my pack, complete with food and water, weighed in at just under 30 pounds.

My mind was ready. I had studied my maps and read up on the terrain. I knew which trails I needed to take to get where I wanted to go. I knew I could do the distance by myself.

My spirit was ready for a time of solitude and testing. To push myself further than I had the last two years. To find out just what I was capable of doing on my own in the wilderness.

My body was not ready.

Since my husband and I came back from our backpacking trip on the Washington coast, I had been tired. Exhausted, even. I tried to rest and recover. I didn't continue with my pull up workouts, deciding I could resume them after the solo. I didn't get any Crossfit done, and when I tried to run on Wednesday, I found that I couldn't run for more than 90 seconds at a time.

On Thursday, I found that I couldn't keep up with my boss during a walking meeting. First we slowed down, and then we sat, because I couldn't keep walking - with no pack.

And, on Friday the 14th, the final blow came. Abdominal pain bad enough to suspect appendicitis brought me to my doctor's office.

I will not be taking a solo hiking trip this year.

My solo trip has been what I've been using to write my Hike with Me books. With no solo trip this year, the plans have changed. This year's installment of Hike with Me will be more accurately Hike with Us. I am going to write up my coast trip for the book - but also for my hiking blog.

In some ways, I'm devastated not to be doing what I planned, but I'm also trying to see it as a challenge. Sometimes we don't choose change, but we have to adapt to it anyway and make the best of what we've got.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Piece to the Puzzle of Story

At the beginning of August I took a 6 day backpacking trip with my husband along the coast of Washington in the Olympic National Forest. I'd never spent so much time by the ocean before, especially not so close. We were hiking on the beach, by the timing of the tides, with the roar of the surf constantly in our ears. We walked through the mist of the ocean waves for those 6 days.

And I did not write.

I took no notebook, no electronic device that I could type upon. I had a pencil, yes, and maps upon which I could have written, if desperate, but I did not. I had a voice recorder, but some hesitation or shyness restricted my use of it to when I was alone and relaxing - that only happened twice on the whole trip.

But I did dream about story.

I came to a bit of a realization that one of the things that I like about stories is the epic misunderstanding. In my dream, I had been hunted by a man for a long time, and over the course of that hunt, we had fallen in love. But he was driven by duty to kill me, and, when I bested him for the last time, he killed himself rather than fail. His brother was an evil tyrant who thought that I had killed the man, and so now felt an even more personal reason to have me killed. An overly simple kind of plot that a dream can spit out, but one that illustrates the way that misunderstandings can make a story more tense, tighter.

I kind of hate it when a story could be resolved if the characters just talked to one another, believed one another, trusted one another... But that dream made me realize that I also love that kind of story - as long as the reasons that they can't resolve their issues aren't contrived. I want to be able to believe that Don and Mary really can't tell each other their true feelings, or that any interruptions to planned revelations are story-necessary.

Hate it or love it, when its done well that kind of layering makes a story interesting to me. So that's the kind of thing that I should be practicing in my writing. Characters who care, who make you care, and who can't, for good reason, be honest with each other, which leads to real consequences. Just a piece of the puzzle, but one that fits.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gender Gear

My husband bought an REI Co-Op t-shirt a few months ago, and, in quick succession, bought three more. He now has two long sleeved and two short sleeved in four different colors. He likes them for working out, running, hiking and general purpose everyday wear. He likes them so much that he recommended that I buy one.

His shirts are bright, solid, primary colors. Orange, red, yellow and green. I was hoping to get a nice solid blue, as that's my favorite color. But, when I finally got around to looking at the women's version of the shirts, I found that they did not come in the same colors. Instead, my options were mostly of a kind of pastel pattern. Light blue, light purple, rose, grey.

Because of the colors, I tried on a men's small as well as women's small and women's medium to see which shirt fit me best. The men's did not fit my body well. The collar was higher than the women's and felt a bit like it was choking me, though my husband never seemed to have that issue. I ended up going with the women's medium as the best fit. I couldn't pick a color, because none of them really appealed, so I asked my husband to pick and went with the light blue.

I was curious about whether or not the REI website would have a wider selection of colors for the women's shirts, so I looked them up. No such luck. No primary colors for the women.

And then, curiosity led me to look at the men's shirts. While it looks like they now have the pastel blue for men, it was then that I noticed the difference in the wording of the descriptions. Ostensibly, these are the same shirt. The same price, the same fabric, the same price...

So why does the men's shirt description explicitly cite working out, "Better than basic, this REI Co-Op Tech T-Shirt wicks moisture and dries quickly to keep you cool and comfortable while hiking, running, working out or just working up a sweat playing Frisbee."

Whereas the women's shirt does not recommend working out, "A wardrobe staple that goes beyond basic, the women's Tech T-shirt wicks moisture and dries quickly to keep you cool and comfortable while working up a sweat hiking, running or chasing down a Frisbee."

Men and women can both play Frisbee! (Though only men will sweat while playing, those silly women will just chase the Frisbee down after they fail to catch it?) But no working out in this shirt for women.

Even the stance of the models got my goat. The woman just stands there, presenting the shirt like a mannequin. The man has a hand on his hip, showing off his muscles, looking ready to work.

I must admit though, the advertising was entirely accurate. After using that shirt for running, Crossfit and working out, I have to agree. The women's shirt is not for working out. I'm constantly having to tug the shirt down, because whenever I lift it bunches up over my breasts. I guess I'll just have to start chasing down Frisbees instead!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Blind Date

I signed up for Kameron Hurley's newsletter because I've been following her on Twitter, and I like the essays that she's written. I'm interested in reading Mirror Empire, but haven't gotten to buying it yet. One of the most interesting things about the newsletter was the offer of a book blind date. I wasn't quite sure what that meant.

I mean, it seemed to mean that she would send me a book, if I asked. A random book, in a loose genre category. I love books. I love free things. So I signed up.

And, mid-June, pictures started showing up on her Twitter of books that other newsletter receivers had gotten in the mail. They were even wrapped, just like a present.

I began to be anxious, because mine hadn't arrived yet. Had I messed up in submitting the form? Put a typo in my mailing address?

I texted my husband each day, asking whether my package had arrived in the mail.

And on the day it arrived, what did he do? He tore open my package and opened my book blind date present.

I had a momentary sad face. Because, of course, I wanted to open it!

And once I saw it, I was perplexed. I had received Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold . This is the first book in the Shadows of the Apt series. The cover, to me, evokes an ancient Greek battle, and the rear cover copy also brought the comparison to mind.

If this had been a blind date, then I wouldn't have had a second date. But this, for me, was more like living in an apartment building when a new tenant moves in across the hall. You might smile at each other in the hallway a few times before you even know each other's names. And once you do, you find yourselves talking every time you meet. It becomes something that you look forward to.

I'm reading this book in pieces. It isn't sucking me in as some books have. But I want to keep reading it. I'm not sure if I have it in me to commit to the next nine books in the series... at least, not right now. But it might be something that I continue to read.

This series will be like the neighbor that moves away, that you keep in touch with on an irregular basis, always having great conversation whenever you meet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Accidental Poetry

Recently, the voicemail app on my phone updated. Voice to text used to be a premium service, but it appeared after the last update. I have quite a few messages from my mother that I haven't listened to, sitting in my voicemail box because when I see a message longer than 2 minutes, I blanch. And when I see a 5 minute message, I lose the will to continue to listen.

Besides, my mother will most likely not remember that she left me a message and will repeat whatever it was that she took 5 minutes to say the next time we speak.

But now, I can read the messages she leaves instead of listening.

And there's just something wonderfully poetic about the app's interpretation of her words.

I'm seriously considering never answering the phone when she calls again. I mean, I'll call her back, but I'm just getting so much entertainment value from this:
Hey Ambrose and Jeanne.
I guess you're not there now.
Sorry I'm still waiting for Connie which-i-think-she's coming.
I'm not getting my cell phone.
I told Peter I need it in writing.
I know how to do it the same thing happened-when we were trying to reach you in the computer and they give me the written paper that ready-whenever you get computer is.
Anyway thanks.
Love you.
Bye bye. 
*snap* *snap* *snap*