Iron frog station

The first time I went out to the random word generator at creativity games looking for a writing prompt, it gave me Iron Frog Station. Such evocative words. I thought it was a great prompt!

What to do with it, though?

What sort of place would Iron Frog Station be? If so, why is it called that? Does anyone live there? Are iron frogs a creature or are they an object?

Is this even a story prompt at all, or is it something else entirely?

There is a little cast iron frog in my garden, a replica of an antique door stop that my father cast, which sits in my garden.  Does it dream of traveling to far off lands?

I wrote the idea down in my notes and then tucked it away it away. I like the sound of the words together. I just wish I knew what to do with it. I’ve taken it out a few times since then hoping to find it’s marinated enough to be ready. Not yet, though.

Flying Monkeys, Anyone?

Some places practically scream for stories to be written about them. What could be a creepier setting than an abandoned theme park? Only an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park.

I always found The Wizard of Oz more than a little creepy as a child. A crazy old woman set to take out her frustrations on :Dorothy, reminding me none too favorably of Mrs. Trimpe, my first grade teacher, who (rumors said) had a glass eye which was why it never quite seemed to sit right in her skull when she was looking at you.Mrs. Trimpe terrified me. 

I thought she hated me. I know she called me “too social” on my report card. I half expected the flying monkeys to appear every time she slapped her hand down on the desk and commanded the class full of wiggly six-year-olds to  “Pay attention!”
This abandoned amusement park just moves me with thoughts of the terrible dangers that could be lurking there. Is it an angry place, jilted and alone, waiting to exact its revenge on a world that has let it fall into ruins? 

Could it just be a misunderstood place, lonely and missing the laughter of children that once filled it’s courtyards in it’s heyday and desperate to reclaim its former glory?

Is there a silly silo or a twister ride waiting to transport the protagonist away to Oz?
Does anyone or anything live there? What kind of denizens has it attrackted? Simple woodland animals or something more sinister? 

I don’t know, but itdoes spark the imagination.

Christmas Scarf Watch Update: 20161223 – The race is on

​Scarf watch: length 65 inches of 78 inches.

Tendonitis report: Yes.

Tomatoes behind schedule: Let’s call it one. It should be three, because I should have planned on finishing today and not tomorrow, to allow for blocking. I did take time to weave in the ends so far, so I’ll only have one end to weave in when I finish.

Tomatoes remaining: Let’s call it 5, just to be safe. 

Odds of finishing before Christmas: Promising (Don’t get cocky!)

Desperation level: Waning (Seriously, don’t get cocky!)

There are just a bit over 13 inches of scarf left to knit and perhaps 2 and a half hours of work left before the knitting is finished.

I’m on Winter Shutdown now. It varies a bit from year to year, but The Day Job shutters the doors from from December 23 through January 2 in order to do vital maintenance in the factory and facilities. Lucky me, since the office is closed, too. In theory, I should be able to manage knitting time over the course of the day to finish the scarf and block it.

In practice, the roommate may have other plans for maintenance around the house that I need to help with since we’re hosting the Holiday festivities here this year. 

There’s a fighting chance of actually meeting my self imposed deadline. Wish me luck.

What to make of this?

Winter Berries on Super Single Sock by The Painted Tiger


Brooke of The Painted Tiger created a really pretty holiday colorway for the December Yarn Club.

I have no idea what to make it into. 

I originally thought socks. It’s a singles yarn, so if I make it into socks, they won’t be hard wearing. 

I then thought that it might make a good Project Peace cowl. I think it might be too busy for the stitch pattern. 

Maybe I should get some white sock yarn, warp my loom, and use this as the weft? It would be the first time I’ve warped my loom, so it might not be the best time to use a yarn that’s one of a kind and thus precious. 

Or maybe it is and I’m just not sold on the idea.

Anyone have any suggestions?

The Thing About Zombies

What would Black Friday be without zombies?

Fast zombies, slow zombies, voodoo zombies, plague zombies, cordyceps fungus zombies, radioactive and inexplicably rising from the grave zombies? It doesn’t matter. The thing about zombies that is most important to remember is that they’re relentless in the pursuit of their only goal: Feed.

Copyright: memoangeles / 123RF Stock Photo

Ah, the hordes of Black Friday shoppers out looking for deals.

It doesn’t matter if they’re the shambling, apparently mindless masses of the original classic Night of the Living Dead, the fast, corporate created, T-Virus infested mutating  zombies of Resident Evil, or the sinister, talking zombies of Return of the Living Dead. You can’t reason with them. You can’t trust them. They want to eat you (or sometimes just your brains) and they will stop at nothing to do it. It’s kill or be killed with this type of zombie.

It’s a powerful metaphor for shortsighted self-interest, especially consumerist self-interest.

Sometimes there’s something in the zombie that’s still reachable. The zombies in Shawn of the Dead still maintain some level of basic personality. Shawn’s dad calms from a feeding frenzy when he manages to turn off the blaring music in his beloved Jag. Shawn’s Mom appears docile until someone threatens Shawn (her little Pickle.) These zombies eventually become something like tamed (though not really domesticated.) A few precautions taken, and they’re back at work in the service industry.

The movie Fido takes that one step farther. Zombies have control collars and mow the lawn. The next door neighbor keeps his zombi-fied wife at home and reminds her not to bite. Children are taught to shoot in elementary school. Don’t shoot zombies in the chest. Headshots are the very best.

That situation is unusual in the genre. For the most part, zombies kill. Humans die horribly at their hands. Everyone will eventually either be a zombie or be zombie food. There’s no real hope of escape.

I love the zombies that can articulate their inhumanity the best. Why do you eat people? Not people. Brains. It’s the only thing that stops the pain of being dead and it doesn’t matter who it hurts so long as the zombie in question gets what it needs. It’s consumerism as drug addict if you will.

I know you’re in there, Tina. I can smell your brains, Zombie Freddie tells his hiding girlfriend. If you loved me, you’d let me eat your brains.

Some zombies try to control their urges. Julie is very picky about whose brains she’s willing to eat in Return of the Living Dead 3 – to the point of self-mutilation to try to keep her urge to feed in check. Ultimately, she and her infected boyfriend climb into the crematorium rather than lose the battle against their urge to feed.

In the I, Zombie TV show aren’t all ravaging, mindless, eaters. A good number of them are just trying to hide and stay alive. Some go so far as to destroy zombies that have gone mindless, even if it’s for their own selfish reasons. Blaine is literally creating the market for his “gourmet brains on demand” catering service (read: high-class drug dealer), but he’s very careful not to let it go too far. After all, if a bite infects, and someone escapes, the zombie plague could wipe out the entire food source, and worse, bring the government crashing down on his criminal enterprise.

Conversely, the main character, Liv, is trying to do some good and make some sense out of this seemingly senseless and potentially self-destructive urge to eat brains. She gets brains from seemingly ethical sources (morgue autopsies) and tries to find justice for the murder victims that ultimately keep her alive and thinking. There’s a balance at play. How can she stay alive (undead?) and find a cure.

In Warm Bodies, the balance is between feeling and unfeeling, connection and disconnection. Zombies are disconnected from the people around them. They’re seeking some way to fill the void left by the absence of other people in their lives and this urge to fill the void is what fuels the need to eat the flesh of the living, especially the brains.

The book highlights this theme, spending much more time on Zombie culture and society than the movie did. R and M share brains when they find them, passing them around like a joint. In the book, when R keeps the brain of Julie’s boyfriend for himself (basically bogarting it so he can savor all the feelings of connection to her), it’s a violation of the friendship between R & M. Completely disconnecting turns you into one of the boney zombies that the other zombies fear and avoid, so far gone there’s no hope. Only reconnecting to other people can cure the zombie condition.

Maybe that’s why I turn off my electronics and avoid the malls on Black Friday. The roommate and I did some work around the house. We did have to go out to pick up some things we needed for the house projects. We kept it to a quick jaunt to the hardware store to get just what we needed and returned home immediately after.

No hordes of zombie shoppers for us.

We did have to move the triffid (Triff-Ed, the overly large potted palm) from its usual location while we ripped up the carpet in that bedroom. Ed needed repotting badly. Luckily, the root bound mass in his old pot was the worst monster we saw today.

Maxim 70

Failure is not an option.
It is mandatory.
The option is whether or not to
let failure be the last thing you do.

– Howard Taylor, Schlock Mercinary

Alternately

Fall down 7 times. Stand up 8. 
– Japanese Proverb

I believe in failure. I believe in reaching past limitations and falling down. I believe in getting back up again. And again. And again. 

I believe this is not just an inevitable part of life, but an important part of learning, personal growth, and the creative process.

I believe in the trial run and giving things a go. I believe in making swatches even if they lie (and common wisdom among both knitters and crocheters is that they always lie) and shitty first drafts

I believe in the rough sketch, the outline, lists, and plans. I believe that sometimes it’s best to just shoot from the hip, to wing it, to abandon the best laid plans and just make it up as you’re going along. Doodles and drabbles and flights of fancy.

I believe that perfection is the enemy of the good. Perfection is a unattainable. Excellence is the goal. I believe in the happy accident, the “design feature,” and the intentional flaw.
I believe in striking through text and crumbling up paper, in declaring an effort a total disaster. I believe in letting go, in starting over fresh in the morning. I believe in the mulligan and the do-over. I believe in learning from mistakes and doing better next time around. 

I believe that as long as there’s breath, there’s hope and a chance to make the world a better place, through art, through compassion, through kindness, through whatever means you have at your disposal. Don’t wait for change: be the change you want to see.

Never give up. Never surrender. Stand up. Dust yourself off and put yourself back to the work at hand.

Whether I’m talking about my pathetic word count for this year’s Nanowrimo, my crappy progress on Shawn’s afghan, or the no possible winners election results? That’s still up for debate.

In which I judge myself as being judged

So what do you write?

I dread that question. More specifically, I dread answering that question almost as much as I dread the follow-on: Can I read something you’ve written?

I have trouble answering the question “what do you write?” and feeling honest about the answer and free from judgement.

What have I written? I’ve written technical documentation, personal essays, and a ton of fiction, both my own (mostly of the literary sort) and fan fiction. Over the years, a boat load of fan fiction. Of the fan fiction mostly Star Trek, some DC (Bat-fic), some Star Wars, and some Marvel. 

Nothing of that sort in the past two years. It was easy to “waste time” on writing stories to amuse myself and the few friends I shared them with when it was sort of a private world that was whispered about among the fan base.

Judged as not good enough by ‘real writers’ (read: literary fiction and published). Never mind that fan fiction has turned into the place where new writers earn their chops and it went from being fun to being frightening. I can still feel the stigma – feel the eyes of imaginary critics judging me for what I want to do.

What do I attempt to write? My novel. Fantasy and science fiction. Maybe a horror story. Genre fiction. 

Also not good enough in the eyes of ‘real writers” (read: literary fiction writers) and “real readers” (read: people who only read things by real writers.)

The problem is that right now, my novel is a lot of staring at the blank page and making notes. It’s not really writing yet. It’s currently a great deal of back to the drawing board sorts of plotting and world building after I failed last year’s NaNoWriMo because I hadn’t done enough plotting and world building to sustain the actual story I thought I had to write.

But it’s what I want to do, what I feel like I was made to do. Even though I’ve failed at NaNoWriMo.

In part, it’s because I find those kinds of stories and worlds entertaining. Mostly, it’s because I want to be able to give other people the same kind of enjoyment and escape I used to find reading those same kinds of books when I was younger.

It’s probably obvious that I spent a great deal of time reading as a child. My home life was often rocky because there wasn’t a lot of money. They say that love covers times without money better than money covers times without love.

There didn’t seem to be enough love to cover the times with no money. There didn’t ever seem to be enough love even if there had been enough money. It was what it was and looking back, I think my parents were doing the best with what they had for emotional resources. I just don’t think they had very much in the way of emotional resources to draw upon.

I read to escape. I read to get some relief from the constant pressure to perform. Get good grades. You have to get into college or you’ll just end up in a dead end job like your parents and you’ll never be able to support a family. No one will love you if you don’t get into college and get scholarships to pay for it because we’re too poor to pay for it.

Clean the house perfect or your father drag you out of bed at Midnight (school nigh or no) to re-wash all the dishes in the house because he threw them out of the cupboards because one dish in the drainer wasn’t spotless, or put the books back on the bookshelf because he knocked them off the shelves because he found dust. 

Don’t let Mom see that your jeans have a hole in the knee because you fell. They’re the only jeans you have and she’ll throw a fit. You broke the spine on your paperback and she’ll be furious because you’re not taking care of it and you know she didn’t eat lunches so she could buy you that book.

The message was clear: You suck at everything you do and if what you do isn’t going to be perfect, it’s not worth doing at all.

What do I write? These days, mostly small things at The Day Job that are related to my work at The Day Job and this blog, which is to say, not much. You might even go so far as to say nothing, especially if you add in the fact that I’m not actually putting chapters into my book right now, so much as trying to build the framework for the book to be written around.
It’s embarrassing when I think about that, and downright humiliating when you add in the I don’t write anything ‘good’ in the first place. I judge myself as being judged and I don’t want to talk about it any more. Thank you.

There’s just so much pressure in the question “What do you write?” that I’d rather not be asked it, and yet when people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a writer. I’m dedicating blocks of time to actually writing. I’m putting things out here in the world again. 

So why am I doing it?

With this blog I hope that people read it and maybe laugh a little. I hope that people have moments where they can say “Hey, there’s some on else like me. I’m not alone.” I hope that in some small way it does some good in the world.

I have stories to tell that might give someone else the ability to walk into another world for a little while and get some time away from the pressures of their problems. Someone else wrote and gave that to me. I owe it to them to pay it forward, or at least try to.

So, I refuse to let the novel die. I’ve let so many things go over the years. Music. Acting (No, really I’m terrible. I really do suck at acting.) Art.

I can’t let this die, too. 

Even if I suck. And that’s the big fear: What if I just suck at this? What if everything I do just sucks?

Knitting (and crocheting) for me, have been about learning to accept imperfection. They’ve been about learning to love the act of creating itsef, even if it’s not perfect. No one ever says “That scarf you made is okay, but you missed two rows of decreases near the beginning, so it actually sucks. I hate it.” (or if they do, the concensus in the crafting community is that they’re rude and you’re allowed to stab them with your pointiest knitting needles.)

That I what I’m trying to bring to my writing: Perfection doesn’t matter. Expression matters. Step out and just do it. Learn from your mistakes. Embrace your foibles.

It’s hard but, I have to try. After all, I owe a karmic debt to the writers before me who wrote the stories I loved. 

Just don’t ask me what I write.

Focus

When I put the place holder for this post in my blog, I thought I was going to talk about how wonderful Loreena McKennett was in concert (she was) and how much I love her music (I do) and that she played my favorite song (she didn’t, but she played lots of other great music, so I don’t feel like I missed anything).

Paramount, empty stage prior to Loreena McKennett concert.

The Paramount is my favorite venue because it’s such an intimate setting. Even the “true fan section” (read: cheap seats) isn’t too far from the stage to see the artists. 

There are no jumbotrons. There is no need. You can see clearly from all but about two seats in the house near the wings. I’ve heard people sing here without microphones because the acoustics are that good. This house was made for opera and has been restored to the grand dame she was intended to be from the start.

I was the most excited I’ve been for a concert in a very long time. I snapped my traditional (well, traditional since I got a phone with a camera in it) pre-concert photo, set my phone to airplane mode, and dropped it into my purse. I came to focus on the concert. I came to BE at the concert and see it with my own eyes, not through the lense of my phone’s camera. I wanted to be an active presence in the concert and to do that, I edited out my distractions.

If you can say a concert had a theme, that was the theme of the concert: Focus.

From the people filming in the audience and the intrusive (but necessary) reminders that filming is prohibited, to Loreena’s own comments on the increasing lack of focus in society due to the proliferation of electronic devices in our lives and how that is affecting children, to her comments on her own creative process, focus came up again and again.

There’s some research that suggests that technology has already made memory into emphemera. At the very least, it’s changed the way we remember. In that light, that there’s a lingering interest in oral tradition and long memory in the age of Googling for answers is almost a curiosity from a prior age that some might suggest has outlived its usefulness. Why remember? Isn’t that what Google is for? 

Some people think that statement is proof that technology is ruining people’s ability to focus. I’m not sure that’s true, though.

The number of times I’ve said “I don’t know the answer, but I know where to find it,” is kind of astounding when I think about it, but I said it before I ever knew what the Internet was. Back then (you know, when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I was talking about books in the public library, or sometimes people I knew who were more interested in a particular topic than I was. I focused on what I found interesting and remembered either where I read something or who was interested in a particular thing, rather than the thing itself.

In Loreena’s case, she’s chosen to focus her art and her studies on the Celtics peoples of the world. It’s shaped her music, her musings and her poetry, and I would even go so far as to suggest that her active connection to the ancient Celtic world shapes her perceptions of technology and her relationship with it. The Celts have a deep oral tradition, a tradition of long memory.

She took the time in her concert not just to talk about where particular songs came from and her experiences traveling to study the Celts, but about how she sees technology changing the world and why she chooses to focus her art on preserving and adding to the oral traditions of the Celts. It seems an important sort of work. The stories we tell and how we tell them that makes sense out of the world. 

The details we find important enough to put in and the things we leave out either because we don’t recognize the significance, or choose to consciously edit our narrative, or simply have forgotten, are the beams we use to frame the story we’re trying to tell, whether that story with words or with other art forms. 

What do we let in? What do we choose to leave out? How do we focus? How does that affect our relationship with the world, our friends and loved ones, and our art?
I’m still struggling with those questions.

A Tribute to Vincent Price

Normally the Collins Road 5 Theater shows recently recleased movies in second run, marketing themselves as the most affordable theater in town with the best concession prices and REAL buttered popcorn. In itself, that’s a pretty big selling point in my book. I’m mostly past the need to see new releases opening weekend and for the few films that I really think need to be seen on the big screen, having an inexpensive ticket and tasty popcorn with REAL butter improves the experience greatly.

Sometimes, thoug, they do something truly special. Hosting a tribute to Vincent Price with his daughter,Victoria, as a special guest speaker was one of those things.

Vincent Price was one of the icons of my childhood. Seeing his name in the opening credits of a film meant it was going to be especially good. I remember rooting for his characters (good or villainous) on the small screen curled up on the couch with my mother under a colorful afghan she crocheted, eating toast with cinnamon and sugar, and drinking Cambrick tea. 

When the little film festival popped up in my Facebook feed, there was no doubt I was going to go see it. I didn’t remember having seen Laura before (though once it started, it came flooding back), but The Fly? 

Hell, yes! Gimme more of that.

His daughter speaking about her father? That I didn’t know what to expect, but I figured at worst, she’d be dull and I’d still get to see two great films for the low price of $15 and worth every penny at that.

Victoria turned out to be the best part of the evening, worth the price of admission and more by herself.

Don’t misunderstood me. Laura was beautiful and Vincent’s role in the film was stunning. I’d forgotten what a beautiful man he was when he wasn’t trying to look like a villain. He towered about his costars even as he slouched and cowered his way around the sets, the broke milksop Southern dandy turned gigolo, fawning over ladies with money to get them to pay his way in the world.

And The Fly? 

What can be said about The Fly that hasn’t been said? He’s the bright spot in the film as the elder brother trying to find the truth about his younger brother’s apparent murder by his doting mouse of a wife (whom Prices character is secretly in love with), and to my way of thinking, horribly underutilized in the role. The detective dismisses the idea that Price’s character could have committed the murder before he’s even really investigated the possibility. Drawing that possibility out could have made a much more suspenseful film, especially before the wife tells her apparently crazy version of events.

Victoria turned out to be gracious and utterly charming, inviting those of us there to see the film (and it was a good sized crowd with very few empty seets) to join her in celebrating her father’s life, not just his film career, but the attitude he approached life with and the way he lived.

He said “yes” to everything.

Yes, I’ll take that role that I might not really be interested in. I’ll try that new restaurant. Yes, I’ll explore the town I’m in for a speaking engagement. He said yes and then he did it joyfully. So joyfully, in fact, that Victoria’s own joy and enthusiasm were infectious. I don’t think anyone could help but smile as she shared stories that underlined that point.

She said that “yes” was the key to both joy and to creativity. Yes with caveats didn’t count, either. That was just a type of no, ‘no’ didn’t lead to a life. It lead to existence alone and that it robbed a person of the potential for joy because it robbed them of opportunities. 

Her closing remarks centered around the idea that sometime before Halloween, if people wanted to really honor her father’s life and work, that they should say ‘yes’ to something new or yes to something they might be tempted to say no to and go with it enthusiastically to see where it might lead.

It’s kind of a scary prospect. Yes opens the door to uncertainty. No is a safe path. Nothing happens with no. Nothing. Scary films are a breeze. Uncertainty is where the real terror is found.

It may not seem like a big thing, I jumped in on the idea of ‘saying yes’ by saying yes to new food at a new restaurant. Trying the Pig and Porter down in NewBo wasn’t the tough part. I like new restaurants, though I do usually look for something safe and familiar on the menu for my first go of things. 

The tough part was an egg sunny side on top of a savory pork belly pancake with wiggling bonito flakes on top of it.

Wiggling. Bonito flakes. The very umame, acquired taste ingredient that’s something of a staple in Japanese and very much outside the comfort zone of many an American palate. 

Did I mention the wiggling? The menu should really have a warning: Do not be alarmed. This food is supposed to wiggle. Also, it has a sunny side up egg on it. Do not be alarmed by this, either.

The bonito flakes are shaved so thin that the hot steam rising from the pancake makes them writhe and wriggle like they’re still alive. Between that and the egg staring at me like Mike Wazowski’seyeball, I found it actively disconerting.

I immediately regretted not ordering the vegetarian looking pumpkin dish when I saw my dinner looking like it was trying to escape my plate.

It absolutely wasn’t what I would have picked for myself. The Roommate wanted to try both the Pork Belly Pancake and the Cuban Sausage with Mustard Spaetzel, so I said yes to the pork belly pancake. Why not, I thought? Wasn’t the point of going to new places to try new things. 

We each took some of the other’s meal, and then I tried my pancake bravely. (Well, mostly bravely. The Roommate took one for the team by taking half the pancake and the half of the egg with the soft yolk.) 
The pork belly pancake was surprisingly tasty. The Roommate’s Cuban Sausage with Mustard Spaetzel was tastier. I’d eat either again, though knowing what I know now, I’d ask for them to cook the egg hard because I know I don’t care for eggs done with soft yolks.

Say yes. Follow through enthusiastically and with joy.
It’s still very experimental to me, but I’ve got the ticket stub sitting on my desk at the day job, a reminder that the next opportunity for ‘yes’ is right around the corner, waiting for me to try it out.

Clearing the clutter

I like a little bit of clutter. I justify by saying that studies have shown that clutter promotes creativity. That said, I’ve let things in here at the studio (read: the corner where I knit, crochet, and often write thanks to the Logitech keyboard I use with my tablet) go from a little cluttered to outright chaos.

I spent the weekend clearing the chaos, trying to focus on returning the spaces I use in my home for creating into spaces that balance functionality and creativity promoting clutter. (and fighting the first cold of the season. I currently go from sounding mostly normal to doing a great impression of James Earl Jones.)

As part of that, I decided that Bobble-head Batman, Robin, and Catwoman needed to come to live on my desk at the day job as part of my strategy for maintaining my sense of humor when things get hectic. Making Batman’s head bobble makes me giggle. It’s silly and it’s still true.

Batman, Robin, and Catwoman investigate the disappearance of the Riddler.

Plus, sometimes the little bit of visual distraction fuels my brain power on the job.

Sure, creativity says, hey, the littlest pet shop black kitten, which I call Mini Boo-boo Kitty, is just the right size to play the part of Catwoman’s cat and that the Bowler Hat that came to live at work from the top of a bottle of a particular brand of adult beverage because it amused me suggested a certain missing quiz-master and a hint of foul play. 

Why is Catoosa on the scene? Is Nygma framing her for some reason? Or is she interested because of something else entirely? Who can tell the mind of the Catwoman? She’s wily.
Maybe it’s just another of Nygma’s elaborate tricks and Selina just happened to be in the neighborhood.
Either way, it primes the pumps for solving other problems. Because I had one idea, other ones flow. Not just the random sparks of Bat-Fandom, though those obviously amuse me. Ones actually related to the task at hand. 

You can never have too many ideas percolating. You can, however, have too many distractions to be creative and too much clutter to think. That’s where I hit, so I’m clearing away the clutter, organizing, and setting myself up with inspiration to get things flowing again.