Archive for July, 2005

So it’s 7 a.m., the child woke up early, and what am I doing? Well, what else? Reading an online novel. About zombies.

It’s M.J. Rose’s fault. She blogged about it. It’s also David Wellington’s fault. He writes so well. And it’s my fault. I love reading and I love the zombie genre and I just let myself get sucked into things like this. Child? What child?

And Monster Island is part of a whole trilogy. I can foresee it now: I’ll be stuck here for the next week reading this thing, and by the time I emerge, the Clifford theme song ringing in my head, I too will resemble a zombie.

And no, I’m not going to discuss the implications of a novel serialized in a blog. That would be like high school English class where the teacher took a novel you loved and picked it apart until you couldn’t enjoy it anymore. No, I think M.J.’s succinct blurb was all that was needed to discuss those implications.

Five minutes to eight. Sesame Street comes on next. I’m good for another hour anyway.


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Self-employment hell?

This past Sunday was the child’s birthday. He’s 2.

But that isn’t the self-employment hell part. No, actually, I like 2. Even the tantrums are cute, although it’s hard not to laugh as a result. And nothing tops toddler hugs and kisses and imagination.

The hell comes from the toys he got at his party Saturday. Not all of them. Brio trains, for instance, don’t make noise. Sadly, along with those, he also plays with the toys that make electronic bleeps and bloops, including a book about Clifford the Big Red Dog that has buttons on the side you can press for story sound effects. My boy is particularly fond of the Emily Elizabeth button: “CLIFford! CLIFford!” (I am sure the name “Clifford” will make it into at least one of my manuscripts this summer, not unlike “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”) Of course my husband just has to be working summer school this week. He’ll be home again by the time the fascination with the new toys wears off, after all the damage to my brain has been done.

There is also the fact that the boy keeps trying to sit/ride on his dump trucks, which are too small for this purpose. And that his basketball hoop keeps breaking off its hanger thingy. Given the force the child applies to his slam dunks, I doubt suction cups would have been a solution. And that his shape sorter is REALLY REALLY LOUD when he goes rolling it or even dropping it along the floor. Oh, my head.

But all that stuff is only bad for writing. For bonding it’s great. My boy loves playing basketball with me, for instance, which helps calm my fears of being an inadequate playmate. And the shape sorter actually occupies his attention along with being educational. He’s very creative with his MegaBlocks towers, and he even started to try building a trestle for his trains.

Periodically I complain about how much I want an office, but I kinda like having my workspace in the living room. I like being able to turn around and see him doing something really creative with his toys. And wasn’t the whole purpose of working at home to be there for him – so that he could run up to me to drag me away from work to play basketball?

There is peace to be found in responding to the interruptions. The noise (mostly) ceases to be annoying when I respond, largely because I’m involved with the activity creating it. So although I joke with others that it’s self-employment hell, maybe in reality it’s a call to create that “little piece of heaven” so often referred to in the media.

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I revise my earlier posting. The right coffee shop is the best place in the world for a writer.

I found the place I mentioned in the last entry, the one on the intersection I was trying not to get killed at. This time, instead of glancing at the stores on my right, I glanced at the ones on my left. There it was! Parking was plentiful and free, and I went in.

Not only was this place like my old haunts, it was better, because it was quiet. The few patrons, even the social ones, were quiet. The tea was yummy. They even had healthy chocolate chip cookies.

Just one concern, and that is that the place is new. The clerk told me it’s just eight months old, and business has been slow owing to construction on Main Street and the fact that it’s summer break for the University of New England. I’m thinking of offering services as a freelancer to produce some copy. The place is just half an hour away from my house. I need it to stay open!

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Years ago, before I became serious about writing for a living, I used to love bringing my notebooks and pens into coffee shops. I loved the ones with atmosphere especially, such as Breaking New Grounds in Portsmouth, NH and Java Joe’s in Portland, ME; they seemed writerly somehow. Maybe it was how their designers tried to make them Bohemian-looking, or that they lacked the corporate feel of a chain coffee shop.

What I really liked, of course, was not the act of writing in a coffee shop – quarters were too cramped and conversations and espresso machines were too loud – but the idea of being a writer writing in a coffee shop. I’d get easily distracted by others’ conversations, or in-house reading material, or passersby on the street. That’s why this novel has taken so many years to write.

Now that I am a mother without an office, however, I find I sometimes just need to get out of the house in order to focus. And because our area has no readily available happy writing place (namely, a spacious library with desks), I’ve found myself returning to my old love. Trouble is, all the old distractions are there. And then some.

I live too far away from my old favorites to go there regularly, so I’ve been working to find a new one. The place that advertises itself as a coffee shop in my town plays country music. (Don’t they know they’re only supposed to play jazz, classical, or indie music?) Starbucks, just half an hour away, has a kiddie corner. Thanks, I’m trying to escape toddlers, not attract them. One promising-sounding place was at an intersection so busy I couldn’t look for it and focus on not getting killed.

I have one remaining hope: a tea house, also half an hour away. I like tea better than coffee, and this one is off the beaten path. If it doesn’t work out, well, I have two choices: 1) suck it up and deal with the annoying distractions or 2) accept, once and for all, that coffee shops just don’t have what it takes to help a writer work.

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Day of the dead

Since I met my husband, I’ve discovered the value of horror movies. Not the stupid slasher kind – the suspenseful kind, the kind that, like good speculative fiction, make you question who you are as a person and what really matters to you and what you are willing to do to protect it. In particular, apocalyptic films are great for this. Within that subgenre, the sub-subgenre of zombie movies.

We recently saw George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, a movie that asked those questions in much the same way his previous Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead did. (Day of the Dead, like the Dawn remake, was an egregious misfire, despite my using it for an entry title.) Another movie that asked those questions was 28 Days Later, a British film that put zombies on speed and showed truly haunting images of a post-apocalyptic London at dawn.

It was a movie I thought about quite a bit (along with the excellent BBC film Dirty War) viewing images of London following its July 7 terrorist attacks.

Not just because of the empty streets and the screaming and the images of the dead, but because ever since September 11, my husband and I and our zombie movie-fan friends have all speculated on how the phenomenon of the zombie film pretty much describes our lives in the age of terrorism.

How so? No, terrorists’ flesh isn’t rotting, and they’re not out to consume us. Instead, their brains are rotting, and they’re out to consume our way of life.

I include wacko McVeigh types with the Islamists. Like zombies, terrorists don’t think. They are driven by an insatiable appetite. In 28 Days Later, they had a specific disease called Rage. It turned their eyes red, and in one scene, a Rage-filled zombie appears to cry, “I hate you!” Because the movie was filmed in 2002, it’s impossible not to think its makers wanted to explore our post-9/11, rage-filled world.

More to the point, is the question of what you do with zombies. Hard-core fans know that you hit the road, and before you take care of food, water, or shelter, you get weapons – preferably guns – and kill as many zombies as you can on sight. Before, of course, they can kill you.

This cornerstone of zombie myth, as applied to terrorists, flies in the face of my anti-death penalty beliefs, which are based on a belief that only God can call people to Home or to Hell, that humans don’t have the right to deny others the future chance to repent. It smacks of vigilantism, for one thing, especially because radicals don’t look or smell like zombies. They look and smell like us, and it’s impossible to tell them from our legitimate neighbors.

A now-retired police official who blogs under the name of Cerberus doesn’t make that judgment, not yet. He asks, “How do we feel about the treatment of prisoners held at Camp Gitmo now? Where do we draw the line between being an inclusive and welcoming society and a people that are willing to exclude immigrants in order to keep enemies outside the walls rather than next to our hearths?”

I’m still working on an answer to that, folks. My son is young; I don’t yet have to explain it to him. I hope by the time he’s old enough to ask questions, I’ll have an answer. Even if it’s not the answer.

Meantime, the best I can do right now is keep praying. For enlightenment. For the victims in London and Madrid and Ukraine and New York and everywhere else touched by terrorism. And most of all for the terrorists. Many faiths have prayers for the dead, asking God for mercy for their sins and for their peace in the afterlife. As close to being the living dead as these people are, I think they could use such prayers.

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Ed McBain (Evan Hunter) has died after a long battle with cancer.

I can’t remember when I read the first 87th precinct novel, but I remember how it blew me away. I was still planning a career in law enforcement, and I was a police cadet, and I knew just enough about “real cops” to know that McBain had it down pat. He was a key inspiration for my writing career – both fiction and nonfiction.

His is a profound loss to the genre.

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Today’s entry: fitness. And the ongoing struggle to maintain it.

Weight has been an issue for me since college. I’ve fluctuated between normal for my height, 5’4″, and overweight. My highest non-pregnant weight was 170. Pregnant, well, I was 200 lbs. when I delivered. Not all of it was water.

I had this idea when my son was born that my exercise routine wouldn’t change. We had a dog while I was pregnant, a high-energy husky-collie-German shepherd mix who needed two one-hour walks a day. (No, I do not know how I managed to gain nearly 60 lbs. with that level of exercise. I wasn’t exactly eating junk.) I would just keep on doing what I was doing, right? The weight would simply melt off within weeks.

Alas, the dog turned out to be psychotic toward babies. And the baby turned out to have a milk and soy protein sensitivity that made him throw up at unpredictable times. I literally couldn’t take him anywhere. There went the walks.

But there also went the baby weight: because I was nursing and we couldn’t afford hydrolysate formula, I couldn’t consume any milk (pizza) or soy (Chinese) products, nor any acidic foods (tomatoes, OJ) or other known stomach-worriers (peppermint, chocolate, onions).

My weight plummeted, but unfortunately so did my health. I was pallid, tired all the time, and got sick five times in four months. It took digestive tract weirdness for me to figure out I was seriously malnourished.

Tempting as it was to go with the skinniness, instead I called up my La Leche League leader and asked her advice. She made a number of nutrition recommendations, and it didn’t take long for me to bounce back.

Life was good until the following summer, when the baby weaned himself. Suddenly, all those forbidden foods reared their heads, at the same time that I was no longer burning 500 calories a day on nursing alone. Even though I continued pumping for quite a few months, it wasn’t the same. I needed to exercise.

I swam semi-regularly, when work allowed, but it wasn’t regular. In March I started walking again, but a month later the child decided he hated his back carrier and his stroller and would rather walk with me. There went the cardio aspect of my activity. I returned to swimming, but I suspect my recent bout with gastroenteritis was a result of an old and wonky filtration system in the community pool.

Recently? I’ve started resistance training. This is sort of like circuit weight training, except I use a band and an exercise ball. I set a goal to work out each night on doing either upper-body or lower-body exercises for at least half an hour. I figured doing this six or seven nights a week would be golden.

Except it’s turned out to be more like three or four nights a week. There are the nights I’m simply too worn out from chasing the boy around all day. And my very favorite of all, the nights he will not sleep. Just try and do resistance training with a two-year-old hanging onto your band, providing that extra level of resistance you can’t handle (in more ways than one). Or ball training with him deciding he would like to try and jump on that nice bouncy ball.

I did one of those online calculators and discovered my resting metabolic rate is about 1400 calories, so at least I can strive to break even most days. I can drink green tea and eat whole grains and take the boy outside and hope at least some of it counts. But exercise, at least for now? Probably a bonus.

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