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Call me Iron Woman November 14, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery.

When I started doing Couch To 5K, I noticed I was in imminent danger of death. According to the all-knowing machines, which flashed a distressed purple for my heartrate and started dialing 9-1-1, I must be red-faced and dripping with sweat, gasping for breath, and fainting. After sixty seconds of jogging.

In fact, I felt fine. I could have sung while running, which I’m told means you’re exerting yourself only moderately more than changing TV channels with a remote. But to keep the machines happy, I went to the doctor, who screamed and sent me to a cardiologist, who ordered tests that proved nothing (well, it proved my insurance company still has money) and told me to work out for a few months and see if it got better. So I switched from jogging to biking, and after months of 25 miles a week…well, I was back in his office.

I got a heart-rate monitor in the mail. Instruction: CALL US. The nice lady on the phone talked me through putting batteries in the back, and then the moment of truth. “Push the button to turn it on.”

It played ♩cheerful  ♬music♪ ♩for several♬ seconds, and I said, “That sounds reassuring. Better than if it played Taps.”

The poor customer service representative busted up laughing, and then, because I never leave well enough alone, I ddi the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and I forget what other insanely inappropriate songs I suggested, and the poor CSR realized this call was going to be a lot longer than any other in her entire career.

I keep getting in trouble this way. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt obliged to donate to some cause or another because I made some smartacre remark during the telemarketer’s scripted intro.

Heifer International: “We’ve got an unprecedented chance to bring help into Viet Nam, so we’re trying to raise a hundred fifty thousand dollars.”

Me, sounding distraught: “Oh, I can’t give you that much!”

(The telemarketer couldn’t talk for two minutes after that. I felt obliged to give something, and then I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut and wished her good luck raising the other $149,950, and she said, “Thank you, Ma’am, and if I ever do get someone who offers that much, I’m going to hang up my headset because I’ll have heard it all.”)

Anyhow, the heart-rate-monitor woman was writing her resume in between giving me instructions on how to Cyborgize myself. She told me the sounds it would make, all of them cheerful, and how it could talk to their computers either by calling them or by singing like a modem through the phone, and how if it got worried, it would alert them and then beep desperately, and the screen would nag me to call them to tell them I was still alive.

I said, “Aww, it’s worried!”

She said, “Now you need to hook it up.”

I dutifully attached electrodes to my body, and then I said, “Where do I put it?”

In your pocket, on your belt… She said, “Some women tuck it into their bra.”

I said, “You’ll just have to trust me, that’s not going to work for me.”

And then… “It’s just too bad the monitor doesn’t have an LED screen. I’d have totally shoved it in there and looked like Iron Man.”

I think that’s when she emailed her resume to anyone who might have a job opening. Where she wouldn’t deal with the public. And my worried little monitor began watching my heart and fretting for my health.

So that’s the upshot: for a month, call me Ms. Cyborg.

I ought to give it a name, since it’ll travel with me everywhere. What do you think?

Leave it the heck alone. October 7, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery.

I’m one of those Psycho Moms who researches everything to death, and about seven years ago I ended up on a website talking about The Evils Of Piercing Your Ears With An Earring Gun. It scared me for two reasons. First, it made sense. And second, when they talked about all the horrible things that could happen if you got pierced with a gun, I recognized them because they’d all happened to me

So last week, when my daughter got her ears pierced, I drove an hour to take her to a tattoo parlor rumored to be the safest place to get your ears pierced in the entire universe. I didn’t care that it would cost more or that it was practically a pilgrimage. For her part, she didn’t care because 1) earrings and 2) day out with Mom.

And while there, I got my helix pierced too because I’ve wanted to do it for a long time. So there. If I’m making a pilgrimage to a tattoo parlor, I’m darn well going to come home with a new hole in my head.

For his part, the piercer was very impressed with my daughter.

Kiddo2: “So then they take these awesome sterile earrings, and they stick them in a non-sterilizable piercing gun, and guess what? Not sterile!”

Piercer: “Um…how old are you?”

Afterward, when I’d surprised myself by not turning into a sad, whimpering mess during the piercing (it turns out four unmedicated childbirths are actually good prep for one needle through the ear) the piercer gave us a sheet of aftercare instructions, and then read them to us while I sat there snickering.Finally he asked what was my problem, and I said, “Every single thing here is the direct opposite of what I was told to do the first time, when my ears became a total mess.”

The piercing aftercare instructions can be summarized as follows: Leave it the heck alone.

They take a lot of words to say it, but pretty much: don’t move or twist the jewelry. In fact, don’t touch it at all. Don’t put peroxide, bacitracin, hibiclens, witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, betadine…. Don’t touch it. Don’t. You thought about touching it — quit that.

And then, at the bottom, if you really, truly must do something, they suggest soaking it once a day in eight ounces of water with one eight of a teaspoon of sea salt.

Me: “I don’t think you could even taste that.”

Well, since the whole point of this was safety, despite this going against my instincts, we’re doing what he said. Or rather, not doing anything. And you know what? It’s working. Leave it alone. Leave it the heck alone.

Reader Appreciation Award September 19, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery, The Wrong Enemy, writing.

I got nominated for a “Reader Appreciation Award” by Bethany Myers. This is a meme with the following requirements:

- Identify and show appreciation to the blogger who nominated you
– You must add the reward logo to your blog.
– Tell your readers 7 things about yourself.
– You must nominate 5-10 of your favorite bloggers for this award.
– Inform your nominees that you nominated them.

Step one: Hi, Bethany! Bethany is my agency-sibling and also a fellow forum-member over at QueryTracker.net. Everyone stop over and say hi!

Step two, post the graphic: Nope, sorry, not after the whole hubbub about people using non-copyrighted images and getting their butts sued for copyright damages. I have no clue if that image is in the public domain, but wouldn’t it be nasty for someone to start a meme requiring you to use an image, and then sue everyone using the image? They’d be all set for life. No thanks. Anyone who wants to can go view the image for themselves here.

Step three, seven things about myself:

1) I blogged today at QueryTracker about totally rewriting The Guardian to the point where it’s now a different book (different title, different author name, different text, different publisher…)  There’s still time to preorder The Wrong Enemy, by the way. Every time someone does, Heifer International gets another dollar, so…please?

2) I also blogged yesterday over at Living The Sacrament about Mary, Elizabeth, the Visitation, and God saying “No thanks” when we offer to sacrifice something God doesn’t want us sacrificing in the first place.

3) I am very worried about this sick tree here in Angelborough. The leaves don’t look right, and they’re falling off.

Poor tree. This is what the leaves look like:

4) My violin-playing causes small animals to fall out of the trees.

5) I have neighbors who are glad it’s cold so I have to close the windows.

7) I can’t count

Step four: nominate five other bloggers for this meme. Okey-dokey.

1) My Patient Husband. I’m married to him. He keeps a blog for the sole purpose of recording his games. Won’t he be surprised when you all spike his stats?

2) Normandie Fischer, critique partner extrarodinaire, blogger, writer, editor. She’s also got a novel coming out next year, so watch her.

3) Amy Deardon, author of The Story Template, has both a personal blog and a writing blog. I reviewed her book back in May on this blog, and she also guest-blogged over at QueryTracker.

4) Ana (I’m not sure if you want your full name out there) has been a friend for over two decades and blogs about personal wholeness and healing over at Englightened Flower Wisdom.

5) Daniele Rossi is all over the web it seems. Graphic designer, podcaster, social media guru, you-name-it. He has the Stuttering Is Cool podcast and is just an all-around nice guy.

Like a opening of a horror novel! August 21, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery, writing.
Tags: , ,

This happened about three minutes ago. I was on the couch when I heard the garage door opening beneath me.

One Kiddo is out at her friend’s house; she’s not due back yet, so I figured it can’t be her. I also thought I heard a car motor, so my Patient Husband perhaps? But again, it’s the middle of the day. Bomb threat at his building? Was he ill?

But when no one came up the stairs, I went down to see who had come in. Instead I found the garage empty, the garage door down but the light on. That light meant the door had just been active; it had gone down instead of up.

My minivan sat in its spot, and one of the doors was open.

A really noisy fly circled me endlessly.

I thought, “This would be the great opening for a horror novel!” The stillness. The mysterious door-opening. The buzzing fly in orbit around my head. The sliding door of the minivan, inexplicably open. And above all, that eerie stilless of a garage with nobody in it. Well, nobody except me.

It’s a good thing I don’t spook easily. I shut the minivan door (Kiddo3 had gone down earlier to find something in the car, and it’s a revelation to him that doors shut) and then returned upstairs to find my knitting bag where Kiddo4 and Kiddo3 were playing. I checked in the bag, and sure enough, there’s the remote, right next to a ball of yarn. So it’s easy to reconstruct: one of the kids leaned on the bag, put down the door Kiddo2 left up when she went to her friend’s house, and so on.

But really, it’s not about facts; it’s about mood. It’s about the assumptions you carry with you when you head into the basement and find nothing as you expected, or rather, no people where you expected people to be.

Keep that in mind when you start your horror novel. And let me know if you call it The Half-Open Door.

The Jump-Jump-Cable August 5, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery.
1 comment so far

Due to my incredible planning skills, on Friday night I ended up buying cat litter at Costlies Grocery Store (“Your Source For A $4.50 Gallon Of Milk!”)

As I pulled into the lot, I had a thought: I should go around the long way and park close to the front rather than park in the first available spot and walk across the lot the way I always do. And then instead of doing a 25-point-K-turn in order to wedge into the Very Closest Optimal Space, I went up the row a bit. Again, not my usual methodology.

I ended up in front of a couple with the hood raised, the guy on the cell phone and the woman looking concerned. Clearly needing help, but they appeared to be on the phone with it. I filled out the loan paperwork to get my cat litter, and when I returned, they were still there.  I put the cat litter in the trunk, and my eyes fell on the jumper cables.

It takes a while to get through my thick skull, but now I got it. I walked up to them. “Is everything okay? Do you need a jump?”

The guy said, “We’ve been waiting for Triple-A for an hour now.”

I said, “Do you know how to jump a car?”

He said, “I don’t have cables.”

I said, “I do.”

When I got the cables, I noticed a second set beneath them. I handed one set over, laughing: “Do you think we could clip the second set to the first and make an ultra-long extension cable?”

Yeah, don’t joke like that too loudly. The cables didn’t reach. The couple repositioned the cars and still couldn’t make them reach.

(Very funny moment: the woman is holding the live ends of the cables apart from each other with the opposite ends clamped to her battery. The husband has pulled his Jeep so the two doors are beside each other. I said, “Oh, I’ll just fix your mirros so they don’t bang,” and slipped between the cars to retract her mirror against the side of her car. Behind me she murmured, “I didn’t know they could do that.”)

Without fear, the guy clamped the second set to the good car, then clamped the two sets of cables to each other while his wife stood, looking as terrified as I felt. He started the car while we awaited the earth-shattering kaboom.

It worked. No biggie. All the cables came unclamped again, and I got ready to leave.

The woman said, “It’s a good thing this didn’t happen with a trunk full of groceries.”

I added, “And the subtext here is that if there are two cables in this car, probably there aren’t cables in the other.”

See, all’s well. They started their car. I replaced the duplicate cables in the other vehicle. And I now know you can, in fact, make an extension jumper cable.

A small localized earthquake June 19, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery, kiddos.
Tags: ,

We watched a movie for Father’s Day, and during a scene that was mostly sky, I noticed a mark on the screen. I went up close to get it off only to realize it was part of the glass: a crack.

After the movie ended, I took about five minutes examining the rest of the screen to determine that yes, that was a crack, and yes, there were two more. All in one arc from lower left corner up toward the right, none bad enough to have shattered the screen.

I would have loved to do a Prisoner’s Dilemma on the kids, but Kiddo4 is too young to weigh the various options. And besides, you can usually get him to rat out his siblings without too much trouble. You can usually get him to rat out himself without too much trouble, to be clear. In fact, sometimes he rats out me (not that I’m bitter) but the point is, we’d probably get answers.

Me: Which one of you whacked something into the TV screen? Maybe while you were playing sword-fighting and watching your reflection?

All of them: Oh, no! Nothing has hit the TV screen! Ever!

The only logical explanation, you see, is that our TV was a victim of a small, localized earthquake that took place directly underneath, yet shook none of the items on the surrounding shelves.

And then the ratting-out:

Kiddo4: Oh, I know where the crack is.

(He went right to one I hadn’t found even after five minutes of scrutinizing the set from all angles, just so you know.)

There’s nothing for it: we’re replacing the TV before those cracks start migrating. But this leads to an interesting find. Neither my Patient Husband nor I has ever purchased a TV. I got my first 13-incher as a HS graduation gift from my father. We got a 17-incher from my grandmother when she upgraded to a 27-inch TV, and after she passed away, we inherited that one. And so after 17 years of marriage, my Patient Husband and I have been flung headlong into new territory.

He texted his brother, who knows everything about TVs, movies, DVD players, BluRay, etc, and said, “Any suggestions?” He gets back a text, “Something HUGE!” Not helpful.

An unofficial poll on my parenting group has shown two things: first, that you can immediately start a lively discussion by asking Americans what brand of TV they prefer, and second, that many people believe all the brands are pretty much the same.

I passed through the TV aisle at BJs, and in the size we want, there are seven choices, all different brands, and all within fifty dollars of each other. The advice I’ve gotten so far is to choose the picture I like best, make sure it doesn’t make a humming sound, and buy Samsung. Possibly all three. Anything else?

Book Review: The Story Template by Amy Deardon June 12, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery, writing.

Back when I was in high school, I wore a button that said “My life has a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.” I should have had Amy Deardon’s book back then.

Amy Deardon’s The Story Template  has a basic premise: all successful stories are composed of thesame building blocks, and if you are going to write a successful story, you need to deal with those elements. We’ve seen this before in works like Blake Snyder’s fantastic Save The Cat!, but Deardon breaks it down much further, and not only addresses issues of plot but also character arc, theme, and message. She includes new ideas I’d “gotten” but never really formulated for myself, such as “story bubbles” and “plot pillars.”

As for how she did it:

I chose twenty entertaining, modern novels in different genres, and fifteen more-or-less recent films (and I’ve since confirmed my preliminary observations with tens of more stories). One at a time, I took them apart: I made a list of each scene, then did a word count or timed the scene, calculated percentages and other statistics, and graphed each story onto a five page chart. I studied each story’s progression, then compared the progressions of different stories to determine common pathways. [...]

First, I identified elements called story posts, and found that these posts fell reliably within the timing of the whole. Then I found consistent trends of progression in the plot, as well as consistent trends of development and interactions in the characters. My biggest surprise, in fact, was finding just how unvarying were the underlying levels of the story.

The book is structured around exercises designed to guide you, step by step, through the process of plotting and framing your entire novel. The earliest exercises help you nail down what you love about the books you read, and then you begin framing out your own work. These exercises are thorough and will address every aspect of your book, from character development to setting to theme. The final exercises help you develop your logline, synopsis and pitch.

The detail is a bit unnerving at first. I’m primarily a seat-of-the-pants writer (meaning I do all my plotting in my head, and while I know the outcome I want, I let the characters figure out how to get there) so I found it intimidating, but I found that many of the exercises Deardon codifies in this book are things I would have worked out in my head, or by feel.

Whether you’re a plotter or a SOTP-er, whether you write character-driven fiction or plot-driven fiction, this book can only help. Even if you don’t do the exercises (I did not) it gives a window into how a well-formed story is crafted and all the major points it needs to touch upon to feel satisfying to the reader. For example, we all know a story should have a “midpoint” after which the characters change direction and the intensity ratchets up in anticipation of the final confrontation.

But Deardon points out two different kinds of midpoints (the false high and the false low) and the kinds of stories they tend to work with (e.g., if you protagonist didn’t know there was a main villain before the midpoint, it typically goes with a specific kind of midpoint.) These are connections I wouldn’t have made on my own, but Deardon with her engineering background was able to identify.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who writes fiction. You can buy The Story Template from Amazon in paperback or for Kindle, but the print edition of the book is far cheaper if you buy it from here.  She maintains a blog at http://thestorytemplate.blogspot.com/ where she discusses different aspects of story-craft and publishing.

Note: I was provided a free e-copy of this book for review purposes, but nothing else. There was no demand that I must give a positive review.

Reading minds through music June 4, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery, music.
1 comment so far

A friend asked me to pray for Saint Anthony to help find a missing iPod. “We were supposed to have a dance party at my brownie troop meeting,” she said, “a nice easy meeting, but we’re screwed if I can’t find the iPod.”

I said, “Saint Anthony never answers me,” so I dug out my iPod and handed it to her, showed her how to make an On The Go playlist, and reassured her I’d get it the next week.

On the drive home, I got a little nervous. Not because I don’t trust her with my iPod, but because…I do. I mean, she’ll be able to see all my lousy music arrayed right in front of her, and if she wanted, she could look at how many stars I’d given different songs. But more than that, it occurred to me how many of my playlists are organized by theme, and if you scroll through the playlists, you’re going to be able to figure out how I feel about certain things, certain people.

I’ve got playlists with songs about or for my Patient Husband, for Emily, for my Battle of the Planets/Gatchaman fanfics, for several of my novels. She knows I talk to angels, of course, but right there is my Guardian Mix, and there are my feelings laid out in song.

I trust her (she’s godmother to one of my kids, I’m godmother to one of hers, and I’ve known her for seventeen years) but it’s a vulnerable feeling.

During the week my iPod was gone, I started taking my Patient Husband’s iPod to the gym. He has no such fears about me reading his mind: he organizes his playlists by content, not by theme. He’s got a thousand playlists organized according to artist, to the date added, and so on. The playlist that says “Jane” is actually music that belongs to me or was organized by me, not music about me. The only themed playlist I found was a playlist I’d made for labor with Kiddo3, back before I had an iPod of my own.

And that too tells you something about how my Patient Husband thinks. He’s an engineer. Of course he organizes his music that way.

My iPod has since returned, and on it now is New Playlist, which I believe is the dance party music. It’s neat seeing what she chose for the girls to dance to, some surprising and some “oh, of course,” and all of it a window into what my friend thinks is fun.

A casualty of ebooks? May 19, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery, writing.

This morning we spent about 45 minutes at the Friends Of The Library book sale. We have more than enough books already, but it’s our civic responsibility to go to this thing and buy more. Twice a year. All about supporting the community, that’s the Philangelus family.

Kiddo2: Mom, are we Friends of the Library?

Me: You have to pay to join Friends of the Library, but someone isn’t really your friend if they demand you pay them to be your friend.

Kiddo2: Really?

Me: And we’re just users anyhow. I mean, if the library had no books, would we still be friends with it?

So there we are, scoring a hardback copy of Harry Potter 7 (without a cover, but you don’t read the cover) and a haul of books for Kiddo3 who’s just realized books can tell him awful, tragic, heinous stuff about people dying (“MOM! Pompeii!!! And the Titanic! Are there any books about World War II?!?”) when I realized what was missing.

Category romances.

Usually at these things, you’ll find cartons upon cartons of Harlequin, Silhouette and other category romances, the kind that are about half an inch thick and you could read in an hour. Oftentimes those have their own section because people will buy them in batches, read them in batches, and donate them in batches. In the past I found them by subscription, even: you could sign up and get two or four a month. No one needs to keep that many category romances, so off they’d go to the donation bin.

Except not this time.

Now why would that be? I’m pretty sure the romance market is doing well, but it occurs to me that the rise of ebooks may be gutting the resellable paperback market. Every time you find a news article about readers, reporters see fit to mention that women like them because “other people can’t see the covers” if they’re reading romance (of any heat level) but I wonder if there isn’t also a censurability factor. It’s not a secret that if you buy a hundred books a year, you’re more likely to see the value of an ereader than if you buy six. And I know I’ve seen articles to the effect that romance titles sell especially well as ebooks.

So I wonder if that’s where all the category romances went: to digital. And if so, what’s going to happen over the long term to my Friends at the Library.

The Pilates Zone May 8, 2012

Posted by philangelus in geekery, religion.

I’ve discovered the Pilates Zone.

I don’t know if I can swing that once school lets out, but for now, I do pilates twice a week and cardio any other time. I’ve graduated from “my pilates instructor is trying to kill me” to finding myself in pilates moves at home, like when Kiddo4 tries to crawl under my legs while I’ve got the laptop, and I raise my legs so I’m perfectly balanced.

I’ve also gotten used to the props, most often “The Ring” which you use to keep your legs or arms properly spaced and which invariably makes the exercises more difficult.

While doing the class, I go into what I call the Pilates Zone. I’m listening to the instructor and obeying her, but I’m not there. Not really. The closest I can think of is “Labor Land,” where you’re working hard and you just…go away. Like when my Patient Husband said to me, “By the time the midwife arrived at the house, you weren’t really there anymore.”

A semi-hypnotic Zone is a good place to hear your subconscious telling you stories, but generally it’s when I’ve Zoned while washing dishes or scrubbing a toilet. Physical exertion requires too much concentration for stories, even when I’ve Zoned. But last week, this sort of unfolded in my head, like a story, except not.

If you’ve read Hannah Hurnard’s Hind’s Feet In High Places, you probably remember it was an allegory about a woman named Much Afraid who is sent by God on a journey. She doesn’t think she can do it, so God offers her two companions. She accepts, only to discover to her horror that the companions are Sorrow and Suffering.

By the end of the story, she’s leaning on Sorrow and Suffering to guide her to the mountains, and she’s thankful to have them and all they offer. That sounds trite in summary. Trust me that the book is written better than this blog post.

At any rate, while I was in The Pilates Zone, I made the connection between getting out of shape and getting into shape, versus getting out of spiritual shape and having one’s soul purified to stand before God. Pilates –> Purgatory.

Like a story, it semi-unfolded in my head about how in Purgatory you’re doing things to get “stronger”/”purer” and at first you shrink back from “The Ring” and anything else that makes it harder, but by the end, you’re relying on it and you’re grateful for it.

And that finally, an important part of leaving Purgatory is giving back “The Ring” even though you’ve become attached to it.

Then pilates class ended, and I was sitting on my mat, holding The Ring and getting back my bearings, but still wondering about the nature of Purgatory and the nature of letting go.


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