life lately

Yesterday, while napping, I dreamt that someone infected me and several other people with an incredibly virulent plague that instantaneously afflicted us with enormous boils and would kill us in something like half a day. I recall thinking, even in the dream, that they chose a bad plague; it might have an immediate, visceral horror to it, but something that produces symptoms instantly and kills that quickly won’t get very far. Moral of the story: if you want to really screw people over, choose a plague with a long incubation period, so they can infect other people before they know they’re carriers.

I blame that dream on the crud I picked up at GenCon; for the last several days, it’s felt as if someone filled my head with glue. It isn’t all that awful (no boils, for one thing), but I’ve been shambling around, doing a few things, and then lying down for Yet Another Nap. I’m not sure what to blame for the dream I had last night, wherein my brother and one of his best friends were unpleasantly killed; maybe it’s all the anti-crud drugs I’ve been filling myself with. Either way, could I have some nice dreams, please?

The glue-filled head and exhaustion have followed closely on the heels of some of the most teeth-gnashingly frustrating days I’ve had in a while, which, starting with the accident last Wednesday, has made for a less-than-optimal week. Not without its bright spots, but not the best. I’m hoping to achieve something resembling actual productivity today.

And maybe another nap. That sounds nice.

raptor mode

If I’ve got one thing going for me in my writing life (or in the rest of my life, really, but the current context is writing), it’s not talent or great ideas or anything like that. It’s the way I react to things going wrong.

I’ve become aware enough of this that I even said it to the boy today. Having gotten some seriously discouraging news, I called him up to be mopey. I do this; I’m not going to pretend that I magically avoid the mopey stage. But when he asked whether I was okay, I said something along the lines of, “oh, I will be, once I get past this stage and move into predatory bird mode.”

My local friends have a tendency to tag people with animal descriptors, sometimes more than one. It’s generally agreed that I’m in the town’s feline populace, but I’ve also got an avian streak. Though I don’t think there’s any consensus on what kind of bird it is, it seems to be something predatory, because every so often I kick over into a mode that can best be described as circling high up in the clouds, marking out my prey, readying myself to drop from the sky like a taloned rock of death. I think the first time I really noticed myself doing it was a few years ago, when I came within spitting distance of selling Doppelganger to an editor, sent her something else next, then found out that she’d left the company for a different one, where I could no longer submit to her. That was massively depressing, and I shuffled around the house feeling more or less like I was never going to sell a novel — for maybe an hour or so. Then I sat down, wrote a synopsis for the novel I’d just finished revising, marshaled my list of editors, redesigned my game plan, and in short, stayed up until two a.m., fueled by adrenaline and raptor-like determination.

That’s what gets me through disappointment. Something gets in my way? Then I’m going to rip its scalp off with my talons, peck its eyes out, and feast on its entrails. Or something along those lines. No time for lazy cat-naps in the sun, at times like these. I’ve got me some prey to stoop on.

the day after

My thanks to everyone who offered sympathy, good wishes, and/or chocolate. Today I’m feeling not bad at all, courtesy of the friendly neighborhood masseur (look! I remembered not to call you a masseuse!) — where by “not bad at all,” I mean that I’ve woken up with a stiffer neck on days that have no excuse for it whatsoever, let alone a vehicular collision. Occasional bits of twinginess, but that’s it. I’ll stay alert for any longer-term problems like recurring headaches, but I think I’m doing good. <knocks on wood>

Spent an hour or so driving around getting estimates for the repair. Thrilling excitement, let me tell you.

In unrelated news, there’s nothing like floundering around trying to find a name for a character, and then having the Perfectest Name Ever drop into your lap. Which happened yesterday with my Exalted character, Vajra. She’s a hard-ass, hard-fisted zealot determined to restore the worship of the Unconquered Sun. The vajra, in Buddhism, is essentially the indestructible adamantine thunderbolt that brings enlightenment. Hello, perfect name.

Let’s see if I can manage productivity today.

new experiences

After ten years behind the wheel of a car, I’ve had my first accident.

I’m sitting at a stoplight, minding my own business — fortunately with nobody in front of me — and then there’s an ungodly bang and my head snaps forward. First thought: the hell? Glance in rearview mirror. See grille of enormous pickup truck, looking way closer than it ought to. Second thought: uhhhh, what do I do now?

See, I don’t even remember being in an accident, with someone else driving. I know my parents have had a few, but if any of them were with me in the car, I was too young to recall. So now I’m getting to discover the exciting world of insurance claims. I don’t feel particularly hurt (though I’m getting a neck massage in an hour or so, to be on the safe side, and I took some Advil). My bumper’s a little dented, maybe a little askew, but the bad news is the trunk: I got rammed by one of those oversized pickups, and some bit of its front end managed to slam into my trunk lid and dent it forward. I have a feeling that’s one of those things that doesn’t look so bad but will cost a bloody fortune to fix. <sigh>

Not what I wanted to have happen with my afternoon. I think I’m going to curl up on the couch with one of my new books as consolation.

the best stories have alligators

I’m fascinated. In researching for an annotated bibliography on games and play theory, I came across an article about the development of storytelling skills in very young children. The major focus of it is the effect that props have on the stories; children tend to tell better stories when they have figures in their hands than without, likely because they think more about characters than event sequences. But the really interesting part was where the researchers tested the effects of different kinds of figures.

Given a set of an adult male, an adult female, a boy, a girl, a baby, and a dog, most of the children (who were four years of age) told rambling non-stories where nothing actually happened. In those few instances where something happened, it was a lack/lack liquidated dyad, having to do with a breach of the natural order (e.g. an abandoned baby wandering around looking for parents to care for it). That was the first half of the experiment.

In the second half of the experiment, they replaced the dog with an alligator.

And you know what? The stories got better.

Seriously. The stories became structurally more complex, by a significant amount; stuff happened, instead of the four-year-old simply naming off who each figure was. Probably not coincidentally, villainy/villainy nullified also popped up far more frequently as a narrative dyad. Basically, it seems that children tell more interesting stories about things that aren’t normal (including things like the abandoned baby). In other words, to display my fantasy-writer chauvinism for a moment, normalcy is boring. Alligators are cool.

(The girls also performed statistically better than the boys, in terms of length, content, and complexity. Interesting.)

So the moral we should all take away from this is that when you buy small children toys, be sure to purchase them alligators and space-men and flying horses and dinosaurs along with the Barbies and the G.I. Joes. Their cognitive development will thank you.