Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The cookies are mocking me

Before I say anything, let me just say that I don’t really believe in prognostication from a cookie. Yes, they’re fun, but they are, well, just that: fun.
Now having said that, I never put much stock in the fortunes that come out of a cookie (or any other source, remember those bubble gum wrappers with a little fortune on them, those were awesome) until a friend of mine told me about his father. His father had gone to the doctor in the morning and received some bad news: he had cancer and he wouldn’t live for another six months. His coworkers took him out to lunch that day at a favorite Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal he got this fortune: You will live a long life. He did die of cancer—ten years later!
I’d never had a fortune cookie that was anything more than just fun until I was ready to quit being a grad student. I went through some hard times of basically pulling my hair out in frustration every day. Then I got a fortune that really summed it all up: Courage comes through suffering. Being a tried and tested coward I decided that fortune was complete and absolute bunk. I took another cookie. I mean really, if they don’t mean anything, then what’s wrong with a little do over? I guess it’s like when you weigh yourself, then, not liking the answer, you step back on the scale, giving it an opportunity to change its mind. Well, the cookies would not be dissuaded, the next fortune I got was also “Courage comes through suffering.”
I taped those to a computer to remind me that double dipping doesn’t change the scale’s opinion.
But lately, I think the fortune cookies might be mocking me. As everyone knows, I’m in the query process, and that means rejection letters. There’s no way around it, if you query, you get rejection, but as they say, it only takes one yes. I’m still hopeful. But after I got a rejection I got a fortune that nearly made me laugh lo mien noodles out my nose: Fame and Fortune Lie Ahead. (I’m even reproducing the capitalization. ) Wow, but then last night, (after collecting some more rejection) I got another great one: You will be confronted with unlimited opportunities. Maybe unlimited opportunities to eat too many cookies, cause I’m pretty sure I can count to some pretty high numbers. But what got me about that fortune was the wording. It didn’t say “You’ll find unlimited opportunities in life.” It didn’t say “Your opportunities will be limitless.” It said “You will be confronted with unlimited opportunities.”
Now maybe it’s just my overly sensitive I’ve-just-edited-for-word-choice eye, but the use of confronted has me a little leery. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if these cookies are setting me up to star in an after school special. I mean fame and fortune? How many times have celebrities said they loved the money, but the notoriety was a pain in the butt? And confronted? Like someone’s going to run up to me at the bus stop and say “Look, if you don’t choose the right path from this set of unlimited opportunities, the whole world will end in a flare of nuclear apocalypse.”
So, is it a promise, or a warning?
Oh, right, I don’t believe cookies can augur the future.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pole Position

When I was a kid, we had a roller rink in the nearby town (I grew up in a tiny little town, but that’s a post for another time). As a kid, I loved the roller rink, who wouldn’t? My absolute favorite part was playing Pole Position.
So there I was at the rink, with skates that probably weighed half as much as I did, and I would put my quarter in—remember when it only cost a quarter to play a video game?—and stuff my foot onto the pedal. Now, my ankle strength wasn’t much to crow over in those days, and I had a hard time lifting my feet in the skates, let alone controlling a pedal. When I played pole position, I had to get my skate up and over the pedal, and then it would fall down. I know that most people who played Pole Position also came from the pedal-to-the-metal school of gaming, but with me, I had no choice. I couldn’t lift—an actual racing term—if my poor little video game character’s life depended on it. And it did. A lot. The death of my little race car didn’t deter me from playing again, and again, and again. I just couldn’t stop. In fact, the only thing that ever stopped me was a lack of quarters or the hokey pokey (my other favorite part of the roller rink).
I guess that’s where I’m coming from on a lot of things. I have two modes: ten pound skate holding down the gas pedal, or no more quarters to play with. This past week, I’ve been wandering around without any quarters in my pocket, but I think I’ve found a change machine.
Now my only concern is which project do I feed the quarters to? I have this one project that I’ve got something like another 15-20,000 words to finish a first draft of a novel that I interrupted to do my big edit and polishing of my current query bait, but I’m worried I might be wasting time with that project. You see, it’s a sequel. Worse, it’s a sequel to a story that hasn’t sold or gathered much more than a nibble because, well, let’s face it: there are a lot of faerie starring stories clogging the shelves at book stores. And even worse, it’s not the first sequel, it’s the second. The first sequel was so easy to write that I just had to—a sure sign it has major issues and the dopamine levels were still high from the first draft of the first novel.
But I also feel like, if I abandon it for another better/newer/shinier/project I’ll just feel like I’ve abandoned one of my children. The whole reason I was willing to dive right into revision land was because the second sequel is hard. It’s hard to change people and tell a compelling story where the rules were set down two books ago, and I still have to play by them (really, play by them or die).
So, finish the good-for-me project, or run singing into the wildflower covered hills of a shiny/new/novel? Either way, I need to choose quickly 'cause I’ve got a pocket full of quarters.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What's in a name?

Okay, enough with the pep talks. It's clear that I'm the one shaking in my boots, and no amount of pretending will change that, so today, I thought I'd talk about some hockey.
I've discovered that I can't just compartmentalize myself. I can't only be one person for one set of people, which means I still talk science with all my writer people and writing with all my science people. And worse, today I'm going to write about hockey.
Long ago, in galaxy far far away (Southern California), I started playing hockey. When I first started, I was, shall we say, enthusiastic. Maybe my enthusiasm outpaced my skill set, and I fell down a lot (I know this sounds like the warm up to pep talk, but trust me, it isn't). My eager attempts to score a goal were often, well, comical. I actually have some video of my very first team, and there's a great scene where the whole forward line went for the puck and crashed together. They all fell down, and that clip of video (I should post it, it's hilarious) sums up the whole shenanigans of my first ice hockey team. I scored one goal that season, and it was because the goal tender was laughing too hard to actually net mind. Yeah, seriously, he was laughing so hard he didn't care if we scored, that should tell you about this "great" team I was on.
But I did get something great out of the season (other than a sense of humility): a nickname. In adult rec hockey (commonly known as a beer league, I'm sure you can figure out why), most people skate with a nickname on their jersey. I regularly skate with the likes of Captain Obvious, Mr. Pickles, Worm, and Sniper. As you can tell, name choosing is a big deal. Some of the people I skate with don't know my name. And no one uses my name on the ice. They all call me Crash, and it is (or at least was) well deserved.
You see, there's a term for a style of offense, where the forwards "crash" the net. If you think of this term as it was intended, like say, crashing a party, or going somewhere despite not being invited, then you'll understand the true meaning of the phrase. I, however, have always been just a tad literal minded, so when the referee called a stoppage to fish myself, two defensemen, a goaltender and a puck out of the net--which had come to a rest along the back wall--he said "You know, crash is only a euphemism."
My team captain heard it and of course laughed, and I've been Crash ever since.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So I'm a coward, now what?

I’m a coward, so you might suspect that standing in front of hundreds of mean scientists types isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Luckily I cracked that one a long time ago, and it was thanks largely to the teenage son of a colleague of mine. I’ve never even met him, but his father was recounting how his son liked to go audition. If you’ve never auditioned, boy you’re missing out on the biggest set of butterflies in the stomach possible. I don’t know what it is about the stage and trying to get yourself noticed…huh, it’s kind of like sending a query, now that I think about.  Regardless, if you thought public speaking is hard, try auditioning. It’s got it all, the fear, the anxiety, and the rejection (often to your face).
As such, I was a little shocked to hear that there was a person on this planet who *liked* this phase. But my colleague assured me that yes, in fact, his son loved it. “You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach? He loves it. He thinks it’s a great rush. He told me that it’s the most alive he’s ever felt, and he can’t get enough of it.”
Now every time I get that OMG I’m about to give a talk/send a query/check my email/apply for a grant feeling, I just remember to enjoy the butterflies while they last.
I wish I knew that kid’s name, credit where it's due.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fear and Tumbleweed in Albuquerque

Okay, I’m certain that of my readers, precious few of you are from Albuquerque, or there abouts (I live in Rio Rancho, the fastest growing city in the state of New Mexico… no, you do not need a Visa to fly here, I have been asked, more on that later). Well, it’s March, and the March madness around here has nothing to do with basketball. This is the time of year when the tumbleweeds decide that life has just crossed their pain threshold, and they all pull up at the roots and blow away. It doesn’t help that March and April are also some of the windiest months of the year. I swear, the freeways here are rail guns for tumbleweed. You ain’t seen nothin’ ‘till you’ve been passed on the freeway by a tumbleweed bush—while still doing 65 mph no less!
As you can imagine coming from Northern California, I wasn’t entirely prepared for tumbleweed when I first encountered it (did you know that tumbleweed actually comes from the Russian tundra? Crazy that, it came over on a boat with feed for livestock). In fact, the first time I meet tumbleweed in a vehicle, I was a passenger. My real estate agent, Anthony driving a PT Cruiser, was blowing down the freeway when a tumbleweed bush half the size of our car rolled into our lane. Despite us being the only traffic on the road, Anthony plowed that bit of botany with a twinkle in his eye. I noted the smug smile before he wiped it clean for the public service announcement. “When you get tumbleweed, you just hit it. Drive right into it. Do. Not. Swerve. You’ll kill someone around here doing that. Everyone drives like that, so don’t forget it.”
I was floored. It was the size of a shipping pallet, but it disintegrated under the wheels of the PT Cruiser (and I’m still not convinced that car has anything other than a sewing machine for an engine!). I watched the rest of the traffic over the next few days as I bought a house (holy cow, that's not a trying experience *sarcasm*), and sure enough, everyone just plows into the tumbleweed here. It was wild. The first time I saw someone swerve, the tumbleweed bush was the size of a small apartment (gods but I wish I had a picture of it, it was the size of a semi, and yeah, that poor little corolla didn’t have a chance).
And so I offer up this bit of—well, I can’t exactly call it advice, maybe a guideline?—but it’s simple: when faced with things that make you fearful, do not swerve! No one else around you is going to swerve when you do. You could kill someone with your untimely swerving. Fear is the tumbleweed. Strike it head on.
Yeah, that’s right, I opened my email this morning to scan for rejections like the bad ass who hits the tumbleweed bush head on: maybe I do have a propensity to thumb my nose at gods, but the important thing is, do not let fear of anything slow you from what you love and dream of (did I mention my committee? They actually said I would suffer for my inability to express my science. This is not a joke. They actually said this. And the scary thing is: I’m thankful for their frankness!????!!!!! What is wrong with me?).
So, hit that tumbleweed. Do. Not. Swerve. Fears are to be meet head on, without hesitation.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how a teenager gave me the courage to obliterate my tumbleweed. And even more importantly: I use this advice every time I give a talk (did I mention I talk to crowds of somewhere between 100 and 300 people well versed in the subject I speak almost 2 times a year? Yeah, that’s not intimidating…).