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 I'm sure there are many more practical things that need to go on my to-do list, but the one I'm contemplating at the moment is getting enough Lesbian Historic Motif Project blogs and podcasts in the can to last to the end of August. (I suppose I could consider LaForge diary posts too, but I give myself a bit more slack on those.) The main consideration is that I want things set up for push-button ease of posting. I'm seriously considering not taking my laptop with me to Europe, given all the current US weirdness around international travel. So if I'm working off a phone and an iPad, I'm not going to be writing long articles or recording anything while traveling.
hrj: (doll)

I had a topic I was thinking of doing today, but insufficient brain to manage it. I have one more chapter to revise of Mother of Souls--and then at least a couple more passes to make sure I haven't screwed up anything else in the process--and it's eaten up everything I have left over from work. Work, now there's something I could talk about. Not a lot, of course, because the details are often sensitive. But just in general terms of "what is Heather doing these days in her day job?"

As you know (Bob), I work for a major international pharmaceutical company. My department does the purification of biologic molecules used to treat a certain hereditary disease. Periodically we improve either the manufacturing process or the molecule itself so that it works better, is safer, is more effective, or some other improvement. For non-biologic chemicals, there are a lot of changes where approval just requires demonstrating equivalence. For the sort of thing we make, pretty much any change worth making gets treated as an entirely new drug. So you start out with a relatively limited developmental manufacturing process for your clinical studies that demonstrate safety and effectiveness. My department isn't involved with that. And then you design your commercial-scale manufacturing process, construct any new equipment or facilities required, validate your equipment and processes, train everyone on how to use them, and then you produce a certain amount of drug to demonstrate that you are making material equivalent to what was used for the clinical studies and that you can manufacture it consistently and reliably, meeting established standards for all your quality specifications. Oh, and we do this using a living organsim as part of our "factory" with all the complexity inherent in that.

That process is what we're just finishing up with at the moment. It's pretty intensive because all the data from this initial full-scale production will be worked over with a fine toothed comb by the regulatory agencies who decide whether they're going to approve your license to manufacture and sell the stuff. It's also intensive because there are a lot of timelines that are ticking forward to the point when you've gathered all the data from this phase and submitted it and gone through the audits and inspections until the day comes when the new drug is approved. Nobody goes into this sort of process unless they're absolutely certain it will be approved, but that doesn't mean stuff can't happen.

We went through this process recently with one new version of the drug. There's a poster in one of our buildings with a picture of the first does being hand-delivered to its user. It's a big deal. The process is long enough that you've usually working on the next improvement before the last one is in patients' hands.

Big Pharma comes in for a lot of criticism, and I'm not going to defend everything that goes on. Not by a long shot. But I get to see the inside of the process that takes an idea from "this might work to help someone" to "here's your next dose of the stuff that keeps you alive."  Some of the stuff we do is f'ing miraculous. And I get to be a part of that.

And that's what I do when I'm not writing books.

My primary blog has moved, but feel free to comment in either place.

hrj: (doll)

My primary blog has moved, but feel free to comment in either place.

I asked Twitter for a topic to write about--something frivolous, since I've been focusing so much on promotion lately--and Chasia Lloyd (@WriterCMLloyd) came through with, "What fashion trend do you wish would come back in style?"


I have an uneasy relationship with fashion and style. I spend a lot of time resisting the notion that I should put a lot of effort into "performing" through my appearance, rather than focusing on performing through accomplishments. I also sometimes let myself be manipulated by the desire to avoid attracting certain types of attention through dress. I blogged about that last year.


But today I'm going to answer in a totally frivolous context, rather than a sociological one.


The fashion that I love, and that I'd love to have the guts and the excuse to wear on a regular basis, is 1720s-1730s western European upper class men's wear. The embroidered waistcoats! The bright, full-skirted coats with the enormous cuffs and pocket flaps, all picked out with gold or silver braid! The buttons! And, of course, swaggering around with a gilded walking stick. *swoon* This sort of thing.


I've actually made a couple of dressy business suits that were inspired by that era, though I rarely have an appropriate context for wearing them. They're both a bit too dressy for the occasions at work when I might wear a suit, and yet at the same time, too subdued to fulfill my fashion fantasies. But there you go: the style I wish would come back so I'd have an excuse to wear it.

hrj: (doll)

(A reminder that I'm running an e-book give-away this week on the Alpennia.com version of my blog for Through the Hourglass, a (now) Goldie-winning anthology of lesbian historical romance, that includes my story "Where My Heart Goes". Comment over there to be entered.)

* * *

I don't really think on Concord as "my" little town, in the hometown sense. I don't have a hometown--haven't really had anything like that since I left San Diego to go to college, back 40 years ago. When I picked Concord to house-hunt in, it wasn't for any specific association with the location (other than the fact that I had a clump of friends living here already).


But, having chosen this particular town, there are some "small town" experiences that I've really come to enjoy. Things like the fact that the place has an actual "town center" with a park and cafes, and with the movie theater just one block over. They hold a lot of little festivals, craft fairs, etc. in that center. And all through the summer, on Thursdays from afternoon through evening, there's a farmer's market and concerts in the park.


I don't usually hang around for the concerts--just swing by on my bike from the BART station to pick up some produce. But tonight the show was an Eagles tribute band and I decided to grab some butter chicken & naan from one of the food stalls, augmented by a basket of fresh strawberries, and found a spot on the grass to hang out and listen for a while. It's within the realm of possibility that I might bump into someone I know there. Not that I've gotten to know that many new people here (although the Starbucks baristas know my name and favorite drink) but with a central attraction like that, someone might turn up.


I like living in a town where I can hop on my bike and be at the movie theater, or the coffee shop, or the Half-Price Books (or--let us be honest--the Frys' Electronics) in ten minutes. I like living in a town where I could follow local politics, if I had a mind to. But I also like living in a town where I can hop on my bike and take the train to Berkeley or San Francisco on a whim. Not entirely a bedroom community, but with no sense of stifling isolation. I don't know if Concord is the sort of place one might be nostalgic for if one grew up here and then left. I understand that a big chunk of that "friendly city center" feel has been a relatively recent planned project, reclaiming what had become a somewhat blighted area a couple decades ago. The only places I've felt nostalgia for are places that never existed--or at least, ones that never existed for me.


But I like it here.

hrj: (doll)
Just a very brief note today, because I've been out seeing Art in the Chicago Art Institute, and taking an architecture cruise around the waterways of Chicago (somehow I never thought of Chicago as being a "river city"), and I'm about to go out to see a show (which will probably supply the fodder for tomorrow's review post).

I was born in 1958. And that means that today I am 58 years old. And that means that I have lived through the same number of years as had passed between 1900 and the time of my birth. For purely arbitrary reasons, I tend to consider 1900 as the cut-off between "modern times" and "historic times". 1900 was roughly around when my grandparents were born. I suppose, by that metric, the date of my birth might be "historic times" for people being born today. (I know a lot of people who have a much more recent cut-off for "historic times", though.)

I certainly feel like I've lived through changes that are equivalent to those that happened in the first half of the 20th century. The experiences and expectations and normalities of the era I was born into must seem utterly fictional to kids today.

Heh. "Kids today." I have a lawn, but it's ok if you play on it. That's what lawns are for.

I'd like to give a public thank you to the folks who took up my birthday request to go forth and say nice things about my books in public. It was just exactly what I wanted.
hrj: (doll)
There's something oddly pleasant about working in the yard when it's just barely drizzling down (as long as it's not too cold). I wasn't sure I was going to have time to get the green can filled this week. I've had this intense, time-critical project at work that got dumped on me just before FogCon and has resulted in working until 7 or 8 every evening for the past week. This includes Friday, when I technically had the day off as a volunteer day, and drove down to San Jose for a student literary conference, then finished off the day at work, late into the evening. Saturday, although I didn't put in any job time, involved a family party also in San Jose. So the day was fairly solidly filled up.

Today I put in about 6 hours at work then determined I'd run out of useful tasks I could do with the amount of brain available. So I e-mailed off the current-draft-of-project to various parties and came home to vegetate. Vegetating involved vegetation, and I removed one green can's worth of weeds from the parking strip. (Largely focusing on the green burr clover and other spreading weeds that will be spewing seeds as soon as it stops raining.) Oddly, physical labor makes up for mental exhaustion for me. Or at least it doesn't make the mental exhaustion worse.

The roses have performed their turn-around from the winter pruning and the boldest couple of them are putting out blooms. I cut a Double Delight and a couple Souvenier de la Malmaison as a birthday present for my aunt yesterday and took a Double Delight in to work this morning for a Desk Rose. So I should be able to manage weekly desk roses from now until maybe next January, with a little attention to dead-heading.

When I'm putting in long hours at work, it can be tricky to figure out self-care that isn't self-sabotaging. Sometimes it's very important to me to get my gym workouts in; sometimes it's more important to let go of that. Sometimes a few carefully chosen culinary self-indulgences are important. I'm currently enjoying a nice little rib-eye steak with sautéed mushrooms and asparagus tips and fresh sliced tomatoes. Sometimes self-care means plunging into something unhealthy (like Friday when dinner consisted of a glass of cognac and some raw chocolate chip cookie dough).

And there's always writing/editing time to wedge in. One more chapter gets me caught up on the current red-lines (bringing me up to about the half-way mark), then I might be able to get a couple more chapters marked up. I think Tuesday's Alpennia blog will be about how each editing round has a different focus and why that's ok.
hrj: (doll)
[I feel the need to include a preliminary assurance that, although I use certain medical diagnoses as a rhetorical example here, this is not inspired by anything to do with my own body. I'm not that indirect. Really.]

There are things that will eventually take care of themselves just by being left alone. Broken toes and sore backs, the importance of old computer files, what you need to do to fix the final chapter of the novel.

There are things that will only get more critical the longer you ignore them. Dry rot, the cat's litter box, overdue bills, that funny-looking mole, the overlooked container of leftovers in the back of the fridge.

And there are, of course, many things that fall somewhere in between. How do you know when that strange thing your cell phone does means that you're about to get stranded in the middle of nowhere without the ability to call someone for help? Or when it's a temporary glitch that you could spend three days researching and addressing only to have it fix itself?

I started thinking about this issue when my iPhone suddenly stopped having a problem of battery drain. (Yes, suddenly stopped.) Back in January I think it was, starting very abruptly, my phone battery was draining at an annoying rate. The phone would heat up, and I'd need to recharge it one or two times in the middle of the day (rather than it easily running until bedtime), even when I'd closed all the apps and shut down almost all data pulls. The iPad was doing something similar, though not as drastic, so it seemed to be some sort of general issue.

I went online, and sure enough I found recent discussions of people with similar problems, attributing it to some sort of iOS update that didn't play well with certain apps. (Though I hadn't updated either the iOS or any apps recently.) And the consensus was you had to do an encrypted backup, wipe your phone, and reinstall everything, and then magically it would all work like new.

Well. That would take quite a bit of time and work. And it would probably affect how my phone played with the laptop, since I already knew I needed to update all my operating systems, and I was putting that off for when I decided to get a new laptop. So in the mean time, I just got in the habit of plugging the phone into the charger any time I was sitting at my desk, and making sure I had a backup battery pack on me at all times.

And then...one day...without warning...without having done anything...the abnormal battery drain stopped. (This probably means it was something either on the AT&T side or the Apple side that they'd refused to acknowledge to any of the people whose solutions I turned up.) And now I can continue to slide along, waiting for a much more convenient time to upgrade my hardware and software. And all I had to do was have mitigations in place for the short term and wait it out. Of course, I had no idea that would work. The risk was acceptable because I could implement short-term mitigations, and because the worst case scenario was spending an entire weekend wrestling with iPhone backups and restores. Annoying, but not fatal.

To let be.

But what really led me to pick this topic today (because I could let the iPhone story slide just as I'd let the problem itself slide with no real consequence) was a friend reporting on a biopsy result. The sort of biopsy result that you can't let slide. The sort where you're lucky they knew to look for it in the first place, and that they went back for a second when the first one was unexpectedly normal.

To do.

Know the difference between to do and to let be. Know your risks and mitigations. Don't drag yourself down trying to address things that will solve themselves in time. But never look away because you don't feel up to Doing. Sometimes, the most important thing in the world is To Do.
hrj: (doll)
I must start here with the dreadful confession that part of my regular routine is to Google my full name (which is, if not unique, at least distinctive) for new recent hits. Mostly I'm looking for reviews and other book publicity items. I don't have an agent to monitor my literary career, so I have to strap down the ego and monitor it myself. There are authors who will tell you that what I do is bad Bad BAD, but we each have to find our own path.

But this post isn't about my books. It's about other stuff that gets caught up in the net when I run those searches. So what are the topics in which my name gets bandied about on a regular basis? My article on constructional sewing techniques as extracted from surviving textiles. My article on the Mammen embroideries. Those make a fair amount of sense. They're practical how-to articles with illustrative diagrams, on topics of interest to a lot of historical hobbyists.

The third most common non-literary Google "hit" is a bit more peculiar, and it's the one that inspired today's post. It's a Pinterest pin of one of the 14th c. manuscript images of bathhouse attendants from the Wenceslas Bible. And underneath the image is a text that reads, in part, "I think...Heather Rose Jones is entirely incorrect in assuming these were not corset-like undergarments." (The text then goes into further discussion of details of this specific image.) So...there's that.

This isn't a post about the construction and purpose of the garments depicted on 14th century Bohemian bathhouse attendants. There are a lot of theories. There may well be a variety of garment styles involved. That's not what I'm interested in here. What I find curious is that this pin (which has been re-pinned several hundred times, if Google is accurate) carefully identifies me by name (both real name and SCA name) in order to refute an opinion attributed to me. An opinion that--based on the topic--I almost certainly expressed well over 20 years ago.

To be honest, I find it unlikely that I "assumed" anything, though I very probably did present an opinion on the construction of this class of garment. But neither that opinion nor any evidence or argumentation I may have presented is at hand. Only a triumphant refutation of it. My name is invoked, not so that people are invited to engage with my analysis (which is neither presented nor pointed to), but evidently because there is some value attributed to the act of refuting me. Me, specifically. By name.

Now there is intellectual immortality. For as long as Pinterest endures, I will live on as The Person Who Was Wrong About the Bathhouse Dress. (Whether I was wrong or not.) It's quite possible that there are people for whom that is the sum total of their knowledge about me: that I was Wrong About the Bathhouse Dress. And given the nature of Pinterest, it may no longer be possible to retrieve the identity of the person who first proclaimed my wrongness. (I haven't tried. What would be the point?) You, too, may live on in some corner of the internet as the dragon that someone else is proud of having slain.
hrj: (doll)
So...my brain is kind of dead (not enough sleep the last two nights), and while I had a couple of blog prompts scribbled down, they started going to Bad Places and I decided they weren't a good idea. So I asked on twitter for five words to turn into a philosophical essay and [livejournal.com profile] ritaxis came through. I think this is going to be more free association than philosophy, though.

Lily...plum...bowl...ether...rice

One of these words is not like the others.

After getting home and having a chance to do some more poking around in genealogy, I've managed to tie the five words together more continuously. My additions to the original essay are in italics.

My middle name, Rose, was given in honor of my great-grandmother, Rose LaForge Maxson. Rose was a twin, and her sister was named Lily. Did you know that if you put "Rose Lily Maxson" into Google, those two are the top Google hit? Maxson isn't all that common a surname. I've always wondered what twins feel about being given "matching set" names like that. Lily was actually named something else at first and then it was changed to Lily after a few days, though I'd have to check the books at home to remember what it was. So there may have been some debate as to the choice.

Rose (my great-grandmother, remember) married a tree-named man, Holly Whitford Maxson. But Holly's aunt Josephine Maxson married into an even more tree-loving family. She married one of three brothers, named Quincey DeForest Greene. No, don't look for the trees in DeForest, it's more subtle than that. Quincey's brothers were:

Orange DeGrasse Greene
Lemon D'Estaing Greene

Note that they three were not triplets, they just had parents with a whacky sense of humor. The brothers were born in the 1830s, so for those who grouse about people who name their kids silly things, it's nothing new.

As it happens, I have quince, orange, and lemon trees planted in my yard.
When I was a kid, we grew a whole bunch of fruit trees in our yard in San Diego. To some extent, that's why my notion of a proper yard includes a whole bunch of fruit trees. Gradually over the years, each of us kids picked one tree to be "our" tree, and the plum tree was mine. I love plums--especially the tart, red-fleshed kind that aren't popular in the stores these days. When I bought my current house in Concord, I hadn't actually noticed that it had a plum tree in the back until I moved in just as the plums were coming ripe. If I believed in signs, it would be a sign. The property also has several of those ornamental red-leaf plum trees that put out fruit the size of a large cherry. I have all the plums I could want.

Sports that involve interesting properties of physics attract me, even when I'm not good at them (or, in some cases, haven't tried them). One thing I like about steering the dragonboats is the interaction of the steering oar position and angle and the speed of the boat and the momentum of the turn and the unseen currents in the water. I like billiards, even though I'm not very good at it, because of the challenge in trying to get the caroms right. I'm utterly fascinated by curling. And I sometimes think it would be fun to do enough bowling to get the kinesthetics down just right to reliable make strikes. In theory, there's no reason why one shouldn't be able to bowl a perfect game every time. Perfect games must have been harder, though, back when bowling was done on DeGrasse. There would always be an imperfection lending unpredictability to the physics. That version of the game has left relics of public sports venues using the name Bowling Green. There are at least eight towns in the USA named Bowling Green

Sometimes, looking at the history of medicine is terrifying--until you consider what the previous alternatives were. My great-great-aunt Lily had cataract surgery around the turn of the 20th century (again, I'd have to check the records to be more precise). Thinking about the state of the surgical art at that time, it's hard to imagine considering the risks to be preferable to blindness, but she and a lot of other people did. (She survived.) Despite a number of earlier experiments, the mid 19th century was when medical anesthesia for surgery became a serious focus. Ether was one of those developments, although it largely gave way to chloroform in part due to serious flammability issues. There might not have been much point to developing good surgical anesthesia techniques much earlier than that, as an understanding of sepsis had to scramble to keep up with the expansion of surgical techniques.

One of the most commercially important grasses, world-wide, is rice. But "Rice" as a surname, most commonly derives from the Welsh masculine given name Rhys. Other Anglicized spellings of the name, such as Rees, Reese, or Reece, preserve a closer indication of the original pronunciation. Prior to the Great Vowel Shift in English (which took place gradually over the 14-16th centuries), the English spelling "Rice" would have indicated a very similar sound to the Welsh pronunciation of Rhys. Examples of the Welsh name spelled "Rice" can be found in English records during this period. Such is the way of language: in a literate society, spellings that were originally phonetic transcriptions become fixed and traditional as the language changes around them. Different spellings become fixed at different dates, preserving hints about the chronology of pronunciation changes. I sometimes get people asking me, "but how do we really know how people in history pronounced things?" And the answer is that we know because Rhys, Reece, and Rice are all the same name.

You know, this could be a fun new game. Can I take five random words and link them together in an essay while picking senses or contexts that are as unexpected as possible?
hrj: (doll)
Yesterday I went to a fabulous reading by Kate Elliott at Borderlands Books where she did a dramatic (very dramatic) reading of her "Beatriciad" (a story from the Spiritwalker series written in iambic pentameter and…well, there's nothing except to experience it for yourself). And because I fell in with the right friends at the reading, I got included in the dinner plans afterward, which was delightful. There was also BART drama on the trip over, but all came out well in the end.

Today I woke to the same chilly house that has been reminding me all week to clean out the heater vents and turn the thermostat on. Plus bonus rain! So I decided to get a cheery fire going in the fireplace just because. Of course, this meant I couldn't leave the house for my usual coffee-and-writing session. But that was ok, because I baked up some croissants in order to try out the two pots of home-made jam that arrived on my doorstep yesterday (part of the Kickstarter rewards for the Hugo Long-List Anthology project).

And now that the cheery fire has burned itself out, I need to get started on at least one project for the day. Ideally, two: getting the heater in order and finishing at least one of the two chapters of Mother of Souls I have partially drafted for the week. Who knows, I might finish up both chapters if I get moving.
hrj: (doll)
I made a passing reference the other day to odd questions addressed to me on facebook about dead bodies, and someone suggested the topic for a Random Thursday blog. I will try my best to avoid grossing anyone out, but if you run on the squeamish side, you might want to skip this one.

One of my standard anxiety dream motifs is the one where I'm digging in the garden and come across evidence of human remains. And then, because it's easier than dealing with reporting it, or with answering questions about it, I conceal the body again. Except now there's evidence that someone has been messing around with that body, and has taken positive steps to conceal it, and that evidence could reasonably be traced to me. So the dream continues on with me taking further steps to conceal the evidence that I'd concealed the evidence of the body. And spending all my time being anxious that someone else is going to stumble across it. And planning for how I'm going to bluff my way through.

This particular dream tended to occur in contexts where I'd put off some essential activity and the longer it was put off the messier it was going to be. But it also provided me with a useful parable and buzz-word at work. When I talk about the "body in the garden" problem at work, it's how the longer a known issue goes unaddressed, the greater the percentage everyone has in "not having noticed" it in the first place. Because the problem is no longer the original issue, but the fact that people knew about it and didn't do anything.

But in my own life history, the motif of the body in the garden isn't nearly that sinister, so it's a bit surprising that it took on that particular life (as it were) in my dreams.

I think it all started with the bird skull, nestled in cotton-wool in a matchbox, that my maternal grandmother gave me as a curio when I was quite young. (I don't recall how old, but maybe 6 or 7 years old?) I don't recall how long she'd had it, and it was a bit uncharacteristic of her to have recognized that I'd view it as a treasure.

Next came the collection of old, whitened cow bones we found when camping at Joshua Tree National Monument. I think a single bone wouldn't have been as fascinating; but I was caught by the idea of an assortment -- including a pelvis, femur and tibia -- that could be fit together and visualized in terms of the original anatomy.

I remember the pelicans quite vividly. (They made such a great story!) When I was in 8th grade, my dad took my older brother and me out of school for a week (or was it two?) to go down to the tip of Baja California on an ecological survey trip, where we helped with collecting soil and air samples and otherwise enjoyed a holiday on the beach. For some reason of tide and currents, that beach was where pelican carcasses tended to fetch up as they were slowly picked clean by small scavengers. The carcasses tended to be intact and articulated, still held together by ligaments dried to a plastic-like consistency. As one does, I started collecting them up and bringing them back to camp to study further. (As Sappho notes, "If you are squeamish, don't prod the beach rubble!") And towards the end of the stay, my father looked at the collection and laid out an ultimatum: "You see that empty styrofoam ice chest there?" (Because, of course, any perishables in the ice chest had long since been consumed.) "You can only take home what fits in that ice chest."

Did you think this was going to be an ultimatum about not dragging bird carcasses home during a long drive in a packed Dodge van? Oh, so little you know about my family!

So I manged to fit in (I think) four complete skeletons, plus a few extra skulls. And we drove merrily on our way back toward San Diego. My dad liked to avoid the busy border crossing at Tijuana, so we were at a sleepy little border station further east (possibly the Mexicali/Calexico crossing?) in the wee hours of the morning. The US border guard took a look at the scruffy college professor and his two teenage children and said, "You don't look suspicious; I'll just spot-check one container in the car. That one." And, of course, he pointed at the styrofoam ice chest. My dad says, "You aren't going to believe this..." Which of course, is a very silly thing to say to a border guard. They've seen everything at some point. The guard took a look at the pelican skeletons, raised an eyebrow, and waved us on through.

But we haven't gotten to the garden part yet.

It was when I started going to high school -- which involved a couple-mile bike ride that ran along the side of a wilderness area -- that I started hauling home road kills to do my own skeletal preparations. There are a number of ways to remove the flesh from a carcass in order to do a nice, scientific skeletal mount, but only a few of them are compatible with a suburban back yard. So I would pick a secluded location, dig a reasonably deep hole (but not too deep), line it with a sheet of aluminum foil (because you want to confine the eventual results of the process in some way) and bury the carcass in some nice biologically active soil. Then, after a month or two, it was ready for excavation, final cleaning, and mounting. So that dream experience of digging into the dirt and coming upon skeletal remains? There's a reason for it.

When I went off to college (planning, at that time, to aim for veterinary school), I gave a number of the skeletal mounts to my high school biology teacher. But I kept a few: the coyote, the porcupine (collected in Idaho one summer at my aunt's farm), the pigeon, and one lone remaining pelican skull. Processing skeletal mounts in a dormitory environment was, I discovered, considered to be an anti-social activity. I shifted to learning taxidermy. (Still somewhat looked askance, but at least the processing time was a lot shorter.)

I still have the coyote, the porcupine, the pigeon...and one lone pelican skull.
hrj: (doll)
I post a lot about the projects I'm working on. How about a post about the projects I'm not working on?

There is a spreadsheet on my laptop, created in 2006 and last updated in 2009 entitled "Projects". The idea behind it was that there are a lot of projects, both large and small, that I have partially completed that might need nothing more than a slight reminder to bump them onto the "to-done list". The spreadsheet has coded fields for:

Category (databases, events, personal favors, legal issues, publications, web site)
Type (article, novel, paper, conversions, corrections, interfaces, organization projects, updates)
Field (Welsh history journal, cookery, costuming, embroidery, publications, linguistics, names, SCA, misc.)
Topic (lots of highly specific keywords)
Priority (high, medium low)
Work Required (major, medium, minor)

There are 87 entries in the spreadsheet. 2 are marked "cancelled". 6 are marked "done". Here's a sampling of the detritus of my creative life, left scattered along the road.

Categorized under "high priority, major work required": A series of informative articles on the topic "Linguistics for SCA heralds" intended to help with the concepts and terminology needed to advise on the construction of medieval-style personal names. Status: not done.

Categorized under "high priority, minor work required": 3 items either cancelled or complete. 1 item incomplete - correct the citation of one of the academic papers listed on my website. (Still not corrected.)

Categorized under "low priority, minor work required": Turn my research on medieval evidence regarding Welsh oatcakes into a website article. (Not done) An item with the description "query link regarding dissertation downloads" which I have no idea what I meant by that. (Obviously not done.)

Categorized under "low priority, major work required":

1. Assemble and publish Issue #6 of Y Camamseriad (my medieval Welsh research journal). Instead I have ceased publication.
2. Take the database of medieval Welsh preposition data from my dissertation research and put it online in usable format. (Probably a very useful thing to do, but oh boy would it be a lot of work.)
3. Create a class or paper on how to present an early modern "Welsh accent when speaking English" for historic re-enactment purposes based on linguistic analysis of historic sources.
4. Create an article on the schematic structure of Old Irish compound personal names.
5. Create a companion article on men's names to my article Names of Women of the Brythonic North in the 5-7th Centuries
6. Create an article discussing the schematic structure of Welsh place-names.
7. Create an article on issues, origins, and variants of the personal name "Tristan".
8. Create an index of Welsh place-names occurring in Speed's 16th c. atlas, cross-referenced by the standard modern form and location.
9. Create a survey and technique article on embroidery found in Coptic Egyptian sites.
10. Return to my trunk novel Iultig's Dreams to revise for publication.
11. Finish putting my great great grandfather's Civil War diaries and correspondence on my website.
12. Turn the existing fragments and notes labeled "Raven" into a fantasy novel.
13. Return to my trunk novel The Rebellious Heart to revise for publication. (This is the lesbian historic romance set at the time of the Boudiccan rebellion that I mentioned in passing a couple months ago.)
14. Create a website version of my research article on the medieval artistic motif of the "shepherd's purse". Hey, you know what? I did this just recently. Woo hoo! (I still need to go back and fix a whole bunch of the image links.)
15. Return to adding lessons to my online lessons A Self-Taught Course in Medieval Welsh.
16. Turn my class presentation on the construction of geometric-cut garments into a web article. (I have a powerpoint presentation. It would be so easy just to turn it into a slide show...)
17. Turn my class presentation on no-sew Iron Age gathered-toe shoes into a website article.
18. Create an article on the use of chain stitch in medieval embroidery (as penance for spending years doubting that chain stitch was used in that context).
19. Create a cross-linguistic glossary of embroidery terminology to make it easier to interpret museum catalog descriptions in other languages.

And, of course, there are a lot of projects in between that are either medium priority or involve a medium amount of work. (30 coded as medium work, 37 coded as medium priority) Just to complete the guided tour, let's look at the 9 that fall in both medium categories:

1. Set up a website for selling my desktop publishing products. (Never going to happen. If I ever decide to sell self-published things in hardcopy again,it will be through one of those print-on-demand companies. Though I still have a whole bunch of songbooks from my filking days sitting in inventory.)
2. Create an article analyzing the various versions of the early genealogical material on the children of Brychan Brycheiniog and discussing which of the personal names are likely to be genuine and which are scribal corruptions or errors.
3. Create an article discussing how the Welsh name Rhys appears in various times, places, and linguistic contexts.
4. Create a semi-humorous, semi-serious discussion in collaboration with [livejournal.com profile] scotica on whether the word spelled "celtic" is properly pronunced "keltic" or "seltic".
5. Turn my class presentation on figurative embroidery on surviving European garments from before AD 1000 into a website article.
6. Turn my class presentation on examples of sewing workboxes in medieval art and archaeology into a website article.
7. Create a semi-humorous, semi-serious historic-background article (in collaboration with [livejournal.com profile] scotica) entitled "So you want to be a Celt?" intended to guide historic re-enactors away from egregious errors.
8. Update my web article on the Llangors embroidery find.
9. Create re-drawings of the relevant art for my paper "Getting Into Medieval Women's Underpants" and post it on my website (since I've decided I simply don't have the interest in turning it into a professional publication).

And those are all the projects that I'm NOT working on at the moment. What aren't you working on currently?
hrj: (doll)
And it’s not that I’ve minded the thorns, .
I was born rather prickly myself. .
But there’s a place.
on the shelf by the phone.
where a vase would go nicely, .
And my garden has roses to share.

(refrain of a song that I wrote too late in my songwriting career for it to have gotten much play – also: very much not the sort of song that would have caught on in the filk music community)

Today’s Random Thursday prompt is courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] aryanhwy who asked, “Tell us about the desk roses.”

It will take a little while to get to the desk-rose phenomenon.

With a name like “Heather Rose” I could have gone in two directions: embracing the potential for floral iconography or rejecting it entirely. From the title of my blog, you might be able to guess that I went with the former (perhaps a bit out of character, given that I did reject a lot of stuff categorized as “feminine”). When I was a kid and came up with some ghod-awful pseudo-heraldic designs (after reading the Encyclopedia Britannica article on heraldry – this was long before I found the SCA), both heraldic roses and some unidentifiable sprigs of heather featured prominently.

When I finally owned my own home, I started planting rose bushes, focusing on old roses (100+ years old), fragrant roses (my favorites being Double Delight and Bewitched, as well as the fragrant old roses), and single roses (still having a penchant for the heraldic-style rose). I think my Oakland house got up to 20+ different plants by the time I sold it. And given the mild California weather, I always had a bit of fun teasing my cold-weather friends by complaining mid-January that the roses wouldn’t stop blooming long enough for me to do the annual pruning. When I was house-shopping in Concord, one of the pluses of the house I chose was the plethora of rose bushes in the extensive front yard (as well as plenty of space for more). My garden spreadsheet currently lists 34 plants, only about 10 of which I’ve added myself. It wasn’t in any way a deciding factor in choosing that house, but it made the decision feel right.

I don’t really have a green thumb, and a preference for old varieties means that I’m always struggling against rust and black spot and all the other ills that rose is heir to. But for all their reputation for being finicky plants, they’re able to take a surprising amount of abuse and neglect and come up blooming. I tend to confine myself to regular watering, periodic dead-heading, and an annual massive pruning that always feels more drastic than it really is. If not for that annual massive pruning, I probably could have cut roses from my garden year round. It would be tempting to do the pruning on a rolling basis just for that reason, but it’s more likely to get done if I do it in two or three massive sessions.

So about the desk roses…

I’ve gotten in the habit, over the last year or more, of keeping a rose on my desk at work all the time. Always one from my own garden. I cut one on Monday morning and as long as I make a good choice they generally last all the way through Friday. And then I tweet a picture of it, which is also a sneaky way to get in some book promo, because the background includes my computer desktop with rotates between my two book covers. So why do I do desk roses? There are three main reasons.

1. Because I can. It’s that same teasing impulse that leads me to “complain” about finding a slow time to do the pruning. I may occasionally long for actual changing seasons, but I do love my year-round growing weather. The other part of “because I can” is having so many that I can always spare one. It’s the same reason that I’m always happy to cut a rose for a passer-by who asks for one when I’m working in the yard. And the reason why I don’t mind people taking the occasional one unasked. (Though I did admonish one person who was helping herself to half a dozen that I’d prefer that she only take one so that others can enjoy them.)

2. Because I spend such a small proportion of my waking life at home in daylight, that I don’t get to enjoy the roses in situ anywhere near as much as I’d like to. Any time I’m at my desk, the rose is there in view. If it’s a fragrant one, I can enjoy the scent simply by leaning closer. The roses are an always-available stress break.

3. Many many years ago, I decided that I wouldn’t wait for another person to give me roses. (Not a specific “other person”, any person.) I’ve developed several garden-related life philosophies. One can be summed up as “I will plant my garden.” The unpacked meaning of that one is: there are projects/activities that don’t have immediate pay-off, and that you may never be in a position to benefit from, but you need to plant those seeds anyway, because by the time you might get the pay-off it will be too late to start. Another can be summed up as “it’s all very well to stop and smell the roses, but you also need to stop and grow them.” This is somewhat similar to the previous, but more along the lines of: that perfect experiential moment doesn’t necessarily happen spontaneously; someone else has been digging and pruning and watering those roses so you can just happen to stop and smell them. And the philosophy that comes out as “never wait for someone else to give you roses” is all about not predicating your own self-worth on the opinions or acknowledgment of others. It’s about asserting that I am worthy of being given roses even if no one else except me gives them to me.

And so…desk rose!
hrj: (doll)
This may be more random than usual -- I almost didn't get to blogging today at all. (I was good and spent the pre-work coffee actually working on the novel, and then my lunch hour was spent in the inspection "war room", which is not conducive to working on creative writing.)

Several times recently, when reading the author's notes in a book, or reading an author interview online, I've gotten a weird feeling when seeing long lists of people that the author considered their mentors for writing: the people who gave them wise advice, other more experienced writers who helped bounce their story ideas around, the editors whose feedback shaped their writing. When I try to think of who my mentors would be, I have a hard time thinking of any. And I'm not sure whether that's really because I have none or whether it's a blindness in myself that discounts other people's input. (The same blindness that tends to lead me into depression on occasion, when I forget the positive interactions that I really have had with other people.)

It isn't that I haven't interacted with other people in the context of my writing. The beta readers who give me detailed feedback are truly wonderful people. A couple of my skin-singer stories were brainstormed by talking them out with [livejournal.com profile] scotica. And having [livejournal.com profile] abd07 as my "alpha-reader", waiting on each chapter as the first draft is completed, is a strong motivation to keep on track with my writing schedule. But I wouldn't call any of those situations "mentoring" in the sense of having someone who is more experienced and more knowledgeable in the field offering me a hand up.

It's something of a circle (not necessarily vicious, but not entirely benign). I don't expect to get mentoring because I haven't received it in the past. (Sometime ply me with drinks and ask me about my dissertation.) And having learned so many things (and not just with regard to writing) from scratch on my own, I suspect I give off a vibe of not needing or wanting help. That same history--combined with a few non-standard learning styles--has tended to make me wary of teaching styles that assume there's one right way to learn.

So have I had attempted mentors whose assistance wasn't useful? Or who decided I was incapable of learning what they had to teach? Or who concluded I simply didn't need them? Or is this just one more of those experiences that other people have that--for some combination of reasons--never happened for me? Hard to say. I'm not even willing to swear that my memory isn't playing tricks on me. All I know is I read those passages in which other writers talk about their mentors and I wonder what that would feel like.
hrj: (doll)
I'd halfway promised to do this past week's Random Thursday blog on a description of my day job. In part, this was because the job was being rather intense, so it was on my mind. But the intensity was part of why I didn't (no lunch hour!) and I ended up opting to re-use to a Twitter flight instead. But now that it's Saturday, here's the promised job post.

I don't talk in a lot of specifics about my workplace because being specific would then entail spending a lot of time reminding readers that I don't in any way speak for my employer. I don't talk in specifics about the investigations I work on because somewhere in there is a fine dividing line between interesting conversation and "insider information". Very very occasionally, I'm privy to information that could affect perceptions of the company's stock value or speculative projections about upcoming business announcements. I'd rather be safe than sorry. So I'm not going to name my employer (though it would be trivially easy to figure out who it is) and I'm not going to talk about detailed specifics of my projects, just the general shapes.

I work for a biotech division of a Big Pharma company (with a capital "B" and a capital "PH"). Fortunately for my conscience, I work for a division whose product is unambiguously necessary and valuable for our patients. It's also a product where, while we may jockey against competitors for market share, there's absolutely no point in trying to "sell" it to people outside the key market. Conversely, it's an incredibly complicated drug (and will become even more complicated--in the name of becoming safer and more effective--in versions currently in development). The manufacturing process is long and involved, with a lot of potential failure points and a lot of nuances to the "SISPQ"s as we call them. (Strength, Identity, Safety, Purity, and Quality).

We start with a mammalian cell line with an introduced human gene that produces the protein that forms the essence of the drug. The manufacturing process starts with mixing up solutions (cell culture medium, various chemical solutions used in processing and purification) and thawing out a cryo-preserved vial from the "master cell bank" which was laid down a couple decades ago and has been sitting in a liquid nitrogen freezer ever since. The cells get scaled up until we have enough for a viable culture in a 200L culture vessel which is then split into other vessels until we have several running in parallel. The clock is ticking at this point because mammalian cells have a finite effective lifespan before their growth starts going wonky and the productivity efficiency falters.

Unlike, for example, a batch of beer (with which the cell culture process has a startlingly large amount in common), we do what's called "continuous perfusion" where we continuously feed in fresh cell culture medium and harvest off spent medium that has cellular byproduct in it. Among those byproducts is the protein we want. Pretty much all the other cell-piss (which is what it comes down to) needs to be removed in processing. We also don't want the cells themselves, and there are complex processes to avoid harvesting cells, or damaging the cells in the process (because we also have to remove any cell-bits that end up in the harvested material). And if you want to think about potential failure modes, consider a process that is designed to create the idea conditions for cellular growth…and then trying to make sure nothing gets in there to grow except the specific thing you want!

That's the first step, ok? Now we have an enormous volume of cell-piss to process. Let's say approximately 12,000 liters per day total from the several vessels. We start with a simple mechanical filtration to remove remaining cells and cell-bits (plus some other processes, but I'm doing a simplified overview). Then we concentrate it down and freeze it and put it in our -30C warehouse for a while. Why? Because first we have to make sure that the frozen concentrate meets all our quality standards before we invest in the next step of the process. This is where the discrepancy investigators come in. Hold that thought.

Once the frozen concentrate is declared A-OK, it moves on to purification. This involves putting it through a number of processes (I'll skip the details), each designed to remove a specific type of impurity: residual cell proteins, host cell DNA, inactive drug proteins, chemicals needed in the cell culture process that we don't need any more, viruses, and so forth. At the end of this purification process, we concentrate and freeze the result again and once more stash it in the -30C warehouse for a while. Why? I think you know the drill by now: because we need to make sure it meets all our quality requirements before we invest in the next step of the process. (See: discrepancy investigators. Hold that thought.)

The final stage is pretty simple and incredibly important: thaw it out and dilute it to the right concentration, fill a very precise volume into vials and freeze-dry it, package and label the vials. Make sure the final vials meet all our quality requirements (see: discrepancy investigators) and when it's all good, ship it off to the patients who trust us enough to inject the result into their circulatory system.

So what is it that I do? Any time something doesn't work the way we expect, I'm one of the people (discrepancy investigators) who figures out what happened, why, how, what the effects on product quality are, what the effects on our confidence in our process are, what additional information we might need to have confidence in our product and process, and--if necessary--what product we might need to reject because we don't have that confidence. It could be as trivial as someone leaving a blank on a document all the way up through discovering that our cells are producing a version of the protein that isn't biologically active. It's a very formal process with rigorous standards and multiple stages of review. And pretty much every investigation is different. (Because if they were the same, it would mean we hadn't fixed the problem the first time.)

So what was I doing this week? Well, one thing I was doing was participating in rehearsals for presentations to a national regulatory agency who will be inspecting our facilities and process next week to determine if they're ready to approve our "next generation" product. My part is to know everything there is to know about certain key investigations (whether I was the one who performed them or not) and be ready to explain and defend the process and the results.

Another thing I was doing (and this was the one that involved 5 hours of meetings every day) was helping brainstorm and write up a Risk Assessment, which is a document examining a particular "failure mode" and looking at all the possible consequences it could have and listing all the things we have in place (or could put in place) to manage or eliminate those consequences. Sometimes risk assessments are covering the normal production processes and explaining why they're properly designed. In this case, we're looking at an event where we didn't follow those processes correctly and trying to determine what the potential consequences of that mistake are.

In addition to these special projects, there's the normal daily routine: process new reports of events, triage them in terms of potential impact (most are fairly obviously trivial), assign them out to other investigators. For my own investigations, pull in production data, reports from Subject Matter Experts, personnel interviews, etc. in order to determine causes and consequences. Discuss failures with their process owners to identify corrective actions. Write everything up in reports and submit them for QA review. And just for fun, I sometimes get to do things like provide technical writing expertise (not because it's part of my basic job, but because I've been identified as being really good at it), or helping re-design a process, or pulling together historic data for a long-term review. I've ended up being one of those people who get e-mailed with questions like, "I remember something vaguely like this happening maybe five years ago. Can you dig it up?" And my favorites are things like when a director or VP drops by with a copy of a memo and asks, "I need the exact right wording to convey a very specific nuance. See what you can do with this." (Again, not because it's my job, but because I have a reputation for being good at it.)

One of the things I love about my job is that I need to know everything about everything. (Or at least: a basic familiarity about everything.) I need to know how all our equipment works from the HVAC system to the water distillation equipment to the laboratory equipment to the various instrument systems. I need to know the biological systems involved, not just for the cell culture but for microbial control. I need to understand enough about protein chemistry that I can interpret the quality data and have a sense of what possible causes to pursue when something goes wrong. Or to know when the apparent problem is so unlikely that it's probably masking something else I should be looking at. I need to know a lot of basic chemistry and physics. I need to understand all our information systems and how they inter-relate. (What's this? We received a shipment of a raw material and the computer spit out a list of required quality tests for it that we no longer perform? What the heck happened?) I need to have a keenly developed "smell test" and know when to say, "There's something non-obvious going on here and we don't look more deeply into it now we'll wish we had later." And on top of everything else, I need to understand how human beings interact with all those systems and to be able to identify when a system has been inadvertently designed to encourage the humans to fail.

Another part of "knowing everything about everything" is that we investigators regularly get shared around to balance workload. I'm officially assigned to a specific department (purification) for one specific product variant. But over the last decade I've done investigations for pretty much every stage and aspect of our process, either as a long-term assignment or as part of an ad hoc strike force. I'm very proud of the fact that my name has a habit of being brought up when there's a really tricky or really important investigation. It's not just a matter of job security (I'm not too worried about that at this point) but of pride in my work. And that's why you may sometimes hear me grousing about the intensity of the work, or the occasional long hours, but when I say, "I love my job" it is never never sarcastic.
hrj: (doll)
Every once in a while on Twitter I go into an explosion of verbiage on some topic that I want to capture before the thought goes away. Twitter is not exactly the best of places for exploding verbiage! So it was suggested that I collect this particular one here and expand on it. So the following is enlarged and edited from what appeared previously.

* * *

One of the most exhilarating things I learned when doing historic research for the SCA is that the actual everyday details of history are not only different from what we imagine, but often impossible for us to imagine. There are details I've learned about things like clothing and cooking and language that would not be knowable--would not be imaginable--if we didn't have the direct evidence in front of us. These are details like the way the edge of a garment might be finished with a technique that combines sewing and tablet weaving. Or the use of spinning direction to create optical color effects in weaving. Or the delicate flavoring of a sauce by stirring it with a bundle of herbs. Or the ways in which women in history strove to understand their own sexual desires, when allowed to express them in their own language.

And as a writer of historic fiction, I keep this always in mind, even when writing fantasy. The best source for imaginative, diverse, REAL details in non-contemporary fantasy is the detailed primary data of the past. Not the pre-digested, homogenized version you get in general history books. (And I'm not saying that version is "wrong" in any way, only that it's inadequate.) But the detailed, nuanced, contradictory, elusive data that you only find when you dig into specialized journals. Into archaeological site reports. Into odd little papers presented at specialty conferences, shared by excited and supremely knowledgeable scholars who have spent years searching for the context that would explain that one odd artifact, that mysterious reference in an inventory, that clearly meaningful yet obscure gesture in the background of a painting.

When I create the characters and situations in my fantasy novels, I never want to portray what I *believed* was true before I started. Goodness knows, I didn't escape that oversimplified dominant paradigm any more than anyone else can. But I want to tell stories that emerge from those unexpected discoveries. From the surprising and unimaginable truths of the past. Not the ones that confirm our beliefs, but the ones that challenge them. The ones you must work to integrate with What You Have Been Told. The ones that shine light in the spaces that were thought non-existent because no one had looked at them closely before.

Yes I write fantasy, but I try to write fantasy that is truer than history because it is inspired by all those unnoticed truths.
hrj: (doll)
I confess, it bewilders me. I occasionally post on facebook about how I'm such a slacker because I didn't complete my current to-do list, whereupon someone will take me to task for being an over-achiever. (I swear I'm not humble-bragging. It almost makes me self-conscious about posting project stuff, except I consider it important to participate in the social economy of information exchange.) So, for those who might find themselves asking, "How does she do it?" here are a few answers. These are things that work for me. I give no warranties for other people's success.

I do context-anchored multi-tasking.
(I just made that term up.) I'm just as easily distracted as anyone else, so I organize my life so that the things I want to accomplish are anchored to a specific time, place, and/or accompanying activity. So, for example, I write at a particular time of day (although the specific time shifts sometimes based on other logistics) but except when I'm doing a massive editing push, I don't try to write in every waking non-work moment. I read fiction on the elliptical at the gym, which means both that I actually get some reading done at all and that I don't stay up until all hours finishing a book. The weekday-anchored blog topics are another example, and so forth for other activities. If there's a project that can be done in a single sitting, it happens on a weekend (after the writing session). If the project takes longer than that, it gets assigned a regular context that doesn't displace other things that need doing.

I front-load absolutely necessary chores. There are some things that absolutely have to get done...like getting dressed for work, or fixing meals, or packing for trips. It works best for me to get those done at the earliest rational point in the process. When I get home from work, the first thing I do is: pack the next day's gym clothes, lay out the next day's work clothes, and pack what I'm taking for breakfast and/or lunch the next day (often I'll pack multiple meals at a time in advance). If I'm packing for a trip (or a medieval event, or anything similar), I try to do it at the beginning of the week before I go whenever possible. For me, doing things at the last minute is an open door to failure and dithering.

I embrace doing things half-assed. Yeah, I hear you all laughing. But one of the reasons I can get as much done as I do is because I don't require perfection of myself. I have a regular gym workout and do the dragonboating on top of it, but it's actually a crappy workout. I don't change it up much because that would require too much mental energy. I can stick with my program precisely because I never have to think about it: MWF I do pull-ups, MWThF I do 500 cal on the elliptical, Tu I dragonboat. And while I make a valiant effort to learn technique and improve in the paddling, I have no ambitions of making the competitive team, because I can't put in the time needed to become competitive and do everything else as well. I do a lot of fun things with my yard and garden, but there's a crap-ton of weeds in my flower beds and the grass is always way too long by the time I mow it. My housekeeping is livable but far from meticulous. I don't merely avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good, I avoid making the good the enemy of the get-it-done.

I believe in beginning as you mean to go on.
This ties in a bit with the multi-tasking. When I take on a project, I ramp up to a level that's sustainable over the long run, rather than diving in deeply and having to back off. That gorgeous garden that you've seen pictures of didn't happen all in one shot. I pretty much built it one bed at a time and one tree at a time. I long ago came up with a rule (sometimes honored only in the breech) that any plants I buy have to be in the ground before I go to bed the day I get them. Another yard-related limit is doing only as much work as will fill the green-recycling bin. (This is more practical than strategic since it avoids having mounds of vegetation sitting around for weeks waiting to be binned.) This approach tends to keep my ambitions to a manageable scale. When I make plans for my writing schedule, it has to be something I can do every single day--not a schedule where I'll burn out in a week because everything else is getting pushed back, and then have to stop writing for a while to get caught up. (This is why I've currently cut back on the Lesbian Historic Motif Project: it wasn't a long-term sustainable schedule given the other things I want to accomplish at the moment.)

I use tools, but don't let the tools master me. I'm very fond of computer-based life organization tools: project planners, reminder schedules, information organizers. But too often a hot new tool turns out to take more time in interaction than it saves in efficiency. I've tried out several "to do" apps and have yet to find one that actually saves me time. Instead I stumble along with a combination of calendar reminders, flagged e-mails-to self, and sometimes just plain old post-it notes. For a while I was enamored of a packing list app that could be customized not only with specific items but with modules and special-purpose lists and whatnot. I could spend ten minutes selecting modules to put together the perfect packing list for any trip or SCA event type you could imagine. I still use it on occasion, but in general I've shifted to a storage-location-based method. (If I stare at the camping equipment shelves, it's immediately apparent if I've neglected to pack something important.) I've been trying various systems to organize background information for my fiction projects: timelines, character lists, research notes. But in the end, mostly what works is to use the same basic MS Office tools I use for my day job, because even when they aren't as specially suited to the job, they take no extra thought to operate. (And I don't waste any energy worrying that I might lose access to the data with my next operating system upgrade.)

I say "no" regularly. Over the decades I've come to a pretty good understanding of my needs and limits. I know what volunteer activities I can do that work with my strengths and which ones would be ten times more work for me than they would be for a different person. I've learned that anything a person does three times in a row might as well be a hereditary commitment, and I make a point of stepping back and letting other people take over if I'm uncomfortable with that. And--with somewhat more difficulty--I've learned to recognize when I'm participating in a social activity purely on momentum and not because it's contributing to my life. (This is particularly relevant to the SCA. I pick and choose events to attend very carefully, and this year I determined that for the sake of my sanity I'd take a complete, temporary break from the SCA in favor of book-related events.)

And let's be blunt: I can get a lot of projects accomplished because, on a day to day basis (and excepting my day-job), I'm not responsible to anyone else for my time. I don't have children. I don't currently have pets. My girlfriend lives on the opposite coast. My time is my own to organize. (Even my day job has a great deal of flexibility around the edges.) Before you envy my energy, think about whether you'd trade your own situation for mine.
hrj: (doll)
Lauri and I have this running joke about how I'm the archetypal California suburban crunchy-organic gardener with the biotech career, and she's the archetypal Manhattan-born-and-bred upper-west-side-apartment-on-the-park with the Broadway career. And I've mentioned previously that I do get a bit of a kick out of tasting the "insider's view" with the peculiar filter that for Lauri, dealing with show biz folks is just a job.

When I'm out in NYC to visit, the socializing generally falls in two categories: our mutual historic textile geek friends (keeping in mind that we met while hanging out with the dress-and-textiles folks at the Kalamazoo medieval studies congress), and Lauri's friends and colleagues from work, which all fall on the "house" side of the theater business, which tends to involve things like pre-show dinners at venerable Russian-Jewish delis.

But this visit coincided with a round-number birthday party for one of Lauri's college roommates, and though neither of us are deeply enamored of cocktail party-type events, it was a must-do for Lauri and I thought it would be fun (within the context that I wouldn't know much of anyone else -- though I think I'd met the guest of honor on a previous visit). At the very least, I could practice my cocktail-party technique in a context where there were no consequences (for me) for utter failure.

So…um…here's how it went down. You take a taxi (because it's New York, either you take the subway or a taxi) up Central Park West, past the Natural History Museum and get out by the reservoir, opposite an impressively tall apartment building. The doorman lets you in and when you give the name of the party you've come to see, one of several uniformed persons hanging out in the lobby escorts you to the elevator and takes you up to the 20th floor. You don't get to see yourself up, because the elevator opens inside the apartment itself, so there are security keys and whatnot.

Arriving at the 20th floor, a short entry/coat-room opens onto a living room large enough that the grand piano supplying the live music doesn't seem awkwardly out of place.

no title

After locating and greeting your hostess, you are approached by the catering staff who ask your drink preference (champagne, white wine, or sparkling water). Your drink will be refilled regularly throughout the evening (helpfully coded by the the type of glass involved). Catering staff circulate regularly with a variety of bite-size hot offerings in those long-narrow white ceramic dishes that I think get sold as "olive dishes" or something. A little cracker with a bit of steak the size of a dime, topped with carmelized onions. A bit of crescent-shaped pastry filled with a minty pea puree. Skewers of broiled shrimp. A pastry cup filled with pulled pork. That sort of thing. There is also a buffet of bread, cheese, olives, artichoke hearts, and a variety of other things I don't recall.

While you are acquiring your initial drinks you are approached by a genial, garrulous man who introduces himself as the actual resident of the apartment (who offered it as the venue for the party because: location!). You speculate silently on his connection to the guest of honor--possibly professional? The guest of honor does something in music publicity. You say appropriately admiring things about the view. Admiration is not at all difficult. This is the view.



Having completed the preliminaries, you look around for congenial conversations. The room is gradually filling with two categories of people: small clusters of (mostly seated) people talking intensely with each other who give of a "not interested in meeting anyone new" vibe, and generally pairs (some couples, some random conjunctions), typically standing, who look open to conversation. You approach the latter and make some inane compliment of the woman's outfit. She is gracious and it turns out she works in the fashion industry, being one of those people who decides what the "in" colors will be for next season. You put in a plea for your favorite color to be returned to favor. She laughs. She introduces her husband who is an architect but is now involved with [the specifics now elude you…installations of some sort?]. The conversation is entertaining enough that you begin to relax. Eventually you drift on.

The watch-word of the day is "smile and nod and pretend you actually recognize the names being dropped but are too blasé to react." You circulate to admire the view out the windows and make sure to ask before taking photos that include incidental people. Someone mentions in passing that the apartment was once inhabited by Faye Dunnaway. You peruse the bookshelves. It's time to tackle another conversation. This one is less successful--you are split from the herd and find yourself learning about your interlocutor's opinions about "kids these days". There is a simple formula for beginning the conversation: compliment something they're wearing, ask how they know the guest of honor, ask what they do. The last will generally be safe as everyone does something. The formula for ending a conversation is less simple. You succeed without needing to saw your ear off.

You notice that the pianist is being loomed over and back-slapped by an overly friendly guest, whom he is successfully ignoring while continuing to play. You wonder if an intervention, or at least a distraction, is in order but don't know the rules of the game well enough to venture it. Your date spots another person she has met previously and--after some confusion about where and when (and who, as it turns out)--you engage in a delightful conversation with her and her girlfriend, the lawyer, who reacts sufficiently intrigued when you mention your novels that you thrust a business card on her. The two of them recommend that you check out the balcony and you drift off in that direction.

The balcony involves a small glassed-in patio and an open deck that faces the park. After admiring the view, the breeze is strong enough that you retreat to the patio. You fall into a conversation with several people you've talked to previously, plus a movie producer with whom you commiserate on the misogyny of Hollywood. She tells you about her current project. You enthuse about how the world is crying out for more movies centered on female characters. You hear juicy stories about people you've never heard of before and don't care about.

Word circulates that the cake is about to be presented and everyone filters back into the living room. There are toasts. There is cake. There is singing of happy birthday. The cake is your typical gooey-frostinged birthday cake; you decline a slice. As the cake is being passed out, you determine it is an adequate cue to slip away and you make your congratulations and goodbyes to the guest of honor.

No escort is needed to take the elevator down the 20 stories to the lobby. The doorman offers to get you a cab and you accept, wondering briefly if you should tip for the service. On the cab ride, you and your date analyze the various conversations and conclude that you both somewhat unexpectedly had a good time.
hrj: (doll)
At some point in my life, I would like to actually serve on a jury. And yet, every single time I get a summons, I end up thinking, "Oh man, I hope they don't need me because it would be so inconvenient at this particular time." Since my wishing has no effect on the process, I won't bother feeling guilty for it. I get summoned for duty fairly regularly -- not quite every year, but certainly every two years on average. Perhaps half a dozen times in my life I've actually had to go sit in the jury waiting room, on-call. I think three times total I've been sent to a courtroom. Only once have I gotten far enough in the empaneling process to be chosen, and then the defense attorney decided to plea-bargain. (A good idea, in my opinion. It was a DUI case with a positive blood alcohol test. It was clear from the initial questioning that the defense was going to attempt to cast doubt on the reliability of blood alcohol testing in general.)

The time I came second-closest to being chosen led me to do a lot of soul-searching about what is officially asked of jurors in terms of mental process. "Can you judge based solely on the evidence presented in court without bringing in any outside knowledge, experience, or research?" What does that even mean? If I refused to apply any existing knowledge to the deliberations, I'd have to require the attorneys to define every single word they used from scratch. I'd have to require them to explain the systems, mechanics, and causal relationships of every single concept they introduced. Don't be absurd, you say, that's not at all what they mean. But where is the clear and bright dividing line between being allowed to bring an understanding that if a person points a gun and pulls a trigger and a bullet subsequently goes through a body causing fatal damage, and not being allowed to bring an understanding that the statistical correlation of specific environmental carcinogens and certain morbidities is not the same as a specific and direct causal chain for a particular individual's diagnosis? (If I'd paid more attention to late night tv, that particular empanelment process would have been more cut-and-dried, because if I'd gotten to the point where they asked me whether I was familiar with the plaintiff's law firm, I could have said, "Oh, you mean the ambulance chaser who advertises that he'll get big settlements for mesothelioma?")

I got a jury summons over a month ago, scheduled for today, at a time when there was no reason to believe it would be at all inconvenient. When I scheduled an out of town vacation for the last week of May, it seemed unlikely to be a problem. Even if I were chosen, it would either be a quick case and over by then, or a complicated one and they'd probably have a break between empanelment and the start of the trial. And then, two weeks ago, I got put on an intensive and critical project at work, for which I was one of the two lead report writers. (It's going to be tight enough to be done with my part before I go on vacation.) And yet, if I'd been empaneled, it would have ben ok. Someone else could have done the job.

The system strung me along to the max: not called up for this morning, but I still had to call in at lunch. And then I was off the hook and the project lead gave a sigh of relief. It simplifies my immediate life, and yet…at some point in my life, I do want to serve at least once.
hrj: (doll)
Sleep: So various things finally drove me past my inertia and I had an appointment to talk to my doctor about Sleep Issues. Being the sort of person I am, I wrote up a two page history of the various things I had identified as contributing causes (tinnitus,lingering mini hot flashes, side-effects of sciatica, variable general stress), the various things I'm already doing to try to mitigate the problems, and the basic background life habits that they generally quiz you on with regard to sleep habits (e.g., exercise, caffeine and alcohol consumption, regularity of sleep cycle).

Even before the appointment, my doctor signed me up for a diagnostic test for sleep apnea (which you can do at home with a clip-on blood oxygen monitoring device) which I'll be doing next week. She approved of various things I'm already doing (in particular, audio masking for the tinnitus), made a couple suggestions I'm willing to try (chelated magnesium for the musculo-skeletal issues), and some I'd ruled out (HRT for the hot flashes…which aren't really "hot" flashes, just "slightly tepid" flashes, and there's no way the other effects would be worth it to get rid of them). And after I'd recited my detailed case history, she asked, "So what are you hoping I can do for you?" and I had to admit I really didn't think there was anything she could do for me, but I thought it was important to check in. But when I mentioned that I'd never really had the sciatica checked out, she signed me up for an MRI…which it turned out they could fit in that same afternoon. The preliminary report is "some degenerative/arthritis symptoms". Not very helpful and probably inaccurate since arthritis rarely strikes in the course of seconds like this issue did back when it first showed up. But…whatever.

Stories: I've realized I have an odd aversion to talking in public about where I've submitted stories. The analogy I made on Twitter was that it felt sort of like announcing who I was planning to ask to the prom. I wouldn't want to embarrass either of us if my prospective date said no. But I'll say this much: I have submitted a gender-queer Arthurian short story "All is Silence" to an anthology that just opened for submissions, and I have submitted my previously-published feminist Arthurian short story "The Treasures of Britain" to a reprint market that--in my opinion--it is particularly suited for. Any speculations as to the identity of the markets in question are not my responsibility. I've been dithering over finishing revisions to "Hidebound" (my final skin-singer story) over not really having any idea where I wanted to try it first. (The length is hard to find markets for at all!) But I think I've identified a rather ambitious first choice and maybe tomorrow I'll get back on that horse. The only other short story I have sitting around complete at the moment is the second in my "Merchinogi" series and it hasn't gone out to beta-readers yet. (I've been trying to avoid having more than one story out at a time, although I use different sets/combinations of readers for each story.) So I should probably dangle it in front of a suitable set of potential readers and get that started. Then I'll have to think about markets for that one as well. (As you recall, the first one was picked up as an audio original by Podcastle.org, but they normally do reprints, not originals, so I probably have to find a print outlet first before I could see if they'd be interested as well.) And then I really truly do have to get in the groove for Mother of Souls again.

Shopping - Part I: It being Independent Bookstore Day, I decided to make a lazy round of a few bookstores by BART and foot. Started out at Laurel Bookstore in downtown Oakland (which gives me an opportunity to remind people that I'll be doing a reading there on Friday June 5) then over to Borderlands Books where I rather failed to find any of the books I was vaguely looking for but picked up a few older ones on my "you really need to pick this up some day" list. I also knew that they carried a small selection of graphic novels and since that's the only Hugo category I have left to evaluate seriously, I figured I'd go ahead and buy the nominees rather than waiting to see if they're doing a voter packet this year. Borderlands only had one of the four items I was looking for but pointed me at a nearby comics shop. Alas, today by pure coincidence was "free comics day" and both that store and the one I tried in downtown Berkeley were out of the other titles I was looking for. So I bought them through the iTunes store, which will make them easier to read but I would rather have supported a brick-and-mortar vendor.

Shopping - Part II: So, I…um…er…bought a Thing. I promised myself I wouldn't buy this Thing until I'd finished paying off all the debt related to buying my current house and the associated moving costs. (It's been four years--it's about time.) So since I accomplished that just this past month, and have some mad money left over on top of that, I am now the vaguely embarrassed owner of a big-screen tv. Why "vaguely embarrassed"? It just seems so luxurious and materialistic. At any rate, tomorrow I get to deal with installing it (as well as connecting up all my components through the new tuner, plus adding the new speakers). The Fry's salesman was startlingly helpful, particularly in working with my rather odd and somewhat down-scale requirements. (No, I don't need the extra-sharp, extra-pixel-density screen because 95% of the time when I'm watching I have my computer glasses on so the resolution difference is lost on me.) He didn't even laugh when I mentioned that one of the components I wanted to be able (hypothetically) to connect through the tuner is an actual LP turntable. Not that I listen to LPs on any regular basis, but I still have some and I have the turntable, so it would be nice to have the hypothetical.

Strawberries: Yesterday I was able to pick enough strawberries to have something that could reasonably be called a bowlful. Also: the first ripe tomato of the season.

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