Archive for October, 2010

Sink or Swim

on October 25, 2010 in Misc 4 Comments »

I’ve never thought of Layla as being a strong swimmer.

She can snorkel for fun and scuba dive like an expert, but I don’t think she’s the kind of person who swims laps in a pool or whips out fancy dives.  Drop her in a cove and she’s more likely to paddle underwater to see if there’s anything interesting under the waves.

When I was a little kid I too preferred to swim underwater, usually while pretending I was a mermaid.  Oxygen deprivation from holding my breath for too long can explain a few things about me now.  I didn’t get swimming lessons until the summer before fourth grade, which coincided with my eyes going south; from then on I was cursed with glasses that got thicker over the years.  This was a big reason why I didn’t like to dive off a board – I was never sure if I was jumping in on top of someone who was swimming under the water line like some dumb mermaid.  Only as an adult did I start to do some (rather wuss) diving, and then only because I could combine contacts with tight goggles which meant I saw where I was going and where the other swimmers were in the pool.

Since Layla lives in Europe it’s easy for her to hop over to the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, where she can scuba dive all she wants and dabble in underwater archeology and exploration. 

Me, I’m in Colorado, which ain’t known for having large bodies of water.  Most Coloradans who scuba dive get certified somewhere else.  An interesting factoid:  Colorado is second in the continental U.S. for certified scuba divers; only Florida has more.  I think this is because a) we’re a jock state, b) we can go stir-crazy in winter and want to get away somewhere warm and watery, and c) there are cheap airline tickets from Denver to Mexico and some of the islands.

Years ago I took scuba lessons at a place in my neighborhood, but I never got certified.  Later when I was in Cambodia I scuba dived with a friend who had dived all over the South Pacific and could be my guide.  But now I’m so rusty I’ll have to study up and practice at the nearby scuba school so that maybe sometimes this next year I can FINALLY go to the islands, get certified, and swim around underwater like a pretend marine archeologist.

About my eyesight:  A couple years ago I went to an ophthalmologist to see if I could have Lasik.  Turned out my eye tissue was too thin so I wasn’t a candidate, and on top of that I had the beginnings of cataracts at an early age.  It may surprise you but this turned out to be good news because I had cataract surgery which meant permanent prescription lens were inserted in my eyes.  So for the first time since third grade I can see all on my lonesome – except that I need reading glasses.  But that’s okay.  I can see and that makes me luckier than some people.

As for Layla — she’s always had 20/20 eyesight, and as usual I’m jealous.

French Flirt

on October 20, 2010 in Misc 8 Comments »

God bless Frenchmen.  They know how to compliment a woman.  They know how to make her feel attractive and sexy and flirtatious.  Even if you’re an older lady like me, they still notice you because you are anything but invisible to them. 

Tell you what I mean. 

For the last several years I’ve had longish hair that was past my shoulders.  But recently it looked kinda droopy so when I went in to get it done I told the lady to chop off a lot.  Now it’s up around my chin and bouncy. 

Went to work on Monday.  Every last man in the office looked at me and saw that my hair was very different.  None of them said a word.  I felt invisible.  Then I go to fencing.  None of the guys in there say anything either.  But Henri is different from them all because he’s FRENCH.  He’s giving a private lesson to someone, but as soon as he sees me he calls out and hurries over and chatters away.

Henri:  (imagine this in a French accent):  “Hey, what happened?  Did you have a hot date?  Your hair, it looks great.  It’s sexy hair.  (Throws in a knowing grin, like I must be getting lots of lovin’ now.)  Ah, yes, it’s very sexy.  It looks good on you.  Very good!” 

Of course I giggled and beamed and generally melted into something resembling a dreamy-eyed teenager.  This brief encounter also left me with a single question:  WHY CAN’T MORE AMERICAN MEN BE LIKE THIS?

Bear in mind that Henri, for all his fussing over my hair, is kinda macho.  He’s a former Olympian (in fencing, of course).  Loves to ride his dirt bike in the mountains and in Moab.  Loves big old American cars with powerful V-8 engines.   But like any good Frenchman he also loves women and he knows how to talk to them. 

This is yet another reason why Layla likes to hop from Dublin over to Paris for a weekend – it ain’t just the antiquities that draw her to the place.

Rome is the same, for that matter.  When I was there (too long ago!) I was in my mid-thirties, which is old by American standards for females.  Yet never, ever have so many men and even young boys (and I mean Middle School age) made me feel like I was sexy and attractive.  They’d look me up and down and nod in approval – not lewdly and not with leers or comments, but as if they simply found something about me that they appreciated.  And that’s saying something because Roman women were also everywhere.  In contrast to me (bluejeans and sandals) they were perfectly groomed and wearing highheels and tight skirts and zipping around on Vespas with an attitude that screamed I AM SEXY AND BEAUTIFUL SO YOU MUST ADMIRE ME!  And Roman men did admire them.  So, obviously, did the male foreign tourists.

Which leads me to a small problem…

In The Compass Master, a large chunk of the story is set in Rome.  Layla’s (former) lover Zach has been to Rome a couple times before and is there again for business and pleasure.  Of course he’s quickly swept up into the plot/conspiracy, but before that happens I describe how he’s anxious to see the art and buildings because he’s an architect.  Only now do I realize that I failed to make a Zach a full-blooded character in one important respect:

He also wants to sit in a café and just plain look at Roman women.

At least this is an easy change to make in the manuscript.  I have only about a hundred more pages to edit, and it’ll be easy to go back and put in descriptions of Zach looking at ladies.  When Layla shows up, on the other hand, Roman men won’t get to see much of her because she moves around mostly late at night.  Still, there’s at least one key scene with Layla in Rome in the middle of the day, and even though there’s a lot of action going on and she doesn’t want to be noticed, she will be because Roman men will definitely pay attention to her.

I am so jealous of Layla.

Hang Loose

on October 15, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

In my last entry I said I’d write this time around about swimming, as in my lack of doing it this year.  But I’m delaying that because today’s hot topic is…


You see, REI is having a sale on a few climbing ropes.  It ends this weekend, along with the 20% off coupon I got in the mail from them.  As you know I recently bought a harness with all the hardware, which is pretty cool.  But without a rope you can’t do much with the dang thing.  Happily between the sale and the coupon my budget can now allow for me to go crazy and buy a FRIGGIN’ ROPE!

Of course this begs the question, what kind of rope and how long should it be?

Since I’m still a rank amateur in the climbing department, I emailed a knowledgeable friend.  Here’s what I asked along with his reply.

ME:  Bear in mind that my climbing equipment will primarily be for urban type Layla stuff rather than real mountain climbing and that I’d have to carry it on my back (when wound up), so it can’t be very heavy and it doesn’t need to be very long.  It also can’t cost much (money is my problem, not Layla’s).  The ropes would be more for going over a cliff to an archeology site below or from a rooftop to a window, etc.  And I should probably get a rope for up to four stories in a building, minimum.  How long would that be? 

AL (as in Alonzo the Crazy):  A story is generally 10 feet, so four stories=40 feet, plus length needed to anchor rope, say around a chimney or halfway across a roof to a solid pipe/railing/etc.  Two anchors are better than one if one fails.

Technique may require using rope doubled up.  For example you slip one end through whatever roof anchor, then tie it off to your harness, and rappel down to the ground by controlling the loose (dangling) end, and then pull the loose end through the roof anchor to retrieve your rope and leave no trace behind, usually a good idea when being pursued.  Not that I would know about such things.

So a four-story building would require 40×2=80 feet + anchor distance +safety margin so around 100 ft minimum.

Rather than buying a descender or ascender right off, practice descending by using the Dulfersitz method, which you should learn anyway.  It’s free since you only need the rope you are using. The rope friction binds and it hurts a little, so wear tough clothes and gloves, but it works well.  The tension (your weight) and rate of descent is controlled by your LOWER ARM, NOT YOUR UPPER.  It will take practice to get the right rhythm, control, slack, slide, repeat.

Don’t rush climbing because there is too much to it.  I climbed for over 10 years and eased into it bit by bit as needed.  And don’t risk any falls yet.  Falls hurt.

ME:   Yes, falls hurt.  Remember that time, dear reader, when I wrote here about falling while trying to climb onto my neighbor’s garage roof?  I now believe that I cracked my elbow bone or something such, because it hurt for weeks and even now gives me a tiny pain when I lean on it a certain way.

I’m living and learning the hard way.

How Dry I Am

on October 11, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

I just realized that I spent this last summer in a completely dry state.  I mean dry as in I never went swimming and I don’t remember having a single glass of wine.

Obviously, I didn’t have enough fun.

I’ll tell you about my failure to swim tomorrow.  Today I’m going to tell you about my miserable failure to imbibe.  You see, my problem is I’m the world’s pickiest eater.  This means my very narrow-minded taste buds don’t appreciate most alcoholic drinks, hence I don’t much care about drinking.  Sure, I like red wine with some meals, and if I go to certain places with friends I’ll have wine or beer.  But for whatever odd reason I didn’t go to these places much from June through most of September.  So not until a couple weeks ago did I realize that I’ve been a boring, friggin’ teetotaler.  That’s when my theater sister visited from Santa Fe and she and I went with a couple of her theater friends to a play (the fantastic 39 Steps, so very funny) and afterwards to a swank night spot.

Being thirsty and having per usual only a few bucks on me, I had lemonade.

My sister and her friends, who know how to seriously drink and put on a show because they’re theater people, ordered all kinds of exotic cocktails and other frothy concoctions in fancy glasses, which they dutifully reviewed while adding lots of dramatic gestures for emphasis.  They were fun to be with.

Me, I just sat there with my nerdy lemonade.

I’ve never really thought about Layla’s drinking habits.  I’ve just always assumed that she drinks more than I do because 1) she can afford to buy all the wine she wants, and 2) she lives in Dublin, which means she and her friends can meet up at their favorite pubs and have a pint while discussing books (the Irish are voracious readers).  I figure she isn’t like James Bond with his shaken-not-stirred martinis, or like tough, hard-drinking action guys or gals in books or movies or TV shows who drink hard liquor because they’re hard and tough and their missions are hard and tough.  Layla doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.

On the other hand, I sure as hell don’t want Layla to have my persnickety taste buds.  So yes, I think she should occasionally order an exotic cocktail, and if you put her behind a bar she can whip up fancy, lethal concoctions.  In this respect she’s like Nora in those wonderful old Thin Man movies – elegant, witty, and able to hold her liquor while the men around her are falling down.

And like Nora, when Layla has a hangover she still looks really good 


on October 7, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

Last night, hell almost froze over.

For the first time ever, I turned into an attacking animal.

Not out in public, since that would be slightly illegal.  Instead, for one brief fencing bout, I turned into a foaming-at-the-mouth crazy attacking bloodthirsty beast. 

How crazy was I?

I almost beat Jim in a bout.  I got eight points to his ten.

Jim is one of those fencers I dread going up against .  He’s scary good.  Been fencing for at least 15 years.  Goes to national tournaments.  Is like the Borg in Star Trek because, when someone gets a touch against him, he assimilates what his opponent has just done and instantly devises defense strategies to prevent it from happening again.  You can even see through his mask how his face is moving as calculations rush through his head.  His free left hand twitches as if counting off counterattacks.

About a year ago I got way up to six touches against him, but it’s been downhill ever since as he (with robotic efficiency) kept improving while I pretty much hit a plateau.  For a long time now I’ve been lucky to get two or three touches against his ten.

Then last night I finally, really, truly ATTACKED and never stopped ATTACKING.

I didn’t use sophisticated tactics.  I didn’t have second and third attacks planned should my first fail.  I just LUNGED and HIT, JUMPED and HIT, RETREATED and PUSHED BACK and HIT.

I realized afterwards that I’d stopped thinking.  Instead what I FELT pushed me the whole time.  It was like being controlled by an unleashed, wild desperation.  A screaming instinct kept telling me to ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK.

Which, by the way, you’re supposed to do in fencing.  Or pretty much in any martial art.

Afterwards, I was exhilarated (EIGHT POINTS!), but I also felt weird.  I’ve been fencing for about four years with months off here and there, yet for the first time I had experienced absolute unbridled aggression.  For the first time I successfully put myself in an attack mode and stayed there.  What I felt was a kind of unthinking dark place that was very un-nice, unfeminine, unpolite.  The conscious me vanished and a fierce subconscious took over.


Afterwards I was a bubbling sweetheart.  I was also kinda in awe.  At long last I personally understood that this is what James Bond is like when he fights.  Or Indiana Jones or Alias or Nikita.  Or Layla, for that matter.

Break on through to the other side, Jim Morrison sings.

I finally got to the other side.

Lost Weekend

on October 4, 2010 in Misc 6 Comments »

I have no idea where my weekend went.

I went into it with the best of intentions.  I was going to get a big chunk of Compass Master edited.  I was gonna really stretch and work out and maybe study languages.  I was gonna read a friend’s short story.  I was gonna be Layla in overdrive.

None of this happened.

Ever have one of those weekends where, at the end of it on Sunday night, you’re trying to figure out where 48 hours disappeared to?  And you didn’t have a single drop of liquor — not even a sip of beer or wine — so it’s not like you were under the influence of a foggy, chemical haze.  I mean, sure I went out with a friend Friday night and had some (innocent, alcohol-free) fun.  And yes, I had a fencing tournament on Saturday that lasted over four hours, not including the drive to and from plus getting ready for it.  And sure, after the tournament I went grocery shopping so that by the time I got home and rehydrated I was pretty much only good for doing my blobbed-out Jabba the Hut imitation on the sofa.

I mean, why the HELL is my weekend suddenly over?  Was it all just housework, errands and tasks?  Because I can tell you that nothing seems to be finished and I’ve still got piles to do.

On the slightly more positive side…


Okay, so it was just a small tournament at the fencing center school.  And there were only 10 epee competitors (as opposed to the much larger foil and sabre divisions).   But in the end I was the only female left, so it was down to me, two high school guys and a college student — guys less than half my age and in superb physical shape.  Granted, of those three the only one I beat was the youngest and shortest.  For an old lady like me, that’s still pretty good.

 Now if I could only get a handle on my weekends, I’d really be a champ.

For me, writing a novel is an unhealthy addiction.

In my last entry, I mentioned that there can be a darker point or motivation for my writing.  Well, this is what I mean.  For me, writing is a habitual impulse because it can be a soothing relief, a jolt of excitement, a rush of thrills and spills.  When I’m not careful, I often use writing as an excuse to live way too much inside my head.

As long as I’m writing, as long as I’m sitting in a chair and typing out words, or lost in thought as I plot out a story or scout a location, then I’m in another world.  It doesn’t matter that this alternate world isn’t the best one to be in, or that the characters in it go through good times and bad.  What matters is that I’m no longer in my world.  I’m no longer dealing with the problems in my life.  I no longer think about the painful contention among family members.  I don’t have to worry about the insecurities of my job and finances. 

Instead I’m in better place far, far away.  I’m a small-time god over a creation of my own making.  And damn, if that power and control doesn’t taste sweet!

This is why I’ve never needed much discipline to write.  Sure, it can be tough as hell finding the right words to capture a character or scene.  Falling into the rhythm of flowing sentences and paragraphs can be a bitch.  But as long as I’m writing I’m practicing an art at which I excel:

Glorified daydreaming.

That’s really what writing is for me, you know – mere daydreaming gussied up with some hard work and lots of research.  It’s my excuse to escape from reality.  Sure, my real life is generally okay these days.  But it’s not thrilling or exciting or full of grand passion and adventure.  In contrast, my make-believe literary efforts are chock full of all that and more.  When I was driving this last weekend through valleys and mountains and canyons, I wasn’t just enjoying the scenery.  In my mind’s eye I was watching a thrilling tale unfold across the landscape.  Which helps to explain why I almost drove off the road a couple times.

So you can understand why this Layla plan is good for me.  Like an addict who has gotten high way too often, I’m finally forcing myself to DO in real time in the real world what I’ve long been wanting to and not just write about it.  On the downside, a lot of my real Layla activities are way too small scale and I’m restricted by a tight budget and little free time.

But hey, I’m learning and growing and starting to live more.  And no one ever said that getting over an addiction is easy.