Archive for April, 2012

Role Playing

on April 30, 2012 in Misc 4 Comments »

So a few nights ago I did a very minor action hero thing. I played at being someone else.

It didn’t call for disguising myself or faking my way through an escape or anything so glamorous. Though I really should try doing just that sometime.

What happened was that during fencing I started role-playing, and the funny thing is it paid off.

See, I’m not really such a hot fencer, or at least it doesn’t come naturally to me. Sure, I love to swashbuckle and have a good time, but in good fencing the blade work should be tight and controlled with no flailing around like in a movie. I like to flail so much I can look like Zorro on speed. Hence I get hit a lot. I’m also a mass of bad fencing habits, which keep hurting my game, which in turn can send my confidence through the floor and make me very nervous, which can be deadly for a fencer.

But the other night, in the middle of a bout, I did something strange. I suddenly started doing Jim.

See, Jim is one of the best fencers in the place – or in the state, for that matter. He has a distinctive style – tapping his foot forward in mere inches until suddenly he lunges-pulls-back-lunges-again, and with terrifying speed and blade accuracy. He moves with a Borg-like coolness and calculation and perfect confidence. You just plain can’t rattle the guy. Well, earlier in the evening I had watched him picking off an opponent. Now here I was with the same opponent, and in a moment of despair (as usual I was losing) I channeled Jim.

It worked. I got several good hits. I still lost, but not by a huge spread.

Now by channeling I mean I really did try to BE Jim. Role-playing wasn’t enough, ’cause when I tried to simply copy his techniques, I flubbed up. Imitation was insufficient. I discovered I had to step outside myself and however briefly pretend that I was in body, mind and emotion this guy. And believe me, it was tough trying to switch identities in the middle of fast-moving action. But in the moments when I succeeded I was a calmer, better fencer.

Funny, isn’t it, how sometimes we have to get out of our own way if we want to get somewhere?

I really am serious now about this new approach. For the next few weeks I’m going to watch Jim like a hawk, and I’ll watch the other best fencers until I have their moves and techniques down too. Then mentally I’m going to try to get into their bodies and heads when I fence. ‘Cause I know firsthand that in some cases just being myself and doing what comes naturally will mean I’ll fail.

How about you? Do you ever block your own path to success? Any techniques you have to get around the problem?

Shaman Power

on April 23, 2012 in Misc 7 Comments »

I think I told y’all some time back about a sports massage therapist I’ve been to a couple times.  See, if you’re like me and do stuff like fencing and stretching and clumsy workouts, you’re gonna throw some muscles and tendons out of whack.  So I go to Shannon Marie because she’s a phenom who excels at putting body parts back where they belong.

Anyway, on Sunday I ran into her at Cost Plus (where I get my English tea fix) and we chatted.  Turns out she just got back from Peru, where the SAMI institute she founded does humanitarian work in a couple isolated mountain villages, and where she takes American clients on hiking/shamanic journeys.

I’m not exaggerating.  This woman has studied with shamans in Peru and has enough mother earth knowledge that she gets called on by CEOs and other bigwigs (mostly in Colorado and California) to help them out with personal or unusual problems.  Like spiritually “clearing” a stretch of land that is getting redeveloped or a barn that seems to be haunted, or “encouraging” an overbearing mother-in-law to move away.

Anyway, she mentioned how she always has to watch a few of her clients on these Peruvian treks because they’re forever wanting to pick up potsherds or other man-made relics that litter the countryside.  Stones and the like are okay, she said, but anything man-made might be booby-trapped.  As in cursed.  As in don’t touch it and don’t take it with you or bad things will happen to you.  And she’s seen this happen to people plenty of times.

This is where Layla and I are so different from Shannon Marie.  If I were on a trek and saw some man-made relic (an arrowhead, an ancient figurine) OF COURSE I’d pick it up and check it out and pocket it and feel like a little kid who just found shiny marbles.  Layla is a sophisticated antiquities hunter who’s gotten her hands on some major finds, especially of the papyrus/illuminated manuscript/parchments variety.  But curses?  We don’t believe in no curses…

Well, the Irish part of me almost believes.

See, I grew up with the old country stories of curses and blessings and things that go bump in the night.  So while the scientific part of my brain would dismiss it all as “RUBBISH!” — something primeval in my genes wants me to go  ghost hunting and on other paranormal explorations.

BTW, I’m still not having any luck in the ghost hunting department.  Dang it.

Also on a visceral level, I found myself wondering what I would do if I came across a “booby-trapped” object that carried a curse of bad luck.  Leave it alone?  Pass it on to an evil person who needs a comeuppance?  Hide it so that no one would ever use or abuse it?  What would you do if you could get your hands on something that truly carried a curse?

Joe Hill’s novel Heart-Shaped Box deals with this idea on a much more deadly and scary level.

On the nonfiction side there’s Finders Keepers — A Tale of Archeological Plunder and Obsession.  Author Craig Childs writes about his travels in the Southwest and how he’s sometimes torn about taking an object he comes across or leaving it exactly where he found it, and why.  It’s a good read.





So when I had my second archery lesson on Tuesday I  learned a couple cool things.

First off, remember that I’m working with a simple traditional bow and not one of those fancy (and expensive) compound ones that look like a steampunk weapon.

Anyway, when your fingers release the arrow it doesn’t fly in a perfectly straight line or even a smooth arc to the target.  Instead it “porpoises” before straightening out.  And yes, that’s the word the instructor uses.  What I really like is how from my viewpoint as an archer I can see that slight, split-second side-to-side wobble that you can’t detect as a  spectator and movies never show you.  But it’s there, and that porpoising has to be part of the calculation for your aim.  Kind of a Zen moment, for me, to see this movement and for time to be a little suspended as I witness it.

Second, according to the guys who run the archery place, the best shot in Colorado was the old man at the other end of the shooting range.  And I mean a white-haired, shuffling, hunched over gentleman.  From what I could see he was indeed one hell of an archer, but few people outside the place know it because he has no interest in competing and never goes to tournaments.  He just shoots arrows for love of the sport.  Kind of a beautiful purity to this attitude, isn’t there?

What I really love is that I’m finding more and more how age is no barrier to excelling at a sport.   Take fencing.  This month I’m having some private lessons from a gold medalist Olympian (I LOVE telling people that because it sounds so glamorous).  He’s middle-aged and can whip any younger man or woman in the place.  There’s another Olympian at the Center who also gives lessons, I know he’s past 50, and you so don’t want to face him on a strip because he’ll nail you before you see him coming.  Finally there’s a third instructor who’s in his late sixties, has had hip replacement surgery, and he can’t be bothered with deep lunges when all he has to do is parry and disengage and thrust the blade with such speed and accuracy you might as well call the bout 15 – 0 in his favor and go home.

See, the thing about action hero stuff like archery and fencing is that they’re highly tactical sports.  They’re not so much about muscles and endurance (granted, the best fencers are in fantastic cardio shape) as they are about being psychologically in control of oneself.  The best of them stay calm.  They size up their opponent or target.  In fencing, they use small, sharp, accurate movements and techniques that have been honed to perfection over the years.  No, they can’t compete against younger, fresh Olympic-level competitors.  But as athletes and masters of their arts they’re still damn fine.

You know how in movies and TV shows the revered martial arts masters are usually old guys (or women)?  Sometimes this isn’t a romantic myth.  Sometimes being old and a master of something is reality.


Okay, my heart is slowing down to normal and I’m trying to breathe again.

See, this evening I discovered whilst Googling that The Compass Master made the Publishers Weekly cut for a review in their quarterly supplement for self-published writers.

Let me explain.

PW has this program in which self-published authors can pay to have their fiction or non-fiction books listed in the supplement — the title, author’s name and a descriptive sentence.  It isn’t cheap, but last December I took the plunge.  Out of all these submissions that are then subsequently listed, PW has in the past picked about 25  to review.  This time they picked twice as many.  And guess what?

I made the cut.  My novel actually “merited a review.”

Of course I had HOPED that PW would not only review The Compass Master but give it a rave.  Well, there was no rave, but considering that PW can be brutal (I’m not exaggerating) in some reviews, I’m kinda lucky, ’cause the reviewer SEEMED to like my novel.


On the website index page for PW Select is the following announcement:

Here’s our complete Spring 2012 PW Select supplement, with reviews, features and listings of new self-published books.

PW Select April 2012: A Growing Chorus of Voices in DIY Publishing
This sixth PW Select quarterly—our first was in Dec. 2010—is our most robust: the most submitted titles and the most (52) that merited a review in our editors’ estimations. Among the highlights in fiction: a “confident debut” by Peter Christian Hall; Helen Soister’s Dan Brown–worthy thriller; a charming whodunit by Robin Lamont; and a winning portrait of the pre-AIDS gay community by Jeffrey Sharlach. In nonfiction, Stacy Dymalski’s “laugh-out-loud funny” mom memoir; and the enterprising Matt Ivester’s lol…OMG!, a guide to digital citizenship.


Yeah I know — they misspelled my name (it’s HELENA, people).  But they actually singled out The Compass Master as in “Helen Soister’s Dan Brown-worthy thriller.”


The trouble is, I found this page a couple hours AFTER I’d found the page for my review, and like I said it only seems to give some faint praise, so I’ve had mixed emotions all evening.  Don’t know if I’m allowed to post the whole thing, so if you’re curious you can look it up on PW by typing in my book title in their search window.  But here are the first and last sentences — the rest of the review is just a summary of the plot set-up.

Dan Brown fans looking for similar fare could do worse than this overlong religious thriller from Soister.

The frenetic action sequences are familiar, but unlike many Da Vinci Code wannabes, the internal logic holds together.

At least my book is better than the wannabes.  And a reader could do worse.  Yeah, really backhanded compliments.  Honestly, I feel better about being singled out on the index page.

But “Dan Brown-worthy thriller” … That’s my new mantra.  I am worthy.

If you wanna see the index page, here’s the link.

Okay, enough of these mixed feelings.  I’m going to bed.

Good night, all.  And may your own book reviews be unqualified raves.

So suddenly archery is getting really hot and popular, thanks of course to The Hunger Games.  Maybe that’s why I feel a little cool for having already done archery when I was a kid.  True, I wasn’t exactly a phenom shot like Katniss, but I never accidentally hit any of my siblings or the family dog, hence I wasn’t a totally rotten shot.

Sometimes ago I also mentioned here that I bought a Groupon deal for a few archery classes.   Well, I’m embarrassed to admit that only last week did I FINALLY take my first class.  And you know what?

I think I’ve got a new addiction.

I mean, compared to so much Layla stuff I’ve done in the near or more distant past (fencing, parkour, Taekwondo, trapeze, jumping out of a plane, target shooting with a shotgun), archery proved to be so…  peaceful.   So quiet.   So very Zen.

The classes are in a big ol’ converted warehouse with elk head trophies lining one wall and the scent of hunting testosterone hanging in the air.  We six or seven newbies stood to one side with our rented simple bows while to our right stood the Serious Archers with their expensive fancy weapons and national competitive-level skills.   And we all just had a quiet good time.  We concentrated on the target.  We became one with our bow, our arrows, our targets.

And you know what?  I was a pretty good shot, which surprised the hell out of me.

I’m really looking forward to the other classes and then dropping by for some shooting on my own.  The price for that will be cheap – $11 for the equipment rental and a couple hours of target practice.  And maybe if I’m a good girl and my finances don’t go to hell in a handbasket again any time soon, I’ll even buy myself some relatively inexpensive archery equipment.

Now…  As for the computers I mentioned in the title…

I want to pass on some Alonzo advice about computers.  As you know, I had one hell of a crappy time recently with the server that hosts my blog and my techie friend Alonzo had to step in and save the day.  Trouble is, a couple friends are reporting that they STILL can’t access my blog.  Well, Alonzo checked the server’s monitor tests for a few cities and they reported that it was up 100% of the time except for two 20-minute down times last week.  So why is Becoming Layla still not coming up for a few people?

Here’s Alonzo’s advice that applies to ALL personal computers:

“Many people never ‘clean’ their computers of the hundreds of megs of crap that accumulate from web surfing, and that is a major cause of computer slowdowns.  (Your new computer I set up to automatically clean every time you reboot, and your browser Firefox self cleans every time it is closed. Don’t use Internet Explorer, it sucks and attracts viruses.)

“For people who have not cleaned or don’t know how to clean their systems, I recommend CCleaner, which can be set up to run automatically on your computer. They may download it here and it is free:”

So there you have it – advice from Alonzo, a man who’s as good with computers as he is with a pump action shotgun.  And that’s the truth and that’s why he’s kinda scary.