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Wednesday, November 28, 2007


My novel isn't complete, but I've reached the glorious, glorious point known as 50,000 words

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 Winner
And that is enough for tonight. I mean this morning.

Wait, when did it become this morning?

(For NaNos only: Purple bars! Purple bars! They really are beautiful, and they really do taste like artificial grape soda!)

Thank you, Mel, for the encouragement. Thank you, Ruthlessbatty and Swaziloo, for talking me into this four Novembers ago. Thank you, Steven, for putting up with my glares when you want to tell me something while I am trying to write and understanding (65%) why I won't listen. Thank you everyone who has smiled indulgently. Thank you, Pixies, for writing the song Little Eiffel, so I could get Boogie Wonderland out of my head after hearing it both in Happy Feet and on the Emery-Go-Round within the space of a few days.

Thank you, Office of Letters and Light and everyone else at National Novel Writing Month, founded here in my beloved Bay Area, for encouraging thousands of us to do the improbable and believe in ourselves enough to be recklessly creative for thirty glorious, sleepless, caffeinated, precious days. I love you all.


posted by Arlene (Beth)12:05 AM

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Archives. Yes, I know that Blogger isn't posting links to the monthly archive versions of the blog. I don't know why. I think it's having too much fun producing individual pages for each new label or tag for the post. I'll fix that manually, if I can persuade myself to not add anything unnecessary, like a highlights summary, or wav files of my stomach growling. Or non sequiters...

Yes, the rumors are true: I am thinking of reposting my content here from the late 1990s and early 2000s. But every time I think I should, I realize that it all looks really good where it is at If you use the Wayback Machine, which has 85 BILLION pages stored up, and look up "" (because you have it memorized and have been pining for it ever since I changed hosts and servers), not one, not two, but SIX versions of my old website, the Teahouse for the Contemplation of Enchiladas ( come up. And, somehow, despite my completely 'let's see what this does' approach to HTML, many of them look pretty good. Some decidedly do not look good as anything but minimalist art, especially within the enchilada recipe sections, where they are white-on-white because of my ingenious (not) way of using half-toned images as backgrounds. But the kind folks there have induced some sort of forgiveness-of-my-lameness algorithm, and most of the pages are readable. And look decent, for their era.

Even the pages documenting my Nepal trek are there. So you can read entries with names like "Sam Ten Detching Choling to Tubten Choling: Enough Syllables to Start a New Monastery."

I even have an archive. In the archive. Which is... SO self-referential.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:35 PM

Monday, November 26, 2007



infrared photograph of trees along the Tuolomne River in Modesto by A.E. GravesIt was another one of those gorgeous days that made me want to stay in the City, but it was also Thanksgiving, a good time to visit my parents.

My parents live in the town of Riverbank, California, a few hours away from San Francisco by car, and slightly longer by train. (Amtrak used to stop in Riverbank and a very old-fashioned, simple looking station stop, rather than in Modesto, the largest town in the area. Eventually, Modesto built a better station (this being quite relative), and the train started skipping the Riverbank stop. Vagrants moved into the tiny Riverbank building, and it was eventually burned to the ground. Now, when I take the train out to see my folks, they pick me up in Modesto.) They moved there about 14 years ago, after a struggle to sell my childhood home in a weak housing market. They sold the house and managed to get two (and for a time, three) separate, look-alike houses out in new developments in the Central Valley. They had sold the SF house, in part, to be able to live separately, yet somehow managed to purchase separate homes on the same block in Riverbank's River Cove development. For a time, my father moved into another house a town away, in Oakdale, but returned to Riverbank recently.

At the time they moved out of the City, they spoke of what 'my room' would look like when the houses were finished and they could move in. And I kept pointing out that I lived on my own in SF. Which did not deter them. It's nice that they wanted me to move with them. But... You know that saying about how you can take the girl out of the City, but you can't take the City out of the girl? It's wrong. You CAN NOT take the girl out of the City. Not if the girl is conscious. She will not go willingly.

My parents' ever-changing neighbors found their living arrangement to be a sign of (a) wealth, since my parents could mysteriously afford TWO $114k or so homes, and (b) peculiar. After my parents had been living there for some time, my mother introduced herself to a new neighbor who was just moving in and talking to the folks around her, seeking the gossip of her new block. She told my mother that she had just been informed that there was a married couple living separately on the block, their houses nearly (yet not quite) back to back, and that they had dug a secret passageway in between... Which made my mother laugh, because the story had to be about my folks. (Note: they do not have a secret passageway. Or a non-secret tunnel. Just so you know: they live separately because they do not get along very well.)

Even though they aren't very far away, I do not visit my parents very often. There are a few reasons for this. The main one is that their area becomes unbearably hot in summer. Wretchedly, praying-for-nightfall, shriveling up like a raisin hot. A college classmate of mine worked near Modesto, and ran a harvester all night, explaining that the grapes and other crops had to be harvested at night, because during the day, the workers would faint in the heat, and the machines would overheat and malfunction. You can imagine what that heat does to a native San Franciscan, whose maximum functional temperature is a mere 78. My earliest visit in summertime occurred during 112 degree weather. It was one of my last summer visits.

Also, I am not partial to the smell of fertilizer, natural or synthetic, and it appears to be a dominant regional fragrance. Also, I am allergic to... well, everything. During their first few years there, I would visit quite frequently, but was plagued by what I thought were weekend cases of the flu each time. Eventually, I figured out that it's grass seed and other things that are abundant there.

My parents aren't much hardier than I am: they've just adjusted their lifestyle to include cable television (Sci Fi!) and hiding indoors during daylight hours half of the year.

There is an oddness of visiting my parents in 'not-home.' When I visit, I am not going home. Home is HERE. Home is in the City by the Bay. When I visit, I am visiting my parents in their new houses, which is different. I feel sentimental about my dear parents, and my younger sister, and her sweet children... But I have no connection to the place where they live now aside from my visits. There are things that are familiar to me that they took with them from the City, but it's kind of like seeing your things on display in a museum: they've lost their context.

I have even had trouble photographing there. It took years before I could really get a camera out during my visit and point it at anything. I have lots of photos of my nieces, or my parents, but... they're all indoor photos. There was nothing outside that really attracted my attention. At night, I would step outside and look at the wide, starry sky, and marvel at how it stretched all the way from horizon to horizon... and then rush inside to avoid the mosquitoes. Or, I would walk around the development, and try to decide if there was any reason to photograph more than one of the houses, since they all looked alike...

Then my mother took me to Knight's Ferry. KF is a historic spot where people were able to safely cross the Stanislaus River back in the day. There is an old mill; the river, which is dammed about 7 times between the town and its headwaters, looks somewhat natural, in a lovely, rocky channel with deep pools; the river is surrounded by oak woodlands and pastures... It's just gorgeous. And it's especially gorgeous in infrared.

So I'm loosening up. I'm now dedicated to photographing the Stanislaus in the dozen or so parks run by the Army Corps of Engineers, who have apparently claimed the land downstream of their dams for public recreational purposes, which is novel. I've only photographed in three or so of the spots I'm interested in, and plan to explore more of them with my mother on future visits. (In temperate weather.) I can usually only photograph things I am sincerely interested in and/or have some affection for, so this is a pleasant sign that I'm forming a bond with their new home region.

My mom took us for a walk in the town of Modesto during this visit, along the Tuolumne River. The Tuolumne, whose Grand Canyon high in the Sierras is one of my favorite spots on the earth, is a completely different looking river by the time it reaches this section of the Central Valley, but there is a charming park along its banks which was nice to walk off some of our oversized meals in. And so, to even my surprise, I now have a set of the only photos I have ever taken in Modesto, California. I have never given Modesto much thought, aside from a brief analysis during a ride through town that involved comparing the number of fast food joints to the number of cardiac care facilities. But now I have visited a river I'm sentimentally attached to in town. Which gives the experience a strange context, but there it is.


Our Thanksgiving feast was great: a vegetarian lasagna (full of fresh spinach, fresh mushrooms, roasted sweet peppers, ricotta, and mozzarella, layered between pasta in a homemade sauce); a green salad with artichoke hearts; black and green olives; home made pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and Breyer's natural vanilla ice cream. My mother prepared everything and accepted little help in cleaning up, so it was luxurious for us.

We walked in a little park along the Stanislaus River after feasting, watched Transformers and Happy Feet, had more lasagna, went to bed... And woke up to my father preparing fried potatoes, pepper jack cheese omelets, and biscuits...

Then came the walk in Legion Park in Modesto. (Sights seen in passing: the Gallo Winery. The City-County Airport. A police action involving a public park and several police cars. Jacked-up trucks.) And then more pie, and ice cream.

Then we returned home, miraculously bypassing any sort of traffic jam in Tracy, to sleep away the afternoon while trying to digest all that food.

I really couldn't ask for more. Except perhaps to see my newest nephew, who is several months old. Or for my parents to move to a spa town, so I could spend every visit soaking in hot, gloriously sulphur-filled water. Or a million dollars and a pony. Oh, never mind - what I mean is, I had a pleasant visit.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)11:52 PM


Buffeted by pirates

[The title represents what my eyes thought I saw while trying to read a blog, and read a pop-up e-mail preview, and listen to a conversation running in the background. It thus represents the absurdity of multi-tasking when it isn't necessary.

This post was drafted on November 21st, and then set aside in favor of novel writing.

Today's weather was relentlessly gorgeous, one of those autumn days that reminds you of how amazingly beautiful the world can be. It has been crisp in the shade and warm in the sun in a way that makes your skin continually aware of the touch of every edge of dappled light you walk through. The sunrise was accompanied by a small group of artfully arranged pink cloudlets. The rosy, late afternoon light begs to be noticed, photographed, and painted.

It was epically gorgeous. (Epically is a word: says so, so it must be true.) All of that epic gorgeousness raised a few questions in my mind about how I've been spending my time lately. Especially as I returned to the office after my lunchtime walk.

Epic weather like this reminds me the amazing weekend hikes that used to fill at least one day of nearly every weekend 8 autumns ago, when Steven and I first started dating. That year we had unseasonably warm weather nearly every time I found myself hiking in a redwood forest with Steven, or in the Marin Headlands, down near Big Basin, or up near Calistoga. It was unreal, improbable, and amazing.

It changed my life in a few ways, some of them unexpected. ASIDE from making my new found relationship feel epic. You see, my 1971 Nikon F (also known as "my beloved" and "my baby") is a very heavy, bulky camera, and I constantly found myself either unwilling to haul it everywhere, or unable to have it handy when a spontaneous hiking plan broke out while we were on our way to run some minor errand. (Steven was especially spontaneous in those days, as in I would think we were going to Radio Shack for a battery, and suddenly we were on a 15 mile hike four counties away. This is how events like our "Great Adventure" occurred, in which we went on a multi-hour hike on a moonless night in Big Basin without flashlights, and wound up having to make our way back to our car over several miles of trail by feel in darkness so complete, we literally could not see our hands in front of our faces. Ah, spontaneity.) Aside from constantly raising questions about which shoes to wear each day, never REALLY knowing what the day would entail, the epic beauty I witnessed so often called out to be recorded even when I was completely unprepared to witness it. This inspired me to buy a small, point-and-shoot camera, and constantly carry it in my purse. Once I had the camera, I saw photographs worth taking nearly every day, and suddenly had the wherewithal to do something about it. Thus, my casual photographic output soared upwards of 80 rolls of film annually, and a variety of substantive projects began to take shape, which led me back to an in-depth study of photography over its complete history... And all sorts of other fun fanaticism, with which you are likely familiar if you've been reading this blog or visiting my other website.


Aside: Steven's weekend runs with a local running club have sabotaged several of my hiking plans, but have now led to a new potential for adventure-comedy: I am taking up running. (You may laugh.) Don't be surprised if I never mention it again, and deny ever having posted this.


posted by Arlene (Beth)11:02 PM

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Final NaNoWriMo 2007 Weekend, and the arrival of Sweet, Sweet 47k

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantAll week I have been keeping notes about all of the things I want to blog about. Epic weather; visiting my folks in the Central Valley; relationship tips; anti-fashion tips; sake cravings, and how to cure them; remembering how to really SWIM, and the strange double life I led in my teens... And my plan was that, as soon as I hit 47,000 words, I would be allowed to finally blog again, and write about all of these things.

Today I dedicated myself wholeheartedly to writing my novel. I had a phenomenal 9,803 word day. (Yes, nine thousand, eight hundred and three words.) And now I must rest.

I hope to finish the novel by Wednesday. Yes, it's going pretty well. And I came up with a new setup for the presentation of certain key plot devices... I'm looking forward to having more of my life back. I'm also looking forward to e-mail from my NaNo friend Flyingbeta, who sent me this last year, when I was crazy enough to write my novel in just ten days:
Subject: Don't make me stage an intervention!

I'm speaking to you from the heart, as a friend: PLEASE stop snortin' that wicked cocaine, just to get your word count up. 50k isn't worth having the white snow monkey riding your back.

[heartfelt praise omitted, lest I blush and fail to accurately convey the hue in HTML]
I'm pretending that I'm more sane this year, but when writing a novel in a month, that's a really relative idea.

This year's cumulative progress:

11/3: 4,439 words right out the gate
11/4: 7,474
11/5: 9,287
11/8: 9,492
11/11: 15,126
11/13: 16,694
11/15: 18,448
11/17: 23,126
11/21: 24,870
11/23: 31,760
11/24: 38,122
11/25: 47,925

I'm not writing this because I think you care: I'm writing this because this particular form of madness fascinates me, and I'm wallowing in it. Bear with me. In a few days, this shall pass. Or all will be revealed in the fullness of time. Or something. And we'll return to my OTHER, more regularly-scheduled, often-food-related self-indulgences.



posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM

Monday, November 19, 2007

Distractions abound. I just went over to Steven's computer for a moment, to listen to Where Is My Mind by the Pixies... But then I had to listen to Bottle Up and Explode by Elliott Smith (and Independence Day, and Son of Sam, and a few others.). And Seven Nation Army by White Stripes. And the official song of my laps this morning, National Anthem by Radiohead.

About 20 songs later, I finally feel the absence of a growing word count. The shame. The shame.

Oh, look! A Depeche Mode cover by Portishead!


posted by Arlene (Beth)9:30 PM


Third NaNo Weekend.

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantIt's a lovely, lovely evening, cool and fresh. I am sitting in front of my computer with a small bowl of pineapple chunks, the last chunks from a fresh pineapple I sliced up about three months ago and immersed into a large jar of white rum. This is sooooooo tasty. It's one of those "why didn't this occur to me earlier" sort of recipes.

Amon Tobin's "Easy Muffin" is playing on Limbik Frequencies (, my favorite web radio station. I'm trying to figure out if I love downtempo electronica because I grew up on New Wave, or if there is something else to it, something about how... naturally urban it sounds to me, how appropriate it sounds coming through my computer.

Despite the fact that electronic music is so mechanistic and jazz is so improvisational, the music gives me the same sort of mood on some nights. "Nights" is the key, I think. Electronica comes from dimly lit computers, jazz comes from dimly lit city nightclubs, and I sit in uncomfortable chairs, staring forward in both places. (I'm so romantic.) I believe the natural habitat of jazz is: cities at night. It is not the same in daylight; it is not the same surrounded by orchards...


My NaNoWriMo word count stands at 23,126 words as of Saturday evening. I have complicated my recent writing sessions by (a) daydreaming excessively, (b) spending much of the weekend listening to Portishead's remarkable album Portishead and then pondering its drama, (c) walking on gorgeously fog-bound Ocean Beach, collecting a perfect mussel shell with the wet membrane still covering it, and being haunted by all of the notably absent seabirds, (d) being jealous of my wonderful cousin, who had spent the previous day removing oil spilled from the container ship Cosco Busan from our local beaches, and (e) engaging in other forms of not-writing.

I am considering adding that to my list of pastimes: not-writing. (This would be a more convincing pastime to list if I were not currently blogging about it. I'll keep that in mind for next time.) I am certainly spending more time thinking about writing. Now that I'm approaching the halfway point of my NaNoWriMo goal, other stories are coming to mind. Stories of love and obsession. Stories of old women who think they control the weather (and who cannot be persuaded otherwise). Half-dreamt phrases that I want to use in books ("seamstress of fog"). Phrases that I'm happy I don't have to use in song lyrics, because it would be difficult to rhyme anything with them ("I look like a cut rate Medusa.") Most of these things only make any sense in the context of the storyline I was daydreaming about at the time... But that's what this month is for.


The only non-non-writing news I'm willing to disclose is that it appears the rumors were true: my healed elbow does seem capable of predicting rain. It hurts in a special way inside shortly before rainclouds arrive. I was convinced that this morning's ache was a false alarm, but it rained shortly after I arrived at work. My friend P. suggested that my elbow does not merely predict rain, but may actually CAUSE rain, which was one of those great suggestions that people who drink at Peet's are often willing to burst forth with.

God bless great coffee.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)7:42 PM

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Second NaNoWriMo Weekend

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantLife is a really full thing, even without employment, don't you think? My non-work activities are so intense that I feel like I've created some consuming, self-perpetuating internal flame that constantly exhausts and then renews me.

It's a happy kind of crazy. A good, life-being-thoroughly-lived kind.

My NaNoWriMo word count is now at 15,126, which is nice. 20,000 would be nicer, but I really enjoyed going out and socializing with my dear office colleagues this week after work. I had really great time, and rested both my fingers and my eyes from my relentless novel fanaticism. Also, I made up for some of my novel-writing-slackery (is that a word?) by making an obscene number of longhand notes, which will supply me with all sorts of details in just over a week, when I get to the part that those details are needed for. As an added bonus, I get to enjoy the encouragement of my NaNo friends during this time, and nothing is as wonderful as people who are making the same crazed creative journey that you are making. It is such a beautiful thing. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy to have this particular form of creative insanity.

Being the fanatic that I am, I didn't JUST stop at cranking out another 5,000 plus words this weekend. (Or, more specifically, this afternoon.) I made some ferrotypes this weekend, perhaps my best so far. I helped Steven with that pie for that pie event. And I took naps. And I watched clouds blow over. And I wondered idly what friends I don't see often were doing with their time. And I remembered the way the moon rise looks on the side of Mt. Everest from Tengboche, and what my favorite noodles taste like when I'm backpacking and have really earned my hunger for them... I'm a lucky, lucky woman.

Write on.


posted by Arlene (Beth)8:33 PM

Saturday, November 10, 2007



unusually lumpy winter squash, as photographed by Steven P.Once again, one of Steven's friends held her annual pie competition.

This year I learned more about the genesis of the idea: there was a guy she used to date, and his family had a tradition of getting together after their regularly scheduled Thanksgiving Feast to have a fierce pie competition. It sounds like a rather odd idea to me: first, it doesn't seem practical to be able to really evaluate many pies after a feast - there just wouldn't be any ROOM to eat more, if their Thanksgivings are anything like mine. Second, you'd think that relative-filled holidays would be stressful enough without overt competition. I mean, covert competition between family members really ought to satisfy everyone, right?

Anyway, she revised the tradition to be a stand-alone event at her house, detached from other food holidays. She invited us last year (I wrote about that here) and we got a feel for what the event was about. Steven and I discussed our strategy for this year, and we decided (1) that we didn't really share the tastes of the folks at the party, and so we should make a pie to please ourselves, and (2) that the trophy (a ceramic rooster teapot) wasn't something we should really concern ourselves with competing for.

I may have mentioned that we got a really wide range of winter squash for carving on Halloween, and there were two or three that I had selected specifically for baking. One of those, weighing in at over 20 pounds, was an unusually lumpy "French" squash which looked like a hubbard mixed with a Hokkaido, mixed with... a brain. I'm attaching a photo Steven took of the squash before we baked half of it. Anyway, the enormous squash had more than three inches of thick flesh all the way around, and baked to a nearly buttery, smooth texture. In other words, it was PERFECT for a honey-sweetened, cholesterol free "pumpkin" pie. Steven named it "lumpkin," which was cute. I made the crust, and he made the filling according to my usual recipe, but he cut out an adorable little jack-o-lantern face out of crust to put on the top. It baked beautifully.

Off we went to the pie competition, planning to have fun and NOT win. All went as planned.

The pies this year (other than ours) were:

-grown-up grasshopper pie: a mint cream frozen pie, made with mint Bailey's. It had a chocolate cookie crust. Though I'm not a frozen-cream pie kind of person, this was a really great example of its genre, and I voted for it as best overall. This meant it was not going to win.
-strawberry pie, by the same person who made the fabulous strawberry rhubarb pie last year. This was very, very tasty.
-pecan pie, in two separate varieties: a drier, more solid "Indigenous Treat" pecan pie, and a maple bourbon pecan. The maker of the latter pie also handed out shots of bourbon as part of their presentation. (The hostess joked that she'd hand out twenty dollar bills next year as part of her presentation.) I'm not a huge fan of pecan pies, though these were both respectable. This means that one of them was destined to sweep the awards in nearly all categories - the one that involved bourbon shots, of course.
-"pink inside," which was basically pumpkin with a layer of cranberry cream. This had a ginger snap crust. This was an interesting idea, but the flavors competed too much for me. Steven enjoyed it.
-apple pie, in two separate variations: one that was soupy inside (a ladle would have helped), and one that was made with bacon. No comment.
-"oil spill," a comment on the recent oil spill that is contaminating the San Francisco Bay. This consisted of "apple pies" purchased from our nation's largest fast food chain, which were crumbled up, covered with crushed Frito chips in a dinosaur-shaped pan, surrounded by small dolls and a photo of Jesus, and slathered with chocolate sauce. This won for "most original." I told the hostess that I couldn't vote in any category for a pie I was fundamentally unwilling to eat: otherwise, the "most original" category could go to a frosted brick, or a pile of leaves. She told me that made me a harsh judge. You can see how, if I'm actually going to be voting for things based on their fundamental pie-ness, I've gone astray in this particular event.
-cran raspberry. This pie was in a tall, cylindrical, very hard crust, and was covered with crust cut-outs of animals. I voted for in the "best presentation" category. It won, ruining my otherwise perfect record record of having nothing I like win. There is a catch, of course: after the judging was over, the baker admitted that she had added bacon fat to the crust, and merrily said, "it's not like you said it had to be vegetarian, right?" Great. Being a local girl, I can't imagine putting in an ingredient like that and not disclosing it: even before thinking of other vegetarians, I would think of people I know who are Jewish who would need to be able to avoid that dish. I only had a narrow strip of the pie, and didn't eat all of the crust on that small piece (because I couldn't break the last part with a fork, because it was hard), so I'm hoping I will not be in the bathroom being violently ill in three hours, the way I was the last time someone hid something like that in my food.

So, the evening was fun and educational: everyone was in a good mood, and people were fun to chat with. Among other things, Steven learned that TWO samples of each of the pies (excluding the apple-bacon) was one sample round too many.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:07 PM

Rain. The fall rains have arrived, and all I want to do is stay inside, drink tea, and write. Which isn't how I've mapped this weekend out at all, of course, but the idea is nice.

This sort of weather invites all sorts of food fantasies, and this afternoon I played one of them out: pumpkin soup (with ginger and onions) plus sesame-wheat crackers as a light dinner. It turned out soooo well. There was something about the way Steven said that it was good - like he was trying to get a doctor's attention, that sort of tone - that was really flattering. :-)

Expect me to write quite a bit more about "soup weather" in the coming weeks.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:04 PM

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Official NaNoWriMo 2007 ParticipantSteven is making fun of me for blogging as a break from working on my novel for National Novel Writing Month.

"Taking a break from writing by writing! Bah!"

"I never said I was sane," was my response.


Random conversational snippet from the week:

S: Little white dogs like that one [indicating fluffy, small dog waiting for its guardian in a car] are like the rabbits of the dog world.
Me: Meat dogs?
S: Yes.
Me: Dogs that exist solely to make eagles feel good about themselves?
S: Yes. But when an eagle catches one, the other eagles say, 'THAT isn't a dog. It doesn't even count.'


I started working on my novel yesterday afternoon, and got in 4,438 words. My novel is starting off darker than I expected, and I'm noticing a pattern. Each of my novels is basically about employment (though this was less direct in the third novel), and there are a variety of rather harsh criticisms I make of the current economic, political, and class systems that are more stinging than you would expect from an office worker in the legal profession who owns her own home. I'm theoretically one of the success stories of this system, and yet my near-future representations of the working world have remarkably bleak edges.

I hadn't really thought about it until Steven read my second novel, and was nearly depressed by the city that my character lived in. Later, unfortunately, he started finding real news stories that he said would have fit perfectly into that dark world I was writing about, but which actually belong to our current world. Eek.

I'm going to try to make things brighter in this one as the novel evolves, and that will have a lot to do with the circumstances of the characters, which are on a certain course...

Did I ever post any comments about this year's novel? Let me quote from a message I sent to Steven and a fellow writer on October 10th:
This morning, on the train on the way here, I came up with an entirely new story to work on for NaNo this year.

I had been planning to write a story about a woman who writes for travel guides and lifestyle publications and suffers from the shallow commercial pressures that force her to talk up uninteresting places and inane people because they are officially "fashionable," while being bullied by her family and friends for not being "normal" and conventional enough. Peer pressure forces her into making a lot of choices that don't suit her, and she continually feels like a failure. She has a very clumsy (but fun) epiphany (involving being arrested for vandalism, of all things) about where she really fits in, winds up with a fun writing job, and breaks free from the suffocating and misguided influence of her loved ones.

I'll write that some other time. Instead, I'm going to continue on my "Divine Interventions" series.

Volume 1: The afterlife is a bureaucracy, and the way the world works can be adjusted mechanically.

Volume 2: Benevolent aliens invade earth, disrupting the "natural" systems of entrenched corporate capitalism and financial feudalism that dominate society.

Volume 3: War-caused mass economic collapse results in the restructuring of society on decentralized lines, giving rise to both religious states and eco-societies in the fragmented former U.S.

NEW: Volume 4: A group of temps find themselves getting increasingly bizarre paying assignments from their agency, from keeping people from boarding planes to spilling coffee on people who are on their way to an important date. Gradually, they discover that each of the employees in their small division have an odd number of experiences and background details in common. Are they really just working for a temp agency and its eccentric president?

The idea fits with the madcap series and suits my current style. I've already picked the old Federal Reserve Bank building as the agency's office, and I know it well enough from my Orrick days to describe it in minute detail. One of the characters will be reading The End of Eternity, which gives a hint of what's going on without giving anything away. I'll set it a few years into the future, so there can be even more senseless gadgetry than we currently have. The three lead characters will start out suffering through banal office tasks before things take an odd turn, and won't figure things out until about 3/4 of the way through the story; then they will struggle over whether to embrace their freaky situation or resist what looks like a well-planned destiny.

*plot tremor* I just had two more ideas pop into my head for my outline.

Oh dear.
I think that conveys some of my current madness.

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posted by Arlene (Beth)10:57 AM


Muni Love(s) You, Part II.

I forgot to post something that occurred on October 26th which moved me.

I had just missed the 29 bus that would have whisked me quickly to my nearest BART station, saving me about 12 minutes of walking. It went past my street while I still had about six houses to walk down the hill, plus an entire block along the cross street to reach the nearest stop. I resigned myself to walking to BART, and had made it about two blocks down when another 29 snuck up behind me. I turned when I heard that unique hybrid bus sound that the 29 now makes, saw the location of the bus, looked ahead to the stop a full block away, sighed, and resigned myself to walking again.

But the driver came up alongside, shot me a significant look, and slowed a bit to wait for my response - so I ran, and she stopped for me.

I told her I hadn't expected her, since a bus had just passed.

"I can read body language," she said, as I thanked her profusely.

The 29 is a busy route, with the bus routinely packed with old folks and school kids jostling each other for position, with fierce competition to board at the busy stops, with noise and bluster... There are so many people along the way that the drivers have to deal with, but she read me and gave me a chance to get on between stops. Her gesture was so unexpected, I got teary-eyed just for a moment.

I often say that I don't like people, but that's not entirely true. I *love* people when they are at their best: planting trees, helping frail people cross streets, volunteering, smiling at people for no particular reason while they walk down the street (or smiling back when they are smiled at)... I don't like people when they are oblivious to people around them, and act thoughtlessly. Most people seem to fall into the thoughtless category, and so I often feel like a misanthrope. But I love the people who are aware of their surroundings, and who display any level of kindness. Those little kind gestures of friendliness completely restore my faith in the potential of humanity, if not in humanity itself.


posted by Arlene (Beth)10:41 AM

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