Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Furballs--a Halloween story


It should have been just another day.  Get up, get dressed, have breakfast and go to school.  Malkina ran into the first snag as soon as she tried to pull on her underwear.  Reaching behind herself, she felt the furry protuberance.  Mystified, she moved to the mirror--a full-length mirror her mother insisted she have in her room, but which Malkina mostly ignored.  Why should she even look, when she was so hopelessly ordinary?  The most ordinary girl in the fifth grade.
Kicking aside a modest pile of books and dirty laundry so she could stand in front of the mirror, Malkina twisted and turned until she saw herself.  Saw the long, striped, furry tail she held with her left hand.  The tip of the tail twitched and she dropped it, jumping away from the mirror.
“I think I’d better wear a skirt today,” she muttered, turning back to the closet.
The next shock came when she began to brush her hair.
“Ouch!”  The brush had hit something awfully sensitive.  Again she explored with her fingers first, afraid to look.  High up on the left side of her head, a furry wedge emerged from the tangled hair.  She didn’t even have to look in the mirror to know there was a match for it on the other side.
Ears.  Cat ears, and a cat’s tail.  Suddenly panicked, Malkina shook off a slipper and checked her foot.  Still reassuringly human.  Dashing across the room, brush forgotten in her hand, she inspected every inch of herself in the suddenly-useful full-length mirror.
Everything seemed to be, well, ordinary.  Everything except that tail, and the furry little ears.  Watching carefully in the mirror, Malkina finished brushing her hair, mounding it over the ears and holding a big wave in place with hair gel.

At the breakfast table, Mom didn’t notice anything.  She never did.  Half asleep, interested mostly in her coffee and getting everyone fed and out the door to the bus, Mom never really fully opened her eyes until mid-morning.
Malkina’s older brother noticed, though.
“Whew!” He whistled.  “Got a hot date or something?  Can’t remember the last time I saw you in a skirt.”
Bob could be so annoying.  For one thing, he’d gotten a nice, normal name, not like Malkina.  For another, he couldn’t seem to stop teasing her.  He still thought she was a little girl, and that comments like that were funny.
“Just thought I needed a. . . change,” Malkina said.  “In a rut, you know.  Always the same.”
Walking to the bus stop Malkina found that the tail caused some trouble.  She’d had to pick a fairly long skirt to cover it, but the tail, unable to wave the way a cat’s tail should properly wave, twisted around her legs and threatened to trip her.

When she got to school, things got both better and worse.  Better, because her best friend was waiting just inside and grabbed her in a hug.  Worse, because she was dressed much like Malkina.  She whispered,
“You too?”
Adrianna nodded, looking scared and excited at the same time.  “It worked!  Our incantation worked!”
“ But that was just a joke!  Magic doesn’t really work,” Malkina objected, evidence to the contrary twitching beneath her skirt.
Adrianna shrugged.  “Guess maybe it does.”
“But what are we going to do?”
“Have the best Halloween costumes ever, for one thing!”
“But I can’t even sit right!  The tail’s in the way, and when I brushed my hair, it hurt my ears.”
“We’ll work it out.”
During the math test that followed morning recess, Malkina began to find the advantages of being part cat.  She always panicked a bit on a test, but when she put her hand up to her head, her fingers found an ear.  She scratched lightly behind it, the way she did with the neighbor’s cat, and felt calmer at once.  A twitch or two of her tail made her happy again when she got her Social Studies paper back with a lot of red marks.  Maybe this wasn’t so bad.

It wasn’t until they were out trick-or-treating, dressed in black leotards with real tails and ears protruding, that the two remembered they’d worked more than one incantation.
They were three streets over from Malkina’s house, trying to decide if they’d knock on the Burdocks’ door or skip it.  They usually had good treats, but Max Burdock was the biggest pain in their class.  Such a big pain that. . .
“Uh-oh,” Adrianna muttered.  “Do you suppose. . . ?”
Malkina felt her tail expand as the fur stood on end.  They had followed up the incantation that gave them cat features with one to turn the annoying Max into a pig.  And he hadn’t been at school today.  Was that because he had a curly tail and a snout?  Would his parents guess who’d done it and get them into trouble?
Caution came too late.  They were at the gate, and from behind it they heard a dreadful snorting and snuffling.  Malkina remembered that they had called Max a big pig, when a huge boar, with tusks as long as her arm, burst from the yard.  She had time to remember a few of the other things they’d included, giggling, in their incantation, as they girls turned to run from the giant, red-eyed, fire-breathing demon they had turned loose on the neighborhood.
This can’t end well! Malkina thought, despairing.

It didn’t.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Revising until my mind's as numb as my bum

Revisions are proceeding on "The Ninja Librarian Returns," and I'm carving out time blocks to work until my bum goes numb.

That doesn't take as long as you'd think, thanks to a lot of biking and a mild hamstring strain.  But even so, it takes about three minutes longer than it does for my mind to go numb.  How do full-time writers do it?  I can't engage my inner editor for hours on end--my judgement goes out the window.

Haven't written anything new since the writing challenge last week.  I need to have some fun with a new story.  Maybe pop in and see if the Ninja Librarian has anything more to say for himself.  Maybe something completely different, a little bit of nonsense I was messing with a couple of weeks ago.

Watch this space for some kind of story, because it's time!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ninja Librarians

Just stumbled on a whole bunch of YouTube videos on the "Ninja Librarian" theme (though none seem to be anyplace as . . . interesting. . . as Skunk Corners).  Thought I'd share a couple.  I'll see if I can figure out how to embed a video, while I'm at it :)


I like this one:
Just for fun!  I guess I'm not the first to put the two ideas together. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review: Tracks, by Diane Lee Wilson

Tracks, by Diane Lee Wilson.  Juvenile historical fiction.

I'm having a little trouble deciding just how I feel about this book.  I think that it's very strengths are what make me feel a little ambivalent: Tracks is historically accurate in its depiction of the prejudice and cruelty of many of the people of the time all too well--and the main character doesn't escape his time.

It is 1866, and 13-year-old Malachy has signed on and come west from New York to work on the Transcontinental Railroad.  He's big for his age, and is the man of the family since his father died in the Civil War, so he needs to make some money.  Certainly Malachy thinks he's a man, but his decisions aren't always rational, and his judgement is poor in certain areas.  His connection, and ours, to the family back home seems tenuous at best.

Nonetheless, Malachy sticks it out through the winter, even though it means working as the only white man with a crew of Chinese laborers.  From the beginning, Malachy, like most in his time, has viewed the Chinese with fear, suspicion, and contempt.  He mocks their language, their clothes, and their customs. At the same time, he is drawn to them (their food certainly smells better than that the railroad provides for the Irish workers), especially one young man he calls "Ducks," due to both the way the language sounds to him and his own inability to pronounce the man's Chinese name.

As the book unfolds, Malachy and "Ducks" keep crossing paths. . . and Malachy meets offers of friendship and life-saving actions with suspicion, contempt, and ill-treatment.  This is what was hard for me.  It's realistic. . . but it doesn't make Malachy a completely likeable character.  Without including any spoilers, he does some other things that are pretty unlikable, too, though to his credit he regrets them, at least at little.

On the other hand, Wilson manages to make us feel Malachy's confusion and reluctant regret just enough that we don't hate him.  I just want him to grow up and get a clearer vision (a clearer vision, I must add, than any of the adults around him seem to have).  The only friendships Malachy seems to have that are untainted by one player using the other are those with animals.  In the end, it is the way he treats the horse, Blind Thomas, that makes me feel the boy might be worth letting grow up.

Tracks isn't a happy romp through history.  But in the end, I think the story works well, both as a story and as a documentation of a key moment in the development of our nation.  The writing is strong, plotting clear.  Four stars.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Writing Exercise Challenge

So, Karen Einsel of karensdifferentcorners issued a writing-exercise challenge to write a story or scene using only dialogue or only description (no dialogue).  I'm not sure which I'm better at, but it seems to me that it's harder to get the whole picture with dialogue alone.  It would be pretty easy to fall into an unreal descriptive narrative that way: "Oh, look, John, we turned the corner and now there is a fire truck and a building is on fire!"  "Why, yes, and I think I just saw something out of the corner of my eye.  It had a black cape and might have been something like Batman!"

Okay, I exaggerate.  And some scenes are perhaps best rendered in pure dialogue, though I'm not sure about that.  Here are the rules of  
 “The Writing Exercise Challenge”
Mention the person or blog that tagged you :-)  (That would be Karen).
Write a short story or scene using
a. Dialogue only
b. Description only
c. Both combined
They can be as long or short as you like, as long as you get the point across to your readers.
 Now tag 3 other people or ask for participants 
And if you think there should be additional rules post a comment!
Want to challenge yourself further? Try writing outside of your genre. If you write romance, try your hand at horror. Or if you are a mystery writer, try writing a steamy romantic scene. Hey even mysteries have romance sometimes. 

So, mostly because this is what first popped into my mind, I went SF. 

"Trouble in Space"

A.  Dialogue only
    "Xark!  The murgle thrusters on engine unit 17-A aren't working.  Someone has to go out and clear them."
    "Well, it's your turn, Gerbo.  I did the last EVA."
    "If you'd made sure the idiots at that service station on Jinx had installed the filters, we wouldn't have this problem."
    "Me?  Since when is it my job to tell the technicians how to do their job?  You picked the station, so I assumed they were registered and competent.  You and your thrust-stingy ways.  You clean the murgle thrusters."
    "Maybe we can send Zerdog.  What about it, boy?"

    "He says no.  Besides, he's a space dog.  He doesn't have opposable thumbs.  Suit up, loser."
    "I hate going EVA. . . . Hand me my tether, will you?  Thanks."
    "You about ready?"
    "Yeah.  Run the check."
    ". . . Okay.  All systems sealed and running.  Radio check?"
    "Loud and clear."
    "Enter the airlock."
    "Airlock sealed."
    "Check. . . Wait!  I don't see my tether!  Where the space is my tether!?"
    "Oh, I got it all right.  See?  Oh, I forgot, you can't see me. You're tumbling loose in space.  Sayonara, loser!  I'm sick of your whining, and I don't have to listen any more!"
    "Blast you, Xark!  You damned idiot!  You've killed me, and you've killed yourself.  Without those murgle thrusters, you'll never reach We Made It.  You can die slowly in there and let Zerdog eat you.  At least I can die quickly.  When I finish laughing at your stupidity!  Hahahahaha!"
    "Haha, Gerbo!  You are the idiot.  Did you really think I'd toss you aside if the murgle thrusters weren't working?  It was a false report!  Just an excuse to get you the space out of here."
    "Curse you to the depths of a black hole, Xerk!  May your EVA suit crack and your powersource implode!"
    "That's about as nasty a curse as a spacer can make, but it won't do you any good.  I'm hitting the power thrust drive now.  Goodbye!"
    "Wait! Don't--"
    "Don't beg, Gerbo.  It's undignified.  Here I go."
    "Don't--holy meteor shower!  The thrusters are--"
    "Oh, n--!"
    "Hahahaha!  I told you you'd. . . no!  Zerdo . . . ."

B.  Description only (no dialogue)

     Xerk and Gerbo glared at each other across the control room of the tiny two-man space pod.  After months in space, each could scarcely bear the sight of the other's face.  Now the murgle thrusters were blocked, and they had argued themselves into silence, first over whose fault it was that the last maintenance had been so poorly done, and then over who had to make the dangerous and terrifying trip EVA to clear them manually.
    Gerbo's final appeal had been to their pet spacedog, Zerdog, and that having failed, he knew he had truly lost.  Well, perhaps a little time alone would be a pleasant change, however much he hated EVA as a general rule.  Slowly, carefully, he began suiting up.
    Xerk ran the suit check in near-silence.  The two had been together for so long they didn't need words, even when they hated the sight of each other.  Maybe especially then.
   Only as the airlock cycled did Gerbo realize that Xerk had murdered him.  The tether that prevented his drifting off forever into the vacuum of space was attached at only one end.  He blew out the airlock door on a puff of air, already tumbling away from the pod.  His suit thrusters, meant for tiny adjustments, not for real travel, slowed the tumble, but couldn't bring him back to the ship.  
     Xerk still had nothing to say, but Gerbo could see him though the video suit monitor, laughing as he reached for the controls.  
    Gerbo could see something else.  He laughed too, as the power surge hit the fully blocked murgle thrusters.  Xerk must've forgotten them when he hit full power.  Maybe he'd thought he'd managed a false "blocked thruster" signal.  But the explosion that vaporized the pod was no fake.
    Gerbo had time for a passing regret for Zerdog in the instant before the debris hit him, shredding his suit. 

C.  Both.  What I'd call normal writing :)

      After months at space, and despite their recent stop at Jynx for maintenance, Xerk and Gerbo had reached the point where they could scarcely bear to be in the same space pod.  With another six months to go, things had gotten ugly.
     "Those idiots at Jynx must not have installed the filters on the murgle thrusters.  They're clogged.  I told you we should have found a decent mechanic, not the cheapest shop in the galaxy."  Gerbo glared at Xerk.  This was all his fault.
     "You should have checked their work.  You'll have to go out and fix it.  I did the last EVA."
     Gerbo argued the point, not really expecting to win.  But he had to do it.  If Xerk suspected that Gerbo was desperate enough for some time to himself that he'd even look forward to an EVA, things would only get worse.  He even asked Zerdog if he'd do it.  Their canine companion barked, drooled,  and went back to sleep under the control panel.
     "Fine.  I'll do it."  Gerbo began to suit up, not allowing his annoyance with pretty much everything Xerk did or said to interfere with his careful adherence to suit protocols.  
    "Pass me my tether?" was the only thing he said until he finished.  Then he asked Xerk to run the suit check.
     His fellow Spacer, likewise taciturn but thorough, tested every joint and seal, and Gerbo put on his helmet.
     "Radio check?"
     "Loud and clear."
     "Check.  Enter the airlock."
     Gerbo pushed himself off the wall and drifted to the airlock.  Xerk followed to double-check the door, then,
     Only when he blew out the outer door did Gerbo realize that, though he had attached the free end of his tether to the tether-guard, Xerk had apparently failed to attach the other end to his suit.  No.  He'd deliberately detached it.  As Gerbo tumbled away from the pod, desperately trying to aim himself back to the ship with the woefully inadequate maneuvering thrusters on his suit, he heard Xerk laughing through the helmet radio.
     "Curse you to the depths of a black hole, Xerk!  May your EVA suit crack and your powersource implode!"
     "That's about the nastiest curse a Spacer can make, Gerbo, but it won't save your hide.  I'm hitting the power thrust and you won't be annoying me any more with your stupid habits."
     "But the murgle thrusters are clogged.  You can't go anywhere unless you help me back so I can clear them."
     Xerk laughed harder.  "You fool.  That was a false signal.  I just needed to get you EVA."
     Burning with rage, and needing to see it to believe it, Gerbo brought himself to where he could at least see the thrusters he'd been meant to clear.  He lined up behind the pod and took a look at Xerk's lie.  Then he looked again, and yelled. "Wait!  Don't. . . "
     "Don't beg, loser.  Sayonara!"
     Xerk gave Gerbo no chance to tell him that his false signal had been all too real.
     When the power surge hit the clogged murgle thrusters, the entire spacepod exploded.
    "Sorry I couldn't save you, Zerdog," Gerbo managed to say before the debris scatter shredded his suit. 
     With no air, you cannot scream.

So there you have it.  That was kind of fun.  And I'll tag any of my followers who want to give it a shot!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Learning to be a blogger

Oh, my, I am always the last to figure these things out!   I just discovered tags, or (as they are called in Blogger for some reason, Labels).  So, let's see. . . I've figured out how to post a blog, buy a domain name (but not how to use it for more than this blog, sigh), and about how often to post (two to three times a week seems good).  Now I figure out that there are ways to make people find you when they are looking for something else. 

I knew that.

Makes me wonder what else I'm missing, as I struggle to move from the 20th Century to the 21st.

A partial list:
Um. . . I'm pretty sure there's more social media out there.  The trouble is, all this social stuff is sort of contrary to what writers do: sit in a room alone and write.  Or is it?  We want an audience.  Social media is all about audience.

Social media: conversation for unsociable folks?

This is giving me a headache.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nothing Daunted--Book Review

Nothing Daunted, by Dorothy Wickenden.  Biography.

Nothing Daunted is a biography of the author's grandmother and her best friend, who left New York state in 1916 to spend a year teaching school in the wilds of Colorado.  Thoroughly researched, the story makes use of copious family letters as well as a great deal of background research.

In fact, I would argue that the story makes too much use of the background research.  Although all of the information provided does help to set the scene, at times it becomes a bit. . . daunting.  History comes at us from all angles, history of Hayden, CO and environs, and history of Auburn, NY, and of the families of the two young women.  I was further put off by the organization of the book, with bits of the main story dropped in and then ignored through long stretches of backstory and local color.

The book really comes to life when the author brings us to the women's trip West and the life they find in Colorado.  Intrusions are greatly reduced once we are ensconced in the mountains, and begin teaching--something for which neither woman is specifically trained, though they did a good job of preparing themselves in the months before departure.  Fortunately, Dorothy Woodruff, the author's grandmother, wrote lots of letters, as did her friend Rosamond--Ros--Underwood.

Probably the most striking thing to emerge from the story is the contrast between life in an eastern city--it is 1916, and the modern age has definitely begun--and life in the Colorado mountains, where things seem firmly stuck in the pioneer age, including the schooling.  But these women didn't take the adventure wholly as a lark.  They were 28 years old, and unhappy with the lot that society seemed to have destined for them (marry and be a society wife).  Going to Colorado was something of a whim and an adventure, but it was also a serious attempt to find a place where they could make a difference.

What the young women don't know, at least not at first, is that part of the reason that the well-to-do sponsor of the school has advertised for young women from the east is that he hopes to bring marriageable women into the community, which suffers from a lack of brides.  This mission reads in the beginning like a joke, but it becomes clear that this is a serious goal, and a genuine need in the community.

Altogether, the strengths of the book--the genuine story with it's own narrative arc and romantic interests--outweigh the weaknesses.  For me, at least, with a strong interest in the history of the settlement of the West and particularly the role of women there, Nothing Daunted  offers a unique snapshot of a time and region about which I know relatively little.

Three point five stars.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: Looking Back With a Smile

Looking Back With a Smile, by Edward Farber
Category: Memoir

Edward Farber's Looking Back with a Smile is a quick and fun read.  Mr. Farber has taken the idea of a memoir in a slightly different direction, not trying to create any particular significance out of his life, but looking back and picking out the bits that make him smile, and that he thinks would do the same for the reader.  The result is a rather episodic construction of a life lived through a good chunk of the 20th Century, both personal and nostalgic.

A quick and easy read at only 89 pages, LBWS offers both a fun glimpse into how our country was at different periods during the last 70 years, but also a reminder that we all have stories to tell.  That, in fact, is largely the point of the work: to share the little stories that otherwise get lost, and to encourage his readers to do the same, even if only to share with their families. 

In a way, what Mr. Farber has done reminds me of the NPR feature "Story Corps," where they get "ordinary" people to record conversations with a loved one, recalling some significant event or element of their history and relationship.  In the end, none of the people seem so ordinary after all.  The tone of the book is that of oral history, reminiscing around the fire on a winter night, and a reminder that all our lives are significant.

That the tone works is a tribute to Mr. Farber's skill in selecting and presenting the incidents he recounts.  Occasionally, I wish he'd tell a little more, follow up a bit on what happened next.  Most most of the time I could just smile and move on to the next little episode.  LBWS isn't great literature.  But it's a nice bit of entertainment you can read in an hour or so, or you can (as I did) dip into an episode or two at a time until suddenly you find yourself (alas) in the 21st Century.

I'll give Mr. Farber 4 stars, because he did what he set out to and did it well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


What the heck.  Everyone else is talking about it, so I might as well too.  The month is November, and the title stands for National Novel Writing Month.  It's an interesting concept--get together (virtually, of course) with all the people who are always saying they are going to write a novel, and commit to producing a draft (or some 50,000 words, anyway) in one month.  Clear the decks and make it a priority, presumably except when actually stuffing yourself on Thanksgiving turkey.  Have a website where people can log their progress and offer each other support.

So I'm intrigued by the idea, especially as all my novels have been written over the course of not days and weeks, nor even months, but years.  I have always shoehorned a bit of writing in here and there, right up to this year, when I committed to getting the second Ninja Librarian novel out in a year, which means working at it like I mean it, but still has let me take about eight months for a draft, (leaving four for revisions, though some revising has happened as I go, whenever I just don't have a new story in me).  Compressing that into a single month would mean taking a very different approach to my writing--not scheduling it in when other commitments allow, but putting aside other commitments to make writing my primary job.

To be honest, I'm not sure I could do it.  For one thing, some of my commitments are, well, things to which I'm committed.  I can't blow them off for a month.  I could still work around that--many people do NaNoWriMo while working full time.  I can only assume that they blow off commitments to family (if any), exercise, and sleep.  My writing matters to me.  But my family and my health, I cannot deny it, matter more.  I'm not very creative when sleep-deprived anyway.

Then there's the matter of sitting still.  How do they do it?  If I stay at my desk or computer for more than a half hour at a stretch, I get so stiff I'll probably never move again.  I fidget a lot, and I mix writing with housework to avoid petrification.  That works for me, but probably will never allow for 50,000 words in 30 days.  But who knows.  Maybe another year. . . because an awful lot of this sounds like excuses.  I am growing very suspicious of all the reasons why I can't write more.

Still, I won't be participating in NaNoWriMo this year.  I may make November revise-a-novel-in-one-month time, however (a far more painful project).  I'm on track to finish my first draft within a week or so, and will be working hard to beat it into its final form before the New Year is very old.  Given the impact of the December holiday season on my ability to find time to write, November looks like a good month for rewrites.  I have to be sure to give my readers and editors plenty of time, too.  They'll be working on it at the same time I am, but they have lives too.  Then I have to put it all together.  Writing a draft is only the beginning. 

But it's a darn good beginning.

Maybe next year.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Judging books by their covers

Just wanted to share that my book cover is one of five featured on the blog Karen's Different Corners last Wednesday.  The blog is looking at book covers, how we got them that way, and why.  I toss in a different perspective from most, as my cover is, as it were, home made, and I am not completely satisfied with it.  The original question was how the cover reflected me, as the author--something I think it does pretty well.  My question was how it reflects the book--and my conclusion has been that it doesn't do that as well.

Check out Karen's blog and see what you think!

This week, she's looking at blurbs and what we wish we'd done differently.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Capturing ideas before they get away

I need to work on this.  I get a lot of ideas (not necessarily good ones, but I need to be able to decide that later) when I'm exercising.  This is especially true when I'm biking (running is too hard--no room for coherent thought there, and when I'm swimming I use too much bandwidth trying to keep track of how many laps I've done to have any decent ideas).  The trouble is remembering that great idea until I get home.  On a recent ride, I spent the last hour repeating to myself the insight I'd had about a couple of changes in my book that would make it work better.  This one I was pretty sure was sound, and I really didn't want to lose it.  (Of course, on arriving home, I discovered that most of it had already been written that way.  Like I said, many of the ideas aren't as good as they seem when I'm high on beta-endorphins.)

I think I need to start carrying a little notebook and pen when I'm riding. (Maybe one of those waterproof journals?  I sweat a lot!).  Any other time and place, I just carry my writing notebook, but that's not practical on the road bike.  I suppose I could use a voice recorder (maybe my cell phone takes memos?  Would that cost me minutes?  Could I figure out how to do it?).

What do you do when the big ideas come, to make sure they don't slither away before you get home?  And do you find that many of them were worth recording in the first place?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Unstuffing my head

No, I'm not going to blog about decongestants (though, alas, I probably could).  I was out for a long bike ride yesterday (normal sort of Sunday-afternoon thing for me), and had been riding for the better part of an hour when I realized my head was starting to clear.  Not to clear from the congestion my allergies bring, but clear of the congestion my life brings.  Mental congestion.

What caught my attention was that it had taken the first hour to get there.  Normally, stuff falls away almost as soon as I start riding, and my mind remains largely blank for the duration.  I may be thinking, but it's usually about a) how much farther does this hill go up? and/or b) I wonder if I could carve out time for an extended tour.  Would my husband and boys be willing to drive along and set up camp each day?  and wouldn't it be cool if one of the boys wanted to come along?  The longer I ride, the more delusional the thinking: I could ride across the country and I bet my younger son would think it was really fun to go along!  A double century!  Yeah, I could do one of those!  (I can get pretty unrealistic, especially when cruising easily along flat ground with a tailwind).

Yesterday my brain was packed pretty tightly, I guess, because for that first hour I was thinking more about parenting issues and our school bond issue than about riding.  That's all very well.  Those things need some thinking about, and it does distract from the perennial question, "will I die before I reach the top of this hill?"  But part of why I exercise is to turn off my busy brain, before the tension winds me up so tight I break when someone touches me.

If it takes another hour and a bigger hill to shut down the thought processes, well. . . I'll get more fit.  Because shutting down and restarting the brain from time to time is important.  Otherwise, the stress level just grows, while the brain circles impotently around things I can do nothing about.  It usually does the most futile circling at 3 a.m., which is even less productive.

It's like the old Gary Larsen "Far Side" cartoon where the guy raises his hand and asks if he can be excused from class because his brain is full.  Give the kid a bike and tell him not to come back until it's emptied out a bit.