Immunized

The local paper ran a story last week that said that Public Health District was opening up its H1N1 immunizations to all adults under 65.  The story said that they’d have finished with kids and teens last week and there there was plenty of vaccine, so no reason to wait further.

So, Jackie and I went to their clinic at Lincoln Square Village.

It was quite a production.  We showed up right at the time it was supposed to begin, and got number 85 of the second cohort, which meant that 184 households had already gotten numbers to go ahead of us.  It was as big a crowd as I’ve been a member of in a long time.  By the time we were done filling out our paperwork they were well into passing out numbers in the third cohort of households.

Still, despite the crowd, they moved people along quite quickly.  (I think they had 25 stations where immunizations were being administered.)  We waited for perhaps 20 minutes, got called, went in, and got our shots. Very efficient. And free, which is cool for someone trying to make a living as a writer.

I turned 50 back in June, so I was given a shot rather than the flu mist.  I had considered trying to convince them to give me the flu mist instead–as far as I’ve been able to figure out, there’s no data that suggests it wouldn’t be just as effective in someone who was five months over the cut-off age–but eventually decide to just go with the program.

My mom tells me that she got me flu shots regularly when I was a small child.  Because of the health problems that led to my being misdiagnosed with celiac, I was considered someone with an underlying health issue.  I have no memory of that, but I do know that I didn’t get flu shots from when I got old enough to quit seeing the pediatrician (age 17 or so) until about 15 years ago, when I started getting them most years.

The first time I got a flu shot as an adult, my arm was sore for days.  Most shots since then have made my arm a little less sore than the previous time.  I’ve noticed a similar trend with other immunizations–an initial shot may have made me feel quite feverish and achy, but booster shots tend to have less of an effect.  My theory is that a strong reaction means that I had a poor initial immune response–my body geared up to fight an unknown infection.  Contrariwise, a small reaction means that I was already adequately protected–my body immediately recognized the virus as a known quantity and didn’t need to mount any special response.

If that’s true, then I already had an immunity to H1N1–my arm didn’t get sore at all.

As I say, it was kind of interesting.  I don’t usually find myself with so many people in an enclosed space.  I remember thinking, while milling about with the crowd waiting for flu shots, that it was probably the best chance to catch the flu all year.

Five hundred words of calling for help

I’ve known right along that I didn’t really know where the novel was going.  On novel-length efforts I haven’t had much success writing to an outline, so I thought I’d try just writing.  (Another thing I’ve been doing differently this time is giving the chapters to Jackie as I go along, figuring that would give me a little extra push to make each one kind of exciting.)

I’ve been putting in little hints of underlying complexity, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what they mean.  I figure some of them will turn into something.  The others I can leave in if they work as texture or remove if they detract.

For some reason, though, the past couple of days it started bugging me that I didn’t know where I was going.  I was at an inflection point in the story and I thought had an idea for what I wanted to do next, but without an idea of where I was going, it just turned into nothing.  The result was two days with zero word counts.

That was bad, but today I figured out I could write another chunk.  I’d made the not-unusual decision to cut the hero off from most sources of help, but I realized today that I could let him call for help without him actually getting help anytime soon.  Plus, this gives me the chance to insert some exposition if necessary–the response to the call for help can fill in whatever background is needed to put his adventures in the context of the greater story.  (I haven’t written it yet, but I’ll write something, and if it isn’t right I can change it later.)

So, even though I still don’t know what the greater story is, I was able to write 500 words today of calling for help.

Although it daunted me for a couple of days, I think I’m past this cycle of worrying about what the greater story is.  The worst that can happen is that I never do, and I’ll have spent a couple of months writing sixty thousand words that never turns into a novel.  But the couple of months would have gone by whether I’d written sixty thousand words or not.

Word churn

My false starts last week left me with a bunch of words that probably belonged in the novel but not where I’d tried to put them.  The past three days I’ve been working on integrating some of them into the next chapter and moving the rest out of the manuscript.  The result is that I’ve made some forward progress, but without much in the way of net new words.  So, with word counts of 200, 300, and 600, my moving average has slipped under 500.  Still, I’m making forward progress.  In fact, I hit 15,000 words, which is one-quarter of my estimated final length, and I hit it with a neat transition in the story–after having been on the move so far, the characters have finally reached a place they’re going to be for a while.

Perfecting Taiji forms

I studied Aikido briefly when I was living in Salt Lake City. My teacher was a gruff Asian man whose English was just adequate and whose teaching style was not unlike what you see in martial arts movies—he would mock or berate students who got things wrong. I don’t know if he thought that was the best way to get people to learn, or if it was just how his teachers had taught him.  Maybe he just didn’t want to waste his time teaching anyone who could be deterred by a little mocking or berating.

At one point, talking about his philosophy of teaching, he made fun of some locally available Taiji classes that focused on “perfecting” your Taiji forms.  With his somewhat limited English he made it perfectly clear that he thought it was stupid not to learn your Taiji correctly in the first place.

It made sense to me at the time.  I mean, if you’re going to practice something hundreds or thousands of times, surely it makes sense to learn how to do it correctly first, right?  Who’d want to practice doing it badly over and over again?

My current teachers, though, have a completely different attitude.  Unlike any martial arts class I’ve been in, they basically never correct anyone.  This may be partially due to the makeup of the class—mostly old people who might have limited range of motion due to arthritis or some other medical problem.  Also, I think it’s because they’re focusing on the deeper fundamentals—things like shifting your weight and turning your body. Exactly when you turn your hand is simply not as important.

Even more fundamentally, though, it’s because you have to do the practice to learn to feel the difference.  I suppose if you had a private tutor telling you that you were turning your hand too early or were forgetting to straighten your foot, you might spend a little less time practicing the form incorrectly, which would mean that you’d start practicing the form correctly a little sooner.  But I think you’d lose the chance to learn how to feel why one way is wrong and the other way is better.

I have no particular natural ability at things like this—things like martial arts or dance or tennis.  I’ve seen dancers who can pick up choreography in a fraction of a second, copying the lead dancer’s moves so quickly that you can scarcely tell that they’re unrehearsed.  I’m the opposite of that.  It takes me tens or hundreds of tries to get even reasonably close.  However, I’ve been surprised to find that I get a little closer each time, even without an instructor telling me what I’m doing wrong.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the way you learn how to do something is by practicing.  I knew that already.  But it’s been very interesting to see how effective this sort of minimalist instruction is.  The teachers demonstrate the forms, and they answer questions.  There’s no pushing people to do the forms more correctly, and there’s certainly no mocking or berating.  And yet, I’m learning at least as fast as I’ve ever learned anything equivalent in the past.

So, I think my old Aikido teacher was wrong.  It makes perfect sense to start learning Taiji at the most basic level (weight shifting, turning your body), and then to move on to foot work and arm movement, and only then to worry about things like how you move your hands.  It makes perfect sense to have an instructor show you what to do, but then let you learn how to do it through practice.  And, since you can do 90% of the practice entirely on your own, it makes perfect sense to have an advanced course in “perfecting” your Taiji forms, to get whichever small bits don’t come naturally out of your practice.

Onward

About a month ago I got a rewrite request from an editor. This is generally considered a good thing–it means the story is almost good enough to sell.

This is only the second such rewrite request I’ve gotten. The previous one was from a top market so of course I did the rewrite, but the editor still didn’t buy it. That experience stood me in good stead. I did this new rewrite with great hope, but was not nearly as surprised and disappointed this time when the story didn’t sell.

I’m not unhappy about having done the rewrite. The editor had a useful insight into how I could fix one key problem with the story, and the rewritten version is much better. My previous rewritten story did eventually sell, and I have some hope that this one will sell as well.

I suppose I shouldn’t conclude too much from just two datapoints, but it’s hard not to see this as part of a pattern. Still, I expect I’ll do the same with future rewrite requests: If the editor’s suggestion improves the story, I’ll take it and do the rewrite.

I made very good progress on the novel today, writing almost 1200 words. Yesterday’s progress of not quite 400 words was kind of meager, but managed to get me on through the point where I’d gotten stuck. My moving average, which had been declining for most of the week is now turned back up. I’m very pleased with the new stuff–it nicely sets up the next thing I want to write, and I’m especially looking forward to writing the next bit. I don’t know how it goes, but I know it’s going to be wonderful, wonderful fun.

Immune system

Night before last I woke up in the middle of the night feeling feverish and achy. But when I got up the next morning, I felt fine. Dare I hope that in my youth I was exposed to that previous H1N1 flu? Could it be that my immune system was already primed to knock it down, and managed it in just a few hours? Since I can’t get immunized anyway, I figure it’s harmless to be hopeful.

Just 500 words yesterday and not much over 200 words today. I eventually figured out it was hard to make headway because I wasn’t sure how the next bit went. I knew where I wanted the characters to end up, but I couldn’t see a way to get them there quickly–they wouldn’t choose to go there on purpose, and the natural path that would take them there wouldn’t be quick enough to make a good story.

There are a lot of solutions to that sort of problem. You can write the slow path and find a way to make it exciting. You can just skip the intervening time–this can be as easy as “They stayed in the luxury hotel for eleven days, but on the twelfth day….” I tried writing it both ways, but neither worked well in this case.

Then, earlier this evening, I figured out how to push the characters into leaving the cushy spot they’d managed to find for themselves in such a way that they have to move on to the rather less pleasant spot I’ve got in mind for them. It grows out of the existing characters and conflicts already in place. It’s a much better solution than writing a bunch of dull stuff and then trying to make it interesting.

The dangerous life of the silkworm

Went with Jackie to a meeting of the Spinners and Weavers Guild to hear a talk about raising silkworms.  The thing that struck me was how vulnerable they are–the speaker had lost silkworms to any number of threats.  Cats had eaten some.  Possums had eaten some that were in the garage.  For a while the legs of the table they were on had to be placed in dishes of water, because ants were carrying off young silkworms.

I wrote something over 600 words.  Or, rather, I wrote about three times that many, but tossed most of them.  And what I’ve got still isn’t right.  The work hasn’t been wasted–I’m beginning to understand what I’m doing wrong.  I’ve had the characters working together, when at this point what I need to do is sharpen their conflicts.  I don’t know the details yet.  Perhaps by morning it will be clear.  If not, I can write and throw away another 1800 words.  The word count tracking is in service of producing a good story, not an end in itself.