Tuesday, August 31, 2004

this is what happens

when I don't take care of myself. I haven't been eating well, I haven't been exercising or taking my vitamins. I had terrible cramps yesterday. (Thanks for sharing, Holly.)

Yesterday, since I was home and largely immobile, I picked up Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, a book that I pounced upon when it came out, then let sit in my bookcase, unread, for three years.

Margaret's a great writer. She packs her sentences so full of imagery, and her metaphors are dead-on. I generally prefer her short work to her novels, but I guess this book was a stiff dose of what I needed. It was a relief to be reading again. I guess I haven't totally lost the ability, after all. It seems more likely that I have simply been bored with what I was trying to make myself read. Still, it's a very lit'ry novel (take that, PNH) and I find myself skimming at times, wanting to get on with the story, already.

Also yesterday, I wrote a 4400 word crit on a 10 thousand word story. I was both general and specific, critical and constructive. Joy wrote me back a nice, polite thank you note. I can't imagine that she loved and agreed with every line of my crit, but I know it's nice to have someone lavish that much attention on your work. She's got a decent concept, I think: a cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic Little Red Riding Hood.

I keep getting crits on Galatea, too. I think I'm up to ten, now, which is respectable, considering how long that story is. So far, I have been told:

  • Master Tan's broken English is great, very authentic/is stereotypical and inconsistent
  • The conflict between Justin and Quinn is great, well done/there is no discernible conflict in the story
  • The development of Quinn's character is moving and believable/she's a horrible, unsympathetic person
  • She's a rip-off of Supergirl/Dark Angel/Kill Bill/Le Femme Nikita
  • It's a strong, character-driven story/nobody's motivations make any sense.
I had to check to make sure I wasn't reading the Buffy message boards by mistake. The only thing they all agree on is that the writing is great. (Aside, I always worry about people who say that they don't understand the characters' motivations--I imagine such people as social cripples, unable to form stable relationships because they can't read other people. They certainly have no business writing fiction. The guy who complained the loudest is, according to his bio, a writer of computer programming manuals.) I sometimes get the feeling that these people get in there and try to tear down my characters or punctuation(?!?) because they're jealous of my style, which is certainly very strong. More often, I can tell that a critter has missed something (they often will admit that they're new and don't know what they're doing), and my instinct is to help, to instruct, but I can't exactly tell somebody they've missed something in my story without sounding defensive. At least five of my critters have raved about the story and want to know if there's more. Most of them are also catching on to the fact that this is a piece out of a larger story, but so far everyone seems to agree that it is complete, whether they like the ending or not. It is a difficult ending; essentially, Quinn gains self-confidence and inner strength by realizing she is good at killing people--and she likes it. No moral ambiguity there.

But I sha'n't worry myself about whether people like Quinn or not. Love her or hate her, but you can't ignore her.

Friday, August 27, 2004

how is this a good day?

Let me count the ways:

1. The first day after my story, "Galatea" went up on Critters.org I got back three *glowing* crits. Now admittedly, one guy pointed out that my science was rubbery, which is true, but all of them said it was a good read and it was *complete,* which is the important thing. I feel I've rounded a corner.

2. I have $XXX.XX saved!

3. It's Friday! And I have only two weekends of work left at the rental office. After that, I have costumes, and Halloween, and rewrites, and movie people to look forward to!

True, this weekend will probably be a real bitch: we've got something like twenty move-ins scheduled, plus the community-wide yard sale is tomorrow, but at least there will be three of us. Maybe more; I think Caroline is managing the sale so I shouldn't have to attend to it.

And I have only two more weeks! Whoo-hoo!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

as if you needed another reason

There's a happy side effect of low-carb dieting that no one seems to have mentioned: it clears up your skin.

I used to think it was the caffeine in Pepsi that made me break out. I can literally drink a Pepsi for lunch and have two huge, painful zits on my face by evening. For that and other reasons I don't drink Pepsi.

Once I left my teens I didn't have much problem with acne. My skin looked pretty good up until I moved out on my own, in my mid-twenties. Then it started breaking out again. I blamed the water, my laundry detergent, my hairspray. Nothing I changed seemed to help.

I have known for some time that I started putting on weight as soon as I moved out alone, too. I know that I was eating more pre-packaged crud, chips and pasta and fast food. By the end of my first year living alone I had gained eight pounds. Not cool. I held pretty steady for about a year, then Scott wanted to try Atkins and I went along with it. Dropped that eight pounds in a little less than a month.

I fluctuated within a couple pounds of that lower weight for another year, and in fact, last May I was back at my all-time low, 124 pounds. But working two jobs this summer, stress and opportunity got me in the habit of snacking again, and I gradually gained five pounds. Too many donuts and tortillas. My face has been breaking out, too. So this week I cut myself off, cold turkey.

And guess what? In seventy-two hours, I've dropped 1.5 pounds and my skin all cleared up. And this is the week before my period.

Try it. Prove me wrong.

Monday, August 23, 2004


For those of you playing along at home, nothing seems to have come about with regard to the Frank incident.

I asked Crystal whether anything had been said. She had told Linda about it--figuring it was the kind of thing one had better take the offensive about--and Linda said, "Well, he probably deserved it."

I really can't decide what to think about Linda.

Ah well. Two more weeks. I am cutting myself back to a strict low-carb, high-vegetable diet this week, because I have gained five pounds and I feel lousy. Some of it is probably water retention and will slough off next week. Yesterday Crystal and I were talking about the clothes that we need to replace in our wardrobes and she suddenly demanded, "Holly, do you wear thongs?"

I asked whether she was taking a poll, or merely trying to assess my character. She said, "If I had your body I'd wear a thong every day. I would go home and put one on and admire myself in the mirror."

I said, "Oh, I do that. And I usually put on one of my corsets, too."

We laughed, but I was only half-kidding. I am quite the narcissist, as some of you know, but I usually only play dress-up when I am sewing something new, or rehearsing for a skit. For the record, I prefer bikini cut to thongs, although naturally I own a few for outfits that require one.

She said, "Yeah, you don't seem like the thong type," the implication being that I am too practical. She once said I don't seem like the type to mess with makeup and stuff, but the one time she saw me actually dressed to go out her jaw almost hit the floor. Those french-blue work shirts we wear do nothing for my coloring, and I usually mute myself at the office, because I don't want the attention she gets from the Franks of the world.

Poor Crystal has been asked four times in the last week whether she is pregnant. (She's not, and I am flabbergasted at how rude people are.) She keeps making noises about going on a diet. I casually mentioned that I was a low-carb believer. What I didn't say was that she needs to lay off the booze. Her entire diet seems to consist of tortilla chips and alcohol, just like the average Mexican worker, and for the same reasons: it's cheap. Dairy prices are rising all over the country, and meat is expensive. I spend at least $100 a week for me and Scott; she spends that much every three weeks or so, buying boxed mac and cheese for her kids.

I wish I could do something for her; find her a better job, at least, but I suspect our friendship won't last beyond my leaving that job. We really have nothing in common, except we both love chili rellenos. I proposed that we go have Mexican food some weeknight, but Scott didn't like that idea. He's afraid I'll go club-hopping with Crystal and her friends and get something slipped into my mineral water. He needn't worry; it'll be a balmy day in Anarctica before I go out drinking with those girls. I am definitely not the type to hang out in a bar.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

resident of the week

I sometimes wonder if taking kung fu is really a good idea for me. I mean, I'm inclined to be a bit combative, anyway, and someday I'm going to get in over my head.

I went to kung fu as usual Sunday morning. This has little bearing on the story except I was, as usual, sleep-deprived, rushed for time and food, and irritable that I had to leave class early and go to work. Nevertheless, I went home, cleaned up, went to the rental office. First customer is this kid, Kevin, who's supposed to be transferring to a 2-bedroom apartment. I shuffle him through his paperwork, give him his keys. He leaves.

Now, while he's gone, this guy named Frank comes in. Frank lives in the complex. He's supposed to be the pool monitor. I think he's trying to be Jimmy Buffet. He's tanned dark, hairy as a sheep dog, walks around barefoot all the time. He's forty years old and all the college boys think he's the shit, because all he wants to do is get drunk and laid. Frank likes to come in the office and pester Crystal, the blonde I work with. She's too nice to tell him to piss off, and Frank is a pet favorite of our manager, Linda, who is herself an aging party girl.

Now, Frank has never bothered me much directly, because I am not the kind of woman that men like him tend to bother, but I still get to hear all the smarmy things he says to Crystal. He likes to ask her what underwear she's wearing, insists that she put on a thong and come to his pool party, asks if she's been around the block a few times. He once told her he was looking for a third "friend with benefits" and asked if she was interested.

So Frank comes in, starts talking to Crystal, teasing her, and my customer, Kevin, comes back. Somebody, namely the leasing manager, screwed up and gave Kevin a one-bedroom apt. instead of the 2 bedroom he was supposed to get. How does this happen? I have no idea. So while I'm running around trying to find an appropriate apartment for this kid, and trying to consult with Crystal for suggestions, Frank is leaning back in his chair making smart-ass comments. Loudly. Profanely. As if we really are amused by his presence. He's like a dog that keeps jumping up on you while you're trying to exchange insurance information with the guy you just rear-ended. Seriously, this guy needs to be medicated for ADHD, would be my guess.

I grit my teeth and ignore him. I hustle the kid out of the office, take him to a new apartment which is in reasonably good condition, head back to the office. Frank is still there, talking his fool head off--and mind you, everything that comes out of this man's mouth is a sexual innuendo. Crystal has reached that point of going "uh-huh" to all of his comments because she's trying to be cool, but he won't take the hint. So I ask her a question, she starts to answer, he jumps in with some smart-ass remark, and I just lose it.

I go, "Frank, don't you have somewhere to be?"

He said something--I forget what. Something about how we weren't working and we might as well entertain him.

This was my response, as near verbatim as I can remember it.

"Okay, you know what? I'm working here. I'm trying to sort out a situation for a customer, and your comments are only distracting me from what I'm trying to concentrate on. Now I know you think you're funny as hell, but I am not in the mood for your shit today."

He looked like I'd slapped him. He looked just like a little kid who's been smacked and doesn't know what he did wrong. And you know what? From this vantage point, I almost feel sorry for him, because I know the guy has no friends, I know his life is a shallow miserable sham, and he has no idea why this is. He has no idea that he's a dick.

Crystal is sitting there with her mouth literally hanging open.

Frank gathers himself together and says, "Well, I just think you're a bitch."

I say, "I *am* a bitch. I can be a *real* bitch."

He gets up, and I swear I have tunnel vision, I'm mentally mapping out all the vulnerable joints on his body, up on my toes, figuring I'm either going to break his kneecaps or wind up in the hospital--luckily it's across the street. And I'm not scared, mind you. I'm not even tense. I'm looking him in the eye, and it's like my skin is sonar, I'm so aware of everything around me--the proximity of the desk and chair.

He says, "I *will* be having a word with the appropriate people on Monday."

I say, "You do that."

He leaves.

I look at Crystal, who's all big-eyed and awed, and say, "I'm sorry you had to see that, but I couldn't put up with him any more. I am this close today, do you understand?"

She nods, but she is looking really, really amused. Back when I first started work there, Crystal heard all these stories about how mean I am supposed to be and how she mustn't let me bully her. This is the first time she's seen me lay smack down on anybody and I guess she found it really entertaining. On the other hand, she also smiled like that when she told me how her brother tried to strangle her. "Hey, don't worry about it," she says.

This is what happens when Holly doesn't get enough sleep.

Not surprisingly, my hands were a little shaky after that--adrenaline, I guess. I was mad at myself, for losing my cool, but the thing that gets me is, this guy has *no clue* that his behavior is inappropriate, and our manager fosters an environment for that kind of behavior--she runs that place like it's a night club. Hell, at least in a night club there are bouncers to protect the dancers if anybody gets handsy. In that office, I'm the only line of defense.

Anyway, I told my husband about it. Scott knows all about Frank, and he offered the backup if I need it, but he seems to think I can handle him. I hope it never comes to that. Frank's not fat, but he's got a lot of beer-fat on him--he's soft, and I read him as a hyperactive coward--all bark and no bite. On the other hand, I don't doubt he'd take a cheap shot if he had the opportunity. I will be quite surprised if anything comes of this, at all. As Scott put it, "What are they going to do, fire you?"

The coda to all of this is that at closing time today we had a family of Filipino/Chinese/ Samaoan/ Inuit/somethings (they looked like Eskimo Sumo wrestlers) come in to get an apartment. Turns out they teach martial arts. The whole family; dad, mom, two teens, boy and girl. Crystal says, "Oh, Holly studies martial arts" so I get to spend the next 90 minutes fending off questions about style, and schools, and teachers, and whether one technique is better than another.

Talk about avoiding conflict. The guy said he liked to visit other schools--I'm not sure for what, presumably so he could whup the teachers and steal all the students. I deftly avoided telling him where our class met. Anyway, he gave me a business card. They don't teach forms in their school, and the technique comes straight from the Sholin monks, of course. They only teach sparring, as well as full-contact full-armored combat and self-defense (which I have to admit sounds like fun). They also teach "conflict avoidance" by using voice tone and body language.

I laughed my ass off when I read that. I think I've got that part down.

Someday I'm going to get myself killed.

Anyway. I've got three more weeks. Maybe less, if today's performance bears any fruit. Honestly, if they fire me--which I don't think they will--I've got half a mind to sue Linda for sexual harassment. As a manager, it's her responsibility to provide a comfortable and safe work environment, and that place is anything but.

Monday, August 09, 2004

the stomach is weak

I can't do it. I just can't. I've been trying to write ten crits this week, to get "Galatea" bumped to the top of the critters' list.

I've done seven. Out of thirty stories, only seven of them are bearable enough to read top to bottom. What is it with people--gamers, at a guess--who insist on writing these muscle-by-muscle "adventure" stories in which some thief or elf or warlock or whatever is standing, or sitting, or creeping, or lying in bed with insomnia, contemplating the last twelve years of campaigning and never doing anything or talking to anybody?

It's unbearable. Simply unbearable. Some of these people are such tyros that the most helpful crits I could give would consist of a series of links to articles about how to write. Character, dialogue, mood, theme, plot, scene--how can you put so many words on a page and not manage to get any of them in the right place?

One of my favorite books is by a guy named Christopher Derrick, and he lists five qualities that a person must have in order to be a novelist. The last one is, "You must be interesting." Tough to take, but true. There are a LOT of boring people out there, and for some reason they all want to write.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


There's a staggering amount of bad fiction on Critters this week. Critters is an online writers' workshop that I belong to. Usually there are one or two pieces in each week's batch that are decent, or at least interesting.

Everything this week is bland city. Long, blocky paragraphs, stock characters, worn-out plots. None of it really bad, but none of it catching my interest, either. Bland is hard to crit. How do you diplomatically say, "This is pointless, try again?" The last couple weeks I spent a lot of time explaining about the "point" of a story.

I only mention this because I submitted a story of mine to the pile this week. "Galatea" is a sort of companion piece to "Insomnia"--it's the story of what Quinn is doing with herself while Seth is losing his mind.

So I have to find something to crit on Critters, so the Critters will crit Quinn when her turn comes around. That will be about a month from now, unless I get really ambitious and earn a Most Productive Critter coupon. But that will require my critting TEN critters stories, and I am simply not that masochistic.

If anybody wants to read "Galatea" in the meantime, let me know....

Monday, August 02, 2004

customer of the week

Woman came in looking for an apartment this weekend. She called twice on Sunday, talked to me, I gave her a quote on a two bedroom that was probably lower than I should have. I told her she could only get that deal if she came in and put down the deposit by the end of Sunday, because of course I don't work weekdays.

She made it in Sunday afternoon. Her last name matched that of a prominant family in the area, one known for donating large sums of money to charitys and professional sports venues. "Distant relation," she said, "Ex."

I showed her the apartment. She kept using my name. "So tell me about the fitness center, Holly." She was cagey about giving me her own information, or that of her boyfriend, who would be living with her. She hedged about giving me her address, because apparently she was still living with another boyfriend who didn't know she was moving out. She told me all about how she had been with boyfriend No. 1 for six years, but left him to be with boyfriend No. 2, who had all this money and a $350 thousand dollar house, but she just wasn't fulfilled and so she and boyfriend No. 1 were going to make another go of it. "You know what I mean, Holly?"

Something didn't smell right. I'm still not sure what it is; at a guess I'd say the boyfriend's credit is really bad and she's afraid we won't accept him. She did finally tell me his last name, which is the same last name as another of our residents who is, to use her words, "Hell on wheels." His ex-wife, she said.

She wrote me a couple of checks, to hold the apartment, and took the application with her. She's also in a terrible hurry to move in, which makes me wonder if they're getting evicted or otherwise trying to stay ahead of bad credit.

I warned my co-workers about her. She's supposed to bring the credit app back today. We'll see what happens.