Thursday, December 16, 2004

how do they bruise me? let me count

Kung fu last night. Good class, but it made marks on me in more ways than one.

This morning I have John's fingerprints in brown and yellow on my wrist. And I have a bruise on my lower back, just above the waist, where I landed on the floor.

None of this happened, mind you, during the class itself. This happened after Sit said, "Okay, we're done, you guys practice," and went upstairs.

So John and I had been horsing around. He teaches akido when not in Sit's class, and he shows me little things, tricks and tips. He's quick, soft, patient, and knows how to gradually increase his force as my technique improves. He's in his late forties, a bit taller than me, medium built. Not a large man. Nevertheless, he is a man, and a good deal stronger than I am.

It's strange for me, working with these guys, learning the theory of fighting, while in practice realizing just how much stronger men are than women. Sit and Matt frequently remark on how strong I am, for a woman, but I can't bench more than 70 pounds. My strength is in good structure and confidence, but almost every class I strain something because I'm trying to use too much muscle against those guys. Sit says, "If you don't believe it, it won't work," but I am desperately aware of how much I still have to learn.

Anyway, we had been practicing these arm-locks, foot-traps, pull and pin and control, which I would be absolutely foolish to use on a full-grown man. Nevertheless, I learn the technique, because the principles are the same in all the applications. We were all horsing around near the end of class, improvising, throwing in extra punches and mixing things up.

I don't know if John wanted to test me, or what. I don't exactly remember what happened, but I suddenly found myself being thrown toward the wall, with his hand in the middle of my back like he wanted to pin me. He didn't shove me hard, so I decided (decided? that may be giving myself too much credit--I reacted) that I didn't want to go against that wall--this wasn't in the program. So I somehow slipped sideways and down, out from under his arm, twisted and punched at his solar plexus. Just touched--didn't hit, but of course he countered and after that my memory gets a little murky. Somehow I ended up on the floor. Not surprising--he's quite good at sweeping. Hence the bruise on my back. I curled and landed without getting hurt, rolled up and tackled his leg, tried to push him over.

Up until this point it was pretty much fun and games. Then he crouched over me and pinned my shoulders to the floor and I kind of panicked. Friend or no, there is just something really scary about having a man kneel over you and hold you down, and I'll say right now, I've been fortunate enough to never find myself in that position before.

On the other hand, I used to wrestle with my dad, and I curled up and over somehow, kicked at him, rolled over my shoulder or spun or something--I don't remember what happened. He stopped, though. I have the feeling he let me up. I simply don't remember. Maybe he saw I was getting too wild, maybe he was just done playing. I came to my senses in a crouch, and he was kneeling next to me--I was panting. I don't know if I was scared or mad or just hyped. I still don't. I kind of slumped over with a gasp of exhaustion. My vision had tunneled. My hair had fallen down because my barrette broke when I rolled back over my head. John picked it up and then picked me up. "Good twisting," he said. I have no idea what he was talking about. I don't remember what I did. It's weird; I've written about battle-fog a few times, but that may have been the first time I felt it.

I thought I looked and acted cool, but then we went upstairs and Mary looked at me and her eyes kind of widened and she said, "Wow, you look really. . ."

"Flushed?" I said, and my voice sounded kind of strangled.

"No, like you were really getting a workout." I think that's what she said. I'm pretty sure it's not what she started to say.

I still feel vaguely like I was assaulted, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. We don't do any real sparring in that class, and all of our grappling is in slow-motion, so nobody gets hurt. If I ever want to be able to use this stuff for self-defense, I need to practice it in real-time, and get over my fear of getting hit.

By the time I got home I was so drained I could barely get ready for bed, but this morning I feel quite good, so I suspect it was adrenaline-drain. I'm more than a little alarmed that I would have such a violent reaction to a little horseplay in class. I've never been beaten or assaulted nor even in a fight since I was a child, so it wasn't a reaction to any post-traumatic memories.

Being able to hold one's own in a fight is greatly dependent upon one's ability to stay calm and think clearly. I don't like that I can't remember what I did.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

those who do, get criticized


There are people who cannot factor in or even acknowledge evidence outside of their personal experiences. They tend to learn facts once--often in their youth--and those facts are immutable regardless of later evidence to the contrary. (This can get embarrassing, given the rate of knowledge acquisition and technological advancement in this age.) This personality type tends to take things overly literally, and often behave as if they are experts in their chosen field of interest. The scifi genre is particularly full of people like this.

One such person in my writer's group got huffy because a hired thug (in a story) pointed a shotgun at the hero's stomach, when "a professional should know that a head or chest wound would be more likely to kill." It wasn't even my story, but I felt obligated to point out that:
  1. a blast to the abdomen or even the leg is still going to be horribly incapacitating, even if not immediately fatal
  2. it's a freaking shotgun; accuracy is not of the utmost importance, and
  3. aiming at the torso gives the thug the largest available target, if the hero decides to run.
More recently, this same person made skeptical remarks about certain combat moves I had Quinn use in a story, i.e. smashing a thug's sternum. S/he said, "No way a woman could do that, unless she's Superwoman."

Er, yeah. In the first place, breaking bones and/or joints is not that difficult; it's a significant component of many martial arts. Admittedly, the sternum is a tough one, but if you can break a cinderblock with the heel of your hand, you can probably crack somebody's sternum, and if This Person were really so knowledgable about assassins and fighting, s/he would know that.

But all of that aside, Quinn IS a superhuman. That's kind of a major plot point, no? This Person has read at least two of the Quinn Taylor stories, including the first novel, yet s/he never caught on that QT is a genetically enhanced super-soldier? I really have to wonder about This Person's reading comprehension abilities.


I got some feedback from a fan who took offense at the use of colorful metaphors in the "Insomnia" story (check the July archives).

My mother used to ink out the swear words in her books. Sometimes she marked them out in my manuscripts, too, although I never had a character say anything stronger than "bullshit" in those days (I haven't let her read any of my work from the last four years). Mom said, "You shouldn't have your heroine using language like that. Some young reader will idolize her and want to be like her and you don't want them using that bad language."

Mercy, no. I want all those impressionable young readers to have clean mouths, clean underwear and clean fingernails when they embark on their careers as professional killers.

Asimov claimed his characters didn't use profanity because they were intelligent, articulate people. Most of my characters are intelligent, and several of them are articulate, but they are also violent people, raised and groomed in rough environments, and submitted to horrific circumstances. I'm thinking they're going to say something stronger than "gosh" or "darn" when the fit hits the shan. If they don't, it just sounds silly. Stephen King has something to say about this in On Writing.

Personally, I usually go for a PG-13 rating in my work. Profanity, sex and violence don't generally bother me, but I find they become wearying after a while. There was a period of five or six years after Pulp Fiction when every third movie was competing to pack the maximum number of F-bombs into the dialogue. It had the same cumulative result as CGI effects in sci-fi movies: sameness and mediocrity. Using profanity to indicate "grittiness" is just as cheap as putting a token alien in the background of a Star Trek set and calling that scenery.

Heinlein used to write around the bad words by having his narrator say something like "I advised him to perform an impossible act of masturbation." When done well, and sparingly, it can be quite droll, but over the course of a 500-page novel it starts to take up a lot of space. I tried this technique, back when I was younger and verbose, but as my style got more spare and noir-ish it didn't work anymore. When Quinn's got a gun to her head and Seth's about to kick though the doors and unlease holy hell on the bad guys, it reads a lot faster if she just tells Ozee to go blow himself.

Feel free to generalize.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

chili de pollo con queso y frijoles

That's cheesy chicken chili with beans. It's goooood.
  • 3 or 4 chicken breasts, or other parts
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can enchilada sauce (may be mild, medium or hot, to taste)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 block Velveeta cheese
  • 2-3 cups water
  • chicken buillion powder or cubes
  • 1/3-1/2 cup corn flour (masa harina)
  • cumin
  • oregano
  • cilantro
  • Lowrey's seasoning salt
  • Lowrey's seasoned pepper
  • Penzey's SW seasoning blend (optional)
  • 1/2 small sweet onion
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • butter

    Boil chicken in water with buillion powder. Mince peppers, onion and garlic; saute in butter until onions are clear. Remove chicken from broth, let cool. Debone if needed and dice small. Add peppers & onions to stock. Mix corn flour with water or stock to make thin gruel; add to stock. Return chicken to pot. Add enchilada sauce, beans and corn. Add Velveeta in chunks and allow to melt, until it's a nice semi-thick consistency. You don't want it like glue. If it's too thin, add more corn flour. Simmer and stir occasionally. Add spices as needed. May be served with sour cream, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, or crumbled tortilla chips on top. My husband eats it cold, with chips, like a dip.

    Warning: the heat level of the echilada sauce you use will largely determine the overall hotness of the soup. It gets hotter as it ages!

brain buzz

Last night was my first "master class" in Sit's basement. It was just me and Matt, since everybody else was occupied.

Oh God, was it good. We didn't really do anything I hadn't done before--one semi-new move that was actually a variation on a theme. Lots of elbows. Lots of target practice with the hand-bags. Lots of application practice and lightning-quick instruction. Constant correction and repetition. Got to work with Matt a bit, too, which I haven't often. He said, "It's nice to work with somebody who doesn't outweigh me by forty pounds," as Tony and Mike do (amen to that). He also recommended I read about stoic philosophy.

My head was so packed full and buzzing I couldn't sleep last night. I did sleep, but it was in that shallow, always-dreaming state where it feels like you're still awake. I was dreaming about what we'd done, I think, rehearsing it. This morning it seems much clearer. I can see myself potentially making improvement by leaps and bounds. It just all makes so much sense. Sit is a good teacher, but he also teaches the way I like to learn, and both of them were so encouraging--telling me when I did it right, fixing it when I did it wrong. My feet are all wrong. My shoulders are still not consistently down, but I know what to work for now. My aim is all over the place. I have a total lack of focus and am very sloppy. Precision, focus and relaxation are my goals for my third year of kung fu.

I love this stuff. I loooove it.