What kind of magic is this?

A snippet from my in-progress upmarket vampire story, The Trick

For a moment it all stopped and everything was silent. Helen listened for the tweet of a bird, the honk of traffic, or the chatter of a squirrel but heard only the sound of her own breathing. In the absence of external noise, the rhythmic beat of the pulse in her ear grew louder.

Helen marveled at the motionless tableaux. Gold and red autumn leaves were suspended in the air; a moth was caught in mid-flitter; even the feathery clouds, picking up the shine of the moon, had stopped moving. Helen touched a leaf hanging in mid-air and wondered, What kind of magic is this?

Convergence Insufficiency

Self portrait of Kristen squinting in the sun

After several months of unexplained eye pain and a gazillion eye exams, I finally got a diagnosis: Convergence Insufficiency. My eyes diverge a little and I get pain and headaches when I try to focus on a computer or anything close up. I must have looked up a million articles about “pain on reading” or “it hurts to read”. I’m pretty confident all those people are having binocular vision problems just like me.

I went to another optometrist to sign up for “vision therapy” to train my eyes to focus up close, and he prescribed me prism glasses. The prism glasses shift the images I see so that they line up correctly without forcing my eyes to do so much work. The pain I was experiencing was muscle pain from eyes trying really hard to line themselves up.

The glasses do the trick! It’s magical!

This is all really good news. I’m incredibly glad to have a diagnosis and solution for my problem, because let me tell you, “avoid computers” was bumming me out, big time. I thought my days of computering were over. I had just started writing a novel and it killed me to not be able to work on it.

The lesson I learned is: Doctors grasp at answers and are often ignorant outside of their specialty. A headache specialist will assume you have headaches.

Still, someone should have done a binocular workup. My problem was easily diagnosed with a short, non-invasive, inexpensive test. I had had thousands of dollars worth of tests, including a CT scan and a neuro-opthalmology exam, before anyone thought to do the binocular test. I’m a little peeved at that, but, there’s no point in hanging onto irritation. I’m grateful for good health insurance. Onward and upward, with a life filled with reading.

In conclusion: Get your eyes examined yearly. Get a binocular workup if you have mysterious unexplained eye strain. If you work on a computer, follow the 20–20–20 rule: Look away, every minutes or so, at something in the distance, for about 20 seconds. I am going to get software to remind me to do this. Don’t forget to blink!

Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur

Address: Bixby Creek Bridge, CA-1, Monterey, CA 93940

According to Wikipedia, Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in California due to its aesthetic design. Bixby Creek Bridge, also known as Bixby Canyon Bridge, on the Big Sur coast of California, is a reinforced concrete open-spandrel arch bridge. The bridge is 120 miles south of San Francisco and 13 miles south of Carmel in Monterey County along State Route 1.


Rhyolite, Death Valley

On the northeastern edge of Death Valley is an abandoned ore mining town called Rhyolite. The weathered old ruins, some still standing, are breathtakingly beautiful. Rhyolite was a thriving town at the beginning of the last century. It declined as soon as the ore was depleted. At its peak, the town hosted several thousand residents. Now it’s a ghost town with rusting cars and crumbling, abandoned buildings.

I like the structure of this crumbling building. Rhyolite is a study in the sad beauty of decay. Decrepit buildings crumble and wilt against the stark desert background. Man-made structures weather like the nearby ashy bushes that struggle in the arid climate. The environment is harsh for urban and plant growth alike. It’s a perfect setting for photography. I went a little nuts taking photos.

I am glad the crumbling buildings haven’t been dismantled. Dusty and weathered, they are perfect accompaniments to the dry desert environment and are reminders of our fragile existence. Without a constant influx of resources and water, a town becomes a dry husk. These buildings are an elegant reminder of mortality. The ruins complement the harshness of the Death Valley environment perfectly.

Posted in response to the photo challenges Structure and Weathered. Read more travel stories here.

Rhyolite, Death Valley, crumbling ruins

The first two paragraphs

I will be sharing snippets from my novel Washing off the Glue in the hopes of getting some constructive feedback.

The first two paragraphs:

Marie came to Burning Man to let go of a memory.

Ten long years of searching for Dad, and she had nothing to show for it. What if he’s sick? What if he’s dead? She had no way of knowing. That’s the part that killed her. Rachel, her best friend and roommate, was probably right: She should give up the search and start living in the present.

I am told “absent or missing fathers” are a cliche in novels, but I’d like to think I have a novel (so to speak) approach. It’s not about the father; it’s about the main character, Marie, who embarks on an obsessive search for him, and encounters all sorts of problems of her own.

What do you think?

Critical

dirty worn and peeled crayons

Procrastination by way of web design

I spent a good eight hours today revamping ankiewicz.com, and enlarging all the thumbnail images, bandwidth be damned. I am writing a novel, so naturally I spent all day twiddling with images that have nothing to do with my novel. In the interest of preparing for this novel, I wanted to start a blog about writing, procrastination, and the process. I debated five ways to Sunday whether or not to host my blog on wordpress.com, or ankiewicz.com. Pros to self-hosting: complete control of the look and feel. Cons to self-hosting: no real access to the community and wordpress.com ecosystem.

It’s probably six of one. I decided to host the blog here on wordpress.com.

There are a lot of frog photos on ankiewicz.com

Smuckles’ Garden Camping Adventures

Smuckles’ Garden Camping Adventures is the story of several slug and snail friends who decide to go camping together. The story starts out with lots of laughs but pretty soon something scary happens! Follow the adventures of Smuckles the Slug and pals as they encounter spooky stuff on their camping trip. Get the book on Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. Learn about the hilarious gang on Monsters.net.

Smuckles Garden Camping Adventures

Smuckles Garden Camping Adventures

Mini-story – Final Exam

The mini-story below, about a final exam, is an outtake from a novel I am working on, posted in response to the Daily Prompt, Final. What is your attitude towards the word final? Does it feel you with unease like it does me? Do you hate endings as much as I do?

That fall, Marie had boldly and confidently signed up for Math 201a: Multivariable Calculus. The topic had a visual component that appealed to Marie. Hyperbolic paraboloids reminded her of Pringles chips.

During the first exam, the pressure of finishing within an hour—the tyranny of the clock—jangled Marie’s nerves, and time got away from her. The clock loomed overhead and mocked her with each nervous glance. An hour was a minute; a minute was a second. Her mind was a wall of worry. The hour marched to its end, and she had answered no questions.

The professor, Maciej Zaborowski, paced around during the exams. He had a habit of holding a piece of chalk on his chin and accidentally creating a chalk soul patch. He tripped backwards when looking at the board and not noticing an umbrella beneath his feet. They called him “Magic Z.”

There were four exams in this course: three hourly exams, and a long multi-hour final. Failing an exam meant that the remaining exams were weighted more heavily. Marie was embarrassed but not horribly worried. She had several chances to redeem herself.

During the second hourly exam, time played the same cruel tricks as before. She could practically hear the tick, tock.

These two exams didn’t bode well. She had never gotten a poor grade in a class. However, she still had a bit of hope, and a plan. She joined study groups. She crammed. Studying would solve the problem; studying always solved her problems.

The day of the third exam, sweat trickled down the small of her back. She wasn’t prone to palpitations but she could feel her heart pounding. She knew before even submitting the booklet that she had failed a third time. She felt like crying. This was completely absurd and unacceptable.

The night of the third exam, she dreamt that she sat naked in the front row of an empty class. Incomprehensible Math 201a assignments crackled loudly out of the intercom system. Compute the surface area of the sphere above the xy plane. Locate and classify all the local maxima, minima and saddle points of the function. Find the parametric equation of the line of intersection of the tangent planes. She woke up in a sweat.

The final was now the biggest single contributor to her grade for the class. She took drastic measures. She reallocated all resources to Math 201a. Her mind swam with wave equations, flux integrals, and arc lengths. Nights and weekends were entirely dominated by Stokes’ Theorem and Green’s Theorem. Helical curves and one-sheeted hyperboloids danced before her eyes.

The day of the final exam was bright and sunny. Spring was coming and that day seemed the first hint of warm weather to come. The final exam was a leisurely, multi-hour event. There was a clock, but it was far less potent. One question after another, she answered, confident she understood the question. The parametrized surface is everywhere perpendicular to the vector field. False! The vector field has zero curl and zero divergence everywhere. True!

A few days later Marie went to the class to check on her grade. They weren’t posted yet, dammit. A day later, on a terribly rainy Wednesday, she came back to check again. She saw a flyer for a vegan support group and an advertisement for used textbooks, but no grades. On the third day she came back and saw the fateful sheet with a half dozen students clustered around it. She shoved her way to the front with a few Excuse me’s and looked for her name: Anderson… Ebert… Gibson. There was her score, but could that be right? She did a double-take. She got an A on the exam.

All at once the relief washed over her. She couldn’t believe it. She looked around for a chair; she had to sit down. Finding a metal fold-up chair in the same hallway, Marie plopped down, put her hand through her hair, and worried about her future. Would it be like this for every science class going forward: weeks of stress followed by an unbelievable day of relief? She couldn’t take another Math 201a. Shit, she thought. Maybe she shouldn’t be a scientist.

mushrooms to represent hyperbolic parabaloids

The mushroom image above is the best representative I have for hyperbolic paraboloids.

 

Quinault Rainforest

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6094 U.S. 101, Amanda Park, WA 98526

A cluster of ferns in Quinault Rainforest

Quinault Rainforest

Quinault Rainforest, part of Olympic National Park, is on my shortlist of places to visit again. In July 2013 on my way from San Francisco to Boston, I visited this mossy, verdant wonderland in the northwest corner of Washington State. I could have spent a month taking photos there. The park features overflowing ferns, moss growing off giant trees, and numerous other epiphytes that only grow where it rains all the time. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants in a non-parasitic way. Examples include ferns, mosses, spike mosses, and lichens. It rains almost fourteen feet a year in the park, so the place is very green.

Quinault Rainforest is verdant and amazing

The paths were particularly beautiful because the sunlight shone through the hanging moss and ferns and created a green backlit effect. Much of the lush greenery was brightly dappled. The mixture of shadow and light was spectacular. Many fallen trunks in stages of decay were thick with moss growth. Shades of green were very intense. This place is loaded with ferns and moss.

Quinault Rainforest could have been a lovely home for elves and gnomes

Plants grew from every square inch of the earth. Moss draped from every tree. Light filtered through everything. The park was scenic and postcard-perfect. There are hikes of shorter and longer durations, all radiating out from Lake Quinault in the center. It’s a very family-friendly park. There’s even a seafood restaurant on one edge of the park with a view of the sunset.

More ferns and moss in Quinault Rainforest

Quinault Rainforest

Even more ferns and greenery

Quinault Rainforest

Posted in response to It IS Easy Being Green!

On revising

I started this blog in order to write about my novel & the novel-writing process, and maybe to even get a little feedback, but when I sit down to put together a post I feel very exposed. I don’t like working in a vacuum, but I’m also frequently averse to sharing my work outside a select subset of people. So much of my identity is wrapped up in my creative projects that I fear criticism of the project as though it were criticism of me. I know in my head this is not the case, but emotion is ruled by the heart and the stomach.

My novel is deep in the revisions stage. I work on it in fits and starts. When I get feedback from friends or editor-types I tend to go on a rampage of editing. When I feel good about the writing, I go on a rampage of editing. When I feel like my writing is dumb, I avoid it. Right now I’m avoiding it.

It’s a bit of a a vicious circle, either in the positive or negative sense.

Do you have a source of feedback for your writing? How do you avoid that scary exposed feeling? What do you do when you feel like your writing is dumb? How long do you spend on a post before hitting that publish button? Do you revise posts after you publish them?

Fruit of the noni tree

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A few years ago I visited Kauai, Hawaii, and discovered this large, bulbous, green, and knobby fruit, about the size of a pear.

the fruit of the noni tree

Is it edible? Is it poisonous? Is it full grown? What the heck is it? My website received a lot of Google hits from people searching for “bulbous fruit”, which is what I called it before I realized its true name.

I have since learned that this is the fruit of the noni tree. It is edible (though not too tasty) and not poisonous (if you don’t eat too many). Proponents claim that the noni fruit and its juice can treat a wide variety of health problems, ranging from cancer to senility to psoriasis. Science hasn’t backed up these claims, so if you get a case of psoriasis, see a doctor. The noni fruit has also been used in many commercial skin and hair care products. Go ahead and slather it on if you need to moisturize, just don’t expect a cure for cancer.

I would go back to Kauai in a heartbeat. The plants there seemed bigger, greener, weirder. See the original high-resolution photo.

Posted in response to the weekly photo challenge It IS easy being green!

Danger! Waterfall! Rainbow!

Wailua Waterfall with rainbow

This is the bottom of Wailua waterfall in Kauai, Hawaii. It was huge and rushing and loud. There were at least four signs that said KEEP OUT and DANGER and suchlike. One sign said PEOPLE HAVE DIED HERE. A local guy told us there was a trail and that we’d be A-OKAY, so naturally we hopped the fence. The hike was not too long, but it was very muddy and involved ropes attached to trees. At the bottom we discovered a beautiful rainbow, with a second shadow rainbow, and the entire population of Kauai’s mosquitos. The weather was pretty good on the way down. The last 20 feet on the way up it started raining cats and dogs. Hooray!