Eating the elephant?
There’s an old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Of course, this presumes that you have refrigeration handy, and you’re eating it alone, where my husband’s stories of shot elephants seem to involve villagers turning up with great cast iron pots and firewood before dust from the creature hitting the ground settles. (Bush telegraph. Is faster than magic.)
They also involve the hilarities of villagers inside the elephant carving out meat above them up to the ribs, and more on top carving meat down to the ribs, and the screaming and cursing when an assegai or machete pokes out between and finds a human foot…
But realities aside, back to metaphors.
This month I set myself to write fiction every day, using the Inktober prompt list. No set length, and not on the same WIP, which is good, because it hasn’t been. It’s been scattered all over, between old works and new works. A chapter here, a scene there, a single line this other day. Some days I got 3K words, but it wasn’t using the Inktober prompt at all. Usually I’ve gone back and worked the word in anyway, to be stubborn.
One day I even got over 8K words. I also failed to manage to get out of pyjamas, much less any housework done. Fortunately, I have a husband who understands these things…
So, is it successful? Compared the months of not a single word coming out, it’s spectacularly successful!
If we use the standard the relentless critic inside my brain sets of “will you make or finish a saleable work?” Well, no. Fortunately, unlike my husband, this isn’t my Day Job. (Of Day Job’s attempt to eat my brain this month… Look, some days I can answer all the questions in 30 seconds. Some days take a lot longer, because the poor Russian pilot calling on a Chinese burner phone from Somewhere Overseas has an english vocabulary that is not three words larger than the pilot/controller glossary, and he’s very excited that he’s found someone who can answer his questions, and is patient enough to wait while he types everything into google translate, reads the english result phonetically, then types in my answer phonetically, and hits translate into Russian… Y’all have days like this too, right? I should just count it spectacularly successful I’ve managed to write anything at all, every single day.)
So… yeah, it’s been a good month. I’ve gotten a lot of writing done. Low expectations, high productivity, scattershot progress, random (very random!) research rabbit holes. Figured out that writing just a tiny bit in the morning (Thank you, Laura Montgomery, for your “breakfast words” advice) often leads to more writing later in the day, and am working that into my habits. (Margaret Ball’s “write in the morning, edit at night” advice is awesome… on my non-work nights. Work nights I come home hungry for brains. Or bourbon.)
Would I recommend to other writers? Probably not, if it’s your Day Job. But if you’re trying to unblock and get into the habit of squeezing in a few words every day, absolutely.
And the next elephant trundling up the path, named NanoWriMo? I’ll probably just let that one pass this year, as I’m full.
The road to Eklutna was amazing; it wasn’t long after exiting the highway that houses became scarce, and the mountains rose up on either side and swallowed the sky, leaving only a bit ahead in the middle of the windshield as they headed up the mountain valley. Lizzes craned her neck to see up to the peaks. The trees thinned out and then gave up entirely, leaving only low green plants still bright green like spring, and… “Is that snow?”
“Yeah. It’s a bad summer when we get snow on the mountains on the fourth of July. Don’t worry; it’s rain by the time it hits sea level.” Oleksii replied, even as he backed off the gas to give the RV in front of them some space while it struggled up a climbing curve.
“We’re going up toward it. Is that why you told me to bring a jacket?” When they’d stopped at the house, he’d been very insistent that she didn’t need to change into running gear. She’d wondered why, and now it made sense; her ultra-light mesh clothes would have left her miserable and shivering if she wasn’t moving fast over trail in snow country.
“The wind comes right off the glacier at the head of the valley. Water’s all icemelt, and we’re going to be running by it.” He nodded. “Get used to wearing layers. Between going up past the treeline, down to the sea, working out in the heat, then reporting into air conditioning… layers are good. So’s a rain jacket. Weather moves in fast, here.”
“Great. So I’m going to have to shop for layers now, and then winter gear in another four or five months… what?” She caught that look.
“Two to three months. Winter comes fast, here.” He was very studiously looking at the road, now, backing off from the RV even further.
“Oh.” Of course it would; she was in the subarctic. “Huh. Well, this’ll be fun!”
Oleksii laughed. “You’re such a girl.”
“And you’re such a guy. Don’t worry, I won’t drag you shopping, pretend girlfriend or not.” She settled back, laughing, even as he reflexively made the sign of the cross and pitched his eyes up.
“Thank you, G-d!”
When the RV finally pulled off, she thought he’d speed up, but he slowed down to a crawl instead. Around the bend, she realized why; they were already in the parking lot, finding a spot among the other SUVs and pickups with all their trailers and racks. He found a slot just barely wide enough for them to park and squeeze out, and she grabbed the jacket as she bailed. She hadn’t noticed the Park Pass sticker on his windshield before, but at least it saved them from having to go fill out a stub and drop the payment in the box like the occasional-weekend crowd.
She tied her jacket around her waist, debating putting it on – even with the warmth of summer, there was a bite in the air, something wild and something wintry. The parking lot pitched rather steeply down to the lake, and she followed as they took a right turn to parallel the lakeshore. “Oh, wow.” Beyond the screen of scraggly trees, it was obvious that it was a manmade lake; they’d dammed the entire mountain valley with a giant earthwork. “Is this for flood control?”
“No, Eklutna’s the water supply for Anchorage, as well as all the houses between. The turbines over there power the city, as well. Since it’s dammed so high up, we never have to worry about water pressure.” He gestured to the head of the valley, and she could see a glimpse of the sea far below, waves glittering in the sunshine.
“Why’s it such an odd color?” The whole lake was a startling blue-grey, bright, almost pastel, with grey mud shores.
“Glacial melt. That’s rock flour. Ah, rock ground down to the consistency of powder by glaciers.” He slowed to let her crane her neck and stare at it without having to watch her footing, and the crooked grin came back. “The local bottlers sell ‘glacier water’ that’s straight out of the tap to tourists. Because it’s technically true.”
She laughed, knowing full well she’d bought a flat of just that two days ago. “That’s awful. And awesome!”
The earthworks seemed bigger the further out she got on it; while it looked like a strip of narrow land in the middle from the parking lot, she was starting to realize it held the entire RV campground. “Did they dam the entire valley by blasting half a mountain down?” She looked up at the mountain peaks towering above them, so close.
“Took advantage of a natural rockfall, if I understand correctly, and built on that.” He shrugged, and led her into the RV campground, with its generous lots cut between the trees, furnished with picnic tables and fire pits, and full of RV’s, tents, camp chairs, coolers, and adults and kids out relaxing and having a good weekend. As they came around the bend, a small child in pink clothes with bright yellow boots came running down the road, arms and limbs all akimbo. “Unca Lexi!”
Oleksii crouched down, and scooped her up, whirling her around as she screamed in delight in such a high pitch that Lizzes’ ears hurt. He plunked her back on the dirt, keeping hold of one hand, and resumed walking. “How’s my favorite girl?”
“I’m fishing! I have a glitter rod, and I caught two fish!” The kid thrust two fingers up at him, and Lizzes noted that, unlike sudden moves from adults, he didn’t twitch. “Daddy says I had to use his fishhooks with bait ’cause the fish can’t see far in the water. It’s really cloudy. Do you see how it’s all cloudy?” She twisted around his hand, winding back and forth, looking up at Lizzes with bright curious eyes.
“It is. Oleksii tells me it’s from the glacier.”
“Uh-huh. And daddy says I can’t swim here. I’m a big girl! I only need waterwings!” She pouted. “I can jump right in!”
“Not here you don’t, princess. It’s really, really cold. Ucky cold. I won’t even put my feet in it, it’s so cold. Do you like cold baths, princess? Shall I dump some icewater on you?”
“Eww! No!” She laughed, and dodged around him.
“That’s right, so you want to stay out of the ucky cold lake, and swim in warmer ponds. But first, let me introduce you to my friend. Princess, this is Lizzes. Lizzes, this is Katy. Lizzes is my new neighbor. I’m showing her around.”
“Hello, Katy.” Lizzes smiled down at the kid, dropping her a curtsy.
“Are you gonna go fishing with Lexi?” Big blue eyes regarded her critically. “You don’t have a rod. You need a rod to go fishing!”
“Not this time. We’re going to run around the lake. Do you go fishing with Uncle Oleksii?” She smiled, and got a smile back.
“He took me to Jewel Lake!” That was enough to set the kid babbling happily away about the sunfish and ducks and a playground, as they walked around the loop, back to where a stockily built man with a buzzcut stood with his arms crossed over his chest at the entrance to his camping spot, sunglasses failing to hide a stern glare. Lizzes wondered what she’d done to piss him off, when she realized Princess had gone silent, and was trying to hide behind Oleksii.
“Hey, Ross.” Oleksii waved his free hand.
“Hey, yourself.” A nod, and the stern look was aimed down two feet. “Where are you supposed to be, Kathleen Arianne?”
“I was going to the bathroom.” Sulky, the response. “Mommy said I could.”
“Mommy said you could go to the bathroom in the camper, or you could walk with me down to the bathrooms. Did you walk with me, young lady?”
A bright yellow boot dug in the leaves. “No.”
“Into the trailer with you, young lady, and I want you to apologize to your mother for disobeying her. Now.” He pointed, and Katy sulked in, with dragging steps. When the door banged closed, he sighed, took off his sunglasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Damned good to see you, buddy.”
“I’m just glad she found me before anyone else found her.” Oleksii let out a breath. “She’s got all your stubbornness and Independence.”
“I know. I was about to run the loops, looking for her, when I saw you. Thank God. You know my mother just laughs at me, and says, ‘Vengeance is grandkids, sayeth the Lord!’ when I complain. Kid’s going to be the death of me.” He looked up, and smiled. “I’m sorry. Hello, ma’am. I didn’t catch your name?”
“Lizzes Groenveld.” She stuck out her hand, and he gave it a good shake, firm and dry.
“Ross McClatchy.” He smiled. “So, what’s a nice girl like you doing with a grumpy bastard like him?” He threw a grin over at Oleksii’s rude gesture.
Oleksii spoke before she could. “Well, I was gonna get her lunch, since somebody said they’d have a spread on, but I see it’s all lies to lure me into taking your kid fishing.”
“Ah, Barbs got a late start. Baby’s being super fussy today.” He shrugged. “I can get started on some burgers and dogs, if you want to pull up a chair? I have beer, pop, water, chips…”
“No need on my account. We actually came up here to run; Oleksii promised to show me the trails.” She smiled at Ross, and he shot a surprised look at his friend.
“Hey, have fun with that! Stop by on the way out, and we’ll save some leftovers for you! I want to hear how long it took for you to run him in the ground. Fifty feet? Twenty?” He teased, and Oleksii bared his teeth.
“You keep that up, and I get your girl a drum machine for Christmas.”
“You do that, and Barbs will have your guts for garters.” But they were both grinning. “Speaking of, you better get out of here, ma’am, before you get recruited into kitchen help.”
“I get the hint.” She laughed, and stuck out a hand. “Nice meeting you.”
“Likewise, ma’am.” He shook once more, and waved as the headed out, back to the lakeshore.
Oleksii pointed. “Trailhead’s at the other end of the parking lot, where we came in. Normally, I just cut across and start on the lakeside trail, but there’s more to choose from.” They watched a group of kayakers dragging brightly colored boats down the gravel to the water’s edge, past where they’d parked.
“Is there a rental place?” She looked from the boats to him.
“Oh, yeah.” He thought for a moment. “They have some supplies for campers, too. Want to grab a powerbar and drinks?”
“Why not?” She had some, but hadn’t thought to bring enough to share. On the other hand, a sudden vision of him puking Gatorade trying to keep up with her, like her last trail-running date, came to mind. “Or on the way back. Are you hungry?”
“Not yet. I’ll grab a pack with some water from the car, and we’ll run.” That was easy enough, since it was on the way. He grabbed a thin black backpack covered with loops and pouches, and locked the car again, catching up to her as she stood by the swirl of people filling out parking stubs at the trailhead sign.
“So, straight up?” She pointed at the Twin Peaks trail. “Or flat?” That was along the lake. “Or both, with the Bold Ridge Trail?”
“I like flat better.” He shrugged. “Your choice.”
“Huh.” She was tempted, for a moment, to trail-run on him, tackling the ascents and leaving him panting far behind. An ugly temptation lurked, to show him she was as expert and he as bad as she’d been at shooting this morning. But payback was mean and unfair, and she squashed the unchristian impulse. He hadn’t been trying to show her up; he’d been trying to teach her to be better. She could definitely do the same. “Flat’s good for starting. If you change your mind,” She tapped the trailhead five miles in, “there’s always another chance.”
“All right.” He gave her a smile that made her glad she’d made the right choice; it was a shy expression, as if somewhat startled at appearing on his face at all. She took off down the trail at an easy warmup walking pace, contemplating just how to make him smile like that again.