*poke, poke* Is this thing on?

The funny thing about long online silences is, you don't intend your last post in ages to be your last post in ages. It just happens to be a snapshot of what's going on just before you're about to enter a time of not enough time/energy/brainwidth to keep updating.

And on that count, hoo boy, my last posts about how my commute is fucking me up were spot. on. perfect.

The last year, summarized: commute, work, raise kids. (For values of 'raise' comprised mostly of flailing ineffectually while they turn out fine on their own, because you know, kids do that.)

I don't draw or paint anymore, I don't write anymore, I stopped horse-riding and martial arts, programming projects have gone to fallow. This is not a super exciting life.

At some point you just find yourself padding the gaps by blinking blearily at the Internet again and again, which the brain parses as "Oh hey, this is almost like I'm doing something!", except of course it isn't. At least I made a whole bunch of friends loosely playing asynchronous forum games on pony-themed subreddits.

With my commute and C.'s crazy doctor hours, we've been relying a lot on our nanny, the dear woman. Her availability and proximity are what helps us hold everything together. But she's not having a good year, at all. Within months, she got a divorce and then lost her dad. So... she's selling her house, and moving away.

And that's where everything kind of breaks down for us.

Basically... We're calling it quits. We've sold the house. And we're moving back down south.

After a lot of false starts because the housing market is fucked up beyond belief, we found a nice rental house 5 mins away from C.'s parents. We'll be relying on them a lot. Kind of have to.

Selling the house went mercifully quickly. The local market is dreadfully anemic, but our house is... well, was really pretty, and to be honest, we also took a heavy loss on the sale. That's life. Hopefully the buyers' mortgage will go through; we'll sign the final papers in October.

C. herself found a nice position at a smaller hospital down south, in the town where my own parents live. She'll have more night duties, but they'll be markedly quieter.

And as for me, my boss agreed to let me telecommute. The sales manager, who supervises those things, agreed as well. Aaaaand then the CEO stepped in and demanded I come in at least two days a week.

So for the time being, I will in fact be spending even more time on the train than before.

This is going to be a brand new life, though, and that matters.

Right now we're packing, packing and packing. You acquire so much stuff without realizing it. We've been throwing away a lot of old things, actually, which is strangely therapeutic.

The moving truck comes on Thursday. So, right during Eurofurence. Because of course the details of C.'s work schedule between here and down south, and the rental house's availability, had to conspire so the move could only happen this week. Seriously, at some point it just stops being funny.

I'll still be going to EF, primarily because C. said I should. (If it had been my own decision, I wouldn't have gone. But she's wise like that; I think we'll both have need of the tremendous mental energy I get from my yearly pilgrimage to EF.)

So right now I'm trying to wrap up everything before tomorrow, my last day here. Packing, relocating telephone/Internet subscriptions, more packing, everything must be done and done well so C. can just sit back and relax until the truck comes. I hope.

And here I am, wrapping up everything, and finally closing this update window so I can move on to the next task.

Given the trials ahead, I feel oddly optimistic and cheerful.

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It's the darnedest thing.

The wonkiest thing happened this morning.

In lieu of ads at the train station, there were large posters from the European Commission. The contents, paraphrased: "You have RIGHTS. If you trip is turning to nightmare, contact the Commission at this URL or call this toll-free number."

Also, this morning, for the first time ever, the train ran early.

Sometimes there are such freaky coincidences...

EDIT: Ok, guys, you've GOT to check this out.

This evening, the train left exactly on time, arrived exactly on time. With about a third the usual number of seats.

So people had to twist themselves between the seats and other people to even fit. Even after three stops worth of people getting off, it was still crammed full.

Yes, they can legally do that. No, the European Commission can't do jack about that.

I see what they did there. We all saw what they did there.

Or maybe, you know, this is another coincidence.

But I'm beginning to wonder how one can get organized to address such coincidences frontally.

Train of Unthought.

2011 was a good year for me as far as writing is concerned, in the sense that some got done, and some even got shared.

The entirety of it was done on the train. Which is not exactly a great writing environment, as you may guess, but beggars can't be choosers. Writing at home has... just not worked at all, not since the kids were born. So, on the train it is, as poor an environment as it may be. First, you gotta find a seat, one with a tray, which has unfortunately not always been a given. And then, there's the fauna.

You get the chewer, who plops down next to you and then masticates loudly in your ear for the whole goddamn trip. And the deaf phone user, you know that one. No amount of music through the earbuds plugged right into your freaking SKULL seems to suffice. And then there's the territorial elbower, who will wage a merciless war with you over the armrest for no reason other than they hate you for being there. You can either spend your time fighting back, or give in and try to write with your elbow and shoulder held awkwardly up in the air until the point where the cramps begin. Not a lot of actual writing gets done on those days.

And let's not mention the many, many days when the service was so awful that even getting home at all was an ordeal. Trains this year have been record-breaking terrible. (Coincidentally, the train company has posted record-breaking profits. It turns out they don't have to reimburse you when they cancel your train and leave you stranded.) After consecutive occurrences of a 4 to 5 hour delay on what is sold as a 25 minutes ride, people started to get organized to stage protests. This is unprecedented, and made some noise in the media.

So when, at the end of last summer, they announced that they were going to give the timetables a major overhaul, we were all cautiously hopeful.

The new schedule began about a month ago.

It's not only worse; it's far worse.

My morning train got canceled. In fact, a lot of direct trains got canceled. People are now expected to wait for tiny shuttles to bring them to one of a set of preselected stations... or to outright drive there on their own. Coincidentally, it turns out this set of anointed stations overlaps somewhat with the set of stations where the train company happens to own expensive parking lots.

Since the tiny shuttles are few and far between, I've got to allow for a longer drive to the station, because if I don't and something on the road delays me, I have no fallback. Of course, if nothing delays me then I'll spend that much more time waiting for the shuttle in the cold.

And then there's the joy of waiting some more at the next station down, too, which happens to be, shall we say, somewhat crowded and somewhat unsavory. So you just... stand there, head low in the crowd, practicing being dead. And when the train arrives, on a bad day you have to shoulder other human beings aside if you wish to hope for a seat.

And because the traffic got concentrated on fewer lines that were already overloaded, the frequency of service incidents has gone up.

My evening train, miraculously, is a direct one like before, though it now stops at a number more stations on the way. All told, my daily commute has shot up to somewhere north of 3 hours. A 50% increase from when I started working at my current company.

And the kicker is, the prices have gone up as well at the beginning of the year. People are so pissed over the whole thing that I've overheard some -- we're talking perfectly respectable middle class white women here -- explain how they just fucking stopped buying tickets altogether.

The one reason I've not quit is that I'm basically allowed to telecommute whenever I want, and unsurprisingly, I've been wanting rather a lot more lately.

Oh, and the 'new' trains are ancient models from the 90's -- and in one case, possibly even the 80's. The evening one shambles along and creaks like an old wheelbarrow all the way.

The seats have no trays.

So this is the end of my writing endeavors for the time being.

I'd be lying if I said I'm not taking it hard.

Maybe eventually I'll somehow muster the energy and concentration to resume writing in short bursts despite the worsened conditions. The immediate odds aren't terrific, though.

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Black, Blacker, Blackest...

Train station bookstores generally come with very low expectations. Pick up a cheap paperback, stay vaguely entertained during your two hour ride, forget about it almost right afterward. So though the back cover blurb was somewhat intriguing, it wasn't with great expectations that I picked up this novel, 'Dragonsdawn', while waiting for a train a good decade and a half ago.

Hoo boy.

I did not forget about it right afterward, nor a decade and a half later. Instead, I started acquiring more books by the same author, one Anne McCaffrey, and devouring them with relish and a big cup of fruit tea. Distant pastoral world! Kindly telepathic dragons! What's not to love.

So when I first got the Internet in the late 90's, quite naturally I tracked down whatever Pern-related stuff I could. I found PernMUSH, an online Pern-themed textual roleplaying game. That's basically where I learned English. (Seriously. Before PernMUSH, I barely even knew the proper wording for a casual greeting like 'Hi, how goes?') Incidentally, PernMUSH is also where I discovered how much I enjoyed roleplaying a dragon.

At the time, I also looked for a French-speaking Pern fan community. There was none. So I founded one.

This was possibly the best thing I ever did.

Within months there were several dozens of us. I soon arranged that we should meet IRL regularly, because for social bonding the Internet only goes so far. At first it was just an evening out at a restaurant. Then it was whole weekends. Some of my fondest memories of that part of my life are those gatherings. Good thing there was no Facebook back then, because the pictures, my friends, the pictures. :)

A tight group of friends soon emerged from that community. I met my best friend there. I met my girl there. In fact, many of my RL friends to this day come from that group. Heck, the people I'll have over for New Year's Eve are from that group.

Rapidly there was demand for an outlet to produce our own fanwork. We sought and obtained the authorization to found a small paper fanzine. My first serious writing dates from back then. I still, ah, hear good things about it.

Over the next decade, Pern itself has slowly sunk into the background. Fewer books came out, and then none at all, not by the original author. A TV series was briefly planned, and then canceled. PernMUSH itself, little by little, has gone dormant.

But all that we got out of it back then, the friends, the love, the dragon dreams, the writing, everything endures to this day, stronger and brighter than ever.

Fare thee well, Anne McCaffrey. To say you were a considerable influence in my life would be a tremendous understatement.

Meanwhile, November.

I don't know if I've mentioned it yet, but I'm sitting out NaNoWriMo.

It's not so much a decision I made as a foregone conclusion I found myself internalizing over the last few months. Last year already, my participation did not go over smoothly, not without causing minor household drama anyway, and that was with one less baby home.

But this year, a tipping point has been passed, and I'm sitting this one out.

Mind, it's not a matter of time. Of course I don't have time, but I didn't have time last year either. That doesn't have to matter. It's all about finding time somehow. I once wrote a chapter late at night in a lightless room hundreds of miles from home under the dim dim glow of a craptacular netbook's screen on the day of a funeral; that's the sort of thing you end up doing. I could probably do it again, one way or another.

But I'm not. Here I am, sitting there while half a thousand friends partake in the mad intense race and bolster each other with tales of wordcounts and crazy plot twists. What bugs me is that my brain wants to read this as a sign I'm missing out on life.

NaNoWriMo was hard. I didn't expect that not doing it would be hard too.

But that's the whole point. I may not be good at accepting it, but missing out on some bits of life is what I signed up for when I decided to have kids. This is me trying to be adult about it. (I'm not doing great at it, but we're not exactly talking of my core set of qualifications, here.) At some point you've got to go home and be a family man, as the wisdom of the early 90's would put it.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to keep writing unrelated bits of stuff, at a somewhat less involved pace; the rationale is that NaNo tends to drain me dry of literary oomph anyway, so I might as well use the fallow year for other stuff. (This is not working out very well thus far but my externalizing it here is part of addressing the issue.)

So, right. You gentlemen of November fortunes, have a good one on my behalf.

On a more light-hearted note...

As to why the weekend that came before the Week of Suck was awesome:

It was even larger and creamier than it looks. And the venue was a giant ball pit. With a giant screen so we could play some pony and throw balls at the bad guys. I'm not even kidding.

I guess the following week was sort of allowed to suck a little, to even things out, even though it clearly pushed the boundaries.


Oh, Pinkie Pie... why are you so fun to draw.

So last week followed an awesome weekend, and took it as its cue to suck considerable amounts of ass.

Over the course of a mere handful of days, I faced a near terminal clash with a friend, a major artistic setback, and my first evening babysitting while C. was on night duty at the hospital.

The latter may not sound that bad. But let me tell you the whole story.

It just so happens that the afternoon of the same day, a ticket controller got knifed in a train on the other side of the country. (He's okay now, as far as I know.) Immediately every controller in the country went on strike. That's the one case where they're allowed to do it without prior warning -- when their personal safety is deemed at risk. Must have been one hell of a knife, with one hell of a reach.

Thankfully, the train company figured that so long as they had drivers, maybe for the evening they could perform the public service for which they're subsidized without ticket controllers... Ah ah, kidding. I came out of the subway to a train station packed full with people -- vastly moreso still than usual -- and not a train moving.

Thankfully, the train company figured that so long as they kept people well informed of what few departures were still scheduled, people could get organized to find a way home one way or another... Ah ah, kidding. Their solution was to broadcast announcements along the line of "please postpone your journey". And to keep every train scheduled as usual on every display to keep our hopes up and then cancel them at the very last moment.

Thankfully, the train station is well furnished for such situations and the wait was not too uncomfortable... Okay, I'll stop there, this isn't funny anymore, if it ever was.

So there I was, fuming powerlessly at each renewed advisory to please postpone my journey, and not even so much wanting desperately to go home as fretting as all hell about my kids. At least they were at their nanny's, not a daycare center that would have tossed them out to the street.

To cut this short, there was not a single train that left for my station, where, incidentally, my car was parked. Once it became clear there wouldn't be one all night, I punched my way into the first train that left in the correct general direction, and then had C. send one of her underlings interns to pick me up there and drive me to where my car was parked, while I coordinated with the kids' nanny to keep them for the night -- never mind that we're already reaching the upper limit of what billable hours we can afford to pay her -- if she couldn't keep them awake until I arrived. At least the fierce viciousness I've acquired over months of this daily commute earned me a seat in that train, where many were not so lucky.

I don't remember much of the evening. It was already way past bedtime when I thanked C.'s intern for the ride, and took my car, and fetched the kids and took them home and then to bed, and subsequently collapsed. I don't even remember if I ate anything that evening. And then I got up at 6am because I had to take care of the kids in time to drop them off at their nanny's and then catch my train. Another day, another commute.

So then I drew Pinkie Pie and I felt better.

But still, fuck last week.

And if I'm only posting this now, it's because as far as trains are concerned this week is being even worse, so fuck this week too.

(no subject)

My son just waddled up the stairs, turned the light on for me in the darkening room, and then trotted over to give me a little kiss on the arm.

It's the small things.

EF 17: fuck yeah.

I've noted this weird thing about EF.

For some reason, the even-numbered ones always seem to work better for me than the odd-numbered ones. For instance, take this year: compared to last year, it was only super awesome.

There are worse fates. :)

So! Highlights.

- No crap, the staff keep one-upping themselves year after year. I noted and appreciated the significant improvements in the scheduling, with less event-heavy evenings and more time between the SIGs, and the Pawpet Show has once more raised the bar to entire new heights. I mean. Guys. We're talking of a sci-fi techno thriller played live with puppets. And they made it work. Kudos for the new puppet designs, and the balls to drop long established and well-loved characters.

- Everything went so fast. So many people I didn't manage to sit with and talk a bit, unciaa, shinigamigirl, even my own roommate thewerewolf! Crazy. Take Saturday evening: I accidentally blinked, and suddenly it was 5am. The earliest I went to bed all con was 3:30am, and even so it feels like I didn't have time to do one tenth of what I wanted.

- So many missing people. chipotle, 2_gryphon, garrwolfdog, kefen, even a few familiar faces from old times that I don't know as well... It feels like an incomplete EF without you guys.

- The food in Germany is so much better and cheaper than my daily fare in Paris. The steakhouse next to the hotel is AWESOME. Thank you so much, footpad. :) Now I owe you a dinner, and it will be my utmost delight to make good on it.

- Soooo many ponies. Everywhere. On badges, on tee-shirts, coming up in SIGs and in the art auction and more. I made myself a conspicuous brony badge and subsequently found myself spending the rest of the convention giving brohoofs (brohooves?) to cartloads of strangers. We're taking over something major, guys.

- MADE ART FOR BEER! Heck yeah. The ever adorable delph_bunny got me beer in exchange for a pony line art. I'm THIS CLOSE to actual artist, I swear. Also I spent quite a bit of time just sitting and drawing (ponies, yes, and IN PUBLIC, yes), which makes me feel cool.

- Met new people. EF is still so surprisingly good for meeting people. :) So, thanks to Shironeko for being awesome and making me proud on his first ever game of Chairman Mao, thanks to XEvoNex for the pizza and the company, thanks to Mister Coontail for generally being a laid back guy and nice to hang out with, thanks to Kurano for being fun conversation and letting me try his weird Chinese violin thing, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others.

- In Germany, liquor comes in ORAL SYRINGES. I'm not even kidding. Unlikely circumstances earned me a shot of delicious raspberry liquor for a measly 1€. I kept the syringe. It shall soon see more service, yeeeees...

So, yeah. Great times. The return home is being pretty rough, though. I'll have to be patient. It will get better eventually.