The Long Tail of August

No new books arrived at the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week, so here is a photo of Poe, sunning herself on the porch in the early morning of August 12.

Now that I am on a normal work schedule for the first time since late March, I have fully re-immersed myself in my morning routine, which looks something like this:

  • get out of bed when Poe wants food and attention, but in any event no earlier than 5:00 and no later than 5:30
  • feed the ricochet kitten
  • meditate, chi kung exercises, stretch, calisthenics, tai chi practice,etc
  • play with Poe
  • write until approximately 8:15
  • eat breakfast
  • if my partner is still in bed, go up and cuddle until around 8:45
  • log in for work at 9:00

If I stay focused, this gives me a solid 90 – 120 minutes of writing time, five days a week. I can’t say I necessarily spend all of my dedicated writing time actually writing, though I do try to stay focused. The current state of the world makes for a very fragmented and short attention span.

I finished this week with approximately 8,300 words written in my book. I had hoped to hit 10,000 total yesterday, but let myself get caught up in the shitshow of the world as represented in social media. It was like the opposite of writing – not only did I not write, the experience prevented me from writing after I had put my phone down. What I really wanted to do was walk around the block or neighborhood or city for a few weeks, but it was just too hot.

A comment on a post on Instagram turned me on to a series of videos which Brandon Sanderson has posted to YouTube – his 2020 Creative Writing lectures at Brigham Young University. These lectures are a gold mine! Sanderson is a brilliant writer with many years of experience, and his advice and lessons are spot-on. The advice has been a big help, and one lecture in particular, where Sanderson brought in guest speaker Mary Robinette Kowal to talk about short stories, has some of the best advice for writers I have found anywhere. Now I want to go back through all of my short story rough drafts and re-write them all with reference to these videos. It would certainly be worth the time.

Now the weather has turned and last night was the first comfortably night for sleeping in many days. So even though I only got about four hours of sleep (though given the realities of this year I should be celebrating the fact that I got four hours of sleep), I woke up refreshed and energized for excellent outdoor classes in tai chi and kung fu.

In reading, I finished one more of R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms book, The Ghost King, and can now put all of that behind me for the next few months and focus on nonfiction, poetry, and genre fiction books which feature characters not named Drizzt. I am still working my way through Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and as night-time reading I recently started Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, which is lush and beautiful and heartbreaking and disturbing and I am only two chapters in so far. For interstitial reading I pulled from the shelf San Francisco Beat: Talking to the Poets, a collection of interviews with beat poets edited by David Meltzer. As I said to my partner, the interviews make me want to go back to San Francisco, but to go back to San Francisco circa 1968, if such a thing were ever possible. I suspect that if I do return to San Francisco, it will be closer to 2022 than 1968.

If we still live in a world where such travel is possible.


Links and Notes for the Week of January 14, 2018

* Back in September of 2016 I took the Amtrak from Grand Rapids to Vancouver via the Empire Builder route. It was a wonderful, contemplative, transcendent experience (blog posts pending). Based on that, and based on this article in the Calvert Journal, I now want to experience the Trans-Siberian Railway. It will also give me an excuse to dust off my Russian skills.

* And speaking of that trip, while in transit, while not watching America roll by, I read Trysting by Emmanuelle Pagano. It is an absolutely beautiful book, recalling all of love and beauty and intimacy and trust and heartache and the million tiny moments that bind people together and pull them apart. I just came across a wonderful review by Lauren Goldberg in Music & Literature which does justice to the most compelling book I have read in years. On a related note, I think I will now buy a subscription to Music & Literature.

* And speaking of Russian stuff, the Speak Russian Like Russians blog is both useful and fun.

* In the world of fandom and literature, author Jim C. Hines (may his beard grow ever longer) has put together an excellent post detailing the long history of Jon del Arroz’s trolling and harassing behavior toward authors, fans and organizations in the larger community. The comments on the article are mostly erudite and informative, though a JdA supporter/GamerGater pulls an impressive amount of sea-lioning to no significant effect.

* The 2018 State of the World conversation over at The Well has wrapped up. It, as well as the many previous conversations in the series, are well worth perusing over the upcoming weeks and months. A hearty thank you to Bruce Sterling, Jon Lebkowsky and all the other participants for opening this to the general public.

* Dean Allen, creator of the content management/blogging system Textpattern, has passed away. Allen was one of the biggest influences in my early career as a web developer. I took his thoughts on design and typography to heart, though I was never a designer. His photo blog featuring his Weimaraner Oliver made me want to move to rural France. Allen, along with Eric Meyer and Jeffrey Zeldman, were huge influences as I began my career in web development.

They Grow Up So Quickly

The 3288 Review, vol. 1 issue 1

It’s here. It has landed. The first issue of The 3288 Review is out and available for purchase. How do I feel about this? Hmm…let me think…


…or words to that effect.

I took a personal day on Friday so I would have a a full four-day weekend. Rolled into the Caffeinated Press offices around 11:00am, and right at the stroke of noon UPS arrived with five boxes full of magazines. 100 copies of the inaugural issue. They are beautiful! Three full months of hard work, long days, late nights, and learning the Ten Great Skills (page layout, InDesign, etc) and the Thousand Minor Skills (talking to people, avoiding Papyrus and Comic Sans, etc).

It has all paid off! Responses from the viewing public are enthusiastic and orders are starting to roll in. Close to half of the initial print run are already spoken for. With any luck we will need to place another order by the end of the week.

In the other parts of my life, the martial arts class has recently been ascendant. On August 11 I and my friend and classmate Rick loaded bags into a rented van and drove Master Lee and his wife and his visitors from Vietnam to see the Niagara Falls (Canadian side). It was a great trip! We heard several stories of what class was like back in The Day in Saigon. Rick reminisced about his trips to New York and back, when he would pull up to the falls and sleep for a couple of hours before continuing the drive.

I have never been to the Falls. They are amazing! Huge and powerful and the rumble starts in the feet and rises up through the viscera and makes everything seem just the slightest bit out of focus. At one point the walkway overlooks the edge of the falls and you can look straight down the cataract to the lower river. Here I felt a strong pull, like the falling water was calling to the 60% of me which is also water. After five minutes staring at falling water, everything else I looked at seemed to rise slightly.

Knowing the Words

As a coda to my recent pilgrimage to Vietnam I now have a pen-pal of sorts, a friend-of-a-friend named Yen who lives in Saigon. We send emails back and forth a couple of times a week, discussing the differences between west Michigan and south Vietnam. Often there are photos, too.

Finding the right words for the conversation can be challenging. She knows some English, but is not fluent. I don’t know any Chinese or Vietnamese at all. We began corresponding back in early November, just before the first major snowstorm of the year. When she saw the photos Yen had a lot of questions. She had never seen snow before, or even been outside of the tropics. Of course she knew what snow was, and winter, and all of those concepts, but there are a hundred small details which go along with winter which I found myself explaining. Like, for instance, why all of the photos were so dark. And where all the people were.

The quick answer was “Because it’s winter.” But that doesn’t explain things to someone who has never seen winter. So then I explained how little daylight we have in the winter, and that the photo with the sun low on the horizon was actually taken in the middle of the day, not 8:00 in the morning. And the trees aren’t all dead; they’re dormant. And that everyone is inside because today the air temperature is -20C. And that the wind chill made things feel even colder. And then I need to explain wind chill.

Yen isn’t unschooled about these things. She has family here in the US, out west and down south. Sometimes it seemed that every other person we encountered in District 5 had been to the United States or Canada at one point. And of course there is the internet. The concepts were not unfamiliar, but the explanations – finding the right words in the right context – are not easy.

Another example. There are more people in Ho Chi Minh City than in all of Michigan. Even the most crowded downtown event will not have as many people as a similarly-sized neighborhood in HCMC on any random day. So no matter where or when I take photos an appropriate response would be “where are all the people”?

Yen thinks the photos of snow are beautiful and hopes to travel here one day to experience winter.  I would like to tell her that some days Michigan is colder than anything in southern Vietnam outside of a cryogenics facility.

And right now the challenge is to find the right words to explain the emotional impact, after five months of gray and brown and white, of seeing the green spears of newly-sprouted crocuses peeking up through the grass.

Time Keeps On

Over four months after my last entry here, I find time for another one.

Life got busy for me right at the beginning of May. Master Lee went on vacation, visiting his students in Vietnam and Australia, so class suddenly became much busier. This continued right up through Memorial Day and into the Festival of the Arts performance. I turned 43 on June 5, and took the next week off from work. Spent a few days exploring Traverse City, then suddenly started a new relationship with a beautiful, amazing woman. This led directly to me being involved in a summer solstice celebration, where I collaborate with some people to project Flash visuals (fire, water, evolving plants, snowflakes) on the side of a barn and silo. Right after that, a big project kicked off at work, and that has kept me pretty busy since then.

The work has been interesting. It is a PhoneGap project, using a lot of HTML5/CSS3/jQuery and associated technologies. We used an in-house MVC platform, which was a first for me (using MVC, that is), so I had to negotiate quite a learning curve. Also learned a tremendous amount about jQuery Deferreds, hardware-accelerated CSS animations, custom event listeners, and how the MVC stack keeps disparate parts of an app in synch. I discovered how frustrating it can be to debug mobile applications. The Dalvik Debug Monitor, as good as it is generally, does tend to crash with irritating frequency. Fortunately, 90% of debugging can be done in a desktop browser. But holy cow, can that last 10% be frustrating.

Okay; enough of this for now. When I have time I will post a list of the specific issues I came across, and how I solved them.