November 30, 2010

Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!

30 days, 50,000 words, first draft of novel (nearly) finished.

I crossed the first finish line sometime just before noon today. In typical procrastinator fashion, there was some last minute cramming before the final. I wrote over 16,000 words over the last five days to get it done on time (probably no coincidence that the word 'coffee' shows up 92 times in the book).  After my five day break in Arizona, I was doing a decent job at erasing the deficit and getting back on track. But then around the 33,000 word count, I stalled again. I was approaching the big scene in the book and I still hadn't figured out exactly what it was going to be.

When I started this novel, I basically had one scene and an opening line. That was it. Sure there were some vague ideas, but most of what ended up on the paper (screen) was created on the fly. As someone who tends to plan rather meticulously, this was a leap of faith. I took inspiration from the book "On Writing" by Stephen King (excellent book by the way). He mentioned that several of his books have been started with just one scene in mind, and that the story developed as he wrote. I don't know if I would do this again without at least a little outlining, but I think it was the perfect way to approach it for the first time. As I wrote, the story seemed to follow a natural path.

However, it certainly did not "write itself" as I have seen some describe the process. It was a struggle for 95% of the time, but there would be enough flashes of "This feels like the next logical step" to keep me moving forward.

Part of the goal of National Novel Writing Month is to give yourself a difficult enough of a deadline that you have to leave your inner critic and editor behind. There simply isn't enough time to make it perfect, so you're supposed to just get everything down on paper as fast as you can. Quantity over quality for now, and you can clean it up later.

I'd like to say that I was able to lock away my editor, but I was only partially successful. I wrote in fits and starts, struggled over lines, and hit the backspace button far too often. My one bit of success is that I have not gone back to read what I have written so far. Each day I would read the last couple of paragraphs to see where I left off, but I wouldn't go back any farther to do any corrections. So I only vaguely remember what I wrote a month ago.

The good news/bad news? I'm not done. When I was stalled at 33,000 words, I didn't think I had enough left to say to make it to the 50,000 word mark. But the turning point ended up being longer than expected, so I have a few more chapters to go until I reach "The End". I am hoping to get this done within the week.

The original plan was to walk away until the new year, but I may print it out and start the editing process when I am back home for Christmas. I am both excited and scared to read what I have written. I have a feeling the editing process will be a little painful, but I am also hoping to find some good bits among the rubble. There is a lot of work to be done, but hopefully I will end up with something I would like someone else to read. If not, I'm still glad I wrote it.

So I'd like to thank the academy...actually I would like to thank my friend Sean. He was the one who encouraged me to do this, and I am glad that he gave me the push. His motto for NaNoWriMo is "You don't have to like it, you just have to do it."

Well I did it. I didn't always like it, but I love that I did it.

November 26, 2010

I am my own grandpa

I have this mental block when it comes to the way people are related to each other. I can do math in my head, but after you get past the first branch of the family tree, my eyes glaze over. My brother has it down in his head, and he had tried to explain how we are related to certain people, but without a flowchart I am lost.

One of his lessons stuck though, because I was able to distinguish that Annabelle and Holly's visiting cousin were cousins-once-removed, but quite frankly I couldn't explain to them what a second cousin was. (It has something to do with branching off higher up in the tree.  I think).

Matt started singing "I am my own grandpa", a song that everyone had heard but me. I looked it up on Youtube and found this video, with an included flowchart. It still gives me a headache.

The lyrics may help you follow along, but maybe not: 

Many, many years ago when I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be
This widow had a grownup daughter who had hair of red
My father fell in love with her, and soon they too were wed

This made my Dad my son-in-law and really changed my life
For now my daughter was my mother, 'cause she was my father's wife
And to complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy,
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy

My little baby then became a brother-in-law to Dad
And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad
For if he were my uncle, then that also made him brother
Of the widow's grownup daughter, who was of course my stepmother

Father's wife then had a son who kept them on the run
And he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter's son
My wife is now my mother's mother, and it makes me blue
Because although she is my wife, she's my grandmother too

Now if my wife is my grandmother, then I'm her grandchild
And every time I think of it, it nearly drives me wild
'Cause now I have become the strangest case you ever saw
As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa

I'm my own grandpa,
I'm my own grandpa,
It sounds funny, I know
But it really is so
I'm my own grandpa

Quote of the day

Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.
~William Faulkner

November 25, 2010

Move your feet before you eat

Sean, Marci and I ran the Oceanside Turkey Trot this morning. It was a perfect morning for a run, cold while you are standing still, but very comfortable once you get moving. The 5k route runs up and down Pacific Coast Highway, and with just over a half a mile to go, it turns down to the beach path, finishing just before the path heads under the Oceanside pier. It was a beautiful scene, and a wonderful way to start the holiday.

Sean and Marci have run in the Turkey Trot each year since it began five years ago, and now they are pushing a double stroller the entire distance. Though they had a five hour drive ahead of them to get to their Thanksgiving destination, they did not want to miss out on the traditional run, and I am glad they invited me along.

The three miles puts a very small dent in the calories we are all about to consume, but that isn't the real reason I ran.  One of many things I am thankful for is the opportunity to get out and run, past beautiful scenery, with great friends. The sport continues to give back, and I want to keep showing up at start lines for as long as I am able. I race both to challenge myself, and to celebrate others breaking through their own finishing tapes. We will move on to our own homes to celebrate the holiday, but we gathered together to start the day as a community, and that feels pretty great.

The weather and scenery doesn't feel like the Thanksgivings I have known (people were surfing for crying out loud), especially in contrast to the deep freeze going on back home. I regret that I don't get to spend this day with my family, but I am fortunate to be able to share it with friends. I got to start the day running with great friends, and I will be spending the evening with several more as my housemates have spent the last two days preparing a traditional feast.

Today, and everyday, I give thanks. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

The finish area

I managed to get new PR of 22:40

Sean and Marci's finish, with kids riding shotgun

It was a true family day with many children running.

November 23, 2010

Quote of the day

Hear the voices in my head
I swear to God it sounds like they're snoring.
But if you're bored then you're boring
The agony and the irony, 
they're killing me, whoa!

I'm not sick, but I'm not well

~ from "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger

November 22, 2010

Clawing my way back

I am still trying to catch up on my word count. I put myself behind the 8-ball by writing absolutely nothing for the five days I was in Phoenix. At the worst, I was behind by almost 8800 words (or five days). The last four days, I have been able to get in some extra work and have reduced the deficit to around 5600 (or 3 days).

It has been an interesting adventure so far, and at the end of each day, I have been surprised at what ends up on the page. But it is not getting any easier. I think that the stuff is getting a little better, but it is still a struggle. Certain things are coming into focus, but I still don't know exactly where it is headed. But I'm excited to find out.

I just need to keep chasing that purple line.

November 21, 2010

Braving the elements

OK, I wimped out a bit. It was rainy and windy on Saturday, and I didn't run.

I haven't really had to run in the rain since I moved to San Diego this year, and I have to admit it gave me pause when I woke up to rain and bending trees. Back in Seattle, rain was just a fact of life, and if you didn't run in the rain, didn't run. At most, I would check the weather radar to see if there would be a lull sometime in the next hour. I haven't even bothered to check the weather report for the last few months because outside of the daily high temperature, not much changes.

But I didn't suck it up and go for a run on Saturday. About my only excuse was that my hat and windbreaker were back at the house. It was mostly the wind that I was worried about. Getting wet was not that big of a deal, but once I was soaked, the wind would make it pretty cold. But I still felt pretty lame.

Sunday morning was calm, so I headed out first thing. I went down to Mission Bay Park, and as soon as I pulled in, it was clear there was something big going on. I saw a decorated 15 passenger van, and I flashed back to our Ragnar Relay. But the people were walking and not running, and there was a whole lot of pink going on. It was soon clear that it was the Susan G Komen 3-Day Walk to benefit breast cancer research.

The event is a 60 mile walk over three days to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer. I assumed that this was day three, but didn't know much beyond that. There were tons of women (and a few men) walking along the path, decorated with pink ribbons, buttons and pictures of friends. As I stretched out for my 10 mile run, I realized that they had been walking in the weather on Saturday that made me chicken out. It was confirmed - I was a wimp.

I ran along the path dodging in and out of the walkers and saw many clever outfits and team names. Names like "Hakuna ma Ta-Ta's" and slogans like "Fighting to save second base". There were several supporters handing out food, candy, beads or just cheering the fundraisers on. It wasn't long before it started to rain once again, and the wind picked up as well. It wasn't blowing as hard as Saturday, but it was still a little cutting. Volunteers then started handing out rain ponchos, and the walkers pressed on, ponchos flapping in the wind like flags.

It was inspiring to see all these people of varying ages not only walking these long distances, but braving the elements they probably weren't expecting for a San Diego event. I also have to give high props to the supporters standing in the rain to cheer them on. It is one thing to be participating and moving through the rain, and quite another to be standing still to make sure the participants are as comfortable as possible. A couple of them cheered me on for no other reason than that is what they do.

When I turned around, I was now running against the tide and could see the faces of the people doing the walk. The faces I saw did not seem any different from the people I might see on any random morning. It appeared to be a pretty typical slice of the population. But these people were clearly a little different, willing to take on a significant challenge to honor friends and family who have fought the battle of cancer. To put their comfort second to raise money to fight the good fight.

No wimps here.

November 19, 2010

But Mom always lets me!

I am currently house and pet sitting for a friend here in San Diego. Not much to do with the house other than take in the mail, but there is a dog and a cat to take care of. But even they are pretty self-sufficient as they both have automatic feeders that continuously dump food in their dish as they empty it. That would never work with my pooch as she would just continue to eat until she got sick (and then start eating again).

I was warned that the cat does not like many people, so I shouldn't be too concerned if he snarled or hid away from me. He actually warmed up relatively quickly (as warm as cats get that is). The dog likes both me and my pooch, and we have seen each other a number of times, including the day before my friend left. But for some reason, she barked at me and hid away in her kennel when I came in. It was a half hour before she came out and decided that I was OK. Now we are fast friends and she curls up next to me when I am there.

The rules are a little different in this house, though, and that takes some getting used to. They get away with things that my pooch does not, but it is their house and not mine.

One of the few lines I drew when we adopted the pooch was the rule that there would be no dogs on the bed. But for the next couple of days there is now a dog and a cat in my bed. The dog is relatively small, but wants to be pressed up against me at all times. The cat comes and goes, but will occasionally bat me on the shoulder or put his nose on my forehead. I am not a huge fan of cats in general, and at 3am even less so.

It is a funny line to walk when you are tempted to discipline someone else's pets or children. You are not the parent, and you don't always know what is forbidden in someone else's household. With children, matters of safety are a no-brainer. You stop them from doing anything that would harm them or anyone else. The line so far with the dog has been the barking. It isn't really my place to change the other habits.

But if the cat bats me awake again at 3am, we will have words.

November 16, 2010

Quote of the day

Television is the first truly democratic culture, the first culture available to everyone and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want.
~ Clive Barnes

November 15, 2010

A pause in the story

Oh, man am I behind. Five days - no running and no writing.

I went to Arizona on Thursday and flew back this morning. Scott and I have been going down to Arizona once a year to visit Bill who moved there ten-odd years ago. We travel down sometime in October or November each year to play some golf and watch football. Most years we travel down to see either the UW Huskies or the WSU Cougars play one of the Arizona teams (two of us are Dawgs, one is a Coug). We didn't go to a football game due to some schedule conflicts, but the way the teams are playing this year, we didn't miss much.

It has been a great annual tradition, and a way to stay close to someone who has moved a few states away. He is now married and has a two-year-old daughter, so the boy's weekend has a different dynamic these days, but it is still a good time with friends.

I brought my running shoes and my netbook so I had the ability to stay on schedule, but I did not pick up either one. Truth be told, I did not think I would get much writing done, but I thought I could sneak in a run. Most mornings, it takes a while to gather momentum, so my writing so far has been in two hour chunks in order to get something done. I did not think it was realistic to break away for a couple of hours to write while visiting friends, but I thought I might at least have the story running in the back of my mind while I was there. Maybe I could come up with some ideas to run with when I returned. But the story is stuck right where I left it on Thursday.

Thursday morning was vaguely productive, but once I stepped on the flight it was over. Planning ahead a bit, I moved my weekend long run to Thursday and I ran 13 miles the morning before I left. I was hoping to get in a five miler sometime over the weekend, but we were up late every night and early every morning, and I just did not have it in me to go for a run. I was also early for my flight, and was able to write about 600 words before takeoff, but again once I left San Diego, nothing was written or plotted.

I am not mad or upset that this is the way it went. I was there to see friends, not to stare at my laptop. I look forward to this trip each year, and we had a great time visiting and catching up. I am just a little worried about the hole I have dug, and more specifically about getting moving again. The story is stalling a bit right now, and after five days the storyline has gone even colder. But I don't have any time to waste if I am going to meet the deadline. I'm about 8,000 words behind, and need to average an extra 500 words a day to catch up by the end of the month.

Better set the alarm a little earlier tomorrow morning.

November 9, 2010

Dog years

I remember when doing shots meant this

And not this

But such is the way of things. I'm getting a little too old for the tequila version anyway, and the needles belong to the pooch.

The insulin seems to be doing its job, but she is beginning to show her age. Her vision and hearing seem to be deteriorating. At first it wasn't clear if she was developing 'selective' hearing and just ignoring me when I called, but now it is pretty clear she is hard of hearing. She doesn't hear my alarm clock anymore, though she is generally up before it anyway. 

She doesn't hear me sometimes and flinches when I go to pet her, and she has walked into the screen door a couple of times. It is a little sad when that happens, but I suppose fading eyesight and hearing are pretty normal things as we age. My eyesight isn't what it used to be either, and it is probably time for my first pair of glasses.

And there was one cute aspect to the hard of hearing issue recently. As I have mentioned before, the pooch likes to drag out shoes or a piece of clothing sometimes when I am away. I have only caught her in the act one time before, at the old house. I had just headed out but went back to get something I forgot. I had only been gone for 30 seconds or so, and when I opened the door, there she was with one of my flip flops in her mouth. Caught in the act, she dropped the flip flop, kept her head down and started wagging and wiggling.

Just the other day I went back inside shortly after leaving because I had forgotten my phone. When I walked inside, I could hear the pooch rummaging around in my bedroom. She hadn't heard me come in, even though the front door is just a short distance from my room. I just waited by the door, and soon enough she walked around the corner with a running shoe in her mouth. I wasn't moving, so I don't think she saw me immediately. She set down the shoe on the entry carpet before noticing I was there. And then there was happy wiggling.

But she went in for a check up recently, and most everything checked out, including her glucose levels related to her diabetes.

She still does her little dance when it is meal time, and is excited when I get home. She still prances when we head outside for a walk, even if it is just around the block these days. And even though she goes to sleep long before I do, she won't go to the bedroom to lie down until I go to bed. 

It isn't fair that dogs don't live as long, and we won't grow old together, but I guess that ensures that I am around to take care of her in her old age. 

November 8, 2010

The Twinkie diet

More evidence that it is simply 'calories in versus calories burned' when it comes to weight loss. Though the method and resulting cholesterol numbers were pretty surprising in this experiment. But you probably shouldn't attempt this at home (or let your kids see the article). Not that anyone would want more than one Twinkie every few years. Those things barely resemble food.
For 10 weeks, Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.
His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most -- not the nutritional value of the food.
The premise held up: On his "convenience store diet," he shed 27 pounds in two months.
Full article: Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds

November 7, 2010

Daylight Savings

click to enlarge

It is one of the most magical evenings of the year. Through a slight of hand trick, we all get an extra hour of sleep. Sleep, magnificent sleep.

Unfortunately, no one clued in the baby or the pooch to the time change, so it just meant that I was up at 6:43am instead of 7:43am this Sunday morning.

November 6, 2010

Slow connections and synapses

Image taken from the NaNoWriMo site which has been overwhelmed so far.

So, I have been pretty tied up with the novel challenge, and I haven't been motivated to do any other writing in the past few days. I am still struggling to turn off the over-thinking side of my brain, so the words are still coming slowly. Hopefully it will improve with time and practice. I have had quite a bit of free time this week, but that will change soon, so I need to get more efficient. It is still interesting so far, and kind of fun to see where things head when you don't have a plan.

I heard an interesting podcast the other day. It was an episode of Brain Stuff called "Could You Have a Savant Hidden Inside Your Brain". Savants tend to have amazing skills in certain areas such as painting, sculpting, or mathematics. The ability to see (and reproduce) things in incredible detail that most of us have a hard time understanding.

The question posed was is this ability in all of our brains, but just dormant or overshadowed by another part of our brain. It goes on to discuss experiments at temporarily disabling parts of our left brain to allow the creative right side of our brain to operate free of interference. It would be great to be able to shut down my critic/editor for a couple hours at a time while I am writing (and then of course turning it back on when it is time to edit).

The podcast is only five minutes long, and I think it is worth a listen if you are interested. You can find it here.

And apparently Seattle is not only a big reading town, but also a big writing town as well. The Seattle NaNoWriMo group is leading the way with 11 million words so far (and they lead in donations as well). The San Diego group is in 56th place with only a paltry 2.6 million.  Must be the distracting sunshine.

November 3, 2010

Write that novel!

I have a new project.

I am participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November, which averages out to around 1,700 words a day. At this point there are 172,000 hopeful authors participating, and more than 190,000,000 words written in two days. The prize at the end of the month? The beginnings or completion of a novel.

I have always felt like I had a book inside of me, but for some reason I never envisioned a novel. I was always thinking non-fiction rather than fiction. But I have never sat down to write anything of any length, so whatever work I imagined was just that, imagined.

So I am using the November challenge to get off my butt and finally get something longer than a blog post down on paper. After a couple of days, I am finding 1,700 words a day to be a challenge. But that is one of the stated goals of NaNoWriMo - to turn off your inner editor, and just get the words down on paper as fast as you can. I am doing my best not to pore over every word, and I have been relatively successful. But the ideas and words are coming slowly so far.

Part of it was I didn't come into this with an outline. I really just had an opening scene, and not much else. I have no real idea where the story will go, but that is part of the adventure. So far I have mixed feelings. I am happy with what I have so far (though I haven't gone back to read it), but the rest of the story is not becoming any clearer (yet).

The plan is to write every day, make it a habit, and get into some sort of rhythm. Hopefully I will stretch my creative legs, and knock down those imagined barriers I have thrown up in the past (particularly that inner critic and editor). Once the month is over, the plan is to set whatever I have written aside for a few weeks. After some time away, I will go back and read it with fresh eyes. Hopefully I will find something salvageable, though in need of plenty of changes and corrections.

But for now the red pen stays in the drawer.