Posting from Ulysses: Like regular posting but slightly more inconvenient

This blog post was created on a Mac using Ulysses. Ulysses is one of those zen writing programs, sort of halfway between Scrivener and a text editor. It’s Mac-only, which is a bit of a bummer.

It’s also expensive in Canadian dollars, but this trial version is enabled until December 7th, to allow people to use it for NaNoWriMo, which I may or may not do.

Anyway, I posted, hooray.

Book review: Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse-FiveSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the nice things about ebooks is how they allow you to easily analyze aspects of a book that would have been much more tedious or time-consuming to analyze back in the days of books made through the sacrifice of trees.

For instance, in just a few moments I was able to find out Slaughterhouse Five repeats the phrase “so it goes” 106 times. Amazon lists the paperback edition as being 224 pages long.

The repetition of the phrase is a device used for varying effects and at first I accepted it as such a device and nothing more. Toward the end of the book, though, it finally became grating. Maybe that was the point all along.

So it goes.

Slaughterhouse Five is irreverent and droll and makes important statements about the purpose and meaning of life, contrasting its absurd characters and banal suburban life against the horror of World War II and specifically the firebombing of Dresden, something Vonnegut experienced directly as a POW. Vonnegut’s time as a journalist undoubtedly influenced his writing style, which is as concise and straightforward as his subject matter is sardonic. The contrast between grim reality and the absurd is constant and lends the novel a surrealistic feel, as if one is not really reading a narrative but instead catching glimpses of a life or lives that are dull and depressing, filled with few moments of genuine joy.

For as light as the writing style is, Slaughterhouse Five is a glum thing. I can’t say I enjoyed reading it, but I admire Vonnegut’s technique and the ease with which he draws out scenes with simple phrases–the buttons of a man’s spine, the tearing of a coat too small, the grit and grime in window sills. In many ways it’s a fascinating book but not one I’d particularly want to revisit.

So it goes.

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A neat but weird idea for writing

I thought of this while looking at my wrist, which is where my Apple Watch is, and realizing how much of my interaction with my watch is via Siri (voice commands for the uninitiated).

Sometimes it’s handy to do a little writing during the commute when you’re smushed in with everyone else, by pecking out a few sentences on your phone. Except actually doing this completely sucks because pecking out anything on a phone is a maddening exercise in madness and commutes are awful enough without trying to enhance the effect.

But doing some quick voice dictation would be pretty easy and sometimes even accurate enough to not qualify for one of those “Oh, autocorrect, you lovable scamp!” websites. The only problem here is dictating a story into your phone on a crowded train will do nothing but enhance your reputation for being a scary and/or eccentric person.

The solution?

Some fancy technology that allows your voice to transmit to your device while being completely silent to everyone around you. Yes, you’d still look like a kook talking to yourself, but at least you’d do so while preserving your voice and preventing others from hearing and therefore swiping your million dollar ideas.

Hmm, I swear this idea sounded better when I spoke it aloud to myself.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Pre-Update #4

With two weeks before the writingpalooza of National Novel Writing Month begins, I came up with another idea, this one while laying in bed waiting to fall asleep. Weirdly, I managed to remember the idea and recorded it the next day.

I’ve been itching to do some kind of alternate dimension/parallel universe story but the ones I’ve mulled (or actually tried) have proven too ambitious for the fevered writing that NaNoWriMo demands. This new idea pares everything down considerably and in the end is basically a simple love story.

I’ve tentatively titled it One Slip and the story goes something like this:

A couple meet in their early 20s and spend the next 20+ years together, experiencing the usual ups and downs of any relationship, against the backdrop of the Vancouver gay community and the specter of AIDs.

One day as they stroll around the rugged terrain of a national park, one of the partners slips at the edge of a lookout over a spectacular waterfall. There is a safety barrier but it’s too low and he goes over, as his partner watches in horror. The body is never found.

As the surviving partner grapples with the loss of his spouse, he begins to experience odd phenomenon that seems related to his departed lover. Gradually he begins to wonder if they are messages “from beyond the grave.” Eventually he realizes that his partner is still alive and somehow trapped in another dimension, one that has a portal just below the falls. The other dimension is unstable and unfriendly and time is running out.

The story concludes with a return to the waterfall and a last ditch effort to pull the missing partner back into the world where he belongs–or risk having both end up in the other world where neither should be.

The ending could be radically different, as this is just idle thinking right now, and the details of the alternate dimension, sketchy as they are, may also change. But it’s still meatier than the subway story so it might gain some traction.

And I still have two weeks to think of a third and even more undoubtedly spectacular idea. Go, creativity! (please)

Still more Mac and Tosh: Finding love and sinking boats

Here are the two remaining Mac and Tosh strips from the fantastic but short-lived Mac and Tosh Comics collection.

The first, “A very merry quite contrary scrumpdilliishus meal” starts with a title that makes little to no sense then segues into a heart-warming tale of love and acceptance in which Tosh gains weight in order to match the ample size of his girlfriend. Although it reads today like an affirming take on accepting people for who and what they are, at the time I probably just found fat jokes hilarious. I was an easily amused kid.

The second strip, “A ‘wet trip'” is very much accurately titled, as it recounts Mac and Tosh’s disastrous attempt to boat to Hawaii. I apparently did not have a dictionary handy to confirm how to spell “Hawaii.” Or a lot of other words. Even in the few strips presented you can already see how Tosh is always optimistic, even in the face of tragedy and despair, while Mac is constantly skeptical and cynical. How very odd couple! I didn’t actually watch a lot of The Odd Couple, though its theme of “opposites attract” obviously resonated with me for some reason. If I had to speculate it probably began when I sat down and asked myself, “How can I do a comic with two stick figures but make them look different? I could give one a hat. But hats are tricky to draw. I know, one will be less stick-like than the other. Genius!” And from there the personalities of the two practically wrote themselves.

I like the puzzled fish at the end, likely reflecting the take of anyone reading the comic.

Mac and Tosh Pair o Strips



The Mac and Tosh Christmas Special

Here’s another scan from the rare, coveted Mac and Tosh comic book collection, of which there exists but a single copy (because I did not have access to a photocopier as an eight year old kid).

This is a heartwarming Christmas tale. Or rather, it is a needlessly cruel Christmas tale, as it openly mocks Tosh’s belief in Santa Claus. The best part of the comic may be that it clearly identifies who Tosh is, ergo who Mac is as well.

But there’s so much more. The world’s best Santa Claus costume. The public ridicule for believing in Santa and subsequent physical illness when being told the truth about the jolly old elf. The complete non-sequitur involving “super candy,” as if I had a panel quota to meet, the tantalizing cliffhanger. Read on and see, indeed.

Mac and Tosh Christmas Special
Because nothing says holiday spirit like crushing a child’s belief

A (not) moving moment

And so it was that my 242 day move streak–as recorded by the Activity app on my Apple Watch–ended, thanks to my desire to rest and recover from a nasty cold. Apple doesn’t have a mulligan option in their activity app, so you’re either hardcore or a complete loser. I am now a loser again, with my current move streak at 0 days.


On the other hand, the end of the streak freed me up from having to worry about it, allowing me to rest again today. In fact, I didn’t even go outside! This could be a bad thing if I was feeling healthier, as the ease with which a streak can be broken does not help in egging people on to keep streaks alive. A conundrum, for sure, and one that Zac Hall discussed recently on 9to5Mac–Feature Request: Apple Watch Activity rest days, tolerance levels, and an honor system.

In the meantime, I’m still congested but feeling a bit perkier. I’ll go outside tomorrow, even as the remnants of a typhoon continue to knock down trees all over the Lower Mainland. I probably won’t run again until Tuesday, though, and by then it will be dark before I’m even done, so maybe I won’t run on Tuesday after all.

In fact, maybe I’ll just buy some short bread, sit around and gain back that 20 pounds I lost over the last year, all thanks to Apple’s refusal to accommodate off-days in their Activity app. Thanks for making me fat again, Apple! Also, no one charges $1549 for a laptop with a Core m3 processor in it except you. Sorry, that one just kind of slipped out.

Haiku to the common cold

As I type these words I am finally feeling a smidgen better after this horrible cold has spent the last week making my daily existence unpleasant. I am on the verge of breaking my 242 day Move streak as tracked by my Apple Watch due to my lack of energy and it makes me a little sad. It does not motivate me to go out tromping in the raging storm outside to try to salvage the streak, however. I’ll just start anew tomorrow.

In the meantime, here is a haiku to the common cold, may science eradicate it once and for all (preferably before the next one comes a-calling for me).

Hark, the common cold
The coughing and the sneezing
Go away now, please

The daring adventures of Mac and Tosh (Part 1. Er, Part 3, technically)

It was time to test out the scanner of the new multi-function Brother MFC-9130CW or as I like to call it, the heavy thing that sits on the corner of the desk behind me, so I grabbed a collection of Mac and Tosh comics I made when I was a wee one. As you will see below, my sense of humor was already suitably dark, albeit somewhat unsophisticated. The bleed-through is an accurate reflection of the thin and worn paper, hence I’ve made no attempt to fox it.

Mac and Tosh "The Bomb"

I dated some of my earliest comics but not this series. There are several important clues, though. The lowercase “a” is written the “normal” way and I switched to the “fancy” version around the age of 10 or 11. The appalling spelling (“heavan” and “hear we come”) also indicates the period before I suddenly developed an internal spelling checker. I’m going to say I was around 8 or 9 years old at the time this epic was penned.

Speaking of penned, I bravely inked the comic without drawing it in pencil first. Note the very first word was a mistake that I crossed out and corrected. Perhaps white-out did not exist back then. You can also see the classic “make a balloon then scrunch the words to fit inside it” technique favored by many budding comic strip auteurs.

Sadly, Parts 1 and 2 seem to have gone missing. One can only imagine the tense build up leading to the eventual catastrophic demise of the characters.

Also, I can’t recall which was Mac and which was Tosh. Their names are directly ripped off of the Goofy Gophers featured in Warner Brothers cartoons, of which I was (and remain) a big fan. At the time I probably thought of it as an homage. At least I didn’t also make them gophers. Their explosive deaths could have been inspired by one of many Warner Brothers cartoons but most likely something from the Roadrunner series. I like how either Mac or Tosh looks on the bright side even as they let slip their mortal coils.

The last three panels are scratched in with pencil and I have no idea what the cryptic “TERRI DID THE” message refers to (Terri is one of my sisters). I also have no idea what the circle, #, square and 61 are references to or why they are repeated twice. It’s like clues to a murder mystery, but the only deaths I know of are in the panels above these would-be clues.

Anyway, I’m going to recreate these strips to see how they’d look from an adult perspective. My guess is sad, but in a different and less-cute way.

Book review: Lisey’s Story

Lisey's StoryLisey’s Story by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisey’s Story is, at its heart, about a woman, Lisey Landon, coming to terms with the death of her husband, two years dead as the novel begins.

It is also about family and the sacrifices made to keep them together–or to merely survive them.

Along the way are ruminations and reflection on the life of a famous author, being the wife of a famous author, the attendant unhinged and occasionally violent fans, flashbacks to exceedingly ugly childhoods, and a bond that reaches from the past and through an extraordinary place out of time that helps bring closure on a life and love over too soon.

There’s also a creepy monster in some spooky woods and the deranged fans (two, one via flashback, the other a more immediate concern) keep things from getting too maudlin. This is still a King story, after all.

A lot of interesting ideas and themes are at play here and for the most part King juggles them as ably as you would expect. At one point you may even believe the deceased author Scott Landon is not entirely dead–and you may be right, in a way–but in the end Lisey’s story is one in which doors to the past are quietly closed.

The weakest part of the story may be in the overall structure. It’s a sprawling and at times rambling work, sometimes feeling like a lazy ride down a river in summer that suddenly and briefly changes to a plunge into unexpected rapids before easing back into that slow drift again. This is to say the pace is often languid but at times uneven. Some may mistakenly think the deranged fan is the central plot when he actually just serves as another piece to the puzzle in getting Lisey to where she can put the past behind her.

King plays with several of his familiar elements here, and while I roll with them without blinking, others may find the unique phrases the characters use, like “bad-gunky” and “smucking” a bit twee.

Despite its girth, Lisey’s Story has an intimate feel. There is no big bad evil here, no world-destroying plagues or zombie apocalypses. There are supernatural elements, but the most horrifying parts are contained in the depiction of Scott Landon’s childhood at the hands of a deranged and violent father.

Lisey’s Story ultimately succeeds because Lisey’s journey feels authentic and earned. Strip away the creepy “long boy” and the demented fans, the land of the Boo’ya Moon where the dead gather, the flashbacks to childhood terrors, and you are left with a story that simply tells of how one person deals with the grief of a lost love. And that story is told well.

And you may look twice the next time you see someone hefting a spade.

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Book review: All Out

All Out: A Father and Son Confront the Hard Truths That Made Them Better MenAll Out: A Father and Son Confront the Hard Truths That Made Them Better Men by Kevin Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of All Out is that Kevin and Alex Newman wrote their own chapters independent of each other, allowing the reader to directly compare the father’s and son’s take on events and more importantly, how the two saw each other, which forms the heart of the book.

And they often saw each other very differently, creating a tension that existed between the two men until they were both adults.

In a journey that starts with the senior Newman co-hosting CBC’s Miidday, moves onto his brief (and disastrous) stint as co-host of Good Morning America, and ends with him back in Canada as part of CTV’s W5, Kevin Newman provides insights and observations about the TV news business, ranging from the long hours that necessitated so much time away from his family, the sometimes farcical demands of producers and handlers (on Good Morning America he was asked to dye his eyelashes to make them darker and presumably more masculine) and ultimately how for decades his work defined so much of his existence–at the expense of family and life outside work.

Alex’s journey begins as a young boy, sensitive and creative, bullied in school and seemingly failing at living up to the masculine ideals of his father, showing little interest in sports or other “guy” pursuits.

It comes to a head when at age 17 Alex realizes he is gay and comes out to his family. Or rather, he tries to come out but his father actually cuts him off at the pass, so to speak, by asking his son (who had called a family meeting), “Is this about your sexuality?” From that awkward beginning, the two start a process of testing and challenging each to accept each other as they are, not as they wish they were.

For Kevin he finally realizes that work is just work and family matters more. He lets go of his own hangups regarding what he sees as the masculine ideal and confronts his discomfort with homosexuality. In the process he achieves a breakthrough in his relationship with his son and with his own father as well.

Alex’s struggle with being gay stems not so much from being afraid of how others would see him–virtually everyone he knows was accepting–but in how it defined him in a way that he didn’t like. Being gay meant he could never be that ideal son that Kevin wanted and tried so much to shape through the years. At his darkest moments he contemplates suicide, as many gay youth do, but a network of friends and acquaintances keeps him from going too far into the abyss.

The writing by both men is fine if not extraordinary, though Alex ably captures the voice and mentality of his younger self. Kevin’s behind-the-scenes look at TV news is in some ways quietly horrifying and in other ways warmly affirming–it turns out Peter Jennings really was a warm, wonderful person. But it is the intertwined story of the two men that speaks strongest here, and it is difficult to not be moved by the self-realizations that allowed Kevin to fully embrace his son for who he is–and to finally let go of the mental baggage he had carried for decades, allowing him to finally, truly be content.

And not have to worry about dying his eyelashes ever again.

Thumb up.

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I can’t smell (but my throat feels better)

I am officially on Day 4 of Being Sick and two-thirds through the holiday weekend. Today I feel much like the stuffed turkeys that will be consumed tomorrow.

What started as a slight scratchiness on Thursday evolved into “Why is there a tiny chainsaw constantly running in my throat?” by the evening. Blessedly, that diminished by late Friday. Taking its place was a general feeling of being run down, as well as increasing  congestion in my sinuses. That appears to be peaking tonight as my nose has been plugged up all day and I can’t smell anything right now. I am sitting here with a nice cup of Chai tea and I gave the teabag a good sniff before dropping it in the cup. Nothing. Not even the slightest bit of aroma. Drinking it I can detect something but it’s weird to have a sense just switch off like that.

I’ve been imbibing Nyquil in the evening and so far it’s been pretty effective in helping me sleep, just like the TV commercials say.

I’m up later tonight as well, so perhaps I am on the odorless mend now. However, if the usual pattern holds true, the cold will next visit my chest, to be followed by days of racking coughs (i am coughing as I type this, somewhat politely, but with a feeling of doom hanging over me that the polite coughs will give way to the “blow paper off the desk” coughing soon enough).

All in all, being sick still sucks, which is hardly a revolutionary thought. It’s resulted in me going to bed early, I’ve missed two runs (the idea of running is so off-putting right now I can’t even articulate it. I’d probably get a few hundred meters in, collapse and be eaten by a bear/bobcat/python) and I’ve tried to compensate for my general state of misery through eating. Even that simple pleasure has been diminished now that I can barely taste or smell anything. So yes, sucks.

By coincidence the next stat holiday, Remembrance Day, falls on a Friday, making it another three-day weekend. I would like to make a request to not be sick that weekend. Thanks in advance, arbitrary forces of nature!