Damn snow, December 2016 edition

A month earlier than last winter we got our first snow of the season today. With the temperature just above freezing the snow was wet, heavy and turned into a slushy mess on sidewalks and roads where it wasn’t shoveled or plowed away. For awhile when it was sticking to tree branches it was kind of pretty, though!

Environment Canada ended then resumed the snowfall warning for the Lower Mainland, so who knows if we’ll get more tomorrow. It’s dropping below freezing tonight which means things will be good ‘n icy for the morning commute. People here don’t cope well with the first snow of the season–or, really, just any snow at all. They cope even worse with ice. This is where teleporters would come in really handy.

Here’s a picture of the college at midday with the snow doing its thing. Like I said, it’s kind of pretty but my romance with snow ended after I got my driver’s license and that was…a little while ago.

Vancouver snow December 5 2016

Run 475: Cold and slow

Run 475
Average pace: 5:33/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Distance: 5:04 km
Time: 28:04
Weather: Clear, windy
Temp: 5-6ºC
Wind: Moderate to high
BPM: 172
Stride: n/a
Weight: 160.2 pounds
Total distance to date: 3765 km
Devices/apps: Apple Watch and iPhone 6

It was downright chilly today and a strong breeze before the run made it feel cooler still. Temperatures hovered around 5 and 6ºC for the run but my long-sleeved t-shirt has extra long sleeves, so I was able to keep my hands covered until they warmed up a few km in. After that it was fine, plus those first few km made me look like I had no hands, possibly earning unintended sympathy from passersby, noting my triumph over adversity.

I didn’t feel like I was overly pushing myself but it definitely felt like I was putting in more effort. I’m not sure if it was the cold, the wind or some combination of factors but my BPM was higher, my place was slower and overall the results were not nearly as dazzling as last week. One factor was the trail itself, dotted with enough puddles and muddy stretches that a lot of dipsy-doodling was required to navigate.

I also think I’m finally past my fear of the side trail after The Big Trip. It helps that most of the foliage is stripped away now, making visibility on the trail quite good. The only real chance of tripping now comes from paying absolutely no attention.

The park itself must have had some special event going on because the parking lot near the dam was completely full. In five years of jogging at Burnaby Lake I have never seen it full, let alone full to the point people were parking on the road leading in. It was odd. Adding to the oddness, the trail was not packed with people. In fact, given the sunny conditions, there were fewer people out than I expected, though most of them were acting as if it were National Don’t Leash Your Dog Day.

Overall, the run was mildly disappointing in terms of pace, but I should be working in more runs during the week soon and my stamina will get closer to where it was in the summer. If I stay healthy this will be my first full winter of running in several years. I look forward to ice and snow hazards to go along with tree roots, dogs and hail.

Amusing cat image, December 2016

Yes, it’s early in the month but I can’t shake this horrible sense of blah. It’s getting colder, the threat of snow (followed by still more rain) is in the forecast, winter is weeks away, work is bearing down, everything feels like a big ball of unraveling string or some other dumb metaphor.

So yes, here is December’s amusing cat image, three days into the month. Enjoy!

Cat box flop futility

December Drawing, Week 1: a potato

After toiling away on my Surface Pro 3, first using the included Sketchpad app (which is pretty bare bones) before switching to Photoshop (which has 5,000 pounds of blubber on its bones), I have drawn a potato.

An amazing potato. It sits on an abstract landscape that invokes memories of the family farm. If you didn’t have a family farm it may instead invoke memories of bad drawings you did when you were a kid, which this essentially is, minus the kid part. I’m a little out of practice.

Secretly I wanted to draw Super Spud but balked because trying to do a simple shape and then adding arms, legs and a face to it was too intimidating after years of not-drawing and even more years of not-drawing-in-computer-programs-I’m-barely-familiar-with.

Nonetheless, here is potato. More to come!

a potato
The Potato Deep in Thought

The December Drawfest: Coming soon (specifically December 1st)

For December I am going to use my Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 3 Pen to make a Surface Pro Drawing of something or other once per week for the duration of the month. It may be a tree or a potato or perhaps the moons of Uranus (hehehe) but it will be something and each of the four drawings will be amazing*.

Starting tomorrow.

* amazing subject to availability and may be shipped at a later time

Musical guilty pleasures: Everybody Wang Chung tonight

I remember the 80s for the giant hair and the music for its synthesizer obsession.

A lot of that music was sterile, stuff that sounded like it came from a factory, not actual humans. Sometimes this was even deliberate–witness Gary Numan’s work.

And then there was Wang Chung. They had a big hit in 1986 with the song “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” I hated the song. I found it cloying, insipid, superficial. Most of all, it struck me as indulgent as the band inserted itself as a verb into the lyrics:

Everybody have fun tonight
Everybody Wang Chung tonight

I was 22 years old at the time. I was also a humorless twit because this song is great. It’s catchy as all get-out, it has kicking horns, the bridge is soaring and it’s obvious–especially if you want the video (don’t do this if you have epilepsy–seriously!)–that the band knew this was nothing more than a fun little confection.

I watch it regularly on YouTube. Or at least listen to it. I’m not epileptic but if I watch the video too closely I find I am suddenly not having fun tonight, I am about to hurl my cookies tonight.

Still, great song and given how utterly inconsequential the subject matter is, I count it as a musical guilty pleasure, one of about a hundred thousand or so that I have (my formative years musically were the 1980s, you see). I may come back and edit this post with more great fluff from the decade that mastered the art of fluff.

Cool, wet and Vancouver Island

For the Remembrance Day long weekend we went to Sidney over on Vancouver Island to partake in Jeff’s mom’s 75th birthday celebration. We had Chinese food for dinner because why not and overall it was a pleasant little trip, even if the ferry ride over was accompanied by the nigh-endless serenading of car alarms blatting from the vehicle decks. The chief steward at one point came on to the PA to announce that the car alarms of every BMW were going off. The vehicle owners had apparently calibrated their alarms to perfectly match the vibrations produced by a large commercial ferry.

After arriving and kibitzing with Jeff’s mom, his sister and their family, we headed into bustling downtown Sidney and spent some time walking along the pier.

Below is a photo of yours truly.

Me on the pier in Sidney, November 2016
With bonus tiny cloud attached to the side of my head

Some observations:

  • I have my dad’s right ear and my mom’s left ear. I think this is becoming more pronounced the older I get. It is also a little weird.
  • Am I developing jowls? I don’t want jowls. I am either ordering or inventing a jowls-prevention kit.
  • If you look closely you can tell I am freezing my butt off. Because I totally was.
  • I escaped seagull poop, both on the pier and bombed from above.
  • People on the pier were catching tiny novelty crabs. They were like finger crabs. Very small is what I’m saying here.

I also liked this sign for the simple way it says you may die:

a sign of diving doom
A sign of diving doom

The motel room was odd in that it was actually cool and we had to turn the heat on (the condo is almost supernaturally warm, staying at 23ºC or higher no matter what the temperature outside is, as if it was constructed atop the endlessly burning fires of hell). The ferry trip back was much quieter, due to either better car alarm control or fewer BMWs.

Overall it was a nice little jaunt. Sidney is one of those towns that manages to pull off quaint without descending completely into either kitsch or self-referential hipster irony.

But seriously…

Trump? Really?

I’ve never been more willing to believe that I’m just having a long, fantastically elaborate (and horrible) dream than I have this past month.

On the one hand I am (morbidly) curious to see what happens. On the other, I expect nothing less than complete disaster, which dampens the curiosity by a factor of about a billion.

It’s like the entire world is getting a lump of coal for Christmas. And I’ve been good this year! Mostly!

My plan for NaNoWriMo 2017

Now that my NaNoWriMo 2016 project has officially fizzled out, here’s my plan for 2017 if I choose to participate again (and I am at this very early stage leaning toward not doing so):

  • Come up with an idea at least a full month ahead of time
  • Plan out the tools to be used for the writing at least two weeks in advance
  • Outline the novel (new!)
  • Spend at least the first weekend building up as large a buffer as possible (the first weekend starts on Saturday, November 4th)
  • Talk talk talk about my novel–share all kinds of stuff, go totally bananas on it (new!)
  • Attend more local NaNoWriMo events

And that’s about it. I actually did the first two this year and still flopped. Maybe adding in the other four will result in dazzling success.

If I participate.

Which I probably won’t.

Goodbye and good riddance to November 2016

The best thing about November was the day it hit 18ºC thanks to the Pineapple Express. I was not expecting t-shirt weather this month.

I also resumed running, so that was good.

Almost everything else sucked, to various degrees. I’m not even going to attempt a list, it would just be sad and depressing. Instead, I will blow a loud raspberry at November 2016 and hope that December is better.

NaNoWriMo 2016 autopsy: I’m not dead yet

Technically I could still complete National Novel Writing Month 2016 successfully by writing just under 40,000 words between now and midnight tomorrow.

If you are a gambling type I recommend against betting on this happening.

Then again, Donald Trump is President-Elect. Right is wrong, the impossible is possible and all that.

Speaking of which, it’s time to dissect how this year’s failure came to be.

First, what I did right:

  • I settled on a story (of sorts) well before November 1st, giving me plenty of time to mull it over and have some ideas ready so I could hit the proverbial ground running
  • I had an established, successful plan from years past, using WriteMonkey, saving to OneDrive and writing during my lunch at work, something that can spot me as many as 1,000 words before I even get home, a big psychological boost
  • Day 1 started strong, well above the minimum word threshold
  • Despite uncertainties with the story, I continued to stay above the minimum word count for five of the first six days–a good start!

At the end of day six I was at 10,002 words, on track to finish November 29th (today). Cutting it a bit close but still, victory was entirely possible. What went wrong, then?

  • I took Day 7 off. I planned to spend time thinking about how to best tackle the rest of the story, which was still a bit too vague and shapeless for my liking. This is not in and of itself a bad idea but in the context of NaNoWriMo it is a great way to kill momentum. By skipping a day and by not having a big cushion of words to fall back on (let’s call it The Stephen King Zone) I had to double my input the next day to stay on track (writing 3,334 words instead of 1,667). This would also mean finding twice the time to accomplish the task. With doubts about the story lingering, taking a day off was a tactical blunder.
  • The day after I took the ill-advised day off was Election Day in the U.S. Throughout the day I experienced a level of anxiety that by evening transformed into a kind of existential despair, sapping me of the will to write anything except perhaps a brief essay on what it feels like to curl up in a ball on the floor.
  • The following day I re-read the 5,000 or so words I’d written for last year’s NaNoWriMo and found what I’d written to be more engaging than expected. I decided to switch back to this story. I had ideas. Changing gears could work! (Hint: wrong.)
  • I hit a dead end on the old story almost immediately. Looking back I was still not in a good frame of mind to write. My brain was buzzing, but with maddening, distracting and negative thoughts. I settled for writing anything as long as I was writing but was utterly incapable of putting down anything coherent. The experience was subtly surreal, so much so it would probably make for an interesting character moment in a story. Irony.

After my briefly-revived alternate project stalled out, I returned to my original story but could never summon more than a few sentences each day, usually totaling a hundred words or so. I fell even further behind. Eventually it became obvious that I was not going to complete NaNoWriMo this year and I quietly accepted this. I moved onto other projects and am just now starting to really write again.

Without getting overly political, the election of Trump had a fairly profound effect on me. Friends joked about how I’d want to suddenly switch to writing about some near-future dystopia but both of my stories were nominally hopeful and over the course of a day they came to feel false, even pointless. I’ve come out of the funk since then and have some thoughts on how I’d approach NaNoWriMo if I participated again–and I am leaning toward not doing so–but for now I am just happy to be writing anything again.

Book review: This Year You Write Your Novel

This Year You Write Your NovelThis Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a brief but solid overview on the basics of putting together a first novel. Mosley doesn’t go into great detail, he just lays down some rules, some less-strict guidelines, offers suggestions, often gives the writer the thumbs-up to do something however best it works for him and really, really believes in the idea of rewriting.

His advice comes down to a few essentials, most of which will be familiar to anyone who has read any how-to’s on writing:

  •  set up a daily routine:
    • write every day (no exceptions)
    • devote 90 minutes per day to writing (this can include editing or reading drafts)
    • target daily output of 600-1200 words
  •  show, don’t tell
  • characters should grow and transform, not remain static
  • write without restraint
  • take about three months for the first draft
  • take a week to read the first draft (this counts as the second draft)
  • read and if possible, record the entire novel in your own voice to hear how it sounds
  • focus on every sentence in rewrites. Every sentence!
  • writers write too much. Edit without mercy.
  • don’t write things you aren’t sure of; do follow-up research after the first draft as needed
  • you can write from a first person, third person or omniscient perspective; third person is recommended for first-time novelists
  • you never mention second person perspective because it’s weird and makes you look funny
  • to find an agent, write to the publisher of a book whose style you like and get the agent’s info; send a query letter and vitae to the agent
  • don’t ever take an agent that demands to be paid directly

And that’s pretty much it. Mosley provides examples of plot, sentence structure and other part of a novel, and the whole thing can be digested in a single sitting if you’re so inclined–all the better to get started on that great novel lurking within.

I can’t really quibble with any of the suggestions, though ninety minutes per day may be tough to manage for a lot of people. But where’s the fun if you’re not suffering for your art?

Given the endless tide of writing advice on the internet, a book like this is probably going to be a tough sell, especially at full price. On sale, it’s a tidy little volume that says what it wants to say simply and clearly. A first-time novelist will find value here, but more experienced (if unpublished) writers may find most of the lessons to be familiar.

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