Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Musing

Part I: Teaching an Old Dog a New Tick

As you may know from reading this blog, in what has shockingly-become my distant past, I used to live here:

How many times can I possibly use this picture?

"Here" was in a 1600-acre state park on Long Island's north shore, a wonderland of woods and fields and seashore. The primary job was to take groups of schoolchildren, mostly from New York City, out and teach them about the environment. As a result, I became quite familiar with several tick species, those rather annoying, blood-sucking arachnids that can make people quite miserable. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about ticks, and I could teach the kids enough so that, if we found one on a kid, they didn't freak out too badly.

Despite having to know this stuff, I found rather recently that I didn't know everything. Last week, in forty-degree weather, I spent about fifteen minutes on a trail in a shrubby wetland investigating a report of giant hogweed, a noxious and potentially dangerous invasive plant. I didn't find any (it was wild parsnip; remember that one?). What I found, instead, were ticks. Deer ticks, i.e., the kind that transmits Lyme disease. This prompted some more investigation on my part, and I learned that adult deer ticks, which have a pretty darn high chance of carrying the Lyme-causing bacteria, actually become active in September/October/November, but they'll be active throughout the year if a) they haven't fed; b) the ground is not frozen; c) the ground is not covered in snow. In other words, if you live in the northeast, where Lyme disease rates are high and the deer tick population is growing, keep your eyes peeled.

 I should have known this already, but now I do. Lesson learned.

Part II: Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow, the wife and I set sail for a marathon day of driving where we will pick up the Catbird at her school, then pick up the Magpie at hers. We'll probably spend about ten hours total behind the wheel, which is not fun, but it will be the first time since late August that both girls will be home at the same time (it will actually be the first time since late August that the Catbird will be home at all; she's a little far away for a weekend visit. The Magpie took the bus home for a much-needed mental health break in mid-October.). On Sunday, we'll reverse the process. This is probably the most-anticipated Thanksgiving for us in quite some time.

Part III: What Do YOU Do?

On Friday night we went to our local Audubon chapter meeting, which is always a nice time (and despite our advancing ages, my wife and I are still among the youngest in attendance!). This week, we arranged to meet a guy and his wife for drinks after the meeting. My wife worked with this guy on a big website project this summer. They attended the meeting but I did not meet them until after; it was kind of a busy meeting. We met at a nice little bar and ended up sitting with them for about two hours, and had a very nice time.

What's interesting to me is how often things like this end up becoming about work. "What do you do?" we ask each other. What we really mean is, what is your job? What is your career? How do you earn your living? I'm curious about why we do this. Is it just because it's easy conversation, a way to find common ground? (Hell, if nothing else, we can always grouse about work, right?) Is it a way to try to establish some sort of pecking order? (MY job is better-paying than his, therefore I'M better) And, I'm curious if folks who live in other countries are as hung up on "what do you do?" as we are. Perhaps it's something rooted in our culture, that what we do somehow equals who we are.

At any rate, perhaps it's because my wife and this fellow worked together that those questions weren't asked. They already know what each of them do. As a result, I knew what he did, and he probably knew what I did, and neither his wife nor I were all that much interested in asking each other that question.

Part IV: Coffee

In my sleep-addled state this morning I botched the coffee brewing process. I am drinking what has to be the absolute worst cup of coffee I've had at home since the last time I ran out of 'the good stuff' and was forced to drink 'the bad stuff.'

Part V: Music

When I'm alone in the office at work, I often live-stream a radio station I used to listen to when I lived somewhere else, far away. It plays a more preferable mix of songs and artists than either the classic rock station or the today's best hits station that is just about all the radio we can get here. On a regular basis, I grab a scrap piece of paper and scribble down the name of the artist and song playing so I can remember. And then I can't find the paper. Today, I found the paper, so here's one. Enjoy Andra Day, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Retaliation

NOTE: I'm stepping into a potentially dangerous zone of commentary here.

The easy thing to do is to hit back.

The 2011 Stanley Cup final was a brutal affair that made for great television and drama, even as it threatened to set hockey back 20 years. There was an unpunished incident of one player biting another, three players were knocked out of the series with serious injuries, and there was almost as much back-and-forth sniping in the media after the games as there was ankle-chopping and 'face washing' during the games.

Late in game 6, with the Bruins comfortably ahead, a series of scrums broke out on the ice. Boston 'superpest' Brad Marchand grabbed Vancouver superstar Daniel Sedin and did this:

The reaction of the person who recorded that was echoed across the hockey world.Sedin was ridiculed for not being tough enough, for not having 'grit' and 'heart' and all the sort of stuff that hockey fans in Canada and the US value over everything else.

Last Thursday, Marchand was on the receiving end of a bad hit to the head by Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog. Marchand, who had already missed two games earlier this year due to a concussion, was pissed. He picked himself up off the ice and did this:

Landeskog received a match penalty for intent to injure on the play. It meant he was tossed from the game and Boston would receive a five-minute powerplay (he was later suspended for two games by the NHL). However, Marchand's punch earned him a roughing penalty, negating two of Landeskog's five minutes. Boston did not score on the three-minute powerplay they ended up with and ended up losing the game 3-2.

Had Marchand not reacted the way he did, would things have worked out differently? We'll never know, but the reaction of the hockey forums I check out indicate that most people didn't blame him (and that's saying something; Marchand is popular pretty much only with Boston fans). After all, it's about "sending a message" to the other team, "sticking up for yourself", showing others that "you can't mess with us." It's the way of hockey.

Looking at the two incidents, though, Sedin's reaction is actually the harder road to take than Marchand's. There's almost no thought process to Marchand's; it's a straight-up reaction. Meanwhile, Daniel Sedin, even though he's no fighter (not that Marchand is; he starts trouble but rarely fights), surely had to want to sock Marchand in the jaw. Instead, he took the punches, trying not to put his team at a disadvantage, or potentially get himself injured in a fight with a Stanley Cup-deciding game coming two nights later. Having been in both positions while playing hockey, it's far, far easier to react, to let your temper get away from you, even if it costs the team.

Having been both Marchand the instigator and Marchand the reactor, I can tell you that goading an opponent into taking penalties is satisfying. I can also say exacting some form of 'frontier justice' with a cross-check, a two-hander, or a punch to the chops is also satisfying, in the moment. However, when you've been tossed from the game or you're sitting in the penalty box watching the other team score on the powerplay, you realize your short-term satisfaction can hurt the team.

In the wake of two horrific attacks last week that killed close to 200 people in two cities, it's easy for people to react like Marchand in the second instance and look for someone to hit. We're already hearing a lot of noise about refugees in Europe, and immigrants here. My fear is that we're going to see vigilante--or worse, state-sanctioned--acts carried out against Muslims in Europe and America. Will we see crackdowns and brutality? Bombings of mosques and beatings of Muslims in the streets and in their homes? I surely hope not. Aside from the potential loss of innocent lives, acting out will only serve to drive more people toward the Islamic State. It might actually be a better recruiting tool for them than mass killings.

My heart goes out to all who lost their lives or had them disrupted forever. I don't know what the solution is to the mess in the middle east, but I know it's not throwing a punch at the nearest target.

Monday, November 9, 2015


Folks, it's time for another entry in the query critique over at Carrie Pestritto's blog. Check it out, help a fellow writer out!

That's it for me, I really got nothing else this week. I started a post this morning but never got anywhere, then all day at work ideas were floating around but now that I'm home? Gone. Anyway, hopefully you've all been well and more productive than I! Be well.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The NaNo Train is Rolling

And I'm not on it. Again. As it turns out, given the way my yearly writing calendar works (not that I really have one), I don't always seem to have a draft to produce when November rolls around. This year, I fully expected to either be A) somewhere in the publication process for one of my completed projects or B) somewhere closes to wrapping up the drafting process of a new, new project, while C) the project I completed my first draft of last spring was either on submission or getting a final fine tuning before going on submission somewhere around the end of the year or early the next.

Man plans, and God disposes, as they say, and my plans are completely feshittled. In the case of being on submission, there's really no news since the last time I broke the "What happens on submission &c." rule, so, sadly, I'm not in the publication pipeline. As for B, unfortunately, C has gotten in the way. Regrettably, I'm not near to fine-tuning that manuscript. It's proven more difficult than expected, and while I've seen some good progress in the last few days (Saturday and Sunday were both very good for me; I think I may be turning into a morning person), there's still a long way to go. I also have not really learned how to be a person who can really write two projects at the same time.

What it comes down to is that there is no NaNo for me this year, but that's OK. Maybe I'll be able to finish this mule of a manuscript once and for all. I do suspect this is at least partly responsible for my extra-cranky blog posts over the last couple of months. I'm working on getting out of that funk.

How about you? Are you on the NaNo train this year?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekend Update

Good morning! Disorganized rambling from me today....

-Went to visit the triplet nieces this weekend. They turned four a week ago. Last time I saw them (1-1/2 years ago) they pretty much ignored me. By the end of that weekend, I think I was able to sit on the floor and have them play around me, but they didn't play with me, they didn't pay any attention to me at all. This time? Whoo, boy, I'm exhausted, especially after doing a couple of sessions as Uncle Jungle Gym. What a lot of fun!

-We were visiting about 4.5 hours south of here. What a difference it makes in the weather! We are past peak here in terms of foliage, had two brief snow squalls on the 17th and 18th, and woke up today to 25 degrees or so. Down there, foliage is just coming to peak, which made for a  beautiful drive. When we left yesterday afternoon, it was sunny and warm and felt like it was in the 60s. Yes, I'm a trifle jealous!

-I didn't realize Stephenie Meyer's Twilight...update? was coming out so soon. When I read about it, just a week or two ago, I figured it was due out next year. I'm not sure how I feel about this. The cynic in me says it's the quick grab for cash, or the mark of someone who's shot her authorial load. Here's something of a review from the folks over at Operation Awesome. I should note here that I've tried never to be one of those people who bashes Meyer for her books. I confess I read--and enjoyed--Twilight, even while recognizing some of its shortcomings in writing and what constitutes a healthy relationship (however, I will also suggest it's potentially less damaging than some would make it out to be--it's a fantasy, for God's sakes. More on that some other time, perhaps.). The fact is the woman told a story and she told it pretty well, and she tapped into something that people obviously needed. Kudos to her! Anyway, I may read this book some day, just to see what it's like, I don't know.

-I missed two days of work last week because of a bad cold (oh, it was bad), then was out Friday to travel for the weekend. I'm not so sure I'm going to be able handling being in the office all week!

-Time to get really, really serious about my current manuscript, which feels like it wants to wither on the vine. Or like I want to spray Roundup all over it and kill it. Maybe I need to go back and read last week's post about what I write and see if I need a refocus.

-I don't think I've posted this video before. Really like the sound of this band, or at least this song.

-That's it for me--how are you all?

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Thought On Theme, Or What It's All About

Here I am at five in the morning, posting because I can't sleep, not sleeping because I picked up a cold with a really bad sore throat over the weekend. Here I am also writing about my writing for the first time in forever! My apologies for all the rants lately, and thanks for sticking around.

One of the unexpected discoveries of my birthday bash/reunion weekend last month was that one of my old friends is/was working on a novel of his own. This came up when someone asked me, "How's the writing going?" and the almost-inevitable follow-up, "What do you write?" This second is a question that I stumble badly with, as I think I've mentioned before. After stammering my way through a plot summary and trying to find a way to define it ("It's not a genre, but it's not quite literary, but blah, blah, blah"), my friend mentioned his novel, something he started working on a few yeas back when he was commuting via train. He said his novel was currently 400 manuscript pages, that he expected it to top out around 800 (!) when he was finally done--and then he would cut it from there. The problem for him, he said, is that he is no longer commuting, so he's not really writing.

At this point, he gave us a good, solid plot summary (and it sounded pretty interesting, I have to say) and then talked about what the book is actually about--"It's about personal responsibility," he said, and then some more that I don't quite remember, but he was very clear, and I was very jealous because I still find it extremely difficult to talk about what I write without feeling overly self-conscious and a little pretentious. And, there is a certain degree of mushiness in  there. He's writing a book  that's themed around personal responsibility--what is my theme?

Well, as it turns out, there are themes that run through my writing. Looking back over the manuscripts I've completed--and even the one I didn't really finish (my first NaNo) and the one I haven't really started yet, I can see a couple of themes running through. The trend is for main characters who are--or feel like--outsiders. They're trying to find acceptance, trying to find their place in the world, whether that world be within the confines of society at large, a small, somewhat insular town, or their own family. It's not, I suppose an uncommon theme, and maybe I can drill down a little deeper and define it even more than that, but maybe it will be enough, and the next time someone asks, I'll be able to answer without sounding like a fool.

Editing to ADD: Critique Time Over at Carrie's! Submit your query for a chance to be critiqued! Great opportunity!

Monday, October 12, 2015

And Again...The Chestnut

Here in this corner of America, Memorial Day marks the start of summer, Labor Day the end. Yet Columbus Day is, in many ways, the real end of the tourist season (though to be fair, fall foliage is just peaking now, and then there's hunting season--but neither of those things really do a lot compared to the summer). With that in mind (and because, quite honestly, I just didn't have the brain power for a *real* post today), I bring you...the chestnut.

Four leaves this year!

Well, as you can see, this wasn't exactly a banner growing season for my little American chestnut. This was the last photo I posted, back in May, when it was just starting to bud. This is not a great picture, granted. The new main stem did not put a lot of growth on this year; perhaps an inch, if that. From what I understand, however, this may be the year. The little tree should have been putting most of its energy into the root system. Next year is the critical one. Next year, if all goes well, the energy put into the roots this year (and last, to some extent), should fuel a pretty big growth spurt. Let's hope so.

In other news, I'm happy to say I spent my Columbus Day doing a lot of writing, probably close to 5 hours total time between this morning and early afternoon. Sadly, I spent some time listening to the Bruins' game this afternoon, and that was a mistake. It's early in the season, but things are looking mighty grim for them right now. After the front office made some head-scratching moves this summer that left the team with questionable depth, especially on defense, the team got hit with three big injuries right out of the gate. I shall try not to be pessimistic.

I hope you all had a nice weekend! Anything interesting happen?