Monday, June 19, 2017

Mental Health Day

That's what I'm on.

I work a lot of weekends. Sometimes, the work is just for a few hours, such as when I lead a nature walk for my organization, or take a table full of displays and 'stuff' to some event and talk to people all day. Other times, it's an all-day sort of affair, such as when we're the ones running one of those events. In the last three weeks, my Saturdays were as follows: nature walk on the third (only 3 hours worth of time, total), festival on the 10th (I was "on the clock" basically from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.), and a fundraiser beer pouring at a concert on the 17th, where I was "on" (and on my feet) from 3:30 to about 10:30.

I call this a mental health day, but it's also about physical well-being, too. The nature walk is easy: two miles on a mostly easy trail. The event and the beer pouring, however, were physically demanding, draining. Setting up tables, lugging our own display materials around, being responsible (okay, that's mental) for the smooth running of the event or for wrangling nearly 70 volunteers--that's draining. And depending on what's going on, I'm not guaranteed getting a Monday off for working a Saturday. Sometimes, you just can't swing it, and that's okay. We don't get overtime, but I've got a boss who is humane. As long as the work gets done and gets done well, we have the flexibility to take time when/where needed.

Long-winded way of saying there's not much of a post today. I'm hopefully going to catch up on my assignments for the online writing course I've been taking. Technically, I've already completed the requirements to 'pass' the course, but there's more to learn; it behooves me to complete all the assignments. The good thing is it's getting me going on my RiP again (Carrie will be glad to hear that!) and I may also have picked up another beta reader, hooray! Once the course is over, I'll try to sum up my experiences here. The University of Iowa will be running another beginning on July 17 aimed at poets and playwrights. Also, somewhere down the line I'll explain what the beer pouring fundraiser was (besides fun and exhausting!). EDIT: Oh, and maybe I'll add in my reactions to Wonder Woman, which we saw on Wednesday (Quick reaction: Really good film).

So, I'm out of here, hoping to write, relax, and just enjoy what will hopefully be a good day, weather-wise (had great, great weather for the beer pouring and Father's Day; got deluged last night). In closing, I'll leave you with this song that has been absolutely stuck in my head the last week and a half. Posting it on my personal Facebook page has done nothing to get rid of it, so maybe this will. I'm also pretty sure this same song got stuck in my head last year, too. It's got a great groove. Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Musing: No Real Theme Edition (and no political commentary!)

Random bits and pieces from over the last week, because I've been too lazy/busy to get an actual post!

-Penguins won the Stanley Cup last night. This was a good game, an entertaining series, and a lot more fun to watch in some ways without a dog in the fight. Congratulations to Pittsburgh on the win, and Nashville on a great series.

-In an era where coaching and systems have become so dominant, it's comforting to see talent as the deciding factor. Though the deciding goal wasn't some sort of rink-length, dipsy-doodling rush finished off with a diving backhander tucked up under the crossbar, Pittsburgh's overall talent superiority was evident in them having most of the really good scoring chances. It would be nice to see coaches fill out the bottom six forward lines with more talent over "grit," because the talent is out there.

-A couple of weeks back, I joined a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC; I think that's what the letters stand for) through the University of Iowa. The theme of the course is "Writing Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction" (I always want to hyphenate 'nonfiction'). It's been pretty interesting, good food for thought, good exposure to other writers. The 'discussions' we're supposed to be participating in, however, seem to be mostly individual responses to a question posed by an instructor instead of actual discussion. And there's a lot of quid pro quo critique going on. Of course, there are a lot of people in this course, with a lot of assignments being posted: how many can you read (and thoughtfully comment on) in a week?

-I used a piece of my WiP and a piece of my RiP for a couple of assignments and got some useful feedback. It also got me looking at my RiP, which means I'm actually one step closer to finally doing something with it.

-Downside of opening the windows to let cool night air in? Skunks. Last night, the smell just sort of wafted in, growing stronger and stronger, though it never quite reached eye-watering levels. Pepé le Pew was on the prowl!

-Hit the middle eighties yesterday. I think maybe we're clear of the threat of frost and snow--finally!

-Am I the only person who gets annoyed by this "Focused Inbox" thing that Microsoft is trying to shove down my throat with Outlook? Just show me everything and let me decide what's important, thank you very much.

That's about it for me, what's new with you?

 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Public Writing

When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I drew pictures every chance I got, and I was told by some tat I was pretty good at it, though in hindsight, I think I heard that mostly from my mother, so maybe I wasn't that good. Somewhere along the line, I stopped. When did I stop? More important, why did I stop? Drawing was something I enjoyed, though I can also remember ripping my paper to shreds, or scribbling out something so hard it tore jagged lines through the paper, and being so frustrated that the picture wasn't coming out the way I wanted it that it drove me to tears. Maybe that's why I stopped.

Photo © Teddy Llovet/Flickr/CC by 2.0
During the brief period where I liked to draw, I had no trouble sharing my work. I'd show it to my parents, my friends and classmates, my teachers. They could look at it when it was finished, but one thing I could not handle was having anyone watch me while I drew. I'd encircle my paper with my arms, hunched over like a hawk protecting its prey, nose nearly touching the paper. If I knew someone was trying to look over my shoulder, I'd stop. I just did not want anyone watching me do this.

Writing in public is different. I've written in public before. Sat down with my notebook and pen in coffee shops, on park benches in parks and right on Main Street. It's never bothered me to do it. Several years ago, I occupied a table in the back of a coffee shop for an hour or so every Tuesday evening for three months while the Magpie took a course at a local college. Maybe it was because I had a story I was working on, but I could shut out the conversations, the people passing by with their steaming lattes and overpriced pastries and it didn't bother me that people might scoff at me, the emobdiment of the "writing in a coffeshop" cliché. It never occurred to me that anyone would really even look at me--why would they?

Yesterday, my writing group met in a local coffeeshop instead of in our usual place, and it was different.  Awkward. Uncomfortable. Neither of us wrote particularly well, and he skipped both the out loud reading of a prompt and the out loud reading of our work, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the size of the table, which was far smaller than the ones we usually write at in our usual meeting location, small enough that we had to cock our notebooks at angles so they could fit without overlapping, small enough that, if we had both bent over to protect our work, our heads would have cracked together. Maybe it was the fact that this is a very local sort of space, where we were more likely to encounter people we know. But I almost think the reason is this: no one really  gives a single person writing in a coffeeshop a second glance. But two people? Two people writing in a coffeeshop is different. Unusual. Who writes together, after all? Two people writing together is enough to attract attention, while not being large enough to confer anonymity through mass. At any rate, when we were done, I think it was with a shared sense of relief as much as satisfaction.

I'm curious if any of you have experienced this. Do you write in public, and does it bother you? Does it make a difference if you're alone or in a group?

One other update for the week: On Satuday, I cut the grass, and stopped by to take a look at our old friend, the American chestnut tree. Here's how it looks.


Not a bad start! See you next time!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Whatever it's Called, it Worries Me

The world of the Grand Theft Auto series is populated with memorable...vehicles. Banshees and Bobcats, Sentinels and Schafters, Intruders and Inernus (Inferni?)--there are literally hundreds of cars, motorcycles, trucks, helicopters, boats and bicycles to steal in the course of the game, and these vehicles have more personality than the random citizens walking the streets of Liberty City. Car spawning, i.e., where these cars appeared, seemed to be rather random, though some models were more frequently found in certain neighborhoods. One thing I noticed when playing Grand Theft Auto III many years ago, however, was that certain cars would seem to be very rare when you were looking for one, but once you found one and started driving it, they'd be everywhere.

Some have suggested this is a glitch, but I've noticed it in every GTA game I've played, and I suspect it's just the game developers and designers having a bit of fun with us. Years ago, a friend of mine acquired what was then his dream car (and, indeed, this was a dream car for a lot of young men at the time): a Camaro Z-28. He loved that car. Once he got it, though, he had an unerring ability to see (and a somewhat annoying habit of pointing out) Z 28s everywhere. "There's a nice Z," he'd say, while we were on our way to a hockey game, or the mall, or a friend's house. And he had a great ability of finding parking spaces--you guessed it--right next to other Zs.

Psychologists have a name for this (of course, they do); I'm just not entirely sure if it's Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, frequency illusion, selective perception, or some variation of confirmation bias, but it seems to be rooted in our tendency to look for patterns, which in itself is probably rooted in some ancient survival mechansm from the days when we were swinging in the trees or seeking shelter in caves.


I'm thinking of all of this because of the recent shenanigans of Greg Gianforte, who won a special election in Montana last week for the state's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A few days before the election, Gianforte apparently body-slammed a reporter who had the nerve to ask Gianforte a question about Trumpcare. This follows on the heels of reporter Dan Heyman's arrest on May 9 for trying to ask questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway, and the forcible ejection of reporter John Donnelly from an FCC meeting on May 18. And, on May 2, a reporter in Alaska was allegedly slapped by a state senator.

There is no question that the tone has been set by our president. Whether it's calling into question the truth of everything reported (unless it comes from Fox, Breitbart, or Alex Jones), or using dangerous phrases like "enemy of the people," or suggesting to then-FBI Director Comey that he should arrest reporters for publishing leaked information, Trump has been waging war against the mainstream media for at least as long as he's been a candidate, and we're starting to see the results of that war.

Or are we? Maybe this is really just coincidence, or Baader-Meinhof, frequency illusion, selective perception, or hyper-sensitivity to what is potentially a serious problem, I really don't know. What I do know is that Gainforte's victory, combined with House Speaker Paul Ryan's weaksauce disapproval of Gianforte's behavior, and the continued rhetoric and behavior out of Washington concerning the press should set the alarm bells ringing. On this Memorial Day, it would do well for us to remember that the sacrifices made by so many over the last 241 years could be lost if we're not careful, and one of the first things to go would be the free press.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Semi-coherent Thoughts on Reading and Time

For the better part of the last four days, I've been thinking about time, and books, and reading. Last Thursday over at Writer Unboxed, Ray Rhamey posted the first page New York Times bestseller The Handmaid's Tale in his "Flog A Pro" column. If you're not familiar with it, in "Flog A Pro," Rhamey posts the first page of a current bestseller (minus title/author) and asks his readers, "Would you turn the page and keep reading?" There's a little doodad for voting and viewing the vote tallies, and Rhamey continues by identifying the book/author, and analyzing the opening, explaining his own answer. It's an interesting exercise, well worth the time, in my opinion.

Though it has been several years since I read The Handmaid's Tale, I knew by the second line that that's what I was reading. Apparently, Margaret Atwood's opening stuck with me over the years, and I voted 'Yes' to the question, "Would you turn the page?" and I commented as well my belief that the opening page was outstanding. At the time I voted, the overwhelming majority (though in an admittedly small sample size) was also voting the same way. Both commenters before me were similarly impressed.

Later in the day, I went back to see what others were saying, and found the tide had turned: the no's outvoted the pro's (at last look, it was 78-70 in favor of nay). And while those who bothered to comment still mostly extolled the virtue of Atwood's first page, several of them noted the book might have a hard time getting published or gaining traction today (The Handmaid's Tale was originally published in 1986 in the US), while a couple stated plainly that they did not like it.

And I'm fine with that, really. The fact is, not everything is going to please everyone, and Atwood's style is much more literary than the novels Rhamey usually features. But there was one comment that especially stuck with me (and it wasn't the one that dismissed the opening as "pretentious twaddle". Okay, maybe that one stuck with me, too). The one that has really stuck with me said, "Books 30 years ago could take their time and if I was on vacation maybe I would have continued but today? No time."

No time.

At this point, I can see a friend of mine raising his eyebrow, looking at me over the top of his glasses, and saying something like, "Last time I looked, we all have the same time. Twenty-four hours, right?" And it's true. We all have the same amount of time in a day, the same amount of time in a week. The only difference amongst us, ultimately, is how much time we have on this earth. That's the big unknown.

But what I find myself wondering, more and more, is what's so much more precious about our time now than thirty years ago? A lot of people read The Handmaid's Tale back when it first came out--enough to make it a bestseller, enough to get it printed in many countries, enough to help Atwood win or get nominated for a number of prizes, enough for it to get turned into a major movie in 1990. (For an intersting perspective on what the success of this book did/meant to Atwood, see this article). So, why did so many people have so much time in 1986, and why do we have so little of it to this day? As far as I know, we still have twenty-four hours in the day, right?

According to the website Reading Length (readinglength.com, and just know before you go my antivirus flagged it as 'suspicious,' though it seems perfectly fine), The Handmaid's Tale is 311 pages long, 96,000 words, and will take 6 hours, 25 minutes to read from end to end. Wow. In comparison, Cross the Line, the latest in James Patterson's Alex Cross series, is a whopping 400 pages, 124,000 words, and will take 8 hours, 16 minutes to read. In other words, the latest Patterson potboiler will keep you from reading more books than Atwood's. Which one don't you have time for?

Of course, the "no time" comment doesn't mean the person literally doesn't have time to read Atwood--we've all got the same amount of time in a day, right?--it could mean (probably means, in fact) this person just doesn't enjoy this style of book (and, despite my use of statistics, it probably does take longer to read a 300 page Atwood than a 400 page Patterson) And that's okay. Again, not all things appeal to all people, and quite honestly, I suspect most of the readership of Writer Unboxed leans away from literary fiction. But using time as an excuse rings a little hollow. We're already making a commitment of time by picking up a book. What difference does it really make if this book takes eight hours versus that one's six? If a person is an avid reader (and someone who is reading Writer Unboxed probably is), they're just going to open up another book once they close this one for the last time. Reading doesn't come down to not having time: it comes down to how you choose to spend the time.

Does it matter to you how long it takes to read a book? Do you feel an urge to burn through books fast, or are you okay with taking your time?








Monday, May 15, 2017

Weekend Update: Old Friend Edition

Waking up once again exhausted and unprepared for Monday. It's been that kind of a spring, and the weather hasn't helped much, with a lot of rain and colder temperatures than normal. Our little corner of upstate is normally a couple of weeks behind the weather I was used to growing up on Long Island, so the "lion" typically makes it's entrance around the second week of the month (which, this year, was when the big lake in our county finally froze all the way over for the first time, followed by three feet of snow); likewise, the April showers and May flowers are similarly late. This year, however, the April showers seem to have been saved for this past weekend.

The weekend started for me on Friday afternoon/evening, where we were, fortunately,  blessed with good weather, for the dedication of a boat wash station. What's a boat wash station, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like. It allows boaters to use a high pressure, hot water spray to clean off their boats before launching into a water body, and to clean off their boats before leaving one lake for another. The purpose is to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. My organization worked with another non-profit and a local government to get funding for the construction of this boat wash, so I got to make remarks on behalf of my organization. We had about forty people on hand, which was not surprising. The man the boat wash was named after was just one of those people, the kind who left people smiling, the one who devoted himself to making his community a better place. My comments focused on the fact that, though I didn't know this man well, he always treated me like an old friend. It was a nice event, and a very fitting tribute to a good man.

On Saturday I wore a different hat at another event. This time, I was wearing my 'member of the Audubon Society' hat (and, perhaps more important, my 'spouse of an Audubon Society co-president' hat) at a bird festival event at a state park. This was the first bird festival for this park, and the weather was not at all cooperative, with rain throughout the day no doubt holding down attendance. The good thing is the parks people had put up several tents a few days in advance of the event, so it was relatively dry beneath (though the ground was quite wet; chairs would sink an inch or two into the soft ground when you sat on them). Not a whole lot of people came out, but the people who did were enthusiastic and very nice. And, I got to see an old friend:

Yes, that's Morty the turkey vulture. For those of you who don't know, my wife and I ran an environmental education business for a number of years; 'Morty' was (is) a permanently-injured bird we had in our care and used for programs. When we ceased operation, we transferred him and several other birds to a group in the region. I'm happy to say that Morty is this man's star attraction, and he very kindly let me hold him for a few minutes. Did Morty remember me? Hard to say. He didn't bite me, and he didn't puke on me, even though my bird handling skills aren't what they used to be. It was a nice visit, and good to see Morty doing so well and in good hands.

On Sunday, we watched Prometheus, which was a sort of prequel to Alien. I was not impressed. I think they tried to pack a lot of meaning into the story, but characters were poorly developed and behaved in ways that didn't make a lot of sense, the dialogue was terrible, and everything felt kind of rushed. Ah, well.

That's it for me for this week. How was your weekend?




Monday, May 8, 2017

Stanley Cup Favorites--Or Not



The National Hockey League playoffs are rolling along, more than halfway through round two. As I write this, eight teams have already been eliminated in the first round, one has been taken out of the second round, and another could be knocked out by ten thirty this evening. As always, the playoffs has provided drama, thrills and controversy in equal measure, heroes and goats, and further proof that no one really seems to know what goaltender interference is. 

My own Bruins went down in the first round, losing to Ottawa in six games, which means I can actually enjoy watching the games for a change (playoff hockey is probably the most excruciatingly exhilarating thing in the sports world. It's only when you don't have a dog in the fight that you can truly appreciate the game as a game.). Still, it's always more interesting when you're rooting for someone; I just need to figure out who. With that in mind, I'll list out the remaining teams, and some pros and cons of rooting for them. Maybe by the time I'm done, I'll know who to root for.

Anaheim Ducks

Pros: Well, uh, there's…hmm. Can I come back to this?

Cons: Ryan Kesler. Ryan Getzlaf. Corey Perry. The fact that the team, originally owned by Disney, was actually named after a movie franchise. Coach Randy Carlyle reminds me an awful lot of Dean Wormer. Maybe that's a pro?


Pros, part deux: Honestly, I still got nothing. As far as I can tell, the Ducks have no redeeming qualities at all. That was easy!

Edmonton Oilers

Pros: A Canadian team hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1993. They practically invented the game, for God's sakes. Let 'em have one.

Cons: They switched to those awful orange jerseys. That's unforgivable. Sportscasters on Hockey Night in Canada insist on calling Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 'RNH.'

Nashville Predators

Pros: A Cup victory for P.K. Subban will give the management of the Montreal Canadiens an ulcer the size of Tycho. As a Bruins fan, anything that does that is fine by me (and I like Subban, now that he's not on Montreal anymore).

Cons: With 46 games played for the Predators, it's possible that Mike Ribeiro gets his name on the Cup.

New York Rangers

Throw it into Mount Doom, Master Mats!
Pros: A win means they can finally stop talking about Mark Messier and 1994. They were my Dad's favorite team, and I have a lot of friends and family who would be really happy if they won. Mats Zuccarello would be the first hobbit to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. 

Cons: New Yorkers are insufferable when their teams win championships. A deep playoff run means having to look at an ever-increasing number of bandwagon celebrities in the Madison Square Garden crowd.

Ottawa Senators

Pros: See Oilers, Edmonton. Also, the original Ottawa Senators won 11 Stanley Cups in the NHL's early days before moving to St. Louis and folding in 1935. As such, the Senators, who rejoined the NHL in 1992, would be the first "Zombie Team" to win the Cup. That'd be kind of cool. And we'd get two more rounds of Coach Guy Boucher doing stuff like this:


Cons: The Senators have a bunch of sneaky-dirty guys who are jerks. And not just because they eliminated the Bruins. Since the NHL is a league of copycats, a Senators Cup win might set the NHL back about 20 years, as everyone decides to employ a boring system with a bunch of marginally-talented players. We'd have two more rounds of Guy Boucher, and frankly, Guy Boucher scares the bejeebus out of me:


Pittsburgh Penguins

Pros: There hasn't been a back-to-back Cup champion since Detroit in 97 and 98; it's time we had one. A second consecutive Cup for Phil Kessel would be a giant "FU" to the Boston media who savaged him when he left the Bruins and might earn him some of the respect he deserves.

Cons: A third championship for Sidney Crosby would make listening to NBC coverage of the Penguins even more insufferable than it is now--and it's pretty insufferable.

Washington Capitals

Pros: A win for the Caps might just shut up some of the unfair criticism directed at Alex Ovechkin, who has only scored more goals by a long shot than anyone else since he entered the league. It would also mean Justin Williams is still perfect in his career in game 7s. They have a guy named Beagle--who doesn't like a beagle?

Cons: I still hate Braden Holtby for almost single-handedly knocking out the Bruins in 2012. Tom Wilson is a dangerous player who needs to stop leaping into hits. I'm not real happy with anything from Washington these days.

The verdict
 
Well, that was very helpful. As expected, writing all this out has helped me figure this out. So, who do I want to win the Stanley Cup now that the Bruins are out? Well, um...err...Bruins in 2018!

Can you root for anyone when your favorite team is out of the playoffs? How do you decide?