Sunday, August 13, 2006

Another New Adventure

Let's add to the list of "things I know, from experience, to be difficult": Learning how to ride a unicycle.

As my big birthday present this year, I got a brand new unicycle. We assembled it, disassembled it, cut a few inches from the the seat post, and reassembled it so that it's the proper height for me. That was almost 20 days ago.

Since then, I have tried practicing, or practiced trying, or just spent some time on most days trying to make some incremental progress towards being able to ride the thing. As it turns out, it's a fairly exhausting process. While I haven't been timing my sessions, I think it's safe to say that I don't likely manage to put in more than about 10-15 minutes of practice in any given day. I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I am doing better than when I started. I feel even more confident in saying that I'm really not very far along at all.

I'll get there eventually. But for now, it's a slow process and I'm still leading up to whatever I will consider to be my first milestone.

I'm open to advice from anyone who's been through it. I'm also open to words of encouragement from anyone who wishes me well. In the meantime, for anyone who wants to see photos of me riding, you'll just have to wait.


Oh, and to the gentleman who got my campaign business card today as I was leaving the book store for lunch, you have my apologies for the scotch tape. I didn't have a clean card on me, so I pulled that one from the face of my locker.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

NaNoWriMo is Coming Again

Last year, probably around this time, a couple of sentences popped into my head, and I knew that these would form the opening lines of my first attempt at National Novel Writing Month. The sentences were as follows:

Angelique was thin in a way that resembled tall. Her husband, Laszlo, was short in a way that resembled broad.

I had no title in mind, nor did I have a premise. All I had was two sentences. I was confident that they constituted a fine start. True to the spirit of the exercise, I did not commit those sentences to paper (nor did I type them into a computer, nor did I utter them aloud) until November 1. And that's where my journey began.

I am plagued by a terrible memory, and so I knew that there was a high likelihood that by the time November 1 rolled around, I might well forget those sentences. They might be superseded by something better (or by something worse). Or I might just start NaNoWriMo with a blank mind, having to manufacture a whole new start when November began.

But whatever was to become of those sentences, I was quite sure that I was going to try to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, 02005.

When November started, I came up with a working title. As the month wore on, I scrapped that title in favor of another and then scrapped that replacement title for yet another. I ran out of steam a couple of times and had to dig deep to figure out how to keep going (in terms of narrative direction, more than in terms of inspiration or will to continue).

As it happened, those opening two sentences remained intact in my mind until November 1. They were the first sentences I typed in my attempt, and they still stand as the first sentences on what is now a mere first draft. I did not reach my goal of 50,000 words. Instead I managed just over 40,000. I still think those sentences are strong. And I managed to come up with many other passages of which I am proud. In fact, overall, I'm pretty proud of what I did manage to accomplish. While I fell short of the 50,000 word goal, I think I did manage to compose a cohesive work of fiction. "Cohesive" is apparently something that escapes the grasp of many NaNoWriMo winners.

I haven't yet gotten all the way through on my first pass at proofreading. That will come with time. I'm sure of it.

The feedback I've gotten from the few people who have provided such has largely been encouraging, and I'm pretty sure a small gem can be pulled from that first draft. But now, as the summer is winding down, I find myself not so interested in revisiting that first attempt. Instead, I am looking forward to NaNoWriMo 02006.

I have not fixed on an opening yet. I have had some ideas bouncing around in my skull. But none has jumped out as an imperative. At the moment, I can't recall a single one. But I'm confident that in the next few months, something will begin to congeal--or at least some idea will make itself persistent. And when November starts, I will be ready to go once again into the vast expanse of literary wilderness that is NaNoWriMo.

And you're all invited to play along! If you're interested, visit and sign up.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

More Minor Tragedies

I've been thinking for some time about some of the little things in the world that count as (or that should count as) tragic. (See my previous post about "Walking on Sunshine".) Note: These are not seriously tragic issues that are about real human suffering. They are minor things that don't have any really major implications. They are minor tragedies, with the emphasis on "minor".

Tops on my list: Churches that have "hours of operation". There is something horrible about the notion that churches and synagogues (and mosques, I assume) have locks on their doors and that certain people hold the keys and that the doors are sometimes locked. It's a symptom of the world we live in, and I understand it. However, I believe in my heart that this is a very sad state of affairs. These places should offer sanctuary. They should be places of refuge. That's not a part-time endeavour. To my way of thinking, it's an all-or-nothing proposition. (All-or-nothing in terms of when this sanctuary is offered, not all-or-nothing in terms of what the refuge should be offered for.) I firmly believe that criminals should be brought to justice, and that means that a church should not offer protection from the law. However, in terms of offering refuge from the pressures of the world, I believe that a church should serve its function at 3.45 a.m., just as well as it should at noon or at 2.54 p.m.

Next on my list: Ronnie Spector's vocals on The Ronettes' version of "Frosty the Snowman". I can't really explain why, but it's absolutely heartwrenching to me. The song is kind of a happy song, filled with all that childlike wonder and Christmastime joy. And Phil Spector's "wall of sound" is almost the very definition of "joyful noise". How could something so positively exuberant possibly land on my list of "minor tragedies"? I'm not really sure. But what I am sure of is that that vocal just kills me every time! No kidding: it brings me to the verge of tears.

And last for now: The third part of the bell ringer joke. For years, we've been hearing that the third part of the joke is a major letdown after the pure comic genius of the first two parts. Nobody who had heard the third part would ever even tell us the third part, because either (a) "it's so bad that it isn't worth repeating" or (b) "it was so bad that I forgot what it was". In previous posts, I've mentioned two uncles. This "I forgot it" excuse was offered up by uncle #3. Well, a couple of days ago, Beth got it into her head to try to track down the third part on the internet. What she dug up was so abominable that it lived up (down?) to all the hype (anti-hype?). So I forwarded it to my uncle, who responded that not only was it not what he had heard, but that it was actually better than what he had heard. So he did some digging of his own and produced an alternative third part. Frankly, both versions are so horrible that they can't adequately be described. I'm hard-pressed to judge which of the two is worse. In either case, the third part of the joke is third on my list of "minor tragedies".

What the world needs, I think, is something along the lines of the Ansari X Prize, but with the goal of getting a genuinely funny third bell ringer joke. It may take a few years of our finest minds working towards the solution, but I think it can probably be done. It's a noble goal. Too bad I'm not independently wealthy!

Friday, August 4, 2006

An Update and A Random Observation


So it's been a while since my last post. In the intervening time, we took a little vacation to Las Vegas and surrounding areas (Zion and Bryce in Utah, and a quick trip into California to visit my aunt and uncle). Zion and Bryce are spectacular. Vegas is a spectacle. And California was on fire! (We saw lots of smoke from wildfires and were close enough that we actually saw a dump of fire retardant from a helicopter.) Fires notwithstanding, California was inspirational, as we passed by (through) a huge wind farm. How people can say that those windmills are an eyesore is completely beyond my comprehension. I think they're beautiful, partly because of the pure aesthetics and partly because of what they represent.

While in Vegas, we renewed our vows on our third wedding anniversary with a giant Elvis as the officiant. (Perhaps I'll post a picture or two sometime.)

Since then, we've had our first official house guests in the new house. Chris and Petra came to visit a week ago. They had just gotten engaged after the start of their road trip. (We were at the tail end of their trip.) So I guess we got the honor of being the first people "from back home" to see the ring on Petra's finger. Congratulations again, Chris and Petra!

Otherwise, I've just been working too hard.

So that's the Update. And here's the Random Observation (for the purpose of easing me back into the swing of blogging without too much straining):

I think it may be an (tragic?) accident of history that I haven't heard "Walking on Sunshine" at all this summer. This may just be because I haven't been tuned in this year to whatever I had been tuned in to in all those previous years. The song had seemed inescapably pervasive for so many summers. I now find myself wondering whether perhaps I haven't heard it this year because nobody wants to say "Katrina and the Waves" (or to even think it) in the aftermath of the sinking of New Orleans.