Topic Shotgun!

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The semester is coming to an end. I know this, not because of the date, but because of all the projects that are coming due. I find myself a little melancholy at the prospect of the semester ending. With the exception of one class, which I thought was badly planned and badly executed, I’ve truly enjoyed my classes. However, it is time to think about the summer. This summer, I have an internship. There are two possible sites. I had an interview at one of them this morning. It looks like a great place, but I know I need to keep an open mind. I also need a part time job. Hmmm. Too bad I’m not allowed to combine the two.

I have four tests coming up, plus 3 lab practicals. Fortunately, the class I don’t particularly like has no final. Is it strange that I’m looking forward to the tests and practicals? Most of the other students don’t seem to share the attitude, so I try to keep it to myself.

While waiting for my interview this morning, I started a quasi-stream of consciousness piece. Depending on the quality of the final piece, I may post it here, or I may even try to send it in…somewhere. Not sure what genre it will be. So far it looks promising, but I may just be hyped up for the interview. At this point, it is first person narrative, so I’ll post a “this post is fiction” notice if I post it here.

Speaking of writing, I’ve come to the realization that my writing, specifically my fiction writing, is fairly minimalist in terms of descriptions of the environments. Obviously, since I’ve recently realized it, it’s been an unconscious decision. Now I wonder if I need to do two passes in order to come up with a first draft: one to write the story, and a second to fill in the description. Or should I make a conscious decision to leave things minimal. I think of van Gough using only three lines to draw a cat (I think it was van Gough). It’s possible that having the reader fill in details from their own memories and experiences, it’ll make them more invested in the story. “Here I am. In a hospital bed. No idea of how I got here.” Another way of doing it is description by effect on the character. “She had the kind of beauty that made me think of Kali: mother and destroyer.” Any ideas?

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Slipping into Banality

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I sometimes wonder about me. I’m overloaded in school. I have little to no time outside of school because I’m preparing for school. And what do I do? I download and listen to lecture series on my commute that have nothing to do with what I’m learning in school. This semester, I’m drowning in physiology, struggling to keep up in performance enhancement, and relying almost completely on recall from class in program design. So I grab lecture series on Chaucer, the history of the English language, and reclaiming Europe’s lost literary tradition. I listen to these while traveling from one campus to another.

Why do I do this? I don’t know. Maybe I’m addicted to learning. I know that some of my other recent choice in audiobooks are: Slights of Mind (a book on the neuroscience of perception and stage magic), Freakonomics (a book which uses the statistical and analysis tools of economics on non-traditional subjects), and The Invisible Gorilla (a book which explores our often mistaken assumptions on how we perceive and recall the world around us).

Somebody described my activities to me as “creating a bigger net”. The analogy is the bigger the net, the easier it is to catch fish. Unfortunately, I may be heading towards an information overload. I fully expect, at some point this semester, to be found curled up in the corner of the library, giggling, and saying, “Here fishy, fishy, fishy.”

A Personal Fitness Trainer’s Dictionary

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Late in my high school career, I discovered Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary. I was so taken by its cynical and humorous redefining of everyday words, I started doing it on occasion. When given the freedom to be creative with one of my college papers, I used this definition format. I’ve since occasionally come up with new definitions that tickled my fancy. For instance:

Paradox: Two piers side-by-side, one of which cannot logically exist.

I recently rediscovered The Devil’s Dictionary. It inspired me, or perhaps challenged is the better word, to do another thematic list. Since I’m currently working towards an Associates of Applied Science in Personal Fitness Training, I thought I’d see what I could do with some of the concepts. Some are amusing, some are less than stellar, but it was an interesting exercise. Here are my definitions of relevance to personal trainers:

Cardiorespiratory – if blood were air, pushing this will make your heart gasp

Endurance – a partial trance state which allows you to beat up your body, and your body will thank you…much later

Exercise – Banishing fat through movement instead of bell, book, and candle

Expensive – no longer thinking

Fitness – the quality of being able to wear the clothes you want

Frustration – psychological resistance through which the mind can prove itself wrong

Group Exercise – banishing fat through movement instead of bell, book, and candle…with friends

Guilt – mistaking dross for gold and providing a reason to do better

Gym – a healthy jungle of metal and machine

Heart Rate
How fast does my heart beat for me?
Far less than it beats for you.
And yet it is sufficient
That it beats in time.

Rehabilitation – making your body livable again

Resistance – something by which achievement becomes meaningful

Spa – Special Privilege of Affluence, or less cynically, Sound Preventive Activities

Strength – the ability to bear up under pressure

Train – to do something over and over in order to pull your baggage up a hill

Weigh – something you don’t want to do after you eat too many curds

Wellness – not just the characteristic of being a hole in the ground

Weird Advertising

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Every now and then you see something just enough out of place to twist your mind a little. I’m not talking about something that’s obviously in the wrong place or something that is in bad taste. I’m talking about something that would make perfect sense, if it were in a slightly different place.

I live in Austin, Texas. Lots of good things about it. Also lots of bad things about it. But none of them is the point of this post. One of the grassroots marketing campaign by local businesses is the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign. You see this slogan on T-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons, coffee mugs…the list goes on. It started a few years ago in response to an increase in big box and chain stores. The whole point is that for many years, Austin has enjoyed a reputation for being a little off-kilter…especially when compared to the rest of Texas.

Austin has several bedroom communities which were originally townships in their own right. One of them, Round Rock, seems to have latched on to the “Keep Austin Weird” idea. I’ve seen a number of bumper stickers reading “Keep Round Rock a Little Less Weird Than Austin”. I admit I got a chuckle out of seeing that, and as a marketing idea, it seems to have worked. Another bedroom community, Pflugerville, has almost set itself up in opposition with a “Keep Pflugerville Normal” campaign. A little less effective, especially since it only works in relation to the “Keep Austin Weird” campaign.

With that in mind, I saw something a while back that twisted my mind a little. I was driving through Pflugerville to teach a private lesson when I saw a billboard for 7-11 convenience stores. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself; after all, every business needs to advertise. What caught my eye was the billboard’s tag-line. Normally, if you think of a 7-11 tag-line, you’ll probably come up with “Oh, thank Heaven!” Nope. Not even close. This Pflugerville billboard’s tag-line was “Around Every Weird Little Corner”.

It took me a while to realize why the billboard bothered me. The slogan was awkward and didn’t really mean anything. Then I realized it was about five miles too far northeast. It might have been a good idea. After all, they’re acknowledging (or at least trying to acknowledge) the uniqueness of Austin, play upon its citizens’ pride of where they live. (More cynically, they’re trying to piggyback on an already existing and successful marketing campaign.) Either way, putting a billboard touting “weird”ness in a community that takes pride in “Keep[ing] Pflugerville Normal” seems like such a basic error that I just had to roll my eyes. I’m not sure whether to laugh or pity the advertising group.

Yes, it’s maintained TOPA (Top of Mind Awareness), one of the major goals of any marketing campaign. Unfortunately for them, it’s not a “let’s go to 7-11” awareness, it’s now filed in my mind as “marketing campaign that brained itself coming out of the gate.”

Word Counts: The Ultimate Procrastination Tool

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Setting a word count goal is a massively useful tool for chronic procrastinators. I set a word count goal and immediately accomplished several chores I’ve been putting off. There’s just something about having a concrete measure that encourages me to say “I can make it up after I (fill in the blank) .”

The writing program “Scrivener” has a couple of ways of tracking your word count. So if the session goal isn’t enough for you to finish your chores, you can go back and check your entire manuscript word count for that extra boost you need to clean the cat box.

Not only do you gain the benefit of having an extra-clean house, by setting a word count goal, you finally have proof that your inner negativity can point to to justify all your “I suck at the writing” urges. Why is this good? I’ll tell you. It allows you to later rebel against THE MAN by spending time creating bad writing.

Imagine! Just one tool can give you an extra-clean house, a way to satisfy those masochistic “I suck” urges, AND stick it to THE MAN. How cool is that?

All joking aside, though. Having a word count goal is an excellent way to concretely measure your productivity. It’s a great way to counter the “you can’t measure creativity” arguments. Aside from that, there’s always something satisfying about crossing a finish line. The Tour-de-France is not raced all at once, it’s a series of successive races. Writing a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, is much the same. It’s not written all at one sitting; it is written in a series of sessions.

Even if you consistently fail to meet your word count goal, just having it means you have something to reach for. Just as with weight lifting, you keep trying, building strength in increasing weights until you can lift your goal consistently. Consistently is the key, not ease of doing it. Once you have consistent success, then you increase your word count goal per session.

I have my word count goal as 2,000 words per day. Lately, I’ve barely been able to get 1,000. But I know there are times when those 1,000 words are all that’s necessary to say what needs to be said.

(BTW: The word count for this blog, including this message is: 385)

Cat Wars: The Beast Pt. 2

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The Mighty Huntress sprawled in the center of her Home Territory. The enemy hadn’t come sniffing at the crack under the Great Barrier in a while. All was well with the world. If she was lucky, Two-Legged Alpha would bring a sample of the extra-tasty treats he occasionally found–or caught, she could never figure out which.

In the midst of this very pleasing contemplation, the Great Barrier opened–and stayed open! It wasn’t yet prowl time, and this development confused and worried her. She jumped to the top of Soft Plateau and asked for reassurance. Two-Legged Alpha rubbed his fore-paw over her, but the distracted feel to his touch failed to entirely comfort.

After only a couple of strokes, Two-Legged Alpha rummaged around on the floor, clearing out a lot of clear space. The Mighty Huntress was slightly reassured. He’d done this periodically. It wouldn’t take long, and peace was quickly restored. But not this time.

Two-Legged Alpha rummaged around on the Tiny Plain outside the Great Barrier. Taht was odd. The only times he’d done that, he’d awakend….

VROOOM!

The Beast was invading!

As the Beast crossed into her territory, the Mighty Huntress vanished and reappeared in the caves under Soft Plateau. Onward came the Beast! But Two-Legged Alpha was stalking it. He’d managed to grab it!

It was a mighty struggle. Back and forth they surged, covering the entire cleared space. Finally Two-Legged Alpha managed to rake it with a hind claw and the Beast went silent. Two-Legged Alpha dragged the corpse back onto the Tiny Plain.

A significant clearing of space had occurred, and not just in the center of the room. Two-Legged Alpha paused to look at the hard outcropping next to one end of Soft Plateau. To her shock, Two-Legged Alpha picked up the outcropping! He not only picked it up, he moved it to the other end of Soft Plateau and placed in line with Soft Plateau’s length. Then he left, leaving the Great Barrier open.

The Mighty Huntress followed him out the door, but stopped at the top of the stairs and watched him turn the corner at the bottom. Then she went back to her Home Territory to investigate the changes in landscape. She sniffed the hole where the outcropping used to be, but could discover nothing.

Moments later she heard something outside the opened Great Barrier. A quick look over her shoulder showed the Mighty Huntress that Two-Legged Alpha was struggling with another outcropping! She returned to the caves under Soft Plateau. Two-Legged Alpha placed the new outcropping where the previous one used to be.

This new one was bigger, sturdier. It had more space and two levels of caves: one on the floor, one just under the top. Though the second level smelled strongly of The Mastermind. It definitely belonged to Two-Legged Alpha first and The Mastermind second. The Mighty Huntress would have to make do with the floor level. Nothing new with that. She settled in to make it her own.

ArmadilloCon

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ArmadilloCon is one of those conventions that seeps into your blood. It’s not a wild “PartyCon”, nor is it known for outstanding costumes. This is not to say there aren’t any parties, or there are no costumes. On the contrary, there are usually two or three public parties and several private ones. Likewise people do show up in costume. This year, the notable costumes were a Victorian woman (spoiled only by a modern stroller), and a steampunk warrior whose armor seemed to be made from a spray painted set of lacrosse pads. ArmadilloCon definitely falls into the category of “Relax-i-Con”.

Few parties, fewer costumes, and a very relaxed atmosphere; yet I find myself coming back year after year. It is a science fiction/fantasy convention, but unlike most such, the emphasis is on writing rather than visual media. The panels are intimate, and the great majority of panelists are easy to approach. As might be expected at a literature-based convention, there are plenty of readings by authors and book signings. There are also many panels on various aspects on the craft of writing. Some of the panels I attended I would consider my favorites from this year’s lineup include: “The Still Changing Definition of Urban Fantasy”, “Story Ideas I Hope to Never See Again”, “Stump the Panel”, and “Writing Erotic Fiction”.

I find it amusing, though not terribly surprising, that the “Writing Erotic Fiction” panel is always among the funniest, most productive, and most helpful in improving the craft of writing–even in other genres. Maybe it has to do with the types of personality that write such things. Maybe it’s that the panel is held late at night when inhibitions have dropped. Whatever the reason, at every convention I’ve attended that had such a panel, the erotic writing panel has always been among the best. I recommend going, even if you’re not interested in erotic writing per se.

In additionn to the panels, the attendees at ArmadilloCon are friendly and willing to talk about nearly anything. Making new friends is easy, even for rampant introverts. Even shy people might find it easier to approach people here. Ironically, despite me living locally, most of the friends I’ve made this year live a fair distance away–like Oklahoma.

The most memorable thing that happened to me at this year’s con was talking with Elizabeth Moon for half an hour. (Yes, that Elizabeth Moon.) We started off with shooting candy from her miniature replica crossbow and talked about stuff ranging from how she chooses her reading selections to autism to getting to wield the actual Lord of the Rings swords used on the set (i.e. not the backups).

The only thing I regret is the tendency of this Con to sneak up on me. Why do I regret it? There is a writing workshop I would love to participate in. Unfortunately, by the time I’m aware of the approaching Con, it’s long past the deadline for submitting to the workshop. I’d love to get feedback from published authors, editors, and agents.

If you want to attend a convention with wild costumes and wilder parties, go to DragonCon. If you want a relaxed atmosphere, or an introduction to genre literature, or you want to examine and improve your own writing, ArmadilloCon is truly an excellent convention.

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