Monthly Archives: July 2008

Are They Talking To Us?

The whole Unfocused family, I mean. We went to Navy Pier tonight to see Willy Wonka and ride the Ferris wheel. The garages on the Pier were full, so we parked a ways off and took the bus. This ad was right across from where we were sitting:

“Do you or someone in your family experience some or all of the following: * Easily distracted * Forgetful of daily activities * Overly active * Trouble paying attention to detail”



1,423 Words Written, of the Wrong Thing.

I wrote 503 words of Meet the Larssons today, again all on the train to and from the office. I still haven’t gotten through the dreaded scene, although I just learned something interesting connecting one character to another, so that’s fun.

After I put the kids to bed (the Mrs. was out at the house of one of the neighbors for one of those parties where women try to sell each other things; I don’t begin to understand those parties, but that’s off topic; for tonight, I’ll just say that I’m glad the Mrs. got out with some friends, which doesn’t happen much), I sat down to write. Did I open up MTL and start work again, under calmer circumstances than the Metra allows?

I did not. Instead, I started frantically typing up a short horror story I thought of at lunch. I wrote 1,423 words of that story tonight, which is at least half of the entire first draft (I estimate the final story will be 2500-3000 words). It’s sort of a Lovecraftian pastiche.

Yeah, I know: distracted by another shiny object. Sometimes, though, you just have to get the ideas out of your head.


I got 505 words written on Meet the Larssons today, all on the train. One of the things that’s been holding me back is the dread of writing a particular scene, involving a social situation in which I have next to no experience. So I changed the circumstances just enough that while it’s still awkward, I’m better able to put my head into the protagonist’s circumstances and think through his actions and reactions.

I have also finished revising the science fiction story I mentioned in this post, and submitted it to an online market. I caught Mrs. Unfocused chuckling a couple of times while she read it for the first time this evening, so I have some hope after all.

In other news, we did not win the Mega Millions lottery tonight, which means I need to go to work tomorrow.

Summer Sunday Stats #2: Just Walk Away.

Another long silence here at The Unfocused Life. Because, y’know, I lost my focus. My father-in-law had open heart surgery on Wednesday, and it’s been a little chaotic since with that added onto everything else that’s going on. The important thing is that he’s doing fine, out of intensive care, and charming the nurses. The latest word is that he’ll be out of the hospital in a few days, which is when the real recovery begins.

Summer Sunday Stats:

Miles run: 9.97, in 1:24:33. How does the same run vary so widely in distance every week? Bizarre. I was wrong in my post for last Sunday: my time was 1:28:04, so this was a huge improvement. The big difference is the speedwork I did on a treadmill on Thursday at the gym.

Weather: hot and muggy (welcome to Chicago in July), but it was overcast, so I didn’t have the sun beating down on me the whole way (another improvement over last week).

What was playing on my iPod: Phedippidations # 145 (Topic: Running Legend Frank Shorter), and Greatest Hits: Huey Lewis and the News. There are some great running tunes included in the Huey Lewis collection, although for me, the sentimental favorite is still Heart and Soul.

Words written in Meet the Larssons: yeah, well, it’s been a tough week.

Did you at least finish revising the short story you wrote on your Blackberry: shut up.

Time-sucking obsessive Internet search instead of writing: I’m so glad you asked. I’ve had this song going through my head nearly constantly since shortly after it hit the airwaves on WPLJ in 1984 (right before WPLJ betrayed every single one of its listeners and went Top 40, the lousy bastards). It started going through my head last night while I was trying to edit a brief, so I tried hunting it down. The song is Walk Away Renee, the 1984 cover by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I was surprised to see the song has its own Wikipedia entry – fascinating story, none of which I knew before last night. I bought the CD from the Jukes’ website, and downloaded the original by the Left Banke from Amazon. Here’s a link to a video performance of the 1966 hit by the Left Banke:

Don’t ask me why this song has been stuck in my head for 24 years. I have no idea.

Oops. I Finished a Short Story.

I didn’t mean to, honest. A few months ago, I started writing a short story by emailing a few paragraphs to myself on my Blackberry while I waited for my sandwich at Cosi’s. Over the course of a month or two, I emailed half a dozen bits to myself while standing in line to buy lunch or other mundane tasks. Then I lost interest.

Tonight, I opened it up to see where it was. I finished the job of importing the emails into Scrivener, and realized I was just about done. So I took half an hour (hey, it’s my birthday) and finished it.

The first draft of “Dear Mr. President” is 2,080 words long. I’ll try to finish revisions by Sunday night, and submit it Sunday night or Monday morning. There are a few online markets that I think I’ll try; I don’t plan to shoot for the moon with this one, but I won’t consider non-paying markets until I’ve run out of paying options.

Is it my best work? No, probably not. But I think it’s a fun little alternate history story, and there might be a place for it somewhere. I don’t have as much invested in it as I did in “Test Tube Beneficiaries” (no response yet to the second submission, but thanks for asking), which I hope means I won’t need to go through six sets of revisions before I can let it go.

But how about that? When I sat down tonight, I had no plans to work on this story at all, and now I’ve gone and finished the first draft. What the hell, though; it’s my birthday. Yay, me.

I Can Haz Prezentz?!?

Mrs. Unfocused got her supergenius freelance art director and designer friend, Housecat No More, to design a t-shirt for me based on one of my recent blog posts. In the post, it seems I said I was going to get this printed on a t-shirt; the Mrs. beat me to it. Here I am wearing my prize:

I have another one — same message, but the shirt is light blue (so calming!). I also got some other stuff, and very nice cards. My family is wonderful.

Today’s My Birthday.

Today’s my birthday. I’m 39, and I have to leave off harassing Mrs. Unfocused about being the older woman.

We celebrated yesterday with cake and a visit from a college friend and his daughter, which was good fun. On Saturday, we got together with another college friend from out of town, and his wife and daughters, so it was a very collegiate weekend.

I did get my long run in yesterday. I went out late, at about 10:30, so it was already pretty hot, and again, my training fell off in the last couple of weeks, so I wasn’t terribly fast: 9.85 miles in 1:27 and change (don’t have my watch in front of me for the exact time). I’m okay with that, because at least I got it done. I should get a little more running in this week.

Birthday or not, I’ve gotta go to work.

Back to the Larssons.

June, quite simply, kicked my ass. Between May 28 and July 3, I spent 16 days on the road, and generally worked my keister off the rest of the time. It annoyed the kids, (Unfocused Girl, in particular), messed up my running schedule, cut my week at the beach into a weekend, and dumped extra work on the already-overburdened Mrs. Unfocused.

It also, unsurprisingly, took whatever discipline I had about my writing and put a bullet through its kneecap. How bad did it get, you ask? I scrolled back through the archives to find the post announcing I had hit 75,000 words. Here it is: Spring Sunday Stats #2, my post from May 18. That day, I added 2,200 words to my word count, and finished at 75,945.

Where am I now? This evening I wrote just over 1,000 words, and finished at 80,718. In the last eight weeks, I have managed to write a little less than 4,800 words. Before 6pm this evening, that number would have been 3,800, mostly consisting of two or three hundred word bursts typed on the train during my commute.

The travel did most of the damage. I’ve had very little downtime on these trips — there’s been a lot of sitting around in conference rooms, but very little time when I’ve been off the clock — and even on the plane traveling to and from my meetings, I’ve either been working or catching up on my sleep.

Even when I’ve been home, though, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting back into Meet the Larssons. I think writing on the train, which I’ve been doing for months, has been part of the problem. Instead of using the train time to supplement my writing at home in the evenings and on the weekends, it became my primary writing time. The problem is that my commute is too short to give me time to think about what I’m writing, or to get my head back into the characters and storyline. Without the longer blocks of time at home, my writing on the train gradually decoupled from the broader arc of the novel, and it got harder and harder to keep going.

I finally figured this out over the Fourth of July weekend. When I realized what the problem was, I started rereading the early chapters of MTL, to try and get back into the book. It worked beautifully. I have a page of notes after reading the first four chapters, knocked out 1,000 words tonight that start bringing back ideas I had for the book back when I started writing it, and have half a page of notes for the next chapter. I may keep rereading, but these early chapters may have been enough. Now I just need to recapture the discipline I had developed back in March and April, and I may yet have this first draft finished by Labor Day.

Also, you may notice that I have revised my word count goal in the meter in the sidebar from 100,000 to 125,000. I think that’s more realistic for this draft than the 100,000 I’ve been working with; there are close to 20,000 words in the first eight chapters that I expect to cut in the first revision; they contain important backstory, but I don’t think they work as part of the narrative, and clearly I’m not 80 percent finished telling the story. 125K is a good enough estimate for the first draft, and I’ll try to take it closer to 100K in the next draft.

Finally, not that my comments on your blogs are anything special, but if you’ve noticed I haven’t been commenting on your blog posts, it’s because I haven’t been commenting on (hardly) anything. I just haven’t had the time or the energy. I have been reading your blogs, though, and will try to stop lurking and start participating a little more now that my travel schedule has slowed down a bit.

Always Crazy, Sometimes Wrong.

That’s how Junior described his old man tonight. I’m gonna get it printed on a t-shirt.

And happy happy happy happy birthday to Mrs. Unfocused, to whom I have given… nothing.

Not my fault, though. Blame Steve Jobs. Three more days.


Thank you for your good wishes in the comments and otherwise. They’re much appreciated.
Junior was a little cranky through lunch, but today Junior started to own his broken arm. We walked to the diner like any other weekend, and he was almost (but not quite) as independent as he usually is; the difference was that he didn’t run ahead to each corner, trying to race his sister. As he said this afternoon coming home from Starbucks, “I can’t race with a broken arm.” But he wore his hat backwards (which, for those of you not in the know, makes it a running hat) and never once asked to be carried, already a huge change from yesterday.
He had a more active day, and has started to learn to use his left hand for things like building with Legos. He waited all weekend for his buddy I. from up the street to come home; I. and his family finally got home around dinner time, and Junior delighted in telling his harrowing tale.
We told Junior yesterday that he would need to have the cast on for about 45 days; he denied it, then got mad, then tried to bargain us down, but we held firm on that figure — no point in raising false hopes. He’s accepted it now. As we went inside for dinner tonight after he showed his cast to I., one of I.’s older brothers told Junior to get better soon. In response, Junior shouted from the top of the porch stairs, “I’ll get better… for forty-five days!”
A picture* of Junior with Unfocused Girl at the end of this post shows him at his defiant best (that’s a lollipop, not a cigarette, by the way; the sling is a custom job by Mrs. Unfocused — she bought more printed fabric today, and I’ll try to post a shot of him wearing the Batman sling when that’s finished).
Last best thing — Junior read to me tonight: The Eye Book, by Dr. Seuss, sounding it out and only needing help on some of the more complicated, counter-intuitive words (“Our,” “They,” “Sometimes”). It was hard work for him, but he pushed through to the end. We’ve been working on his reading for a while, and since school ended, he’s really started making an effort. What do you think that means?
In other news, Unfocused Girl put on her Batgirl costume right after breakfast this morning and wore it all day despite 80+ degree weather, including to the diner and to Starbucks. My secret plan to corrupt their minds with comic books is working. That’s her “watching from the rooftops” pose.
Unfocused Junior and Unfocused Girl, ready for anything.

Unfocused Junior and Unfocused Girl, ready for anything.

Finally, I note that I have not yet begun a petition drive to make slides illegal in the City of Chicago. Based on the recent track record of the City Council (thanks for the sparkler ban, by the way!), I’d probably have a better than even chance of getting an ordinance passed if I really worked at it. As it is, though, I don’t expect to change anything about the slide in our own backyard, where the Unfortunate Incident occurred. I told Unfocused Girl today that I’d appreciate it if she’d refrain from climbing up the slide for a day or two, until I get my equilibrium back, and I’ll point out to Junior (once his cast is off and he can climb up onto the playset again) that he should go down the slide on his bottom, not on foot, but other than that I don’t know what else there is to do. I could enclose it in a big plastic tube, I suppose, but that would get really unpleasant on summer days.

* This photograph is copyright 2008, all rights reserved. The remainder of the post is subject to the usual Creative Commons license (see the sidebar for details), but I don’t release the rights to pictures of my kids.