Monthly Archives: March 2009

Spring (HAH!) Sunday Stats #2: I Still Have All 9 Toes.

Since today’s stats will be mostly taken up with my race report on the 2009 Shamrock Shuffle 8k race this morning, I’m going to get the writing report out of the way.  Here goes:

On Writing: I got through another 35 pages of Meet the Larssons (to 311), re-reading and marking up on the train.  I have had no time at all to work on it in the evenings or even at lunch, but even so, it’s moving along a little.  I didn’t do anything on it this weekend; Saturday was taken up with personal business stuff, and today was the race and then Junior’s 5-1/4th birthday party (he turned 5 at the end of December but we put off his party to get past the holidays and in hopes of warmer weather, ha ha), so no room for writing. Maybe this week will be better, but I think I’ve got another 2-3 weeks at this level of intensity before things even out.

On Running: The weather report last night looked pretty bad, and for once the predictions were spot on. It started snowing around midnight, and by 7:30am (two hours before race start), this is what it looked like in our backyard. It was about 30 degrees.

I got downtown early enough and trudged half a mile through the slush to the C0ngress H0tel, where CARA (the Chicago Area Runners Association) had its indoor, members-only gear check. By the time I got there, my shoes were already soaked through from the enormous puddles of slush everywhere.  I ducked into the Starbucks at the Blackstone Hotel on the next block for a quick espresso (which I think helps my time), and this is what it looked like on Michigan Avenue just before 9am:

Michigan at Balbo, 30 minutes to start

Michigan at Balbo, 30 minutes to start

I trudged through more icy slush to my start corral, and was in place by 9:15, 15 minutes before the start of the race.  I had earned a preferred starting position by time last year, which in a race with 30,000+ entrants, is a big deal — if you’re stuck at the back, it can take 20 minutes just to get across the starting line, and you’re backed up for most of the race. The price is that you have to be in your corral early, which today meant 15 minutes of standing in place with my feet slowly numbing.  Here I am at the start:

Why is this man smiling?

Why is this man smiling?

I was smiling because my toes had stopped hurting; I couldn’t feel them at all.  And I didn’t for the rest of the race.

My goal was to finish in less than 38 minutes, since I’m pretty sure that’s the time I need to get the same starting position next year.  Since I did more than 2 minutes better than that last year, I thought it was possible, but considering the weather and my inconsistent running over the winter, I wasn’t sure.

There was no let up in the snow, wind, or the slush for the whole race.  The Sun-Times has pictures here; the Tribune has pictures here.  Race conditions were miserable to outright shitty, worse than the torrential rain during the 2008 Chicago Half Marathon, since the temperature was 30 degrees lower.

I missed the first two mile markers and I wasn’t wearing a watch (still need a new battery), so I was shocked when I got to the 3-mile mark and saw that I’d been running much faster than I thought.  I was able to finish in 36:48, almost exactly a minute slower than last year but comfortably under my goal time.  Here I am at the finish; you can see that the weather didn’t get any better.  At this point, I was happy about my time but seriously concerned about frostbite on my toes and possibly the soles of my feet.

It's all over but the screaming.

It's all over but the screaming.

I hurried through the finisher chutes, got more coffee, and grabbed my dry clothes.  I considered changing at the hotel, but was worried that my feet would just get wet again by the time I got to the garage, so I waited until I was in my car and got out of my wet tights, socks, and shoes and into dry things.  My feet felt better in new wool socks and dry running shoes, but the feeling didn’t really start to come back until I got into the shower an hour later, and then the pins and needles were almost excrutiating.  It’s almost 9pm as I write this, and my feet still feel tingly and weird.

I was really surprised at my time, considering that my shoes alone must each have been carrying an extra 5 pounds of water with every step.  And the running I did on the treadmill this winter did a better job of maintaining my speed than I thought it would; I’m really glad we bought it.  Thank you, Craigslist.

All in all, I’m glad I did it, but it was pretty stupid.  I think 33,000 people registered for the race, and just over 13,000 finished.  There’s always a little attrition at races, but two-thirds?  Where’s that flinty Chicago toughness we’re known for?


Shamrock Shuffle 2009: Race Day Morning.

Oh, frak.  Here’s what it looks like 2 hours before the start of the Shamrock Shuffle:

Race Day Morning 1

The snow is falling too fast to get a good shot with my iPhone, but I think you can see the blurred flakes.  Spring racing season.  Sheesh.

Also, we put off Junior’s 5th birthday party from December to today so that the weather would be nicer.  Sheesh again.

Not Going for a PR.

The Chicago racing season opens tomorrow with the Shamrock Shuffle.  The first race of spring!  I’m totally ready, all my gear laid out, timing chip tied onto my shoes, bib number and pins set out; keys, wallet, phone near the door.  I’m raring to go.

I love the Shuffle.  Thirty thousand joyous Chicago runners, casting off their winter’s torpor and cold weather running gear to welcome spring to…


Weather forecast for March 29, 2009: snow starting around midnight and continuing well past the 9:30am starting gun, temperature at race start a balmy 33 degrees (Fahrenheit), winds of up to 25 mph driving the snow into the runners’ faces.

On the upside, the race course should be a little less crowded than usual.

My time last year was a little under 36 minutes, and while my big goal is hanging on to my preferred starting position for next year, I’d really like to beat that time.  I think that’s doable if I…

BWAHAHAHAHAHA!  Yeah, no chance of a personal record in snow shoes.

Shocking Myself.

As expected, I’m getting hammered this week at work (most of which would have happened even if I’d worked more over the weekend), so the only “writing” I’ve been doing is re-reading Meet the Larssons on the train and marking up the manuscript as I go.  I’m not doing heavy editing at this point — I’ve given up on that for now, I want to get the structure right before I do any more at that level of detail — but I’m making edits as I spot them.  What is surprising me, now that I’m not looking to rewrite entire scenes as I got but just to outline new scenes and try to see where old scenes might fit, is that now that I’ve hit the second half of the draft, it isn’t entirely godawful.  There are pages and pages of prose that aren’t all crap.  There are plenty that are, but not all of them.

I mean, it probably is all crap, when measured against some artificial, commercial, “would people not related to you pay money to read this” kind of standard that editors and agents, with their “experience” and “real-world” understanding of the so-called “market,” would use.  But I’m reading it and not totally repulsed, now that I’m allowing myself to enjoy it.

This is new.  This is good.

Spring Sunday Stats #1: Cooler By The Lake.

I took a couple of mental health days this weekend and got very little done for work, and even left the Blackberry off (mostly).  I’ll pay for it this week, because things are still crazy at work, but it was worth it.

I’m wiped out from the weekend — lots of time outside, playing with the kids — so let’s go straight to the stats.

On Writing: I did more on the revision of Meet the Larssons on Friday on the train, and then in a solid 90-minute block on Saturday afternoon. I’m continuing the manuscript slog to a point; where a scene is still usable, I’ll mark it up as I go, but I’m not writing new scenes at this point, just making notes and moving on.  The goal is to get through the rest of the manuscript so that I can see what is salvageable, what needs to be moved, and what needs to be written from scratch.

Tonight I’ve started looking for a new place to submit “Jimmies.”  I want to have some idea where I’m sending it next before I start revising it based on the last rejection.

Also, on Saturday I tried Write or Die for the first time, and had a wonderful time.  As the sidebar widget says, I wrote 305 words in 10 minutes, and only had to listen to the horrible penalty sound one time for pausing (and that was a deliberate test).  Highly recommended.

On Running: A beautiful, sunny day for a run. I did 10 miles in a leisurely 90 minutes, my first outdoor 10-miler in God knows how long, in shorts and a sleeveless top, no less.  The temperature dropped 10-15 degrees as I approached the lakefront, though, and by the time I got to Lake Shore Drive I was glad to turn around.

On the iPod: During my run today, I listened to an Episode 27 of XFM’s series “Writers on Writing,” an interview with Amy Tan.  It was interesting enough, I guess, but was almost entirely a discussion of Tan’s childhood and how it related to the characters in The Joy Luck Club.  The show itself seems to be misnamed, however, since there was no discussion at all about writing.  This was the first episode I’ve tried; I also downloaded Episode 7, with cyberpunk author William Gibson, and will listen to that next to give it another shot.  Also on the iPod this week:  Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Show 25 (The Dyer Outlook); NPR Planet Money # 20 (Not So Toxic?); I Should Be Writing #113 (Paul Malmont and Brett Savory interviews); Escape Pod #191 (“This Is How It Feels,” by Ian Creasey); and Phedippidations #178 (All in Stride).  So there you have it: I get longer runs, you get more links to podcasty goodness.

A Brief Moment of Connection.

We have had internet connectivity failure of catastrophic proportions here at Casa Unfocused, leaving me to make snarky Twitter and Facebook posts using my iPhone but effectively unable to access my blog.  I do have the iPhone app for WordPress, but haven’t used it much and do not look forward to drafting an entire post on the touchscreen keyboard.

Does anyone else remember the Timex Sinclair 1000 and its membrane keyboard? I remember when they dropped the price to $49.99 — hundred dollar laptop, nothing.  But I digress.  Sorry, a privilege of the soon-to-be-40.

In any event, we are seriously considering switching from C0mcast cable internet to DSL.  Seven years of intermittent service (5-10 modem reboots a day) is probably enough.  If any of you are using/have used recently DSL in the Chicago area and have opinions you’d like to share, I’d be interested in hearing them.

I’ve actually made some progress on Meet the Larssons in the last day or so, re-reading and editing scenes that can be salvaged and making notes about new scenes instead of trying to write them out.  I’ll post more about MTL tomorrow, but I feel like I’m getting back into it.

Friday. Finally.

This has been an exhausting week, and I will be delighted to put a bullet in it, roll the body into a shallow grave, kick some dirt and leaves onto it and leave it behind in the woods. But first I’ll spit on it.

Perhaps I exaggerate, just a bit.  After all, nothing bad happened. I got a boatload of work done, I continue to be not laid off, my paychecks continue to clear, everyone close to me is healthy.

And yet, so much of the last five days I’ve felt like I’ve had a finger stuck in an electrical outlet, with the current constantly running through my system, jangling my nerves and toasting my noggin. I think by the end of today, though, I’m going to be able to pull my finger out of that socket, at least for a little while, and breathe.

I think it turned around a little last night. I had to leave work early for the conference with Junior’s teacher (which went extremely well; my goofball boy has really started to bloom, academically speaking, in the last three months, like a switch flipped on), and then we all went out for dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant we’d never tried before. Everyone got something special:  Unfocused Girl and I had the osso bucco, the Siren had some kind of fancy pasta dish (I was too intent on the lamb to notice what, but it was tossed at the table in a big bowl of parmesan), and Junior had (as usual) pizza, but it was a special handmade pizza. Then we went home, put the kids to bed, and I spent an hour finishing a project I’ve spent the last two weeks on and finally getting it to the client.  I’ve got a lot to do today, but I think I’m going to get most of it done, with a minimum of pain (HAH!), and get out of the office at a reasonable time (double HAH!), maybe. I see a glass of wine in my future. Maybe a bottle.

No actual writing so far. A little outlining, and re-reading parts of Meet the Larssons to determine which scenes are salvageable, and which just need to go. No writing this week (or last, or the one before that), but I’m starting to see how to get back into the rewrite.

If I can pull together 15 minutes over the weekend, though, I may try banging out the start to a short story on Write or Die, just to keep those muscles from atrophying completely.  Hat tip to Amy for the link, and to Dr. Wicked for the creation.

I Can Has Award Show?

Finally, it’s time to give out the Proximidade Award, according to the rules I agreed to when I accepted it from Mike at Everything Under the Sun.  First, as a reminder, here are the rules and description of the award:

Proximidade Award

“This blog invests and believes the PROXIMITY – nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes of self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.”

I don’t really have any idea what this means, so I’m going to give this award out to eight bloggers I like, whether I know them or not, regardless of physical proximity or interest in prizes of self-aggrandizement.  There are many I could choose from, and these are some tough choices.  You were all under consideration, but the winners are:

Novelist blogs:  Amy at The Purple Patch, GypsyScarlett at her epynominous Weblog, Jenifer at Scribbling; C.E. Grayson at C.E. Grayson; Ralfast at Neither Here Nor There; J.C. Montgomery at Loose Leafs from a Commonplace.  Good people, good writers, and we’re all going through the same thing.  Maybe we’re at different stages and going at different paces, but it’s good to have company on the road.  Freshhell at Life in Scribbletown is on the same journey, but writes more often about Dusty and Red; I was stunned to find those weren’t their real names.  I just thought Freshhell liked Westerns.

Finally, of course, there’s Harriet at Spynotes, who I’ve known for going on 20 years, sang at my wedding, very thoughtfully had a son just six weeks after the Siren and I had Unfocused Girl so she’d have a friend, and was the first person I knew in real life whose blog I stumbled across by accident. Alone of this group, Harriet isn’t writing fiction (I think); instead, she’s writing her dissertation.

Eight winners, all sweating over words on a screen. Congratulations. The award is supposed to be about proximity, but since I’m giving it away, I get to decide what that means.  Proximity means closeness, and rather than limit myself to spatial proximity, I focused on a broader meaning, because really, we’re all in pretty much the same place.

Also, you’re all exceedingly charming. Like me.

Winter Sunday Stats #Final: The Last Sunday of Winter.

It’s about 7:30am. I got up early for no apparent reason (except possibly the stuffed pizza — one of our Pi Day pies from dinner last night — that’s sitting in my stomach like a rock; curse you, Giordano’s, and your tastilicious product! at least the Lactaid pills seem to be doing their job).  The oatmeal is a-cooking, and the coffee is a-brewing, and I think this is going to be my only opportunity to post today.

As I mentioned, I’ve been pretty busy at work these last several weeks, and it has made it almost impossible to write.  I’m working late, some at home but also staying late at the office, which I usually try not to do.  Even when I’ve gotten home at a decent time, we’ve got some personal stuff going on that requires some discussion (if you read my wife’s blog, she’s been going into considerable detail about it in her recent posts; to the extent I have something to say in public on the subject, I’ll probably do it in the comments there).

But those things aren’t distractions. My life, my job — they aren’t optional.  If there are times when my job heats up, well, that’s what they pay me for.  If the Siren and I need to talk, I can’t think of any more important way to spend my time.

On Friday, I found myself working on Meet the Larssons for the first time in weeks.  Sitting on the train Friday morning, I pulled out the chapters I’ve been carrying around in my briefcase (the last one I revised, for reference, and then the next three), uncapped a pen, and settled in to slog through a few pages before I got downtown.

Instead, I realized that the chapters I had with me — Chapters 18, 19, and 20 in the original manuscript — simply didn’t work where they were.  I’d always known the middle of the book (and by middle I mean roughly 50% of the word count) didn’t work, because I had moved one story arc too quickly, one way too slowly, and another not at all.  I have finally hit that point in the book in the Manuscript Slog, and it was like running into a brick wall.  I can’t “edit” these chapters, I can’t revise them or mark them up and make them into something that works.  They’re still part of the novel, I think, but probably not for another 200 pages, and who knows what they’ll need to look like then.

I had a moment of feeling defeated, then I started outlining what the new middle, the new second act, will look like.  I worked on it all the way into Union Station, just scribbling ideas on the back of the first page of Chapter 18.  On the way home, I outlined the first seven scenes of the new middle, and got so into it I almost missed my stop and had to run through the train car with my open briefcase in one hand and clutching a folder of loose manuscript in the other.

Why was I able to do that on Friday when I haven’t for at least three weeks? Some of it is just being in town and on the train; I’ve been traveling a little more than usual lately, and driving a little more than usual when I am in town, out of laziness. But the main thing is this:

I finished Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve essentially given up television.  News during the election, sure, but that’s it.  I just don’t have time to watch TV and write. But my brother-in-law hooked me on BSG by lending me the Season 1 DVDs about a year and a half ago.  I took forever to watch it, but when I finished, I was completely sucked in.  I bought Season 2 from iTunes and started out just watching on my laptop while running on the treadmill, but then I got my iPhone a few weeks ago and was able to carry episodes around with me. That was right around the time when I started busting my ass so much, and felt like writing (or editing) on the train was too much effort.

Plus, the train has gotten more crowded, and it’s harder to find a seat.

Plus… ah, hell. I got lazy, and started watching BSG on the train.  It’s a great show, and when I finished the Season 2 finale during my run on Friday morning, I immediately bought Season 3 off iTunes.  Our balky internet (screw you and your lousy service, Comcast!) prevented me from downloading even the first episode before I left for work, which meant when I got to the train and even got a seat, I had nothing compelling to do.

So I worked on my novel.

That wasn’t a terribly hard lesson to re-learn.  If I’m going to keep going with this little project, hobby, avocation, what have you, I need to cut out the distractions.  Not my job, which pays the bills, and which, generally speaking, I enjoy.  Not my wife, not my kids — I’ll sacrifice some time with them, but only to a point, and that point moves depending on the other demands on my time (i.e., my job).  But the distractions, the optional things I do that are fun but just eat up time — those I have to remember to throw over the side like unnecessary ballast when everything else heats up.  Sometimes I forget; I occasionally, as I may have mentioned, have trouble focusing on things.  Sometimes I need to cut myself some slack.  But it’s good to be reminded how this works.  I’ve got a family and a job; those are non-negotiable.  Everything else is disposable.

I’ll still watch BSG, but I have a feeling it’s going to take me a while to get through Season 3.

On Writing: Scenes outlined for the rewrite of Meet the Larssons: 7.  I’m giving up on the handwritten Manuscript Slog at this point.  There’s no way I’m going to handwrite 30,000-50,000 words of new material, so I’m going back to my MacBook and Scrivener.  I’m incredibly relieved, which should make me suspicious — am I taking the easy way out? cutting corners? — but really just leaves me, well, relieved.  It will probably be a few days, maybe even a week, before I can get anything done, but I’ll do what I can. I may try Write or Die to get some words under my belt; hat tip to Amy for the link.

On Running: Leaving for a run now.  I’ll finish when I get back.

Okay, nice short/long run (or a long/short run), 58:38, around 6.25-6.5 miles.  My Polar watch, which records the distance, needs a new battery, so it’s hard to be precise. Not too long and not too fast, but god it was great to run outside in the sun.  I spent a frantic 5 minutes looking for my running gloves, found them (in the drawer with my cold weather running gear, strangely enough), then decided when I got outside that I didn’t need them.  The only downside to the run is that earlier in the week I stepped on my prescription sunglasses and snapped the frame.  I think they’re totaled, so it was a little too bright; given the long, dark, dreary winter, I dealt with a little extra sunlight just fine.

Only two weeks until the Shamrock Shuffle. I think it’s safe to say it won’t be a PR.

On the iPod: My iPod Mini bit the dust a few weeks ago, and I bought an iPhone to replace it and my aging Razr.  I had originally planned to buy a Shuffle to use for runs, but I found an arm band from Belkin that holds the iPhone and is surprisingly comfortable, so I may just run with the iPhone for a while.  The Siren is happy I have a cell phone with me, anyway.

I’ve been listening to the usual suspects, mostly.  Escape Pod #190 (“Origin Story,” by Tim Pratt) was a fun superhero story (NB – my idea of fun is not everyone’s); I Should Be Writing #112 (interviews of Mary Jo Pehl and Tobias Buckell); Adventures in SciFi Publishing #75 (interview of Chris Roberson).

Shaun Farrell, the lead host of AISFP, announced this week on Twitter and the AISFP website that the podcast is going on indefinite hiatus until 2010. He asks that listeners stay subscribed, because he can’t say now when he might put new material out on the feed. The final episode, #76 (interview of David Louis Edelman) posted on Thursday. I’m sorry to see AISFP go; Shaun is an engaging interviewer, and the banter between Shaun and his co-host Sam was always fun.  I wish Shaun luck in whatever he chooses to do next.

I’m going to close the way Steve Eley closed Escape Pod this week in honor of “Origin Story,” with Unfocused Girl’s favorite Jonathan Coulton song, “Skullcrusher Mountain”:

Happy Pi Day 2009

Happy International Pi Day!  I’m afraid I don’t have time to write a completely new post, so I’m cribbing from last year’s, since the links are still good.  Enjoy.

Today, March 14, 2009, is Pi Day (3/14, get it?). Last year at this time, Unfocused Girl was getting more interested in math lately, and what really got her attention were the big ideas, and π, which embodies so many important math concepts, captured her imagination. Unfocused Girl has even memorized the first 11 digits of π (3.1415926535). In honor of Pi Day, I promised her I would post links to some of her favorite Pi places on the web.

First, what is π (Pi)? Here’s a link to the collective wisdom of the Intertubes at

Here is the official website of Pi Day. Happy Pi Day!

This video has Unfocused Girl’s favorite song: The Pi Song (there are a lot of YouTube vids called “The Pi Song”; this one is her favorite).

She is also fond of The Number Pi Challenge, and Happy Pi Day!!!!!!!!!! There are many, many more, but not all are appropriate for children (that is, I don’t think they’re appropriate for my children; you can make your own decisions).

Update: Unfocused Girl just pointed out that in six years, Pi Day 2015 will be Golden Pi Day, because it will be 3/14/15.