Monthly Archives: May 2009

Spring Sunday Stats #8: Staring Over the Edge at 40.

It’s Memorial Day, in memory of the soldiers, sailors, marines, and others who have died for our country, including the 4300 Americans who have died in Iraq.

My father came in from NYC on Thursday and stayed until lunchtime today, his longest visit since I moved to Chicago for college in 1987.  We had a great time; the highlight of the weekend was the long afternoon at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  He’s retiring at the end of June, and I hope that this is just the first of many longer trips.

I had a very frustrating week (starting with the Sunday/Monday Frequest Flyer Fail), but seriously, what else is new?  The work piled on, and I seemed utterly unable to get anything actually accomplished, just felt like I was on a treadmill from hell.  Thankfully, it was a short week.  I worked at home on Friday, and managed to get a few open loops closed out before the weekend.  This post is late enough, so let’s go straight to the stats.

On Writing: Between work and my father’s visit, I wrote next to nothing, just 150 words in Project Hometown on the train home from work on Thursday.  I did write my piece of a viral story yesterday, maybe 200 words, which was fun.  I’m not sure if today counts as part of the past week, but since it’s a holiday, I’ll claim it; I wrote 362 words in Project Hometown this afternoon.  The total is now 4,422 words.  I think that’s far enough along to post a meter.

I’ve been sitting on “Jimmies,” and need to get it out.  I also had an idea for a new short story last week — a time travel story I like much better than the last time travel idea I had — and may take a shot at that sometime soon as well.

On Running: 20.5 miles for the week, best in months.  I dealt with my frustration by running early Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, even though I was exhausted.  Not long runs, just 3.75 miles each, but that got me 11.25 miles during the week, plus 9.25 miles on Sunday at a respectable 1:19:32, or 8:35 min/mile.  A great long run, much better than the last few weeks.

This weekend, I registered for the Men’s Health Urbanathlon in Chicago this October, a 10.5 mile race with a handful of obstacles thrown in to make it interesting (climbing over a wall, running up and down the stairs at Soldier Field, scrambling over parked taxis, etc.).  This is the third year the race has been held in Chicago; I’ve registered each time, but both of the last two years have had to blow it off for work.

This year I was confronted with something new:  For the first time, when confronted with the question “Age on race day” I had to answer “40.”  In seven weeks, I’ll be in a whole new age group.    So long, 35-39!  Luckily, Mike is doing the Urbanathlon too, so if I collapse on the course someone will notice and call the Siren.

I also signed up for the World Wide Half Marathon, part of the World Wide Festival of Races, also in October.  This is a virtual race series — everyone runs on the same weekend, but separately – which started with the Half Marathon in 2006 as an idea spread through the Phedippidations podcast.  It’s a lot of fun.

What I haven’t done yet is register for one of the nearby half marathons in June. Gotta get off my ass and deal with that.

That’s enough of this. I’m going to watch Lego Cake or Death again.  We’ve watched it about 10 times this weekend with the kids.

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A Viral Tale of Revenge! Or Whatever.

Freshhell tagged me for a viral story, and I’m going to tag some of you. Before we get to my contribution, I’ve cut an pasted the rules and the story so far, with links to the participating authors.

The Rules:

Here’s what I would like to do. I want to create a story that branches out in a variety of different, unexpected ways. I don’t know how realistic it is, but that’s what I’m aiming for. Hopefully, at least one thread of the story can make a decent number of hops before it dies out.

If you are one of the carriers of this story virus (i.e. you have been tagged and choose to contribute to it), you will have one responsibility, in addition to contributing your own piece of the story: you will have to tag at least one person that continues your story thread. So, say you tag five people. If four people decide to not participate, it’s okay, as long as the fifth one does. And if all five participate, well that’s five interesting threads the story spins off into.

Not a requirement, but something your readers would appreciate: to help people trace your own particular thread of the narrative, it will be helpful if you include links to the chapters preceding yours.”

The Story:

The ground crunched beneath my feet. Besides my noisy footsteps, I heard only the sound of the gentle crackling fire behind me. Its faint orange light lazily revealed my immediate surroundings. Beyond the glow, there was total blackness. I whistled. I took the small rock I had been carrying and whipped it away from me, expecting a thud, crack or plop — but a soft yelp of a cry answered. (Splotchy)

“Crap! I forgot all about Monster,” I realized. “I must be drunker than I thought,” I spoke aloud to no one in particular, though an owl answered my drunken slur. Ever since my neighbors have been giving me grief for the way Monster chases their cats and poops in their lawn, I haven’t felt comfortable staying in my house. I’m pretty sure my landlady is thinking about evicting me, so I’ve decided to lay low for a while.

To the surprise of no one… (Freida Bee)

The night turned darker. A storm blew in. It was, in fact, a dark and stormy night. Too drunk to worry about Monster’s rock-inflicted head wound, I stumbled back to the campfire, where I found the ghosts of John Fante and Charles Bukowski roasting hot dogs, drinking whiskey and singing sad songs about women. The ghost of Fante whispered in my ear, tales of love and loss, and I found myself walking slowly down the trail to the river, where I suddenly found myself…(Lass)

Falling down an embankment. Instead of rolling into the river, I landed on what felt like a raft. I crawled around it, the storm pelting down on me, adhering my thin clothes to my body like a second, very wet, skin, and discovered that it was indeed a raft. I could feel the huge humps of the logs (smooth and barkless, unlike Monster, the cur!) that had been lashed together with a waxy hemp. A pretty decent job, from the looks of it. Not that I could see anything; the storm had rendered the night blacker than the farthest corner of a monster-filled closet. If I could find where it was tethered to the shore, I could cut it loose, leave this place and all these drunken hallucinations for good. Hell, I could even…..(FreshHell)

My bit:

… wreak my terrible vengeance on the people who had forced me into hiding in this crummy town, so small it didn’t merit a point on the map, so pointless that it didn’t even have a name.  The farmers who fought the surrounding land for a living just called it Town; the townies didn’t call it anything except “this shithole” or, if they were ambitious or lucky enough to leave, “that shithole.”

I had come to this shithole after running out on an arrest warrant back home in River.  I brought Monster, even though being so … distinctive, he made it harder to hide; I couldn’t just leave him behind.  The crooked judge who signed the warrant, the weaselly sheriff who swore out the complaint against me, and most particularly old man Berringer; I’ll get them all.

My plan unfolded before me, surprisingly simple.  With this raft, I would simply float down the filthy, slow-moving river to Springfield.  The backyards of both the judge and Berringer each extended down to the river; taking care of them would be easy.  The sheriff would be harder; even if he weren’t on duty, his home was on the other end of town.

No matter.  I’ll figure it out when the time comes.  They’ll pay for framing me for…

Tagged: GypsyScarlett, Ralfast, Chad, Jenifer, Amy.  No obligation on your part, except that if you don’t participate I’m told that bad luck will befall me within seven days.

Can’t believe I left off J.C.  Montgomery and G.L. Drummond, so I’m tagging them now.

Karmic Balance: My Travel Mojo Is Back.

My suitcase and box of documents arrived in Jackson at the same time I did.  Fifteen minutes after I deplaned, I was wearing a suit and tie, along with deodorant and clean underwear.  I was feeling good.  Picked up my rental car, made it to the deposition, no problem.

Fast forward 8 hours from my arrival in Jackson.  I’m back at the airport, all checked in for my 5:05pm American flight to Dallas, where I am to have a two hour layover, which means time for a reasonable dinner and a beer.  I even have a little time to charge my computer and phone, because my plane is running about half an hour late.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Right. So at 5:30, they announce the plane is cancelled.  I watch the other passengers line up to yell at the gate agent, decide that looks pointless and unamusing, and call our corporate travel company.  The overworked rep puts me on hold for long enough that I decide to pack up and get in line with everybody else, just in case.

As I’m standing in the line, I notice that the Southwest gate across the hall is showing a flight to Chicago (Midway instead of O’Hare) in 10 minutes.  Too bad, I think.  No way I can get my bags back in 10 minutes. Until that moment, I didn’t know that anyone had direct flights between Chicago and Jackson.  I don’t like to fly Southwest because of Junior’s peanut allergy — I feel like I need to be decontaminated before I walk in the house from the peanuts on the seats — but I’ll make an exception when necessary.

Hey, I thought, if the plane’s leaving in 10 minutes, why isn’t anyone boarding, or even lined up to go? I craned my neck to look out the window.  No plane.  Hmmmm.

Still on hold with the travel agent, I left the line — which was going nowhere — and sidled up to the Southwest gate agent.  “That line looks bad,” she said.

“Tell me about it.  I’m trying to get home to Chicago tonight.  I don’t see them” I jerked my head in the direction of the American Airlines gate agents, now hiding under the counter to avoid the angry would-be travelers “making it happen.”

Her eyes grew big as saucers.  “Why, I have a flight to Chicago.  Non-stop.”

“Sounds tempting,” I said, trying to keep my cool.  “But I’ve gotta get my bags back from those guys, and you’re supposed to take off in 10 minutes.”

She casually checked her watch, as if to say, oh, is that what the schedule says today? “Well, we’re supposed to, I guess.  But that’s not gonna happen.  They’re telling me wheels up at 6:15, but I don’t think the plane is even going to land here until 6:30.  Call it 6:20 to be safe.”

I thought that over, running time and motion studies in my head.  “So your flight won’t take off until 6:45.”

“At the earliest.”  She leaned over the counter, and lowered her voice.  “And we have lots of open seats.”

I looked back at the line at what I already thought of as my “old” gate.  She shook her head.  “Uh-unh.  Not there.”

I caught on fast.  “The ticket counter,” I said, grabbing my briefcase.

“You got it.  I’ll see you on the flight,” she called, but I was already moving down the corridor and back out past security.

I had forgotten about the phone glued to my ear until the agent’s voice broke in  “Mr. Unfocused?  They want to put you on the 6am flight tomorrow.  You’ll change planes in Dallas and be in Chicago at 11:25 tomorrow morning.”

I stepped into the line in front of the American Airlines ticket counter.  “I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” I said.  “I think I can do better,” and hung up.

When I stepped up to the counter, the ticket agent called the luggage ramp right away.  “I need two bags pulled for Mr. Unfocused,” he said.  He hung up.  “Ten minutes.”

I checked my watch:  5:50.  Plenty of time.  “Now, about my refund…”

Seven minutes later, I was down by the baggage claim as my suitcase and box slid through the hatch and into my waiting arms.  Back upstairs, I walked confidently to the Southwest counter.

The Southwestian was friendly and chatty.  I told him I wanted the delayed flight to Midway, he sold me a ticket, sign here sir, sign there sir, put your bags on the scale sir.  Everything was going smoothly until he put the pink “TRANSFER” tags on the bags.

I asked him what was with the TRANSFER tags.  He answered that they were because the bags needed to be transferred from one plane to another in Houston.

Now, I may not be as familiar with Southwest as I was in 1999 when I earned four free tickets in six months, but I think they still use the phrase “non-stop” the way the rest of us do.  And the lady at the gate had clearly said “non-stop.”

Changing planes in Houston before finishing in Chicago is not non-stop. It is, in fact, the very definition of “stop.”

I cross-examined the Southwestian, but he denied that there was a non-stop flight to Chicago.  I checked the flight number on the ticket he was about to issue me against the departure board: sure enough, it was the flight to Houston, not the flight to Midway.  I gave him the flight number I wanted.  He was confused for a moment, then checked the computer.

“That explains it.  The flight you want is closed.”

I’ve played this game before.  Maybe “this flight is closed” works with most of the people who come through the little airport in Jackson, buddy, but I hang at O’Hare.  Telling me the flight is closed is just the opening move.

The first counter-measure is to feign ignorance.  “Closed? Whaddaya mean? The lady at the gate said there were plenty of seats.  She offered to sell me a ticket right there, but I thought I’d better get the luggage dealt with.” All true, but all irrelevant. If the computer says it’s closed, nobody can sell you a ticket.

Which is what he said.  “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”

I put down my briefcase, body language to show him I wasn’t going anywhere for a while.  “Now, really, we both know that’s kind of silly, right?”

He waved at the computer screen as if it were an excuse.  “The computer says it’s closed.”

“I know, I know,” I said soothingly.  “But c’mon.  You’ve got a plane that hasn’t even landed yet, with empty seats going back out tonight. I want to pay for one of those seats.  Maybe I could go standby?”

He shook his head.  “I’m locked out completely.”

“But the gate agent could issue me a standby ticket, right? If I had a ticket on another flight?”  I pointed at ticket through Houston, still in his hand.  “Like that ticket, for instance.”

“So you’re going to take this ticket but go standby on the direct flight?”

“Right.  It’ll get me in two hours earlier.”

“But your luggage will get there at the original time.  I can’t get your bags onto the direct flight.”

“Because it’s closed.”

“Because it’s closed,” he agreed.

So I ripped off the tape with the Houston flight number that he’d slapped on the suitcase and box, and pulled off the TRANSFER stickers.  “Guess I’m going to have to gate check.”

He tried to tell me I would have trouble with the TSA running the security checkpoint, but the fight had gone out of him.  If we hadn’t just done the whole song and dance about the ticket, he’d have griefed me for another 10 minutes.  I got through security just fine, and marched back to the Southwest gate. I had a boarding pass in my hand and gate check tags for the bags in 5 minutes, a burger and a Sam Adams at the nearby sports bar in 10.

Twenty minutes after that, I boarded the plane, with my briefcase, suitcase, and box — the flight attendants didn’t care about enforcing the baggage limits because the flight was so empty.  I even had an entire row of three seats to myself.

I thought I’d lost it for a little while there, the ability to negotiate post-9/11 travel as painlessly as possible. In fact, I’d gotten complacent and forgotten the first two rules of 21st Century business travel:

Rule 1: Never check a bag.

Rule 2: Don’t forget Rule 1.

Spring Sunday Stats #7: Frequent Flyer FAIL.

As I write this, it’s 6:10am Monday morning and I’m in Dallas, Texas, at the airport Marriott, getting ready to fly to Jackson, Mississippi for a deposition. I’m waiting for the 6:30 airport shuttle, because I dragged too slowly this morning and missed the 6am.

Instead of a suit, I’m wearing weekend clothes: running shoes, shorts, t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. Not because of some agreement with opposing counsel to keep this dep casual, but because I had to check my luggage for the first time in years (other than checking at the gate). I had 3 bags last night: my briefcase, my roller bag, and a file box of documents, exhibits for the dep. I had to check either the box or the suitcase; since the box is awkward, I thought I’d probably check the box. Once I got to the airport, though, I decided I’d go ahead and check both.

What I didn’t realize is that the airline would check the bags through to Jackson. When I landed in Dallas, I went to the baggage claim, waited, and when neither my suitcase nor my box came off the belt, had a little chat with the lost luggage guy. He informed me that my bags had arrived in Dallas, and were sitting on the luggage ramp, waiting to be loaded onto the plane to Jackson in the morning. Unfortunately, only the ticket agents possess the ancient magical power to contact the baggage handlers and cause them to retrieve my luggage, and they had all left for the evening to attend a coven meeting or whatever. The lost luggage guy, it seems, was there only to assist with lost luggage: inaccessible luggage of reasonably certain location was outside his balliwick.

I spoke to his supervisor on the phone (the one that can’t connect with the baggage handlers), who told me the same thing. As I hung up and walked away, Lost Luggage Guy said, “Have a good evening!” and I jumped over the counter and punched him in the face.

All right, I didn’t punch him in the face. I did suggest that having a good evening was probably not on the agenda.

I’m going to finish this on my iPhone on the airport shuttle, so please forgive the typos.

I was traveling much of last week (shout out to Peoria!) for work, and had a busy weekend before flying out last night, and it shows in my stats.

On writing: only about 650 words in Project Hometown, including the 500 or so I wrote on the plane last night. I’m on scene 3, and may finish it on the way home tonight. This week, I plan to send “Jimmies” off again, in its drastically reduced form (now 40% off!).

Update: I’m at the airport, back on my laptop. My attempt to regain custody of my luggage has failed, because the airline has it set to go on an earlier flight.  What happened to the post-9/11 idea of not allowing luggage onto a plane without the passenger?  I got myself onto the early flight, too, so at least I’ll have more time in Jackson to deal with any further SNAFUs.

On running: I was too tired while I was in Peoria to run; those were long days.  I had one short run on Tuesday morning, then did 10 miles on Sunday morning in 1:32:30, a leisurely 9:15 min/mile pace.  I need to register for a half marathon to motivate myself.  Also, I think I need new running shoes; my Saucony Grid Stabil 5s — best running shoes ever — were discontinued a couple of years ago, and I pulled the shrink wrap off my last pair more than 6 months ago.  I tried a pair of the Stabil 6s and hated them — they felt awful, stiff and yet too thin — but now those have been replaced as well, hopefully by something better.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  I’ll update tonight with the final report on my luggage, and whether I take this deposition wearing shorts.

That Was Weird.

My novelists’ support discussion group met tonight, and for the first time I didn’t want to talk about how the novel is going.  As I casually mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve put Meet the Larssons aside for a while, to gain some additional distance and to work on Project Hometown (which needs a better working title, I know).  Tonight, I really felt how big a decision that was, and started to regret it.

I took a two month break from MTL when I finished the first draft last October, but that was in triumph, and I was giddy with the flush of accomplishment.  This time, I’ve been screwing around with the revisions for close to six months and have nothing to show for it except 350 pages of manuscript covered with blue scrawl (bad) and 150 pages that haven’t been touched yet (worse) plus notes for scenes that haven’t been written yet (worst).  This break isn’t a well-deserved rest, it feels like an admission of defeat.

Revision is hard work, and requires more organization and consistency of effort than writing the first draft.  For the last several months, I haven’t been able to commit to that much self-discipline because things have picked up so much at the office; I’ve been traveling a lot, blah blah blah.  I can make all of the excuses for myself that I want, but they’re all bullshit.

What it really comes down to is that as I reworked the book, I lost the voice of Jake, the main character.  I couldn’t get inside his head any more, and with a book told entirely in the first person, being stuck on the outside is problematic.  He became flat, and passive, and finally I just wanted to stop.  I still expect to come back to Jake and Meet the Larssons in a few months.  Maybe in August when we’re on vacation, and I’ll have a little more time; maybe when I finish the first draft of — or get stuck in the middle of — Project Hometown.  Whatever.  Oh no, poor writer-man, lost his character’s voice! Author FAIL.

I outlined Project Hometown pretty thoroughly over the winter, about 40 pages worth of synopses, character backstory, plot notes, etc.  I’m hoping to move this draft along more quickly, and maintain a better story arc than I did with MTL.  The main characters are all a little angsty, but I’m hoping the process of writing it will be less angst-ridden than MTL was.

Angsty Writer Poetry

Little Unfocused Me

Lost his MC

and didn’t know where to find him…

Spring Sunday Stats #6: Feeling Flabby.

I’m back with the first Sunday Stats post in a while.  Before we get to the main part of the post, which is all about me (like so many things), let me take this opportunity to wish the Siren and my mother, Unfocused Ma, a very happy Mother’s Day.

The Siren, the kids, and I just got back from a nice Mother’s Day brunch with the Siren’s mother and brother.  I actually made an appearance at their church this morning, because the kids’ choir had a performance.  Junior has pretty emphatically gotten over the stage fright he suffered from in his younger days, and, like Unfocused Girl, gives signs of having inherited at least some of the Siren’s musical talent.

On to the stats:

On Writing: I made the decision a couple of weeks ago to put Meet the Larssons on the back burner for a while.  I’m not trunking it, but I need some distance from it.  I was getting bogged down in the rewrite, and I was starting to bore myself.

Instead, I started writing Project Hometown, the novel I outlined over the winter.  I’m 3,192 words into it; not great for a couple of weeks worth of work, but not terrible.  The real problem is that I fell out of the habit of writing every day, and my authorial muscles have atrophied.  As I said in my previous post, I have become an undisciplined wretch.  I’m slowly starting to get back into the groove, and since I did so much work on the front end I’m optimistic that as I get back into the habit of writing, the story itself should come more easily than MTL did.

On Running: 10 miles this morning, in 1:33:16.  Like last week, today’s run was slow and painful.  My legs have felt terrible for the last couple of weeks:  my hamstrings are tight, the tendons alongside my hips are sore, I occasionally have bizarre pains in my knees just from crossing my legs.  I’m not entirely sure what the problem is, since I kept up my running pretty well through the winter and crummy first half of spring thanks to the treadmill, but I have some ideas based what’s changed in my exercise habits over the past year.  I think the primary issue is that I’m lifting weights much less frequently, and doing fewer exercises when I do; in particular, I almost never do any real strength training for my legs. Running works some of the muscles, but ignores others, leading to significant muscle imbalances; if I did more strength training for my legs, they’d probably hurt less.

I’m also, for a variety of reasons, more pressed for time than I was a year ago, and find myself skipping the post-run stretching as often as not.  Today, for example, I had to rush to get showered and dressed as soon as I finished my run in order to get to the church in time for the kids’ concert.  I didn’t stretch at all, and by the time I got out of the car in the church parking lot, I was so stiff I had to limp all the way in.  The stiffness worked itself out, but that kind of negligence is going to cost me, and probably already has.

Time, time, time.  That’s what it always comes down to.  As it is, I’ve stripped away as many distractions as I can.  I read less than I used to, and I watch almost no television.  I suppose I could drop Facebook and Twitter, but keeping up social contacts, even over the interwebs, feels like it’s worth doing.  I want to spend more time with my family, not less; I still need to work for a living, and I don’t get enough sleep as it is.

I don’t think there’s really an answer here, just a constant rebalancing of competing priorities.  I can live with that if I keep reminding myself that it’s a long race, and if I can keep from hitting the wall or blowing out a knee, I’ll get to the finish line eventually.  Not a particularly deep thought — I have a t-shirt that says “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” which sums it up nicely — but then, I’m not a particularly deep person, so a personal philosophy that fits on a t-shirt is probably about right for me.

There’s a Spider in the Bathtub.

Blogging on a Friday night, for the first time in a while, with some semi-random thoughts.

1. Writing:  I am an undisciplined wretch.

I’ve blown off Meet the Larssons the last few weeks, and recently started writing Project Hometown, which needs a much cooler working title.  I did a lot of work outlining it over the winter, and I think I’ve got a good sense of where it’s going, but the actual writing isn’t coming as easily as I remember the first few chapters of Meet the Larssons did.  Part of it is that I haven’t taken much concentrated time for writing, just short bursts.  Maybe I’ll take a couple of hours over the weekend.

2.  Does anyone else smell bacon?

A kid in Unfocused Girl’s class apparently has swine flu (aka “the 0ther wh1te meat”-itis; I refuse to change the name to “novel flu” just because the p0rk council is all twitchy.  As an aspiring writer, I’m offended by that, and concerned that people will stop buying books out of blind, unreasoning terror.  I’m not worried about Unfocused Girl, because she is, like The Tick, nigh invulnerable, and almost never gets sick.

Have you heard about the crazy people having swine flu parties to get their kids sick now, before the fall when (they think) it’s going to mutate and come back in a more dangerous form?  The idea is to get your child sick with the presumably weaker spring strain of the disease, leaving them with some immunity to the fall strain.  There’s so much wrong with this it’s hard to know where to start, but for me the issue begins and ends with two questions:  how do you know H1N1 is going to mutate into something worse? and if it does, how do you know it won’t mutate so much that your child’s immunity becomes useless?  Seriously, just say NO to stupid DIY medical experiments on children too young to give informed consent.

3.  Hey, there’s a spider in the bathtub.

Not anymore.

4.  Another rocking Unfocused Family Friday night around the laptop.

I like hanging around with the kids on Friday and Saturday evenings, but I’d like to get them to bed a little earlier at least once in a while on a weekend so that we might have time to watch a movie.  I think it’s been over a year since the Siren and I watched a video together without the kids.

I’m not saying I need a campaign of people telling me to sit down and watch a movie with my wife, like with the “take her out to dinner” comment blitz a few months ago (I hope she finished paying you all off, by the way).  I’m just saying, we have a bunch of DVDs we haven’t seen yet, and I could be watching one with my lovely bride instead of talking to you.