Tanned, Rested, and Ready to Collapse.

I don’t tan, actually. I burn and peel, then repeat, which is why I use SPF 50 or greater sunscreen when I plan to be outside for any extended activity, and usually use an SPF 20 aftershave in the morning.

We’re just back from two weeks at the Delaware shore, my favorite part of the year. We drove, as usual, an 813-mile car trip each way, that is so much a part of the tradition that the kids almost never complain. We put them to the test on the trip home this year, though. We (mostly the Siren) installed new kitchen cabinets in the beach house we share with my aunt and uncle, and the last parts of that project interfered with our packing and cleaning enough that we couldn’t leave on Saturday as planned, and had to do the entire drive home on Sunday – 16.5 hours, including pit stops. This would have been bad enough if we didn’t stay up until 1am Saturday night packing and if we had gotten out before 10:30 Sunday morning because finishing up the cleaning and then loading the bikes and car top carrier took longer than expected.

We got home at 2am, got to bed about 45 minutes later, and my cell phone rang at 8. I’ve been staring at the computer ever since, completely fried. I guess I’ll put some clothes on and start unloading the car.

It was a great trip — we went hiking and biking in the nearby state park, letterboxing, spent days just hanging out on the beach, ate at some of our favorite restaurants and discovered new ones, and I even got a little writing done. I’ll post a few pictures later this week, but for now, here’s one of the Boy creating an elaborate Wikki Stix (warning – page has annoying loud automatic sound player) system for his Batman H@ppy Me@l toy to swing from:

One other thing – for those of you who don’t get the significance of the length of the drive, here’s They Might Be Giants to explain it to you. We listen to this song at the start of each leg of the drive:

Stuff I’m Doing Instead of Writing.

The novel is stalled — strike that, I’m stalled on writing the novel. I’ve been reading, though: I’m working on Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and just finished Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Charles Stross’s Glasshouse. The Pollan books got me started thinking about growing vegetables; with the Siren’s patient mentoring, we spent the weekend setting up planters and, after a trip to the garden center, planting tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, cucumbers, Italian peppers, and peas.

I’ve also been listening to the audio podcasts of the Long Now Foundation‘s Seminars About Long Term Thinking, which are fascinating. I recommend starting with Stewart Brandt on Rethinking Green and Niall Ferguson and Peter Schwarz on Historian vs. Futurist on Human Progress.  The lectures cover a wide variety of topics and are great listening on a Sunday morning long run.

I ran the Soldier Field 10 Mile last week in 1:19:19, nearly 7 minutes slower than my PR but not a complete embarrassment.

As for the novel, it’s a source of a fair amount of frustration right now, but there’s so much competing for my mental real estate lately that I’m not surprised that I’ve put it on the back burner. I need to figure out a way to give it the concentrated effort I put in during NaNoWriMo without ignoring the rest of my life (although I just read that again, and realized it’s impossible). I know that there’s never a “good” time to write — there’s always something else competing for my attention — but the last three months have been … challenging. I keep thinking that it’s time to stop cutting myself so much slack but really, I kind of need it.

Happy Mother’s Day to the Green-Eyed Siren and the Unfocused Mom.

My wife, the lovely and talented Green-Eyed Siren, is one of the most creative people I know, and our children have received so much of her spark. Unfocused Girl had a big solo during the Mother’s Day children’s choir performance at their church this morning, and she clearly inherited the Siren’s voice and her picked up the seriousness with which the Siren approaches a performance. Junior is a ham in front of the camera and is exceptionally good for his age at building this with his hands.  Neither of them could have gotten those talents from me, but more important than the genetic transmission of some innate ability is that she’s teaching them how to use those talents, both by teaching them directly and by example. They’re also pretty nice people, which I have to believe has something to do with the person they spend the most time with. So happy Mother’s Day, Siren, you’ve earned it, through hours and hours of driving the kids to and from school, the gallons of chicken barley stew you’ve made for Unfocused Girl’s lunch, the dozens of different things you’ve made in attempts to get Junior to eat something recognizable as food, not to mention two C-sections, thousands of diaper changes, potty training, midnight vomiting, and Junior screaming in your left ear for hours on end. The one thing I can tell you is that the kids know how lucky they are, and so do I.

And happy Mother’s Day to my own mother. I know I was a smartass and probably not always the easiest kid to deal with, but the Siren thinks you did a pretty good job and I certainly never had any complaints. One specific thing I can point to that you and Dad did right — so I guess you’ll have to share the credit on this — is that after your divorce, however tense things got between you, and I assume there were times when they did, I never really knew about it. Maybe once in a long while I picked up on a tone of voice from one of you that seemed off, but that was it, and hardly that. Neither of you ever spoke ill of the other in front of me, and I don’t remember witnessing any significant arguments. As far as I know, you always treated each other respectfully and, most of the time, seemed genuinely friendly. I’ve seen a lot worse, especially since I graduated law school, and I know how lucky I was. Thank you.

Planning for the Future.

I went to a business development training session this afternoon at the office (it wasn’t mandatory, but it seemed like a good idea). This is not the kind of thing I generally enjoy, and today was no exception; I spent the hour making notes about all of the other things I needed to do and generally wishing I was somewhere else.  I did make some notes about the presentation itself, since the presenter said that taking notes was important (I don’t remember why, because I forgot to write that part down).

Did I mention there was PowerPoint? You knew there was PowerPoint.

At one point, the presenter put up a slide telling me I needed to think about future trends that could impact my business, then told me to think about future trends that could impact my business, then added a bullet point on the screen suggesting that I write down five future trends that could impact my business.  Here’s what I wrote:

  • energy scarcity
  • flooding
  • chemical poisoning of the food supply
  • zombie attacks

I just realized I only wrote down four future trends that could impact my business.  Crap.  Although after the zombie attacks, I’m not sure there would be any future trends to worry about.

Over the weekend, I finished my re-read of what I’ve written so far of Breezeway (95% written during NaNoWriMo last November, the rest in fits and starts since).  I didn’t make many changes on this pass, just a few notes or tweaks here and there; I’m glad to see that it isn’t as execrable as I thought it would be. Today, I managed to write 1100 words, probably the most I’ve written in one day since November 30. If I manage another 1000 words over the rest of the week, it would be the most productive week I’ve had since NaNo ended, too. It’s hard getting back into the habit, but re-reading what I’ve done so far left me really wanting to finish the damn thing.

Namedropping My Imaginary Friends, Because I Have Nothing to Report Myself.

First, let me freely admit that all that rah-rah bullshit in my last couple of posts about getting back into working on Breezeway has turned out to have been pure gasbaggery. Predictably, work has completely kicked my ass over the last three weeks, with extensive travel and days spent in conference rooms straining my meager faculties. On top of that, I’ve got some personal stuff I’m working through — nothing too serious, but it’s occupying a lot of mental space. I’m not quite ready to discuss it here, but I probably will at some point.

Enough about me, I want to tell you about two of my imaginary friends. I’ve never met either of these guys, so for all I know either or both of them could be a Russian mobster, Paris Hilton, or a dog. Those disturbing possibilities aside, they seem real enough to me — a significant step above the voices in my head, for example — that I’m going to take them at face value. After competing with them all through November for NaNoWriMo word count, frankly, they’d better be real.

In addition, each has recently demonstrated independent third-party verification of their existence. California writer Chad Grayson‘s story “Jadeflower” is part of the recently-released Destination: Future (amazon.com, Barnes & Noble). I got to know Chad through WordPress — either he stumbled across my blog, or I stumbled across his.  He’s a great guy, and based on his blog he’s a damn fine writer.  Trying to keep up with his NaNo output was both inspiring and frustrating. I’m looking forward to my copy of Destination: Future arriving in the mail.

Canadian writer and podcaster John Mierau has been giving away his genre-crossing short fiction for over a year on his Serving Worlds podcast. I first encountered John on Twitter when he insulted my entire profession, so I immediately started following him there and listening to his podcast. Last week he was the guest interview on Episode 119 of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast (I’ve mentioned DRS before, and again, it’s well worth listening to in its own right), talking about Serving Worlds and his NaNoWriMo novel.

Both of these guys helped me get through NaNoWriMo, and John’s podcast has carried me through many a run and long drive. Their creative output is well worth checking out.

Let the Word Go Forth From This Day Forward:

President’s Day is NOT a trash pick up holiday in Chicago. Why doesn’t the Department of Streets & Sanitation have its holiday schedule on its website? We go through this every frakking year, running out as the truck lumbers up the street, moving both cars and hauling the cans out in a hot hurry through the snow. At least we made it this time.

Happy Valentine’s Day To You — Now Get Shaking.

First, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you started the day as beautifully as the Siren and I did: our 6-year-old son marched into our bedroom at 7:30 holding an oversized birthday card one of us received last year, and opened it wide so that the sound chip played The Chicken Dance at top volume. Romance lives in the Unfocused household. With that rousing call to wake, I wished the Siren — the love of my life — a happy Valentine’s Day, and we hid under the covers until the children went downstairs and we realized they were making their own breakfast — yay Montessori-trained self-reliant older kids! — with the milk that had gone bad but was still in the fridge (because we weren’t absolutely sure it had turned) and I had to run down to the kitchen and dump the cereal out of their bowls.  Good times.

I had my first full 10 mile outdoor run in weeks? months? this morning. There’s just enough ice on the ground to make it hard to really pick up the pace, and wearing enough layers to make a run in 17-degree weather comfortable slows me down too, but I was glad to be outside. One of the podcasts I listened to on the run was Escape Pod #237, “Roadside Rescue” by Pat Cadigan.  It’s a very short story, very cool and thought-provoking, like a lot of her work. Cadigan gave me nightmares my senior year of college with a short story about an alternate history where the 1968 presidential election went so much worse than it did here, and what happened to the country after. I can’t remember the title or find it easily online, but it was published around 1990 or 1991 in either Asimov’s or Analog. I was a political science major in college, and I wrote probably half a dozen papers on either the ’68 election or the careers of candidates who ultimately ran for President in that election, and the story sank its claws deep into my brain.  I haven’t read a lot of her work since then, but now I’m planning to go back and catch up on everything I missed.

Time to Kick Ass and Post on My Blog.

And I’m all out of blog posty-stuff.

It’s been a busy few weeks. Here’s a quick rundown, the good and the bad:

  • A mentally ill parishoner burned down the church my wife and children attend, doing millions of dollars in damage and forcing them to seek temporary space for the next 9-12 months.
  • My wife got swine flu and, mostly, recovered.
  • My father came for a visit!
  • Junior spent the first night of my father’s visit throwing up.
  • I had to go to Austin for a few days while the Siren was sick. The Lass and I tried to work out a meeting in the holographic projection we call the real world, but our schedules didn’t mesh.
  • A case that was going to have me in Peoria for a week and a half straight for an arbitration settled at the last minute.
  • I wore my Vibram FiveFingers for a half-hour treadmill run shortly after my last post, and they chafed in a couple of spots badly enough that my feet bled. I’ll try them again to see if I can break them in a little, but I think they’re just a size or two too small.

Well, enough of that. We’re all in reasonable good health, I’ve started to get some more work done on Breezeway, despite having a busy time at work (I can’t recommend Merlin Mann’s recent post, “First, Care,” highly enough to assist you in getting off your personal stick, by the way). My running is off and on but I’m registered for the Shamrock Shuffle and getting ready for the start of the racing season in less than two months.

Unfocused Girl and I are testing for our high green belts in taekwondo next week, so today was board-breaking practice ahead of the test. Witness the Unfocused Family’s destructive might:

That’s five boards: Unfocused Girl and I each broke two, and Junior broke one. After TKD, Unfocused Girl and I take a marital arts weapons class. We recently moved from nunchaka to bo sticks, and our new bo sticks arrived today:

Don’t let the smile fool you — we Unfocuseds are totally badass.

Footloose and Fancy-Free, Or, On Turning Into a Freaking Hippie.

For Christmas, I received a copy of Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, the story of a tribe of Native Americans, hidden in the jungle canyons of Mexico, learned to appreciate the iconic Springsteen album has an entire culture built on running incredibly long distances.  The Tarahumara run wearing nothing on their feet but thin, handmade sandals (strips of old tire, tied on with leather thongs), and have no running injuries to speak of.  Parallel to the story of the Tarahumara and the first running of what has become the Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon, McDougall discusses recent research into the evolution of human running form and modern running injuries, and draws the conclusion that modern running shoes, with their high-tech cushioning, encourages landing on the heel.  The heel isn’t meant to take that kind of shock, and there appears to be a fair amount of evidence that humans evolved to run long distances landing on the forefoot or midfoot.  The book also describes research indicating that heel-strike running in cushioned running shoes causes more and worse injuries than the shoes prevent.

I’ve been hearing chatter about running barefoot or in shoes with minimal cushioning over the last couple of years, and while I was interested in the abstract idea, for the most part, I ignored the phenomenon.  I didn’t see how it would apply to me — a middle-aged distance runner with little access to any running surface more forgiving than asphalt and cement.

Reading BTR convinced me to take it more seriously; I spent some time reviewing other websites and podcasts on the topic, I decided to try it out.  As it’s January in Chicago, I’m not planning on going out for a barefoot run anytime soon.  I tried a couple of short treadmill runs barefoot, and noticed right away that my gait changed to a forefoot strike.  After putting my shoes back on (the treadmill belt is very rough on the soles of my feet), I tried to keep running with the barefoot gait, landing on the balls of my foot.  My lower calves were sore for a couple of days because I was using different muscles, but my feet, knees, and hips all felt surprisingly good after these runs.

My new running shoes?

I ordered a pair of Vibram FiveFingers – follow the link, they’re impossible to explain otherwise – to wear on the treadmill and outside once it warms up.  Unfortunately, they got here just as we got hit with a nasty virus Junior brought home from school, and I haven’t had a chance to try them out.  Since it’s 45 degrees and raining right now – completely inappropriate weather for January – I think I’ll get my run on the treadmill this morning, and try them out for a mile or two.

If you’re interested, here are some additional links on running barefoot or in minimalist shoes:

Barefoot Ted

Born to Run Links Page

Phedippidations Ep. 141: Running Barefoot

Phedippidations Ep. 203: The Pose Running Method

I recommend checking the show notes for the Fdip episodes, especially #141; Steve does a good job collecting relevant links.

Time for a run.

Getting Back Into The Swing of Things.

How much swinging do things actually do, anyway? Are we talking about Thing, The Thing, or Thing One and Thing Two? And is this any way to open up my first blog post in three weeks? Probably not.

Happy New Year. I hope your holidays rocked. I missed most of Hanukah with the kids because of travel for work, but we did dance the Horah to Bare Naked Ladies at least one night, and got the candles lit a few times. I did manage to teach the kids the dreidel game, which they enjoyed for about five minutes until I heard Junior complain that Unfocused Girl “gets all the gimmels, and I keep getting nun!” That ended fast.

Things at the job quieted down over Christmas, but of course, just as things slowed down for me at work, the Siren‘s commitments ramped up, from finishing her NaCoBakMo cookie baking (which was very successful, thank you to those who participated), to directing the Sunday school Christmas pageant at her church. She managed it all with her usual combination of sleep-deprivation and almost frightening competence, and at approximately 4:15am Christmas morning, everything was finally done.  Starting two and a half hours later, we had a lovely Christmas. We were even able to take a few days up in Wisconsin over New Year’s.

I made no progress on the novel in December after Dec. 2. I should have been able to get a fair amount done in the week before Christmas while the Siren was sewing, blogging, and baking until the wee hours every night, but I think I’d hit the end of the mental road and it was all I could do to spend hours screwing around on Facebook and Twitter. The entire second half of December felt like an extended adrenaline crash that I’m just started to get through.

I’m determined to make some progress on Breezeway Blows Town in January, even if it kills me. I’ve done Write or Die once or twice since New Year’s, which helps.  Yesterday, I sat down to write, and it took me four hours to write 600 words. I didn’t have any problems with the words coming, I just couldn’t keep my ass in my chair, and when I was seated in front of the keyboard I kept checking FB, Twitter, email, etc. Lucky for me, the kids were perfectly happy in the basement having an impromptu Ultraman marathon in their underwear (don’t ask me why; the basement is awfully damn cold, even with the gas fire going), and the Siren was sewing more doll clothes, so nobody cared what I was doing.

I managed a little better today, just over 500 words in less than two hours, including an hour-long nap when I fell asleep after the first 72 words. I was less distracted by social media and more by legitimate, if unnecessary at this stage, Internet research. Not fast, but it beat my performance yesterday.

In order to get our NaNoWriMo writing chops back, my NaNo buddy John Mierau and I have made a solemn pact to write every day for the remainder of the month. Even if I only manage 500 words a day, that’s more than 10,000 words added to Breezeway by January 31, bringing me that much closer to finishing the first draft. More important, it will get me back into the habit of daily writing, which is the only way to get this done. Even more important than that, it will give me an excuse to taunt John on Twitter on a regular basis. By the way, if you’re not listening to his podcast of his short fiction, you’re missing out.

I’m more than halfway through the story I’m trying to tell in Breezeway, and I’m still amused by it, even if no one else will be. Meet the Larssons was interesting in its own way, but it never gave me the opportunity to write anything like this:

“They’re moving!” Frankie shouted.  The car leapt forward into traffic as he mashed the accelerator.  The side of the Crown Vic scraped along the front bumper of the beige minivan, with a tooth-rattling grind.

“Fuck!” Luca shouted.  Tony twisted around and saw the pimp had spilled his mocha frappucino all over himself and the back seat of the Vic.

Tony snarled and yanked the gun out of his pocket, ripping the lining.  With his left hand, he mashed down the power window button and fumed for the 2.75 seconds it took for the window to open.

See what I mean? Meet the Larssons got way too heavy.  Breezeway is still just plain fun, the way I meant it to be.

I thought about writing a 2009 wrap up, and maybe I will, but right now I’m really looking forward to 2010. I’m going to finish the first draft of Breezeway soon, hopefully before spring, then move on to revisions. I have plans for my running, which I’ll talk about separately. And I just started watching Firefly, which I downloaded from iTunes. I’ve never seen it before, and series opener, at least was fantastic.

I’m back in that comfy chair and I’m falling asleep again. Better hit PUBLISH before it’s too late.