Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Accomplishments and 2014 Resolutions

Remember how 2013 started?  I do.  It started right on this post of mine, the January 1, 2013, missive in which I resolved to accomplish several awesome things.  That, incidentally, was the first post of my friend Cricket Walker's 365-day posting challenge.  You know, that challenge for which I was going to post 365 blog entries, one each day, in 365 days, thus creating a travelogue for the year I'd just finished traipsing across.

Remember all that?  Well, I do.  And now, watching the tail end of 2013 gallop past me like Secretariat with a jet engine up his butt, I'm pretty sure that "I blew it" is an understatement.

Don't go getting all soft on me, now.  I cut my professional teeth in the U.S. Army Infantry, where if you can't handle a "your performance sucked so much shit, you were farting pastures" in an after-action review, you aren't going to last long.  Granted, I didn't last long, but my anti-longevity wasn't due to thin skin.  

So anyway, first, I need to review all the stuff I didn't accomplish last year.  Then, and only then, can we get to all the stuff I'm not gonna accomplish next year.  Trust me, that's the best way.

Chief Blog Goal #1: post a blog entry each and every happy little day of the happy little year.

Nope.  Not really even close.  I was 115 entries short.  114, actually, once I post this one.  Oh, I kept up for quite a while, with one post for every day right up to the end of May.  That's nearly five months of consistent blogging, I'll just point out, and that ain't bad.  It's also 251 posts in a year, which really ain't too shabby at all, as blog activity goes.  It's also helped me see the importance of back material--many days my most-hit post wasn't even from that day.  Oh, and also, I doubled my total hit count.  All in all, not bad, then, but as goal attainment goes, it sucks big fat ogre toes. 

The rest of my 2013 resolutions:

  1. Write every day.  Nope, didn't do that.  Wrote a lot of days, and a whole lot more of what I wrote in 2013 was a whole lot better than the crappola I scribed in 2012, in my own less than entirely humble opinion.  Still: fail.
  2. Publish four books.  Nuh uh.  I got one, and then a boxed set.  That's it.  One novel and a marketing device don't equate to four novels in any realm.  I did press on quite a bit, with Elf Queen nearly ready to go and its successor's first draft done.  Still: fail.
  3. Take risks.  Well, hell, I did that the very first day, making crappy goals like this one.  I did some other stuff that can be considered risks, too, but--ah, hell.  Final score on this one: indeterminate.
  4. Operate smarter.  What the hell was I thinking with this one?  "Operate smarter"--really, big guy?  Okay, show of hands: who thought I was smarter this year?  Who thought I wasn't?  Yeah, I'm gonna fail myself just for writing this unmeasurable-as-hell, stupid goal down.
  5. Freelance each week.  Just--no.  The time I was spending doing freelance, though it made me a better writer, paid off in very small ways, while the time I have spent writing novels, embarrassingly for the freelance sites, is already paying off better, and will hopefully in the future pay off heads and armpits above the freelance rate of pay.  Smart fail, but fail nonetheless.
  6. Dozen short stories written.  Or, um, not.  Fail.
  7. Social network weekly.  Hey, I've played Facebook games weekly; does that count?  I think the main purpose of this goal was to pull my weight in APG, and since they and I are no longer associated, I'll just rate this one a nice big juicy ball of fail, okay?
  8. Move.  Now, this one makes me giggle in a way that would probably lead you to suggest that I need professional help if you were to hear it.  I did it.  I frickin' moved.  But.  The goal was to move into a house from the craptastic apartment we were renting.  Nowhere in there was I suggesting a journey of a thousand miles.  While I'm not saying it was bad that I moved to where I did, I gotta give myself only half credit for this one.  And half credit, on a goal, is--yes, you guessed it.  Fail.
  9. Exercise once a day.  Not even close.  If you strung 'em out it would probably be closer to once a month.  Big fat floppy fail there, with whipped cream and sugar on top. 
Okay, so now that I've proven the exercise, let's sum up.  I suck.  I either suck at setting goals, or I suck at achieving goals, or I suck at both.  You can't miss nine out of ten goals, though, and have a good year.

Wait.  Let me rephrase that, because it's patently untrue.  2013 was, in fact, a pretty dang good year for me.  I moved into a great job opportunity.  I met some great neighbors.  I accomplished more writing than I've ever done before, and a lot of it is sweet awesome sauce.  Heide's health continues to improve.  Jessa graduated from high school, and Vinny graduated from a college program.

I guess you can miss nine out of ten goals and still have a pretty dang good year.

Oh, yeah, and I got a Gandalf lunch box for Christmas.  That, and a TARDIS throw-blankey.  How many of you got a Gandalf lunch box or a TARDIS throw-blankey, hmm?  Pretty dang good year?  Nah, pretty dang great year!

Okay, so I've had a pretty good few years, honestly.  It's been a lot of cases of not accomplishing what I set out for, but what I did accomplish has made me happy.

So with all that being said, what should I vow to do in 2014?  Keep in mind as I ask the question that I haven't accomplished much of what I vowed in 2013, 2012, or other years in the past.  So--maybe--maybe I should just play the odds?  Since history tells me that I'm most likely not going to do what I say I'm going to do, maybe I should work it like this:

In 2014, I resolve to:

  • not INCREASE my income by any substantial measure.
  • not COMPLETE four novels that are rockin' good.
  • not BREAK THROUGH to world wide publishing success.
  • not ACHIEVE every goal I'm assigned at work.
  • not LOSE most of the weight that I've gained over the years.
  • not GET IN SHAPE.

Take that, Cosmos...

Now, we'll see whether I accomplish what I've said I would, or what I've said I wouldn't. 

To tell you the honest truth, though?  If I merely succeed in spending the next 365 bright and beautiful days under the sun with the love of my life, Heide, I'll be the luckiest man on the planet.  I can only hope, for your sake, my friend, that you have someone who brings the sweet awesome sauce to your life like she does to mine.

Goals or no, here's hoping you have a great, happy, and, above all, safe New Year!


Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Love My Shoelaces

Okay, okay, I really don't have any sort of weird fondness for the inanimate string-like objects that hold my shoes securely on my feet.  The title of this post is only slightly tongue-in-cheek, though, as it is quite refreshing to renew my relationship with said inanimate objects in addition to the animated appendages they serve.

There was a time, see, when I was in quite good shape.  I ran a marathon, a triathlon, and an iron man event, all while studying physics and electrical engineering.  I graduated from West Point, in fact, at 180 solid, muscular pounds, and though I certainly wasn't the greatest athlete to complete a course of study at the military academy -- not even really close, honestly -- I was still in good physical condition.

Fast forward to today, over twenty years later, and quite nearly a hundred pounds heavier.  There's several reasons I've let my physical condition go, but they're all pretty much just excuses at this point.

Oh, and I used to be flexible.  So flexible was I, in fact, that I had to stop doing quad stretches before I ran, because I'd always over-stretch and the subsequent run would hurt my knees.  Now?  Not so much.  When I started the workout regimen I've been on for the past week, I was surprised to find that I couldn't even do a quad stretch.  No, seriously -- I couldn't bring my left leg up high enough to grab the top of that shoe.

My overall shape -- round, it is -- has gotten to the point where "Oh, you graduated from West Point?" always sounds like more of a shocked exclamation than an expression of approbation.

As if that wasn't bad enough, just tying my shoes was an exercise in embarrassing exertion.  I mean, it was hard enough to do it before my ill-fated trip to Bermuda, but after breaking my collarbone and three ribs on my left side, that achievement was darn near an impossibility.  I went with slip-on shoes for months after, and only recently went back to tied-on shoes despite the effort involved.

Tying my right shoe wasn't too bad; I'd find a nice high perch and throw my foot up onto it, reaching down and deftly working the laces into a knot.  The left, though, was the problem.  I used the same perch, but in order to get that one tied I had to roll myself up into a tight ball, holding my breath tightly while I rapidly did up a bow knot with my quivering, bluing fingertips.  Once the shoe was tied, I sprang back up into a straight position with an explosive breath in.

It was downright embarrassing, really.

I'd had enough of it this last summer, but after buying a workout regime I got caught up in moving, changing jobs, and all that stress, and the disks lay on the mantle for months, gathering dust.  Besides, when I tried the first couple of exercise routines, my left shoulder still crackled and popped when I used it.  While it's fine for breakfast cereal to do that, it's alarming when it's your formerly broken shoulder.

Then, in early December, I weighed myself.  Two hundred eighty pounds, with zero clothes on.  Enough was enough, I decided.  After talking it over with the family I set out on a diet and exercise routine.

I started last weekend.  Oh, my, it hurt!  The pops and crackles were gone, finally, but the glutes and shoulders and calves hurt so bad for a while that I had a hard time climbing the stairs to the parking garage at work.  Even walking down the hallway brought enough pain that I grimaced with each step.

You know the good thing about workout muscle pain?  It's going to go away, one way or another. Either you work out through it, as I have, or you stop working out, and either path leads to less pain.  Besides, the burn of a solid workout is a good pain.  I used to enjoy it.

Turns out, I still do.

This weekend?  I've only lost a few pounds.  Now, that's pretty good for the start of a workout routine--those who know best have always told me that it's unsafe to lose more than a couple or a few pounds in a week. 

The best part, though?  I can tie both shoes without needing SCUBA equipment.  I can also do quad stretches once again, though still not nearly as quickly as I used to hop into them.

So yeah, I'm happy I started.  My Facebook friends know which workout regimen I'm talking about, because I've been mock-complaining about how insane this Insanity workout is.  Fact of the matter, though, is that it's perfect for me.  It's the younger cousin of P90X, which is a successful strength-building process, but Insanity is focused on cardio and sweating more than muscle building, and that's precisely what my fat tuckass needs.

So -- wish me luck.  That, and years of happiness in my newly renewed relationship with my feet in all their surroundings.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Art of Sarcasm

So there, I finished the first book of the 100 that I'm working at reading.  Technically, it's more like the fourth, because I recently re-read a couple of them before I discovered the list, and so I'm counting those as done, gosh darnit.  Whatever.  Regardless, Lord of the Flies is now read.  And--yes, it's good.  I see why it's considered a great novel.  More on that, and on the whole book versus movie debate, in a later post, I promise.

Next on the list?  An old friend, rather than a new discovery.  Like some of the other books on the list, I've read this one before, but unlike the others on the list, I've always recalled the reading of it with a certain degree of fondness and joy. 

It was one of the first war books I procured a copy of, and it was the last in that collection to go once I finally accepted that my private study of warfare didn't need to continue.  See, I went to West Point as a guy who'd already read nearly everything Isaac Asimov had published by that date, and I'd read many other sci fi works besides.  For the fun of it I'd read many of the older classics, including the biggies by Euclid, Marx, and Aristotle, and if I'd put nearly half as much energy into reading the books I'd been assigned in high school as I put into not-reading them, I'd'a had one heckuva philosophical base behind me. 

Then I got to West Point, and despite my continued fervor at not-reading the books that the English department decided I ought to, I discovered warfare as a topic.  The West Point texts, written by the West Point staff, weren't half bad at describing the battles as they happened, but I started devouring other great works as well: biographies, memoirs, non-fiction accounts, and even works of fiction.  The Brotherhood of War series was good, though it became repetitive eventually.  Tom Clancy got really big at about that time, and I enjoyed his stories. 

And then there was Catch-22.

Joseph Heller's masterpiece grabbed for itself a long-standing central space on my bookshelf.  Hey, there were many books that described military actions and activities.  Most of them pointed out how mankind hadn't really learned anything from previous warfare, or how we had and one side made the most of it.  Many other books told of people who fight.  None of them, though, made warfare or the people who fight it seem so--human. 

And it accomplishes that through the art of sarcasm.

An example:

"The colonel dwelt in a vortex of specialists who were still specializing in trying to determine what was troubling him.  They hurled lights in his eyes to see if he could see, rammed needles into nerves to hear if he could feel.  There was a urologist for his urine, a lymphologist for his lymph, an endocrinologist for his endocrines, a psychologist for his psyche, a dermatologist for his derma; there was a pathologist for his pathos, a cystologist for his cysts, and a bald and pedantic cetologist from the zoology department at Harvard who had been shanghaied ruthlessly into the Medical Corps by a faulty anode in an I.B.M. machine and spent his sessions with the dying colonel trying to discuss Moby Dick with him."

Even back when the only specialty professional language I knew involved military acronyms and words you might see in an OpOrd (er, "Operations Order," a five-paragraph thing of linguistic repetition and plagiarism and command and control wisdom), I found that paragraph to be hilarious.  Now that I'm much--well, um, just much--and I am familiar with the masterwork that is medical terminology, it's beyond hilarious.  It's stunning. 

Another thing that is stunning--and not in as positive of a reference--is that Heller didn't do it entirely by himself.  The 50th Anniversary edition contains something that my ancient, worn, and long-since donated copy did not: an introduction that I probably wouldn't have read at that time anyway.  Now, though, I do read such things, thanks not only to a certain degree of curiosity I have as one who's been-there-done-that-but-not-had-a-bestseller, but also in the hopes of learning something useful. 

In this volume's introduction is the meta-tale (a story describing a story) of how others collaborated to make Catch-22 the work of art that I believe it is.  Specifically, Robert Gottlieb, a man considered by many to be one of the finest editors of all time, sat down with the author to "piece together a jig-saw puzzle from a total of nine separate manuscripts."  Nine.  "Their collaboration was astonishingly devoid of friction.  Gottlieb was a genius, but Heller was an editor's dream, that rare thing--an author without proprietary sensitivity, willing to make any change, to . . . murder any darling." 

And there ya have it.  An author who'd spent seven years writing the original work, who was then willing to take a genius's suggestions to heart--and he wrote a masterpiece that was acclaimed critically by all.  Well, nearly all.  Well, okay--according to the introduction, it was actually panned by quite a few literary critics, folks who I'm sure have been blown sour raspberries by many now-famous authors. 

And now, I'm off to write, to finish constructing the true end of the novel I called "ended" just in time to win NaNo.  It's not really done till the loose ends are tied, though, and I still have some tying to do.  And then, perhaps, some time spent with Bombadier Yosarian is in order.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Memories Part Two

Today I wanted to continue on the topic from a previous post: memories.

I recently took the fam to do some diamond mining.  Woo hoo!  See, there’s a place in Arkansas called the Crater of Diamonds State Park.  Because it sits atop an ancient volcano, diamonds can be found on the surface; hence, the name. 

It is, according to advertisements, the only public diamond mine in the world. Heide learned of its existence years ago while watching Treasure Hunters.  To her bucket list was thus added a diamond hunting trip in Arkansas, then, in addition to a sapphire hunting trip in Montana and others.

Hey, it’s just over four hours from our new home in Memphis. We had to go.

Heide’s birthday is in November, and the weekend after is one of the easiest to get into the park with short notice due to its location between the summer – “high” – season, and the winter season.  Thus it was that a few weeks ago I put the plans together to enjoy a nice weekend away from the Internet and get our diamond-hunter mojo going. 

That’s all worth its own post.  This one’s about the drive there.

To get from Memphis, Tennessee, to Murfreesboro, Arkansas, you first take Interstate 40 west, driving across a tall bridge over the Mississippi River and then through Arkansas to Little Rock.  From there you jump onto Interstate 30 toward Texarkana. 

Somewhere between the Mississippi River and Little Rock it hit me: I’ve been on that route before.  It was over three decades ago, mind you, but suddenly memories of that particular stretch of road came flooding back. 

I was as excited by the trip back then as I was the more recent weekend.  Oh, this weekend we were heading out to find diamonds, and hopefully lots of them, but that other journey long ago was in search of a whole different type of gem: a gem of a lifestyle, one where the days were always warm and the nights always cool, one set in a land of milk and honey (or some might say fruits and nuts), one where Mom could start over in life from the safety of her mother’s home.

Specifically, this Mississippi boy was moving to California.  Technically, Mom was moving to California; I and my brother were along for the ride.  But what a ride it was.

I’d kept vague memories of Mom talking to truckers on the CB radio as we crossed over a towering bridge, and now I know that it was the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi.  That was one of the most exciting times on the journey.  It was just the second hour, for one thing – you know, honeymoon phase and all.  I hadn’t traveled much; I’d only been west of the Mississippi a few times, in fact. 

A grand adventure awaited, we were all certain.

It had to wait a little longer, though.  We pulled into Texarkana, which isn’t exactly a huge city, and smelled antifreeze.  That was, matter of fact, the first time I found out what antifreeze smelled like when it was outside of the engine.  We ended up overnighting there while waiting for a replacement water pump, but hey, nobody had included this teenage boy in the actual plans and so I had no idea it wasn’t a planned stop.  It was actually a lot of fun for me; I don't recall the restaurant across the street from the mechanic, but I do remember the nachos platter we ate there.  Similarly, I don't recall the hotel we stayed at that was also across the street from the mechanic, but I do remember how much fun it was to spend our first night of our grand adventure there.

New water pump in place, we went on to Dallas, where a set of cousins I'd never met awaited.  Home movies--what a kick!  They’d recently been to Hawaii, and we got to watch all the videos (done on VHS tapes, which were actually a very new thing, themselves, back then).  At the same time I met my second cousin, who’d been some kind of runner-up in some sort of beauty pageant, and boy, was she beautiful.  That led to a whole lot of conflicted agony as teenage hormones squared off against ingrained taboos: “but she’s beautiful",“but she’s my cousin.” 

We stayed a blissful few days in Dallas and then headed on to El Paso.  Again, I don’t remember much there but for the highlights, one of which was learning just how far you can see in the desert air.  “Yay, we’re almost to El Paso!” I remember crooning, and my mother explained that the map said we were still nearly a hundred miles away, and then she told me how it is that the desert makes that illusion happen.

Oh, I also remember how we locked the keys in the car at the restaurant in El Paso – Denny’s, I think?  I don’t remember the menu or the food so much, but I do remember how interesting it was that the first two people we asked for help happened to know how to break in to a car, both efficiently and effectively.

We made it to SoCal fairly straightaway after that incident.  And then came the boiling over – not the car, but the driver.  Ever watched somebody who’s used to cruise control follow somebody else who isn’t using it?  It’s not something you’d think would be that funny until you’ve actually seen it happen.  My mother nearly blew a gasket on the last leg of the trip.  We’d stopped off at my uncle’s house, and he led us the last 100 miles or so through Riverside and on in to Upland, where my grandmother lived.  Only, he didn’t have cruise control, and every time he sped up or slowed down my brother and I were treated to a few words that I don't recall knowing our mother was familiar with till then. 

Funny, isn’t it, the things we remember and the things we don’t?