TTOF: The Gamification of Writing

My latest post on “Thinking Through Our Fingers,” a blog on writing:

It might sound a little weird, but I figure if there’s anything I can do to streamline the process of pounding out that first draft, I’m willing to to try it. And that includes a little over-the-top gamification.

Read it here.

Posted in Running, Writing

Custom Converse All Stars Times Two!

Two weekends a year, I spend ten hours sitting and listening to a religious broadcast. I enjoy the speeches, but if I just sit there I end up falling asleep. To keep my hands busy and my mind active, I’ve been painting during the broadcasts. And of course, what I paint is shoes.

You can see some previous painted shoes projects here and here.

Last October I began a pair of shoes for my son Nathan, but didn’t finish them. So a few weeks ago, when the next broadcast was scheduled, I knew I would need at least a couple of hours to finish the last panel and the tongues of that particular pair. I told some family friends I would be happy to do some shoes for their son Ethan if they could get me the shoes by Saturday afternoon. I managed to finish two pairs of painted shoes in one weekend, and I’m happy with the way they turned out.

Nathan’s Star Wars Shoes

Nate wanted his Converse All Stars painted with some of his favorite scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s worth pointing out again that the constraints of these shoes sometimes make it difficult to chose subjects. The panels are always taller on one end, so we had to choose movie stills that worked for the available space.

Left Shoe, Outside: AT-AT Attack on Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back)

This still might actually be from a video game, but the composition worked really well for the shoe’s side panel. I composited the T-47 airspeeder because of course I did.

Left Shoe, Inside: Light Saber Duel (The Empire Strikes Back)

Probably one of the most memorable scenes from the entire series, the duel between Luke and Darth Vader is pretty dang awesome. Yes, this is the “I am your father” scene.

Right Shoe, Outside: Death Star Dog Fight (Star Wars: A New Hope)

It’s tricky to paint space without just making it all black. The angle of the shot make the Death Star look lopsided, but it’s actually round. I had fun with the shading to make things pop.

Right Shoe, Inside: Crash-landed on Dagobah (The Empire Strikes Back)

This was the last panel I did. In retrospect, it should’ve been overall darker. I had to mess with the perspective on the X-wing just a little to get it to fit. R2 is fun to paint, even in miniature.

Tongues and Heel Straps (R2D2 & C3PO, Logos)

I always paint the tongues even though they end up getting covered by laces. Since R2 and 3PO are basically the viewpoint characters of the original trilogy, it made sense use them here.

 

Ethan’s Theater Shoes

Just like my kids, Ethan is super involved in theater. But unlike many theater kids, he enjoys the onstage and offstage stuff equally. So he wanted his inner panels to represent the backstage/tech work in theater, and the outer panels to represent some of his favorite musicals.

Left Shoe, Outside: Shrek, Aladdin, Newsies

Three of Ethan’s favorite shows.

Left Shoe, Inside: Lights and Sound

Because Ethan likes to do both lighting and sound work, I chose a fresnel lantern and a sound board to represent that.

Right Shoe, Outside: Little Shop, Hamilton, The Little Mermaid

Three more of Ethan’s favorite shows.

Right Shoe, Inside: Shrek, Aladdin, Newsies

Behind the scenes is all about backstage: the braced-up muslin flats, sight lines and curtains, painting and rigging and construction.

Tongues and Heel Straps (Drama Masks, Measuring Tape and Playbill)

If you’ve ever been to a Broadway show, you know most of them have the yellow “Playbill” header across the program. The companion, of course, is the measuring tape, which is used in all kinds of theater tech. The tongues got the traditional comedy/tragecy masks, in garish colors that will be covered up by laces anyway.

Here are a few detail shots of the individual show panels. Newsies was a particular challenge.

Posted in Art, Theater Tagged with: , ,

For Your Listening Enjoyment

My daughter is gonna kill me.

I can’t remember why I uploaded these audition tracks to this site. I think somebody asked to hear them and at the time it was the easiest way to make that happen. But then I found myself listening to them today and figured, why not share them?

Yep, she’s gonna kill me.

A few months ago we arranged for a couple of hours of studio time so she could record a few songs to submit as audition pieces. We only had time for a couple of takes for each song, but dang if she doesn’t sound pretty awesome—even straight out of the microphone. So, with no apologies to her or anyone else, here they are.

“Part of Your World”
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (1989), from “The Little Mermaid”

“Home”
Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (1994) from “Beauty and the Beast”

“She Used to Be Mine”
Sara Bareilles (2015), from “Waitress”

“Second Hand White Baby Grand”
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (2012) from “Smash”

“Gimme Gimme”
Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan (2002) from “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Posted in Music, Theater Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

If You’re a Writer, Consider Becoming a Runner

I just finished a second draft of my current novel in progress. So … yay! This was my NaNoWriMo project (or, more accurately, my NaNoWriRunMo project), and I managed to cut 5,000 words while at the same time filling in a bunch of holes. One of the biggest gaps in the first draft happened to be in the final chapter. It had to be super clever, but when I drafted it I chickened out and pasted in a bunch of greeking because I was feeling extremely un-clever at the time. But that wasn’t going to work for my alpha readers, so it was time to knuckle down and crank something out—good or bad.

So I harnessed up the dog, laced up my shoes, and went out for a run in the rain.

This is something I find myself doing, more and more. Running and writing, writing and running. Maybe it’s just “thinking on my feet,” but my best inspiration always seems to come when I’m chugging away, breathing in rhythm, putting one shoe in front of the other. If I’m on a trail, the dog is gamboling ahead, making me look slow as she tears off after rabbits. If we’re street running, she’s dashing ahead to sniff whatever she deems sniffworthy, nose to the ground as I jog past, catching up as the leash zips back onto its spring-loaded spool. And all along, my mind is cycling around and around whatever I’m writing next.

I came back from that particular soggy run with most of that trouble section drafted in my head. It came to me in spurts between miles two and five. All I had to do when I got back was sit down and type it all out.

I’ve been a runner for much of my life, but I haven’t always run. Actually, there were entire years when I never ran at all—not even once. There were also years when I didn’t write anything apart from emails, shopping lists and Facebook posts. All that changed in early January of last year, when we adopted a shelter dog. Roxy loves to run.

Why Running and Writing?

If you’re a writer, I think you should be a runner too. Why? Amanda Loudin of the Washington Post sums it up this way:

Running and writing are at once complementary and opposing activities. Running requires a high level of physical activity; writing calls for a high level of cerebral activity. They are seemingly miles apart on the spectrum, but in reality, not at all.

For both, you need to consistently show up and practice. You need the mental focus to improve. You need to take risks and face potential failure. And you need to get comfortable with all of the above.

As a writer, there are four main benefits I have seen from my running: self-improvement, clearing my mind, running to read and learning to finish. Running and writing are amazingly complementary.

Self-Improvement

When we adopted Roxy, it had been a couple of years since I’d attempted much serious exercise. I was the heaviest I’d ever been, and most of my pants were too tight to wear. (You see, I’m too cheap to buy new pants.) I would get winded climbing two flights of stairs. I was spending lots of hours in front of my laptop (often in fast-food joints) and that wasn’t helping things. I knew something had to change.

Over 1,700 miles later, I’m 20 pounds lighter and I feel better than I have in decades. My body fat percentage is down a whopping 25%, year over year. Inspired by my best friend, I ran my first half-marathon last July. Since then, I’ve run seven more—eight if you count the “Double Dog Dare” a few weeks ago. I’m signed up for my first OMG-WTF-26.2-mile marathon in a month or so, and I couldn’t be more excited. At age 47, I’m in better physical shape than I was at 27.

Japanese author Haruki Murakami, a former three-pack-a-day smoker who’s now a triathlete and ultramarathoner, probably said it best: “For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level…. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday.” When he says all of this, he’s talking about both running and writing.

I don’t think you necessarily need to race to be a runner, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. For me, races are just bright points on the calendar, like the semi-artificial deadlines you set for yourself to finish your first draft by X, your next draft by Y. Races are like write-ins where everyone wears Spandex. You all get together and socialize, and then you strap on your shoes and get to work. In racing, as in writing, you’re really only competing against yourself. If you finish, you win.

Clearing Your Mind

Poet, novelist and playwright Joyce Carol Oates drew an interesting comparison between dreaming and running:

There must be some analogue between running and dreaming. The dreaming mind is usually bodiless, has peculiar powers of locomotion and, in my experience at least, often runs or glides or “flies” along the ground or in the air…. In running, “spirit” seems to pervade the body; as musicians experience the uncanny phenomenon of tissue memory in their fingertips, so the runner seems to experience in feet, lungs, quickened heartbeat, an extension of the imagining self.

In the past year, most of my best ideas for characters and story elements have come to me while I pounded the pavement or crunched along a trail. I don’t carry a notepad while running, so I’ve learned to record these flashes of inspiration using a voice recorder app on my phone. My experience is far from unique. In his piece on writing and running, Author Ryan Holiday tells an eerily familiar story:

The introduction to my book The Obstacle is the Way came to me on a six mile run along the water on the east side of Manhattan. It was cold. I could see the breath coming in and out in front of me. I’d been struggling to figure out how to start this book for nearly a month and my timeline would fail apart if I didn’t make progress soon. Then suddenly, music blaring, some forgotten song on loop, it came to me: “In the year 170, at night in his tent on the front lines of the war in Germania, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius sat down to write.” The rest of the introduction followed over the next few miles….

Even if you don’t decide to take up running, you should at least consider taking up walking. There’s a reason so many writers—from William Wordsworth and Charles Dickens to Nassim Taleb and Stephen King—have turned to walking to improve their prose and verse. As Henry David Thoreau put it, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

Nailed it, Henry David.

Running to Read

Sometimes it’s difficult to read when you’re writing. There are only so many hours in the day, and it often comes down to a choice between one or the other. Here’s a tip: Choose to write. Later (or earlier), you can choose to run … and take an audio book along with you.

I keep track of every mile I run using the MapMyFitness app. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept track of all the books I’ve absorbed during those miles. Just in the past year, the number would be in the dozens. I’ve always enjoyed audiobooks during long trips because they keep me engaged and actually encourage me to keep driving. (“Can’t stop for long … I’m in the middle of an important chapter!”) Audio books are another way I encourage myself to get out and run. I want to hear what comes next. To do that, I have to get outside and get going.

I also sometimes listen to podcasts while running. Last spring, I binge-listened to the first nine seasons of Writing Excuses while the dog and I cranked out the miles. I like to joke that, for a while, Roxy started thinking her name was “Shut up, Howard.” Now that I’m caught up, I save a few months’ worth of podcasts and listen to them on a good long run.

So load some audio books or podcasts onto your phone, invest in a good set of Bluetooth headphones, and enjoy guilt-free reading time that makes you fitter, not fatter. That’s a win-win, right there.

Learning to Finish

It’s easy to start a novel. It’s a lot harder to crank away at it, day after day, until you have a completed draft. Similarly, it’s easy to start to run. (My teenaged daughter did that once. It didn’t take.) It’s a lot harder to work it into your personal routine, sacrifice sleep and TV time to get in your miles, and hit whatever personal goal you’ve set for yourself.

One reason I prefer out-and-back routes is that they force you to actually return to where you started from. Each mile you run out is actually two miles, because you’ll have to essentially “un-run” it on the way back. If you’re just running laps around a track, you’re never really committed to the long haul, because you can walk away at any time.

Novels are like out-and-back courses. Once you set off, you need stamina to finish. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a bunch of unfinished projects in a drawer or on a hard drive. Finishing takes discipline, and discipline is developed through work.

When I was getting ready to run my second half marathon (in Parowan, Utah), I felt a lot more prepared than I had been for my first. I’d run a lot more miles, for one thing, and I’d actually run the first 10 miles of the course the week before the race. On the day of the half, my body and mind were both ready. I took off with 300 other runners and set a pretty fast pace. When I turned left to buttonhook through the city of Parowan, I was still feeling pretty confident. Then I hit the final two miles and the grade went from a gradual downhill to a subtle uphill. This was uncharted territory that I hadn’t encountered during my training. I didn’t give up, though, and pushed through and finished with a time almost eight minutes faster than my previous half.

We’ve all hit that point in our writing, haven’t we? Things are sailing along smoothly and suddenly you’re lost and don’t know how to finish. One of most fundamental lessons you’ll learn from running is that finishing requires perseverance. It’s an obvious thing, but a concept we have to learn over and over again before it really sinks into our souls.

Get Started Now

The only way to be a writer is to write. The only way to be a runner is to run. Put running and writing together and you’ve got a potent combination that improves your mind, body and craft. In the words of Nick Ripatrazone, “The steady accumulation of miles mirrors the accumulation of pages, and both forms of regimented exertion can yield a sense of completion and joy.”

If you’re a writer and you want to add the joy and accomplishment of running to your writing-focused life, I encourage you to download one of the many “Couch to 5k” (C25K) apps available for both iPhone and Android. Install one on your phone and then follow the program. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. You might be actually shocked at how much your writing improves.

Posted in Art, Personal, Running, Writing Tagged with: , , , , ,

Bill Nye Is a Big Fat Liar

I used to like Bill Nye. I thought he what he did to help introduce an entire generation of kids to science was a very worthy thing. It was only when he began suggesting jailing people who disagreed with him that I realized what a putz this man is.

Let’s start with the facts. He’s not a scientist. As Sheldon Cooper from TV’s Big Bang Theory would sneer, he’s a mechanical engineer. (And he doesn’t even have a master’s degree like Howard Wolowitz.) Here’s Mr. Nye’s actual science credentials, courtesy of Jeff Dunetz:

Nye who has been a vocal supporter of the climate change hypothesis isn’t more qualified to speak about climate science than any other non-scientist. He has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, and worked at Boeing in the mechanical engineering department. His entry into TV was not because of any science expertise but because he won a Steve Martin look-alike contest and began moonlight as a stand-up comic by night. Eventually he quit Boeing and became a comedy writer and performer on a sketch comedy television show in Seattle, Washington, called Almost Live! The host of the show, Ross Shafer, suggested he do some scientific demonstrations in a six-minute segment, and take on the nickname “The Science Guy”.

Recently, this non-science (or is that nonsense?) guy appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. Carlson and Nye spent an entire segment sparring about the value of skepticism in science. Nye’s constant refrain about “climate change” was that “The science is settled.” Doing so underscored Carlson’s point: it’s the scientific equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming “La la la la I’m not listening la la la la!” You can watch the segment here:

One of the big questions Carlson had for this climate change zealot was, “What would the climate look like today without human activity?” Nye’s answer was telling. He said:

“The climate would be like it was in 1750. And the economics would be that you could not grow wine-worthy grapes in Britain as you can today, because the climate is changing.”

Naturally, Carlson was skeptical about this answer. Because it’s unknowable. There is absolutely no way to know for sure what the climate would be like today without people living on the earth. As I point out in my piece, A Modest Proposal for Climate Change, every single model proposed by climate scientists to predict the future has been an abject failure. They’re laughably inaccurate—mostly because they’re all rigged to “prove” political points rather than scientific ones.

Regardless, it’s interesting that Nye put so much emphasis on the cultivation of wine grapes in England. If you watch the segment above,  you’ll see he actually makes this point twice during the segment. You know, like a talking point. This made me curious.

So I started Googling. And guess what I found? A history of wine grapes in Britain from EnglishWineProducers.co.uk.

Yes, there is a British grape-growing industry. According to the industry association’s website, “Viticulture and winemaking in England and Wales boasts a long and rich history. From pre-Roman times to the present day, there has been winegrowing in Britain.”

“But wait!” you cry. “Bill Nye says English winemaking is only a recent thing, and is only possible because of human-caused global warming!”

You have to remember that Bill Nye is a big fat liar. And apparently, he doesn’t expect anyone to Google the crap that spews out of his mouth. (And if you do, he’ll call you a “denier” and try to put you in jail.)

Back to the people who actually know about wine production in Britain. Here’s what they say:

The Romans liked their wine – whether home grown or imported. After invading Britain in AD 43, wine drinking became more commonplace and whenever Roman villas, houses and garrisons have been excavated, there is nearly always archaeological evidence of wine amphorae and drinking cups, and occasionally grape pips and stems of bunches of grapes.

… The Dark Ages followed the Romans. Invasions by the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons destroyed much of the limited civilisation that the Romans had established during their 300 years of occupation. These warring tribes neither had the time nor the inclination to settle down and set up vineyards, and whatever vineyards there had been undoubtedly became neglected. The early Christians, fleeing from these tribal disturbances, retreated to the corners of these islands, in many cases settling in areas that were unsuitable for vineyards.

With the spread of Christianity in the sixth century to the south and east of the county, old skills were revived and there is some evidence that vineyards were established. However, trade with mainland Europe also increased, including that in wine, which is well documented, and vinegrowing in this country would therefore have been limited.

The Viking invasion in the late eighth century destroyed many monasteries and with that once again vinegrowing and winemaking skills were lost.

Winemaking in England was eventually revived in the monasteries that flourished after William of Normandy conquered England in 1066. Fast forward to the 16th century, when winemaking in England once again took a nose dive.

Although the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 is often cited as being the single event that destroyed winegrowing and winemaking in England, it would appear that by this time, many monasteries had given up. The new landowners who had been handed these religious assets, proved reluctant to indulge in viticulture.

It is also said that the British climate underwent some change at this time, becoming generally wetter, with cooler summers and milder winters, leading to less ripe grapes and more fungal diseases, both of which would have been disincentives to profitable winemaking.

Wait just a minute … climate change in the 1500s? We can only assume it was all of the factories, cars, and other industrial activity going on during that time that caused the cooling. Because after all, according to a certain “science guy,” natural climate change takes hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to happen. And here England experienced enough cooling to impact its grape harvests in a relatively brief period of time.

So given all the human-caused global cooling happening during that time, it’s virtually impossible that wine grapes were being grown in England a few hundred years later, during the magical 1750s that Bill Nye uses as a benchmark for climate perfection:

… In 1666, John Rose, Gardener to Charles II at His Royal Garden in St. James’s, wrote a treatise on the cultivation of vines in this country called “The English Vineyard Vindicated”, in which he discussed the question of site selection, vine varieties, pruning and training and care of the vines up to the harvest.

One of the most famous vineyards of this era was that at Painshill Place, Cobham, Surrey, which was planted by the Hon Charles Hamilton in 1740, who was clearly ahead of his time. The property still has a producing vineyard to this day….

“But wait!” you cry. “Bill Nye said wine grapes are grown today because the climate has changed, implying that during the magical 1750s, “wine-worthy grapes” simply didn’t grow in Merry Olde England.

You have to remember that Bill Nye is a big fat liar. He’s a climate zealot who isn’t an actual scientist. A simple Google search makes all of that very clear.

Posted in Environmentalism, Politics Tagged with: , , , , , , ,