Date Night

Date Night

Part of 500 Shitty Words


A half-burnt joint dangled limply from Mago’s bloody lip. His right arm rested on the stone beside him, his left held the uncapped and increasingly empty bottle of Vulture Original bourbon. His ass sat firmly in the dirt, and his granddad’s snubnose sat loosely in the rear waistband of his jeans. Between the swollen black-eye, the night’s darkness and the haze of self-medication, Mago could barely see past his splayed-out boots.

Until the cars pulled up.

There were two cars, and two men in each. They left the headlights and engines on; this wouldn’t take long. Mago didn’t rise to greet the silhouettes that slammed the doors behind themselves, breaking the silence of the night.

They arrayed in a line before him; headlight beams slipping through their arms and around their bodies. One folded his arms in front of his chest, another cracked his knuckles, and a third brandished some kind of club in his left hand. But Mago’s eyes never left the man at the front, whose arms dangled at his sides, clenching and unclenching into fists.

“I told you never to come back here,” the front-man said, his voice malice and smoke.

“You did. I remembered it, too. I got reminders all over my face. The eye. The nose. The lip. Maybe a rib, too, I don’t know. Thing is,” Mago took a deliberate drag from the joint, “I just don’t care what you have to say.”

The plume of smoke hovered in the space between them, illuminated in twists and wisps by the headlights.

The front-man’s shoulders tensed. His men shifted, anger in their posture.

“Why don’t you just go home, before you get yourself hurt?” offered the fella with the club before giving it a showy twirl and slapping it into his palm with a loud thwack. Mago’s eyes never left the front-man.

“Because it’s date night. Nowhere else to be.” His voice cracked as he fought back the tears that stung around his battered eyes.

“You little sonuvabitch. You little fucking sonuvabitch!” the front-man roared, the contours of his face flashing in and out of the light, “You’re the reason she… she’s gone. You killed her, y-you worthless piece of shit…”

The front-man’s voice cracked, too. If he cried, Mago couldn’t see it. Wouldn’t have cared if he could.

“Yeah… I did.” Mago’s joint burned low, little more than ash.

“I should kill you.” The front-man’s hand slipped into the pocket of his jacket and stayed there.

“Maybe,” Mago pushed his right arm against the gravestone and lifted himself to his feet. He took a drag until the last of the joint burnt out. “But I’m not yours to kill.”

His hand slipped behind his back and found purchase on the cool metal barrel of the snubnose. He laced his fingers around the grip and trigger, and drew.

Neither the front-man nor any of his men saw it coming. Just saw the flash of metal against the darkness. Just heard the bang of a single shot. Mago’s body fell limp, collapsed next to the gravestone.

It was date night. He had nowhere else to go.

500 Shitty Words

I’m an expert procrastinator. I’m so good at procrastinating that I can even disguise my procrastination as real work or “research.” For example, today I listened to Tim Ferriss’ talk with Chase Jarvis about optimizing creative output. I also watched Stephen King and George RR Martin talk about books and writing.

Neither of these actually involved me doing anything or making any substantial progress towards writing. I’m constantly tricking myself into thinking research or note-taking are adequate steps towards producing some fucking words on the page. But they aren’t.

But today’s procrastination ended up being actually beneficial. In the Ferriss/Jarvis talk, they talked a lot about systems and practices for increasing creative output. Some were questionable (mindfulness training), but some were edifying.

“Two Crappy Pages”

One of the concepts they discuss around creative output is the “what would this look like if it were easy?” Ferriss talked about launching his podcast with limited post-production to get started. In terms of writing, they talked about pumping out “two crappy pages” per day. By freeing yourself from the self-editor/self-critic, the goal of producing two pages per day becomes easier. In essence, this is “rigging the game” so that you win more often than you lose. Jarvis talked about the benefits of building momentum; this is well-trod territory of creating habits. Adding in small rewards for succeeding in these rigged victory builds that momentum and makes it easier to continue.

They also talked about using systems (specifically referencing Scott Adams of Dilbert fame):

If your goal is to lose ten pounds, you may wake up each day with failure in mind because the goal is hard to reach, and you are only progressing by small amounts. It takes up all your willpower. I recommend that instead of a goal you have a system. Willpower is a finite resource. Don’t pick a model that has failure built into it and requires you constantly drain a finite resource.

The idea is to create systems/guidelines that allow you to put parts of your life on auto-pilot. This, theoretically, lowers the amount of willpower that it requires to perform certain tasks.

I’m absolutely dog-shit at this. I live a hectic, disorganized life by nature. I do use an app – Habitica – to help me stay up with some habits I want to form, but so far the only one I’ve stuck to with consistently is making my bed.

500 Shitty Words

When I built my original “writing habit” into Habitica, I set it at 300 words. After failing to get past zero a few times (due to fear of the blank page), I decided that blog posts, journaling, or work-related writing could count. I started hitting 300 more consistently. In listening to the podcast and video today, I started to realize that my original framing of the problem was designed for failure.

Stephen King writes six polished pages a day. I’m not Stephen King. Ferriss/Jarvis recommend 2 crappy pages… yeah, I’m not there yet either. I should be able to do 300 words, right? Well, the problem was I wanted 300 good words. Not okay – probably not perfect, either – but they needed to be something solid.

Trying to write while managing your own expectations is a recipe for failure. So I’ve altered my target: 500 shitty words. 500 words of fiction at whatever quality it takes to get to 500. (So this 500+ word blog post doesn’t count). The challenge for me is to not increase the difficulty if I’m initially successful. In addition to being a quintessential scatterbrain, I also have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew. And as a people-pleaser, I have a hard time saying “no” (phrasing, that’s what she said, etc).

No Promises

Normally, there is where I’d promise you’d get to see some of these shitty words. Unfortunately, that would kind of defeat the purpose of setting this lower barrier to success. But maybe… if you’re (I’m) lucky.

Free Reads: “Cool Air” by HP Lovecraft

So I’ve decided to start a weekly segment for this blog called “Free Reads.” The idea is simple: I try to find a short story that I enjoyed that is available for free online. That way I can offer it to you without burdening you to make a purchase.

The first “Free Read” is “Cool Air” by HP Lovecraft. Lovecraft is famous for his work in horror fiction, and the creation of the Cthulhu mythos. He was from Providence, RI which might mean something for fellow native New Englanders. Lovecraft was also well-known as a homophobe, racist, and anti-Semite. The amount to which that may or may not affect your appreciation of his work is a personal choice that I would not impinge upon, but bears mentioning – at least to me – along with any recommendations of his work.

“Cool Air” is a horror story, but not the way we would think of it now. It has a Shyamalan-esque ending which astute readers will see coming, but is still an enjoyable read for those with vivid imaginations. I won’t spoil it any further; here is the appropriate link: Cool Air.

Wanton Solicitations

I was talking with my best friend tonight; asking him if he’d read anything good recently. He told me he was “reading a book by JK Rowling, but the dog ate it.” Knowing his dog, this wasn’t just a clever line. He followed up that the dog had done him a favor, and he was going to re-read some Flannery O’Connor.

I actually remember that he came upon Flannery O’Connor through the TV show “LOST.” The character Jacob is reading Everything That Rises Must Converge on a park bench.

I came upon William Gay through a required reading in a high school class. It was the short story “Where Will You Go When Your Skin Cannot Contain You?” To this day, that title is more brilliant than anything I’ve ever written or even thought. The story is a masterpiece. I inflicted Gay upon my friend, and we’ve been trading reading notes ever since.

But right now I feel bone-dry on reading material. So I’m turning to you, unwashed masses of the Internet. I’m looking for interesting stories to read, as I make a beleaguered foray back into writing.

For reference, here’s my current backlog of shit I need to get around to reading/finishing:

  • Blood of Elves – Andrzej Sapkowski
  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell
  • “Providence” – Alan Moore
  • Provinces of Night – William Gay
  • Everything That Rises Must Converge – Flannery O’Connor
  • Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy (I didn’t give this a fair reading)

So lay your suggestions on me if you’ve got them.

Increasing Efficiency

A lot of what I’ve been trying to accomplish in this – my thirtieth* – year boils down to increased efficiency. I am a prolific waster of time and energy. A good portion of that waste comes from my “night owl” tendencies, a bad habit I developed in high school.

The Problem with Sleep

I tend to stay up later into the night and then wake up as late as possible in the morning. Like most people’s sleep cycles, the feedback loop was reinforced and now I rarely go to bed before midnight or wake before 8am (except to feed my dog). This is a habit I’ve been trying to break this year, especially the sleep from hitting SNOOZE over and over is essentially worthless. I’ll never be the up-with-the-sunrise guy, but it would be nice to have a little time in the morning before I have to get to the day’s tasks/work.

What’s frustrating is I’ve found that I’m not making judicious use of my later hours (i.e. the hours I’m “gaining” by “losing” the early morning ones). If I were to read before bed (or update this blog like I am now), I’d feel not as bad about losing part of the morning. Instead I’m watching a “Let’s Play” on YouTube.

Marked Improvements

Which isn’t to say I’ve been a complete and utter failure this year. In fact, I’ve made a lot of strides towards my goals for the year.

I’m down to 15.5% bodyfat and continuing to lose weight. This has been a fix of eating healthier (another goal) and going to the gym more frequently (yet another goal). Switching to the boxing gym has definitely increased my cardio and made workouts difficult for me in a way they hadn’t when I was weightlifting. That’s been a big help in losing the weight, as I’ve been consistently been burning between 800-1000kcal per session, and have been doing between 4-6 times per week, usually on the higher end of both. Both those targets are better than when I was weightlifting with about the same time investment.

I’ve been brewing more beer, too. Today I brewed my 7th batch of the year and probably about 40 gallons for far for the year. I am hoping to get to 20 batches and 100 gallons this year, and I’m slightly behind on that goal, but I do tend to brew more often in the Spring, Summer, and Fall than in the Winter. I probably won’t hit that goal, mostly because I’ll run out of storage capacity (both in kegs and in liver/bladder), but I do expect to hit at least 14/80 numbers this year. This will by far and away be my most productive year as a brewer, and I’m going to start seriously entering competitions. But that’s something I should talk about on the other blog.

Speaking of blogs, I’ve also been updating them all more often. I have goals to write about 300 words a day and try to update the blogs more often. My initial goal was 50 total blog posts for the year and 75k words written. Adding up the word counts is a little much, but I’m probably only around 15k so far. I’d have to retally the blog count, but I’m probably just shy of 20 including this post.

What’s This About Again?

Anyway, this is just kind of a personal update. I haven’t been making anywhere near as much progress on my creative writing as I would’ve liked. A lot of that is probably due to my limited bandwidth/willpower on any given day. This is a big reason my word count goal is so low. Summer is set up to be a very busy time for me this year, so I don’t know how much writing I’ll be able to get down over the next few months, but I do want to recommit myself to writing as the Summer winds down. I may attempt NaNoWriMo this year if I’m not too busy, which would probably help me reach that word count goal, but we’ll see. Perhaps I’ll take my spare moments over the next few months prepping and outlining for November and try to buckle down in that month.

Alright time to try to get to bed a little earlier…

* Technically speaking age 0 to 1 is year one. I turn 30 in August.

Zen and the Art of Violence

I’ve always liked hitting things. I enjoy that tactile sensation that comes from striking. When I was younger, the sports I played gravitated toward this concept: hit a baseball, slap a puck (and later: try to get hit with a puck), hit/tackle a ball-carrier, etc.

I used to punch a lot of walls in high school and college; a juvenile reaction to frustration and anger, but it felt good. I mean, it hurt like a bastard afterward but in that moment, that pain felt liberating. It gave me a (false) sense that I’d done something.

I had: I jacked up my knuckles.

“Trust your hands to do the right thing.”

In between typing these words, I’m icing my left (dominant) hand. I’m icing it because I’ve jacked it up again. I’ve been taking boxing classes for about two weeks now. I’d taken a few free classes in the past, but a gym opened up within walking distance from my house and I’ve been going pretty much non-stop for the past two weeks.

I may be a little overzealous about it. At least that’s what the ache in my knuckles is telling me.

My technique is sloppy, hence the sore hands, but I love boxing. I actually look forward to these workouts instead of dreading them (a common problem with my weightlifting exercises). If I don’t burn over 1,000 calories in a session it feels like a let-down. But – most importantly for me – it’s an outlet for my rage and frustration.

“This is a sport that celebrates violence,” or so the trainer says during one of the classes. It feels good to strike, to lash out, to release the frustration from a world that let’s Donald fucking Trump run for president. Every little annoyance, every glass that gets accidentally bumped off the counter, every email that some idiot misreads… jab, jab, cross.

I live for the last 15 seconds to “empty the tank,” to throw a couple left body hooks, a left cross – right hook – left cross combination, and generally flail wildly at the heavy bag until there’s nothing but acid pumping through my arms and legs. Then abs.

Fuck abs.

“Lone Wolf.”

The other habit I picked up lately is meditation. Yeah, I know. Doesn’t exactly jive with the whole ‘meathead hits stuff’ thing I got going on. I didn’t start as some yin-yang balance sort of thing. Of all the dumb reasons, I started because Starbucks gave me a free meditation app. I’d read about the benefits of meditation – most of them sounding like new-age, hippie bullshit – and decided to give it a shot based on:

  1. I wasn’t sleeping well at the time
  2. Meditation increases grey matter in the brain

Between the meditation and the constant exercise, I’m not only sleeping better, but I’m waking earlier and hitting the ‘snooze’ button a lot less. The extra time in the morning has allowed me to feel less stressed about rushing to get tasks done, and has allowed me to get back to writing and blogging.

I’m planning to expand my meditation from just before bed (what I’m told is not the ideal time for it) to either first thing in the morning while waiting on coffee or right after my workouts.

Plus, I got that whole zen/warrior thing going for me. Which is nice.

I Wrote Something Today

I wrote something this morning (besides this). It was actually the first time in a long time I wrote something – anything – creative. I hate every word of it; it’s cliche and derivative; it’ll probably never see the light of day, but I wrote it.

I woke up earlier than normal this morning. Usually I wake up to feed the dog at 7am and then go back to bed until around 9am when I get up for work. For whatever reason, the dog let me sleep until about 8am (I don’t set an alarm, we wake up on his schedule), and I didn’t feel like it was worthwhile to crawl back into bed.

And in that haze of half-sleep, this series of images came into my mind. They were visually appealing so I let my mind wander over them while I made coffee and Obie ate his breakfast. They started to congeal into a scene – cliche and derivative, like I said – and I started to sour on the idea of writing it down. So I checked my phone:

Avoid Self-Censoring to Keep Your Ideas Flowing

Oh, well then. So I wrote it down. Only 120 words, but something. And as my fingers tapped the keys, this faceless character in a disheveled black and white suit became “Jessie.” Jessie became a man. Jessie became a teenage girl. Jessie might actually be dead…

Well, shit, random headline. You were right.

Waiting for Sushi

Well it’s that time of year again. The time of year where everything starts to get busy, my weekends are booked months in advance, and I realize – oh shit – I actually gained weight over the winter instead of losing it.

But today’s okay. I have a small reprieve from the busyness, mostly thanks to procrastination. So I figured I’d squeeze a blog post in here while I wait for my lunch to be delivered (yes, the title is more than just a clever title).

House Work

I’m working on my plans for the near-term Spring. I got my house re-sided in the late Fall, so that’s a huge step forward towards getting my house to finally be “completed.” Unfortunately, all the construction sort of wreaked havoc on my lawn. After last year’s hard work and expensive repairs it looks like I’ll be battling/re-seeding the lawn again this year. I also want to clean up the yard; it tends to accumulate trash as I’m a corner lot in a city. I’m finally going to powerwash, repair, and paint/stain the deck and fence. I’m going to go with white, because I think it will look nice against the blue house. I’m debating on painting or repainting the doors as well. They’re white now, but I was thinking of maybe doing something more bold.

There’s various other repairs that need doing, as well. I’ve got knob-and-tube wiring that needs to be replaced; there’s a few small areas that need to be drywalled; and of course there’s always painting to be done thanks to the damage from last year’s ice dams.

Beers, Kid

I’ll have more info on this over on the other blog, but I’ve got a big weekend of brewing planned. I’ll be making an amber ale for a competition and a barleywine as part of my club’s barrel-aging program. With Spring here and Summer close behind, I’ll also start dipping into my IPA recipes to try and hone one or two of those in for the warmer months when I tend to crave hoppy beers.

I’m also already blocking off weekends for beer events this summer. It’ll be my first time going to the National Homebrewer’s Convention (renamed Homebrew Con) and I’m looking forward to that. There’s also Beans N Brew the week after that, our club’s annual Summer party, the Homebrew Jamboree in September and a new event called BrewStock in August that I’ve just heard about recently.

Miscellany

I finished Season 2 of Daredevil and was thorough whelmed by it. It might have suffered from its binge-ability, but I felt like I wanted more out of everything going on. I think the idea of adding both Elecktra and Punisher to the new season made it a little too full. There wasn’t really enough time for either story to breathe, and I think they would’ve been better suited spacing each thread into different seasons. That said, it was still really good.

House of Cards was good, too, and I like how the story is coming together though it does get ridiculous at points. I can’t imagine more than one or two more seasons at this point. They’re setting up Frank Underwood to fall, but I’m more interested in what a man like that does when it’s all over. What is there for Frank Underwood after the presidency? I’m guessing he’s going to get a Walter White ending, but I’d be much more impressed if he didn’t.

 

Anyway, food’s here.

The Black Tapes

I’ve been listening to a podcast called The Black Tapes. It’s an incredibly well-done docudrama bit of radio theater. Think Serial for the supernatural. It’s my new obsession, which is ironic since I’ve generally been bored with this season of Serial. So I figured I’d offer it up as a recommendation to whoever still reads this blog and/or values my idiotic opinions on entertainment.

I also figured I’d offer some updates on 2016 (so far). I’ve dropped down to about 15.6% bodyfat with 10 days to go until my trip to St. Croix. That puts me less than 1% off my goal, so we’ll see if I can get there in time, but overall it’s been a fairly steady progress (decline) from around 18%. I haven’t done as many two-a-day sessions as I’d planned (getting up in the morning after training heavy/hard is difficult), but I have been doubling-up gym days with hockey games/skates.

I’ve brewed twice so far this year, with plans to brew again next week. There’s more details on my homebrewing blog, but the one beer that has been ready to serve came out fairly good and received solid praise and great feedback.

The side-gig I mentioned last time seems to have fallen through. I’m somewhat disappointed about this, but it doesn’t bother me much. The pay was never going to be good and it was going to take a big time commitment that I’d have more fun/interest in executing elsewhere. Missing out on this gig, though, has cut into my goal for writing this year. Though my interest with The Black Tapes has given me a lot of seeds for my fiction writing that delve into the supernatural and into horror.

Horror is interesting because it has never been a genre that has really interested me. I’m not well-versed in it, but I have been exploring some works in the Lovecraftian mythos including the new Alan Moore comic series, Providence. There’s a great blog that I’m going to start using while reading it so I don’t miss out on the details. Moore is an incredibly dense writer and doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. And sometimes I need my hand held.

I’ve at 4 of 10 books for the year so far, though I’ve sort of been cheating since 3 of those have been graphic novels. And I haven’t really been micro-managing my time like I said I would. Or updating this blog very frequently (shocking, I know). I do want to get more of my fiction completed and “out there;” not necessarily published but read.

Oh, and I’m kinda-sorta seeing someone. More about which (possibly) at a later date.