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.

Obligatory New Year Post

Out with 2015 and in with 2016, or some shit.

I’ve never been a big fan of resolution posts or year-in-reviews, but I do think they serve a purpose for me as an assessment and plan. For you, this probably won’t do shit but it’s not my time you’re wasting by reading.

2015 was a pretty blase year. In 2014 I lost my girl, my dog, and my job then got a new job and a new dog. 2014 was a year in turmoil, 2015 was a year in neutral.

I coasted pretty easily through much of 2015 without much focus. I did get to do some cool shit – I went to St. Croix for the first time – and did a little traveling to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. A couple more friends got married, and I split a pair of pants on the dance floor. I brewed some beer, hung out with my dog, and did a smattering of writing, but all-in-all 2015 was a year little ventured and little gained.

With that in mind, I turn 30 in 2016. Probably a good time to get my life together. Unfortunately, I’m starting 2016 off with a cold; a rarity for me. It has, however, been a blessing in disguise as being a relative shut-in for the first 2-3 days of the year gives me a good amount of time to close out the book on 2015 and start game-planning for 2016. Part of the plan consists of micro-managing my time. I read an interesting article about being more productive in high school than after it, because time was so strictly managed. Having this kind of focus and structure is supposed to make it easier to get shit done, so I’m going to give it a try for a month and see how that goes.

I also got a new side gig for 2016 – more about which possibly in a later post – that will help me hold to a resolution to write more/publish more in 2016. I have a goal to write 200+ words a day; a relatively modest goal that is designed more to build a habit than it is to actually result in anything tangible (besides the odd blog post).

I’ll be starting a two-a-day regimen in the gym once this cold passes. I want to come out of the gate hard while the motivation is high, so that when the natural tapering off comes, I can drop the morning segments and still maintain afternoon gym sessions. A diet plan will go along with this, that includes cutting weekday drinking (exceptions for special events, dates, and homebrew club meetings) and a reduction in carbs, desserts, and red meat (focusing on higher quality red meats versus, say, burgers).

What else? More brewing (I’ll probably cover that in the homebrewing blog), and more reading. I’m setting modest goals of 20 beers and 10 books in 2016.

So there you have it. Sorry for the boring entry. I’ll try to write something angry or depressing next time for ya.

Sodom and Gomorrah

I’m not a religious person. The only time I’m inside a church these days is for weddings or funerals. The only time I pray is when someone close to me – who was religious – dies. I don’t believe it’ll do anything, but it doesn’t hurt me and it would’ve been important to them.

So naturally I don’t take a lot of stock in the Bible, but I do believe there is a certain universality to stories. Whether you believe in the Bible literally, figuratively, or not at all it still represents a collection of stories, and stories tell us things about our shared existence.

News of the terrorist attacks in Paris is still coming in, but as I write this the estimated death toll is over 100. It’s horrifying, tragic, and numbing to all but the most vile and heartless of people (namely terrorists and apparently Donald Trump). There’s plenty of think-pieces that can be (and will be and have been) written about public outcries of sympathy like #PrayForParis, but this isn’t going to be one of them. I choose to believe that the majority of people expressing themselves on social media don’t know what else to do. They’re seeking a community out there in the vast emptiness of the universe; reaching out for anyone else.

That’s the terrible power of terrorism: it unmoors us from our casual existence and sends us off into the horrifying reality that no one is ever really safe from death, or from the unpredictability and unfathomable evil of their fellow man. We can beat our chests and say we won’t “let the terrorists win,” but they’ve already won. It’s a fixed game and we aren’t the ones stacking the deck.

Getting back to the Bible, there’s a story I remember from growing up Catholic about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God is standing with Abraham and tells him that he plans to smite Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham challenges God saying “will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham bargains with God that if He can find 50 righteous people in the city, He will spare it. Abraham – apparently never one to turn down a good deal – continues to push God and bargains Him down to 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, then 10. Basically, if you’re trying to buy a new car, Abraham is the guy you want to go shopping with you because this is a killer deal. God just has to find 10 people amidst two massive cities and He’ll spare everyone.

If you’re a pessimist (or Catholic) I don’t think I need to tell you how the story ends.

I’ve never really been able to suss out the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah, besides the overly simplistic “be good or God will smite you,” because there’s more to it than that. Abraham’s brother, Lot, flees Sodom and is spared by God, but his wife – who looks back at the cities as they’re being destroyed – is turned to a pillar of salt. Vaporized for looking back. There’s not a great deal of context to sort out what Lot’s wife was thinking (in fact her name in the Bible is simply “Lot’s wife”), but I always thought her death was odd. That she was being punished for pitying the wicked as they suffered.

I’m sure there’re Biblical scholars that could do a better job of explaining this story and “what it means,” and my intention in bringing it up isn’t to shit on anyone’s beliefs, but there’s a certain finality without clarity to the story that I get reminded of whenever I’m faced with death. As human beings we’re naturally inquisitive and we seek to understand things – like death – that are beyond our ability to comprehend (beyond reductionist notions of “worm meat”).

Religion, from my perspective, is an attempt to explain these things (as is, of course, science). And I guess that’s why Sodom and Gomorrah is such a befuddling story to me, because it does a shit job of explaining anything. There’s a painful lack of control. Abraham literally talks to God about not destroying these cities, and the next day they’re gone. He’s seemingly in a better position than all the well-meaning people tweeting #PrayForParis, but if the end result is still destruction* it just reinforces that sense of powerlessness, that unmooring from every day existence.

* It’s worth noting that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are described as wicked, and I do not in any way mean to imply that the people of Paris are analogous to them in any way beyond their shared mortality and lack of omnipotence.

I don’t have any sort of neat bow to tie these thoughts together. I write them in an attempt to tether myself back to the dock, to fix that unmooring. Because the waters are dark, and the world is a scary place.

Games I’m Playing

For once this isn’t some cool double-entrendre title that I love almost as much as everyone else hates. Now this is just a quick post about some games I’m playing right now that I felt like writing about. Why should you give a shit? You shouldn’t. Holy shit. Why are you even reading this? Read a dog, kiss a book, take your wife for a walk. Seriously.

Telltale’s Game of Thrones

There’s a lot of people who are disappointed with this game for various reasons that roughly amount to: I’ve played a Telltale game before. Luckily for me, I haven’t. I do own The Wolf Among Us but haven’t started it yet. Telltale does an option job of capturing the “holy shit, there is literally nothing right I can do or say” aspect of all that is Westerosi politics. So far I’ve gotten one lordling killed, pissed off Cersei, pissed off Margaery, gotten Margaery beaten by Joffrey, gotten my principal export stolen by my rival, and lost my betrothal to a potential ally. This game would be frustrating if it wasn’t so engrossing. Trying to make split-second decisions and anticipate how other people will respond to them; it’s fucking intense. And the song at the end of episode two made me teary-eyed. I haven’t gotten this emotional about a game since James McCloud said he’d always be with me…. *sniff*

Cities: Skylines

Basically a SimCity game that doesn’t suck! The long-time studio behind SimCity, Maxis, was just down by all-around shitty corporation, EA, after the failure of the most recent SimCity game. I bought and played that game and it was garbage. Cities: Skylines is not garbage (though garbage collection is an annoying concern in one of my cities). C: S takes all that is simple and intuitive about SimCity and strips away all of the suck. It makes setting up public transit easy; you can rename anything in your city, including creating districts; you can build on 9x the space of the most recent SimCity; you can download cool, new user-created shit to put in your game; and it all looks pretty damn cool, too. It’s not an overally complicated or difficult game (you run out of money but you just take out loans until you grow big enough that taxes will more than cover the interest and when you repay the loans you’ll have more cash than you know what to do this… a strategy that is legimately impossible, IRL. Sorry, grad students).

Shadow of Mordor

I beat this game about a month or so ago, but holy shit was it worth every penny. If you like the responsive combat of Assassin’s Creed or any of the Batman Arkham games, but wish there was more violent decapitations then this is THE game for you… weirdo. Combat in this game is so satisfying, and oddly gorgeous. I cannot explain to you the simple joy of making an orc’s fucking head explode in front of 50 other orcs, all simultaneously trying to kill you, and have the game render the horror on their faces as they realize just how fucked they are… BUT, if you die (i.e. you suck, because unless you’re fight 2,000 orcs – which is close to possible – you probably shouldn’t die) whichever orc(s) kill you get promoted. They get names, traits, and they will taunt your fucking ass when you come back to kill them. Legit, there was one rat-faced one that literally just licked his lips and laughed maniacally in my face. That dude was creepy (I cut his head off). The names are randomly generated so if you’re lucky you might run into As-Dush (pronounced in game – I am not making this up – as Ass-Douche).

That’s about it; the next episode of Game of Thrones comes out tomorrow, and I have a lot more dicking around to do in Cities: Skylines, but I’m also thinking about diving into the Batman Arkham games next. I started the first one of 360, but they’re all relatively cheap via Steam at the moment. There’s not too many new games – aside from maybe Witcher III – that look all that interesting to me. Bloodborne isn’t really my thing and Pillars of Eternity looks like way to much meta-gaming and pausing to be fun in the long run, but what do I know? Like I said, you shouldn’t even be reading this.

Live Anywhere

If I could live anywhere
I’d live in the chorus
Of “Semi-Charmed Life”
With my friends, singing out of key
Every broken note
An extension of some Indian Summer
Fighting the inevitable Fall
And I want nothing else
Do do do
Do da do do
Goodbye…

Great Lines

I’ve decided I’m going to try and write something every weekday this week since I can’t leave the house on account of the snow burying me alive in my home/coffin. The problem is – and I have this issue with a lot of blog’s I “follow” – that this is self-serving. Sometimes there just isn’t anything that needs to be said, and all you’re doing is typing to hear the sound of your fingers hitting keys. That’s only satisfying to one person. That’s masturbation.

What we don’t need is another “think-piece” on Kanye. What we don’t need is any more “think-pieces” or people who use the term “think-piece.”

So as I was coming up with this self-serving idea, I was listening to Decoration Day by Drive By Truckers; specifically the song “Outfit.”

The thing I admire about Drive By Truckers is that a lot of their songs tell nice, concise stories. “Outfit” has a tone that matches its subject matter; there’s an endearing world-weariness to it. And the singer’s Southern accent only adds to it, especially when he sings the line “Don’t worry about losing your accent; a Southern man tells better jokes.” Every line of the hook and chorus functions as (largely good) advice from a father to son, but the line that I absolutely love is this one:

Well, I used to go out in a Mustang
A 302 ‘Mach 1’ in green
Me and your momma made you in the back
And I sold it to buy her a ring

love this line, and not just because I love Mustangs. Four lines, less than forty words, and a complete story. And not just a story, but a layered one. You get a full picture of this relationship – and, sure, you call it cliche, but there’s an inherent honesty in cliche. The fact this story of reckless abandon-cum-responsibility is told within a song about fatherly advice to not be a shithead just makes it more impactful.

There’s the thing about great lines. They’re great on their own; in their context they’re life-altering. And no great line was ever a lie.

The only line I ever memorized from a book is from The Great Gatsby, and it’s the conclusion:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

There’s something about a truly great line that sticks with you, even when you don’t fully understand it, and – believe me – when I read this around 16, I had close to no fucking idea what it meant. Those great lines can be read many different ways by many different folks. Usually based on how many drinks they’ve had.

My first girlfriend grew up to be a psychiatrist. Which I guess makes sense.

There’s a quasi-famous piece of writing advice, “kill your darlings.” It means you should strike out any particular lines or phrases you absolutely love. I’m not one in a position to criticize writing or advice, but that doesn’t make this advice any less of bullshit. You are your darlings. Without darlings you’re just retelling the story of Jesus, or Odysseus, or Hamlet, or Cinderella, or Icarus. All the stories are told; all that’s left are darlings. Kill your darlings, kill your voice.

Shit, even Hollywood can’t tell any new stories.

That one is one of mine. And through all the bad teenage poetry and aborted short stories, only the darling remains.