Four Things I Wish I had Known Before I Started Writing

You Don’t Need a Compass

When I was in fifth grade I sat at my sister’s Smith Corona typewriter and started punching out a story. It started with an accident during a Gemini spacecraft training exercise. There had been a news story about how they were training and it caught my imagination. I recognized the kernel of a story. And then I stopped. Because I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

I left the page in the typewriter and went off to do whatever a fifth grader does. My older brother happened by the short piece and read it. At dinner he said, “When are you going to finish that story. I want to know what happens.”

I shrugged. That is as far as the story went. Compost in some landfill in Pennsylvania.

compass

I give you permission to start writing without knowing where you are going.  Actually, I encourage it. Let the characters tell you where they want to go and what they think. If you let them drive the story, you’ll get a much better end result than if you start to think about how it will end. That doesn’t mean you can’t outline and plan. It means you need to listen to what is going on. Don’t force and ending or a plot shift.

In my first published book I had included some technology that I thought was cool.  It was like a Siri who did real time editing.  The book is in first person, so I thought it’d be fun to have him getting frustrated trying to get technology to work. Since it was a techno-thriller, wouldn’t the contrast be perfect?

Wrong. My first real beta reader said that whole little process sucked and diverted from the story. That was a great lesson. I had found something I wanted to include but it was not something my characters wanted or needed.  When I got rid of it, it was like moving from 720p to 1080p. The story became high def.

Jump in. Start putting words on paper and introduce yourself to the characters in your head. I virtually hang around with a lot of writers and the successful ones always talk about their characters demanding them to do certain things or surprising them with plot twists they hadn’t considered. It’s true. As a writer you need to open yourself up to the characters in your head and let them run.

Pen and Ink, Keys and Ribbons

Which brings me to input. I was lucky that my first attempt at writing was on a keyboard of a manual typewriter. I wasn’t a great typist and that keyboard forced me to think of each word, misspelled often, as the key hit the paper. That is what I know in retrospect.

Decades later I decided to give writing a novel a try. Since I liked sci-fi and was a technologist by occupation, I envisioned a space opera (I didn’t know that term at the time). On my computer with MSWord I set off crafting a story that I still love. Trouble lurked in the software. Word allows you to find many reasons not to actually write. You can delete, rearrange, format, reformat, change font, change font, change font, insert section breaks, insert page breaks, create a table of contents. You get it. I was trying to craft a final, physical version of my book in the WYSIWYG capabilities of a word processor and losing the story.

My daughter, who, as editor, had led her high school newspaper to a national award, made a comment to me one day that “using a manual typewriter is a great way to overcome writer’s block.” I didn’t have writer’s block. I had writer’s interference. But I thought I’d give it a try.

Fast forward to my post e-Bay purchases and I transitioned to a manual typewriter. I haven’t looked back.  I also use pen and paper and always have a small notebook with me. But the best rhythm I strike is when I am at the keyboard of my trusty Olympia SM9 – the ultimate in manual typing.

My Oly SM9

My Oly SM9

The beauty of hand crafting your first draft is that you can’t get diverted from the writing. Sure, you can cross out and backspace, but that it a laborious process and it is much easier to move forward. Plus, on a manual keyboard you can only type so fast. Which forces you to think of each word, and gives you just the right amount of latency to have time to think about the next sentence clicking in your mind.

pen and clairfontaine

It is your first draft. It is the draft just for you. It is strewn with crap and vile writing, but don’t worry about it. Under the covers of your lousy prose is the story that wants to come out. That story will become crystal clear and beautiful once that raw diamond is polished by the jeweler.

50 Shades of Editing

Great writing can be crippled by poor editing. Here’s a 3-star review I got for my book. It is one of the best reviews I have ever received.

This is a SIX star story. The quality of the writing easily rates FIVE stars. However, the edition I read had apparently not been copy-edited nor proof-read. This diminished the pleasure in the reading. Imagine “puisant” in place of “pissant” and “passed” for “past.” As one doesn’t love the child dressed and polished for a party any less for turning up scratched, smuged and muddy, I still look forward to more works from this master storyteller – wordsmith.

I confess. I self-edited my book and published it on my own. I did have a very expert proofreader go through it twice, but some things slipped through anyway.

editing generic

Working with a good editor is like getting involved in a BDSM relationship. There’s even a contract involved, but it isn’t like the one in 50 Shades.  It is painful, but necessary. A good editor will understand your voice and force you to make it clear. They don’t rewrite your work. They find where you need to rewrite it and help you fix it. My editor (and I do take that with a lot of personal ownership) is dSavannah George. What struck me when she and I first talked about working together was her approach. It resonated with me and has proven exactly the kind of editing I need.

So, Sav is editing my content and when she is done I am going to enlist a copy editor to proofread everything. I don’t want to have a “puisant” insert itself when I really want a “pissant.” (For that I’ll blame autocorrect.)

There is a side to self-publishing that is reflected in my multiple 5 and 4 star reviews. All of those seasoned readers looked passed the editing mistakes and loved the story. I call it the cell phone effect of indie publishing.

In the days before cell phones, our calls were exceptional. You picked up the phone connected to a land line and you got dial tone. If there was any scratchiness, you called the phone company and they fixed it. Solid quality. Cell phones taught us to accept less than exceptional quality because we got great convenience.

Traditional publishing subjected books to many edits before they hit the brick and mortar store. To find a typo was like finding a four-leaf clover (1 in 162,000). Now, I think we have grown to accept formatting and spelling issues along the way. If they stay below a certain level of obnoxiousness, then we ignore them and read on. After all, we have a queue lined up in our e-readers.

Write Where You Live

In my thirties I had this great idea I got from one of the women I dated. Her mother read a lot of romance novels and bought hundreds of them a year. That seemed like easy money to me, so I started to pen a romance novel.

Go back to the top of this post and you’ll know why it didn’t go anywhere. But there was more. I had no clue what I was writing about even though my friend gave my a typical synopsis of a successful story. I had never read a romance novel and I made no effort to understand that genre. It wasn’t in my blood.

When I took to writing in earnest, I chose areas that I felt comfortable in – sci-fi and techno fiction. That doesn’t mean I won’t extend myself into other genres or create my own – I am working on a sci-fi erotica right now. But wherever I go will be because it is something I want to write about. Something that makes me explore areas of interest and characters that are compelling.  Hell, my sci-fi might turn into a romance if that is where the characters want to take it, but I’ll put my own twist on it.

Don’t write about something because you think it is what will make you money or what will be popular or what someone else suggests you do. Write because you are compelled to tell a story.

For that matter, don’t classify you story to a genre until you are forced to in the publication and promotional phase. Just let it rip, then rip it up and make it better. What I am really asking you to do is not judge yourself before you even put pen to paper. Don’t think of your story as being in a class of stories. Think of it as a story that needs telling and you are the best person in the world to tell it.

Because you are. One word at a time,

As always, I would love to hear from you and get your comments.

Remember. Run free. Run easy.

Three Problems With Being Funny

The original version of this post appeared in Organic Coffee, Haphazardly, a forum for creative use of words and interesting minds.  Many thanks to Allie Burke and the staff at OCH for extending the platform and hospitality to me. Please, drop on over, read some  interesting work and let them know I sent you. I get bonus miles on Merriam-Webster for each referral.

Three Problems With Being Funny

In fifth grade a classmate ratted on me to our teacher, Mrs. Bashore. It was near the end of the year and we were called out of the room for some special thing I can’t remember. Probably a health lecture. When we came back to the room Mrs. Bashore asked if all was well. That’s when I got turned in.

“Jerry talked out loud,” the squealer squealed.

There was a silence. Mrs. Bashore looked at me and said, “Well, he’ll be someone else’s problem next year.”

1) Being funny is disruptive

Problem?

I was in fifth grade just being my expressive self. As a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t quite have the self-control to not say whatever popped into my mind. In today’s world I’d be diagnosed with ADHD and given happy pills. Or, actually, mild speed. We didn’t even know about sugar or gluten and it was well ahead of GMO.

Listen, I am only trying to make a point, not garner sympathy. Well, not much. I had problems. We all do. I was the shortest kid in class and an introvert who talked out loud. I didn’t want attention (which is what some must have thought). I wanted to say the funny thing in my head.

if-thought-bubbles-appeared-above-my-head-id-be-screwed-92b5b

I am well trained in quippery. That is the art of quipping and a word I made it up. Quipping is the act of taking any comment, turning and twisting its context until humor is rendered from its linguistic bones. That twisting, when spoken out loud, interjects itself into the stream of thought of those listening. It provides an alternate take on something just cognized, acting, therefore, as a disruptive influence.

Not every comment can easily be augmented with a quip, but there are enough opportunities everyday that I guess you could be considered disruptive if you took advantage of enough of them. Which I did. I think. It might be that my affliction with quipping is a kind of Tourette syndrome for humor.

I came by quippery honestly. My family did it all the time, especially at dinner. The ability to make a funny comment was laughed at, encouraging even more funny comments. What wasn’t understood was that I lacked that cluster of grey matter and nerve endings that gave some form of control.

I still interrupt people a lot. Which annoys the shit out of my wife. It’s not on purpose. The thought jumps in and I say it.

2) Funny Doesn’t Mean Clown

I was never the class clown. Clowns need attention, like a Kardashian. I have been an introvert as long as I can remember. My outbursts were not calls for attention. For me it was about the alternate way you could say something to shift the context and create a humorous meaning. I am not well polished at telling jokes, but I can slip a quip with ease and grace.

I guess the force of my creativity found the path of least resistance – my mouth. My satisfaction was found in expressing the alternate view of things more than it was in getting laughs.

Being a comedian is hard. I don’t tell jokes well, although I do have some practiced funny ones that I can pull out as needed. Comedians write and practice jokes all the time. They are like musicians working on timing and changing words and phrasing to make the joke hit home. For them it is a performance. They get on stage, all eyes on them and they give their humor in a way that makes it feel like a conversation even though they have done it a thousand times before.

george carlin

I am funny because I am quick to see an opening into a different reality. I jump in and take advantage of the moment and watch the recognition of “funny” blossom in other people’s eyes. A quip is short lived. It can be repeated in a different context, but once it happens it is gone like breath on a mirror.

You can’t quip without sexual innuendo. Maybe you can, but if you avoid sexual innuendo, you are missing an entire category of quips. I loved the people I worked with in my first real job out of college. We were part of a sales organization and my kind of sexually laden quip was well accepted. One of the women I worked with had a waiver from sexual harassment thumbtacked above her desk. It was all good natured fun. It is way to serious today, so the workplace is off limits.

That leads me to the final challenge in being funny.

3) Being on the Watch

There is a constant vigilance that comes with being a compulsive quipper. After years of practice, it becomes second nature. It’s all about context.

Two things make quips funny. First, a quip works in a moment with a short decay, as mentioned. If you miss the cycle of conversation when the quippable comment is made, than you’ve lost the opportunity. You can’t rewind and throw it out. That isn’t funny. The best you can do is log that funny comment for some future use and have it at the ready. You have to identify the trigger that would make it usable and wait for it to happen.

Second, quips are all about context. Context has multiple meanings and shadings. It is why quipping takes practice. And the willingness to deal with failure.

context clues

I was in a fraternity in college. We would invite a sorority over for a nice dinner once in a while. During one such dinner I made a couple of my typical comments and was put up for auction at the end of the dinner. Auction meant that I would have to do the winning brother’s house chores for a week. At the start of the auction the house president noted my dual offense by saying, “Gentry’s up twice.”

My immediate response was, “That’s what she said.”

Once the laughter subsided, I was absolved of any obligation to do chores. Several of the sorority sisters sought me out to say hello later. When your mind works like mine it is always a crap shoot. It could have easily turned the opposite way, but I read the endorphin rating of the room correctly and felt free to take the chance.

Had we had parents at that dinner, I would not have made any comments to be put on auction. By college the cerebral cortex or whatever part of my brain is engaged in making quips had matured enough to give me some sense of control. I would have understood the context and kept my funny thoughts to myself.

On the other hand, when we did have our first parent dinner of the year I did manage one comment. I was sitting with my dad at the corner table. After dinner we were asked to introduce ourselves and I was the first. I said my name and where I was from while seated. The president instructed me, “Please, stand up.”

“I am,” was my response. Laughter and light heartedness resulted and I felt good. I stood and waved. My dad laughed because I caught that sense of humor from him.

And that leads me to the governing principle of good quipping. The result of my family inspired and coached quipping was learning intelligent humor. Well, the comments are stupid, but intelligent because they do not belittle other people in order to be funny. They are funnier because they require some thought.

I am glad I grew up in a conversational household. With social media you can’t always tell a quip from abuse. Not without an emoticon.

I have a friend who is a paranoid schizophrenic and sometimes hears voices. After a recent post siting the book being read, my first thought was to post a comment asking what the other people in their head were reading. I didn’t.

My friend is confident enough that I would have gotten a chuckle and a friendly “fuck off.” I was worried about the people I didn’t know who might not have understood my compulsive humor or that I was, indeed, joking. The main exception to the principle of not belittling other people is being able to gently poke at people you know. Never with malice. Always with respect.

Here’s what I do know. The mental athletics that my life as a quipper have put me through have made me very creative in a disciplined way. That creativity bleeds through to all aspects of my life. As the CEO of a consulting firm I used to work for commented, “You sit quietly and listen and observe, then you come up with a flash of brilliant insight..”

You see, I can be quiet. It just took me a few decades.

DilbertContext

Flash Fiction Contest

ORGANIC COFFEE, HAPHAZARDLY

When considering how I would contribute to this wonderful society alongside other inspiring writers, my mind searched for what I loved about writing communities which now I felt lacking from my own. Fiction is my jam but I wanted something more, something interactive that would scatter the creative cockroaches making camp in your brain.

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Just an Average Guy

I am an average guy. But, I am not normal.

And that is a good thing.

Very few things are average when it comes to people. Let’s start with the basic question: How do you measure a person? Height? Weight? BMI? Years of education? Income? Age? How many pushups they can do? How often they have sex?

I don’t want to ruin my reputation as a writer, but I did a lot of math and statistics in college. The first thing I learned is respect for the numbers. The second thing I learned is that with the right perspective, the numbers can be made to represent lots of things. It is a statistical thing. How you measure determines your results. In graduate school I did a really interesting (Hey! It was for me.) thesis that used all kinds of statistical machinations to see if my hypothesis was true. I won’t get into the gory details, but I will say that along the way I had to make decisions on how and what to measure. I was able to find all kinds of research justifying how I did it. I’d be fooling you and myself if I didn’t think I could have found the same amount of research to justify a totally different approach. And that was before the world wide web and Google and wikipedia. I had to use a real library and keypunch my statistical analysis onto Hollerith cards and batch run them in a thing called a mainframe.

hollerith01

Melancholy over numbers taught me one thing; I could measure an entire population, calculate the mean (that is the statistician’s word for ‘average’) and find that no specific sample equals the mean. It happens all the time. So why does average matter? For manufacturing I think these kind of statistics are priceless, but for people? I’m not convinced. Sorry Dr. Oz, psychology and the weight loss industry, but I think you have it all wrong. We don’t exist on a normal density function (normal curve, bell curve, whatever). Only the measurements do.

normal curve

If I look at my height (5’5″) I am in the negative side of this normal curve. But, if I look at the number of men over 50 who have run at least 3 full marathons, written several books, have a graduate degree, most of their natural hair, a US patent, and a hip replacement, I think I’d be on the very end of that long, positive tail.

Like everyone else, I exist on many curves. The average of me is the sum of many measures, many of which are not normal. And I am okay with that.

multi curves

By blurring reality with summary statistics, analysts are missing the micro-trends of normal. Normal is context driven and very subjective since there is no such thing as objective perception. Sorry Ayn Rand. Objectivism belongs in fiction, not in reality. Normal is a blend of traits, attributes and myriad other characteristics that make each of us different.

Why is this important? 

It demands a change in perspective. We focus on all the wrong things when we equate average with desirable. Think about body style, food consumption, exercise, and don’t even get me started on how fucked up our educational system is because we quantify all the wrong things and then apply them to our children.

What is normal?

As I am often willing to do, let’s take it back a few million years. Back when we were developing as humans and became the greatest hunters on this planet. The only animal that has learned to survive in all areas of the planet – well, except for cockroaches.

We didn’t understand statistics while we evolved. (Yes, evolution is a fact.) What we understood was that every person could contribute. I am assuming that unless you were a liability to the pre-history man, you were considered a positive resource to have. That meant that the range of acceptable characteristics was measured by contribution, not focus on a specific attribute. I say that because survival was about getting enough calories to sustain while we had sex to procreate, which led to the need for more calories. During that 2 million year period of pre-civilization our DNA got wired in. We learned to dream because we learned to track animals. Successful tracking meant we had to project our minds into the animal we were tracking to understand where they would go when we lost the trail.

Zip forward to today. (Sorry for the whiplash.) I am seeing people beginning to fight against that averaging of expectations. In some cases they are fighting at the outer edges of the curve (#StigmaFighters) in other areas they are fighting in the middle of the mix (Virgin Industries and other employers who focus on people). There are men and women I know who have found new strength in accepting who they are and then building on it in a positive way. Some lift weights that are heavier than me, others craft words that melt my mind, and others move across the world with fleet feet and strong hearts, touching the essence of what made man dominant – distance running.

You homework is to find one trait you are most average about and one that you are least average about. First, humor yourself that you are the product of 3 million years of evolution. Then have a beer. Then be proud of being just an average guy (gal). Then celebrate not being normal.

Run Free. Run Smooth.

The Lost Art of Picking Up Women

This was one of those mornings where my blog subject is a gift of circumstance. Talking with a friend this morning who was out for a night with her girlfriends. While enjoying their company in the bar she was subjected to the latest style in men picking women. It is called a bump, followed by an “Excuse, me.”

My first thought was, “Hey, it worked in grade school, why not in adulthood?”

I filed that tidbit of information in my back pocket. I’m not in the market, but if the need ever asserted itself, at least I was armed with the latest hipster move. I felt happy as I commuted to work. At least with this approach all I had to work on was my aim. I figured the bump had to be direct enough to get their attention, but not so direct that it would knock them over.

The-Continuing-Evolution-of-Man

Stopping for coffee at McD’s I took a seat within earshot of a coed group of septuagenarians and older. There was a nice banter going on and at one point a woman made mention of having heart palpitations. The man sitting next to her rejoined that he would be happy to give her mouth-to-mouth. My day was made. I guess a really cliche line works in every generation because the subject woman giggled like a school girl and I expect added days, if not months, to her life from the pure joy of flirtation.

Photo Jan 21, 9 19 53 AM

Then, the writer in me took over. You know, that part of the brain that starts to think about these events and tries to figure out what sinister plot lies beneath. As a story teller I am geared to make up continuity between scenes I witness that have no relevance to each other. That is why I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Stick with me here. If you have read any of my previous blogs you know that if I drop right into the evolution of man you won’t be surprised. Here’s the deal. Three million years ago we didn’t have language. We had gestures and noises and, well, that was about it. In those days, if a man wanted a woman he bumped her. Sound familiar?

As we started to wander out from the rainforest into the ever expanding savannah (don’t you just love that word?) we developed language for two reasons.

  1. Complex verbalization, or language, was needed to be able to hunt prey or keep from being prey while we walked and ran out in the open.
  2. Language was needed to pick up woman.

Beyond those two survival skills, any other use of language is, arguably, just showing off. That is until we became civilized. When we gathered in communities and cities people would often bump into each other just because of proximity. Clearly, the ritual of picking up women had to change because bumping was now a generalized activity. In response, men turned to words as their means of access to the feminine favor. Let’s be honest. I say men you and I both know women had to coax and cajole us into becoming literate and finding ways to craft words into rhythms that made their pulses race and skin glisten. For the next millennia all things invented by men; art, literature, science, football; were invented with the sole purpose of picking up women. The pickup line dates back to the earliest of pre-Roman civilization when a man would look at his sleeping mate with amorous thoughts, lightly slap her on the arm (a modified bump) and ask, “Hey, you awake.” That line is the first instance of foreplay that has been documented. We’ve come a long way since.

As the 21st Century began the art of the pickup line had reached a peak. There were books and movies and personal trainers, an entire cottage industry, around how to pick up women. Then hipsterism hit and the bump began.

In defense of hipsters, they are the unknowing subjects of the new lord of technology. They have been smart phoned and twitterated into reverting to our Paleolithic roots. Most days are spent walking while looking at a 4×2 inch rectangle of illuminated glass. And literacy has been suppressed to 140 characters at a time. The punctuation which gives the spoken word the ebb and flow of conversation has been suborned by emoticons. Men still have a need to pick up women and given there is no more practice in the art of verbalization, the primal instincts have moved to the surface.

My goal here is to see if I can turn that tide and help my fellow men address the fair sex in a manner that women deserve. To get to that point, there are a few prerequisites for men who are interested in having women open their flowers for them.

Before taking that first verbal step, read a book. NO. Read three books, two fiction and one non-fiction. The two fiction should consist of a modern classic (like To Kill a Mockingbird (chicks love that book)) and a current edition. The current can not be something like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Fifty Shades of Grey. It doesn’t have to be heady, it just has to be fairly decent, like a good murder mystery. The non-fiction has to be something other than campy prose (no psycho-babble or self-help). It can be about sports medicine, the history of anything or political/technical revelations. No, books by anyone who works at Fox News do not count. These should be real books, not ebooks. Nothing against ebooks, but to do this right you need to feel the weight of the words you are reading. Reading gives you a baseline for actually having a conversation. Trust me on this.

By reading you’ve stimulated the latent intellect that has been stilted by social media. Doesn’t it strike you as funny that social media has led to the current pandemic of lack of social skills? Go figure. That is a hole different blog that I might take a shot at.

As you move into the real world and muster the courage to take that first act to talk to a woman you have never met, there are some basic rules.

  • Please, use complete sentences. Do not talk in the syntax of Twitter. It is okay and often admirable to take more than 140 characters to make a point.
  • Be yourself, not your avatar. The only place in the world where you can be an avatar and have it work is Las Vegas. Everyone is being someone else there, so go with it.
  • The easiest way to talk to a woman is to shut the fuck up and listen. Really. It seems like some kind of inversion principle, but it works.
  • Keep the conversation going by…asking questions. It is fine to pepper the dialog with a bit about you or answer a question from her, but listen and ask relevant questions. Don’t be patronizing with the questions because…
  • Women are smarter than men. Period. Just deal with it. Sure some of us may know more science, but that isn’t what smart is. Smart is knowing how to read other people and be good at social interaction.
  • Most important, put the phone away. Period. Your attention should be on her.

Now that you have mustered the courage and know the rules, let’s talk about pickup lines. There are a massive number of pickup lines, but I have the one that works. When I was single I experimented with many lines and finally honed it down to this one line that achieves the open door to conversation almost every time. I’ll save you the all the learning and let you skip right to the gold mine. Here it is”

” Hi, I’m (insert your name here).”

The most effective way to augment this opener is to tag on a complimentary observation like “That nail polish is great. What color is that?” or “You’ve got a great smile and I just had to come and talk to you.” or “When you walked by, I noticed that scent you are wearing and I just have to find out what it is.”

It goes on.

Okay. I have to confess. I didn’t really discover this line by extensive trial and error. In my single days at the bar in Houlihan’s in Phoenix I saw an attractive woman having a drink with friends. I thought I would be clever and went up to her and said, “What would be a good line for a man to use to start a conversation with you?” My expectation was that she would throw out one of those cliches. I was wrong. She looked my in the eye, smiled and said. “Hi,” usually works with me.

The sound of enlightenment could have been heard all over the bar. The DJ stopped the turntable wondering what had just happened. I ignored it all and started a good conversation. So, as you can expect, I got the best direction on how to approach a woman from a woman. Not being too stupid, I have relied on that advise for just about any social situation.

As you have that conversation she might giggle or laugh, just like the woman I heard in McD’s. When that happens you have gifted her with an extension of her life. She’ll now that and be grateful.

And there it is. The most effective social mechanism is not acting like you do on social media. It is acting like yourself.

The Resolution Solution

As I left my first physical therapy session after the magic six-week post op period I was very happy. The physical therapist said I was causing them problems because my recovery was weeks ahead of schedule. They were having to revise their plan for me to be much shorter. I was not working according to their schedule and I was glad to cause them consternation. Being fit and healthy has paid off in unexpected ways.

As I left the building, a smile beaming to everyone and a spring in my step, my main thought was that I wanted to get to the point in 2015 where I could put my sock on my right foot without mechanical aid. I got a kit for hip replacement that includes this could device. It is a half tube with cords on it. You slip your sock over it, then put your foot in and pull your sock up. Works great and it is the only device I still use.

hip replacement kit

Then I wondered if that constituted a New Year’s Resolution.

Excuse me if I get the whole NYR thing wrong. My family never really got into them. I am grateful for that because I don’t think I am built to handle resolutions of such intensity. If you are like me; my sympathies if you are; then making resolutions is a futile effort, unless the resolution involves training for a distance run. For some reason I can train using an extended plan and pretty much stick to the intent of the plan. Go figure.

Marathon_Walk1

I attribute my resolution paralysis to my short attention span. Maybe it is better termed Easily Diverted Syndrome or EDS. Wait! That won’t work. Anything acronym with “ED” in it can be mistaken for something related to erectile dysfunction. That has nothing to do with being easily diverted. At least it hasn’t impacted me.

Back on topic; how about calling it the Quickly Diverted Syndrome or QDS. Nobody can muck up an acronym with a “Q” in it.

It isn’t that I don’t make plans. It is that I need something more concrete to focus on. Here’s an example: “I will lose weight in 2015.” Losing weight is, what? An end state? A mantra? It sure isn’t a strategy or a tactic or a plan to get to an end state (isn’t that kind of a tactical thing?).

If losing weight is my goal, then I need a plan to get there. Is my strategy going to be diet, exercise, Dr. Oz’s next great cure, magical elixirs, or a combination of some or all of them? Once I decide what the strategy is, I need to put together a plan. It is more that just “I’ll eat less and workout more.” For me to make a significant accomplishment that takes more than a couple of minutes I need a sectionalized plan.

“Sectionalized.” I just made that word up. We can do that in the computer age.

Going back to the running thing. I am successful there because there are plans that break down what you need to do day be day over a period of weeks and months to get to a specific running goal. You just print them out and do what they say day be day and you win the New York Marathon. Sounds pretty simple, right?

It ain’t for me.

I often skip steps and modify others because, well, because that’s how I pretty much do everything. It is never the same twice. Maybe I’m not a good example to follow if you are trying to rally accomplish resolutions. There is one consistent thing I do in my self-created, dynamic universe and that is allocate time dedicated to doing whatever it is I need to do next to get to my goal.

You don’t have to become an automaton or a slave to your calendar, but you do need to honor the slices of time you’ve set aside. I am always putting in free time where I can digress and play like a 3-year-old, but I also spend some time understanding most of what I need to do to get to the end game and then sectionalizing those tasks onto some kind of calendar based program.

It is the proverbial “eating an elephant” process. A truly successful person is surrounded by elephant skeletons. I am certain Tony Robbins has acres of property litter with the carcasses of elephant projects he has devoured. Even in this phase, I can falter. It is easy for me to get lost in finding a tool to help me track all this shit to the point where I spend more time playing with the tool and not doing the shit.

Tony Robbins

The first step is to admit you have Quickly Diverted Syndrome. Once you do that, you can apply controls of governance to yourself, most of which involve allocating specific time to your actions (“I won’t spend more than 30 minutes trying to make Evernote work for this”). It isn’t foolproof, but it is far better than the more random approach I used to use.

It has even edged into my real world existence where I allocate time on my calendar to do the tasks I’ve committed to. If I don’t, then I face a day full of meetings and the only time I can do the real work is after hours. I don’t want that because, you know, Twitter.

So my first ever NY Resolution is:

 I resolve to sectionalize my resolutions so that I can actually achieve my goals. 

Now that I have put that stake in the ground, I need to think of some resolutions that are a little more demanding that getting to put my sock without the cool tool.

Enjoy the day! As always, I would enjoy any and all comments.

Run Free. Run Easy. Just Run.

A Conspiracy of Women

Something sinister is afoot.

I feel compelled to warn my fellow men. And I mean men, since women are already conspiring. Let me deconstruct that thought.

As men we are quite comfortable with seeing and understanding conspiracy, usually, in video games, politics and between cubicles in our offices. We do not have the genetic code to recognize conspiratorial activities among women. Mostly because we are interested in having sex with them, so our depth of thought regarding their actions mostly stops at whether or not we are going to get laid.

The conspiratorial hand was tipped by a friend of mine, @allieburkebooks. She is the queen of selfies and quite a wordcrafter.

allie

proxy

Anyway, a post of hers almost slipped by my unnoticed. If it hadn’t been for the narcotic effect of the oxycodone I was on because of my hip surgery I might not have become aware of these machinations. In her post Allie commented how thankful she was for all the strong and supportive women she had connected with. In my state, I was able to see what this really meant. There was a conspiracy of women. Somehow they had deformed social media to make alliances and tender support across the ether to share stories of success and offer consolation and advice to each other.

Once I unmasked this dastardly endeavor I began to see it everywhere. Following the trail left by Allie led me to a nexus of activity. I saw this woman frequently on social media and it surprised me that I could have missed all the signs. So clever of her to hide in plain sight. Among her many virtual personas the one I first encountered was @RachelintheOC.

rachelintheoc

 

Sure, she looks innocent enough and professes to be a social media expert, but her real intention is to use her multiple personas to align women of all makes and models in such a way that they feel good about themselves and gain a sense of power through self worth. So devious. So blatant.  I was so upset when I realized her true intentions. I mean, at one time she gave me sage advice on how to improve my online presence. Of course, I ignored it because, well, I’m a man and following advice wasn’t going to get me laid. It is kinda like asking me to read a map.

Through the clarity instilled by the opiates in my blood I saw that she was helping women to help themselves. Even covering her tracks by throwing occasional assistance to men. She started discussions and threads to help women understand their emotional states and face their inner fears and uncertainties. And encouraging women to be honest about those emotional things that we men spend 28% or our caloric energy on keeping bottled up. I saw her influence on the young and impressionable mind of Allie Burke. She is helping create a generation who know what they want and are content to help each other find ways to be happy in their own skin.

I was so devastated that I decided to ignore it and do something I liked instead. That was running. Since I was having hip issues, I couldn’t actually run, so I went to my running magazine, Runner’s World, to find solace. To my surprise I saw an announcement that they were creating a new ezine, called Zelle, about running. Except is was running for women with a focus on how the activity helps build personal strength. The subterfuge continues. This time the instigator is @EJComeau.  Don’t let the cute dimples fool you. She is dedicated to promoting the conspiracy and showing any who care to listen how running can improve the quality of life in many ways.

ejcomeau

These women only marginally care about times, pace and distance. Many are accomplished, world class runners, but most are just normal – whatever that is.

In anguish I slipped into Twitter again and tried to find a twitter crush to waste time and develop hormonal alignment with. Instead, I found other women who were doing more than just running to find their inner strength. Sure, there were some like @SheRunsforLove who uses running to develop strength beyond the purely physical.

sherunsforlove

Then the is @muscleboundmama and a host of other women who pump iron. I mean serious iron. They don’t glisten, they fucking sweat when they workout. Furthermore, she coaches on fitness. Do you know what that means? She is helping other people become self-confident. Men and Women.  muscleboundmama

Here’s the deal. When you ask them for help or input, they just give it to you. I mean, I tested it by throwing our some questions and I got honest, heartfelt responses. Not the wiseass, half assed, intellectualized, palp that I was expecting.

It is diabolical!

My head reeled. The conspiracy was all around me and there was nothing I could do. It was revealed. All out in the open and I was powerless to stop it. I had but one option left.

I grabbed a beer and turned on Netflix to watch a marathon of Arrow because the IT chic, Felicity, is pretty hot.

Felicity

 

POST SCRIPT:

Just in case someone doesn’t get my sense of humor, all of the women mentioned in this post (sans Felicity) are real and are friends of mine. They are amazing, strong and smart in their own individual ways and I am graced to know them.

It’s Black and White

I’ve decided to rekindle my photographic eye by taking black & white images through a 24mm wide angle prime lens. That was basically the rig I learned that basics of exposure and lighting doing. I had a trusty Nikon FE2 35mm film camera with a 24mm wide angle on it. I used other lenses, but that was the rig that I used most. I still have it and it feels like comfort in my hands. I don’t use it because film is basically gone. I miss film and I don’t miss it. In my darkroom film was messy and smelly and chemically. There was so much waste product just to get to the print you wanted. All of that waste cost money. Throw away paper, film and chemicals. Modern digital sensors with massive memory cards and great software for photo processing allow for fantastic image creation and are more environmentally friendly.

I now have a Nikon D700, a pro level digital camera, and recently picked up a nice 24mm autofocus lens at a reasonable price. There is something about that degree of wide angle which makes you think about what you are shooting. And the fact that it is a prime lens, meaning it only has one focal length, you have to physically move to get the frame right.  That means you have to think about composition and look with a wide angle frame of reference.

Photo Dec 19, 3 06 02 PM

As I started to take shots I realized that advanced technology was getting in my way. You see, taking a good B&W image with film required understanding where the darks and lights were in relation to each other and adjusting the exposure accordingly. There is a system developed by Ansel Adams called ‘The Zone System’ and it provides a way of metering parts of the image and then, based on the tonal range of the image, adjusting the exposure and development.  The reason this was so important is because the actual luminance has a range that is much greater than what film can record. The Zone System allowed you to expose and image and develop it in a way that compressed the range and gave you an accurate representation of what you visualized.  It is one of the reasons Ansel’s images are so deep and rich.

To do the exposure correctly you need a good light meter. Yes, the metering systems on modern cameras are phenomenal. But they are geared for color images. IN the above image, the device sitting next to my D700 is a Sekonic light meter. I use it for flash and normal light exposures when I want great accuracy. It is a one degree spot meter, so I can take a reading off of a very small part of the image.

In the Zone

Let me show you what I mean.  Here is a shot of my Kindle Paperwhite sitting on the kitchen counter. The leather cover of the Kindle is black and has a nice texture to it. I wanted that aspect to show against the marble grain of the countertop. The notebook is a deep blue cover. Using the metering system of the D700, which is very advanced, I got this image. (Sorry it is out of focus, but that doesn’t alter the metering.)

kindle averaged

It’s a decent shot. I mean as far as the exposure goes. I wasn’t composing anything artistic. I was trying to prove a point.

Now, using the zone system, I measured the Kindle’s cover and placed that luminance at a lower range along the grey scale. It should look black, not dark grey. All light meters measure in a way that the exposure they provide will average out to an 18% grey scale. Which is about where the blue spiral notebook is in the above shot.

Because your mind is good at adjusting, you “know” from this shot that the Kindle is black, even though it shows up as a dark grey.

By adjusting the exposure to place the cover as black, not dark grey, I got this image:

kindle zoned

It is a subtle difference, but now you really see that the cover is black and that it has a deep texture. You also pick up a little more texture in the marble and coffee cup. It is a much more realistic interpretation of what I pre-visualized. Now you know why Ansel Adams art was so appealing.

What’s the Point?

I am a technologist. I have been most of my adult life. My income stems from my ability to see where technology is going and to make progress in bringing it to fruition. I have such great appreciation for the disruptive effect of technology and how that disruption breeds new opportunities, if you are willing to take some risk.

The trouble is, that layers of technology can obscure some basic understanding. Recording light on film or through digital sensors works a certain way. Our technology doesn’t change that. In this instant it seems like technology tries to take our intellect out of the picture. It stems from making it convenient, but what is the cost? Over the past few days I’ve had to stretch my sense of perception again, waking up old synapses that understood how to shift and move apertures and shutter speeds. The end result is I feel part of the pictures I am taking. I feel more like I can express what I am trying to visualize, not just snap a shot. I compose. I think about the light. I place reflectivity where I want it to be. I fail a lot, but when I succeed, the image is what I envisioned.

My point is that a broad application of technology is not always good. There are times, like with my computer assisted hip replacement, when technology has massive benefits. There are other times when technology insulates us from understanding and feeling more. Technical running shoes seem a good example of that. They eliminate the feel of the ground under our feet and shunt the muscle development in our feet leading to numerous biomechanical issues that we then throw even more technology at. There is a similar issue in writing. Advanced publishing software and digital book services allow anyone who can type into a computer to publish an e-book. That is a great thing, except many writers forego the process of having their work edited for content and format. Getting that critical feedback and incorporating the feedback into their work is what makes a good author a great author. Not all feedback is correct, but all feedback makes you think about what you have done and what you have said. Don’t forget the basics, regardless of how easy it is to create the content.

Would I eliminate the advanced light meter on my D700? Absolutely not. But I spend time understanding why it works and where its limits are. Afterall, I can switch to manual mode anytime and override the programmed exposure. I often do, but I can do it because I understand light. I understand the basis for why photography works.

Don’t just accept technology. Ask why. Dig underneath the covers. Understanding is freedom. Few things are ever just black and white.

Run free. Run smooth.

Why Natural Running?

Running is fundamental. I was going to say it was a passion, but it goes much deeper than that. Since I started to get involved in changing to a more natural running style I began reading a lot of material on the technique, biomechanics and human evolution. These areas haven’t quite intersected completely in current publications and so I will bring them together.

Why running?

First, let’s talk about the reason we run. More than that, there is a particular set of reasons that running has sustained us for millions of years and been one of the significant contributions to our mental and physical development.

About 3 million years ago the first human like creatures left the forests and started to roam the savannah that was developing and eating up the rain forest. To survive we needed to walk erect to see above the grasses and small trees. We also needed to move our heads back and forth and keep a constant vigil to find food and to not become food. The more we moved, the bigger our brains got. The bigger our brains got, the more high potency calories we needed. The human brains uses about 20% of our bodies energy. Gathering and foraging is great to keep a basic level of energy, but fresh meat had an abundance of protein and fat calories that our hungry brains needed.

It is probably likely that in those early millennia we scavenged as much as we foraged. Remember, we didn’t really have any weapons for hunting from a distance, like spears and arrows. If we killed game it was up close and personal with instruments that were in close proximity. How, then, did we kill game that gave us huge caloric benefit?  Persistence hunting.

Persistence hunting was done until the 1960s and seems to be the solution that best fits the needs of our ancient relatives. In persistence hunting a group of hunters work together to isolate a large animal from the rest of the herd. This was usually timed during the hottest part of the day. A big animal being made to run hard during the hot part of the day will fatigue fast. This type of hunting was science, not just random work. They managed the situation to the advantage of the human over the beast.

The Art of Tracking cover

As a team, the hunters tracked the animal, keeping it from rejoining the herd and making it sprint repeatedly to get away. It might take a few hours and cover as much as 25+ miles, but the big animal would eventually succumb to heat exhaustion and would either die right then or be unable to flee getting battered with a club or rock. The end result would be very potent caloric reward.

There are two important factors to keep in mind. First, the process of tracking was demanding. At times the hunter would lose sight of the animal and would have to figure out where he had gone. Part of this was learning to interpret signs of movement and part of it was the hunter learning to put his mind into the same space as the animal and finding its trail through sensation. This is arguably the beginning of man’s ability to do abstract thinking. Our ability to feel love, passion and intellect all started with tracking animals during persistence hunting. Our higher capacity for learning all stems from running.

The second factor, is that running down a large prey requires a commitment of energy. It only makes sense to make this investment if the outcome was greater than the cost. Since persistence hunting went on for longer than we have been living in cities, it suggests that the positive outcome in terms of calories was consistent. That is the key point. The cost to get the food had to be less than the value of the food

Keep that in mind while I make this next point.

How to Run

I’ve written before about a number of the reasons our anatomy indicates we are born to be distance runners. They are all drawn from works by people like Daniel Lieberman.

the human body

From toe to head we have biomechanics that only make sense if we are distance runners. Things like our short toes, our foot arches which absorb impact, the achilles tendon which operate as a spring when running, the large gluteus muscles, tendons in our neck that keep our head high, how we breath across multiple steps and the way our skin sweats to cool us. I can go on, but suffice it to say that the evolutionary record seems pretty clear.

Survival demanded the efficient use of energy and resources. If running was the basis for capturing needed calories, then running had to be done as efficiently as possible.

Even with all of the attributes that make us great runners, running had to be something more than just moving your feet fast. It had to be efficient and in a form that did not promote injury. Our ancestors had no shoes, or, at some point, only thin strips of leather to cover their feet. They grew up running in a natural form and they learned from each other the most efficient way to run. It wasn’t a random approach. Random meant inefficiency and more caloric output than could be sustained during persistence hunting.

In trying to find the biomechanically correct way to run I discovered the Pose Method. It is the only method that stems from efficient biomechanics that require the least amount of muscle expenditure while providing the least injury prone form that is fast. It was developed by Nicholas Romanov in the 1970s.

The Pose Method

In the Pose Method, the focus is on simple attributes of effective running.

  • The most efficient running happens when landing on the forefoot. It provides the least amount of time that the foot is in contact with the ground. Either heel or midfoot strikes require the foot to roll forward, which means energy is used to force the body over the foot. You can only heel or midfoot strike if you over stride and an over stride requires more energy.
    • Over stride means that your foot extends outward beyond your hips. An overstride, like heel striking, means that you put on the breaks with every footstep and have to power over with your leg muscles to compensate. That is very inefficient from a caloric expenditure perspective.
  • Forward motion is achieved by falling forward and using gravity to accelerate. The more the lean forward the more speed. There are some nuances to the fall. It is more like being pulled forward at the waste because the torso has to be straight to allow proper breathing and to keep balance.
  • The landing foot is picked up, not pushed off of. A lot of runners push off with their landed foot. This uses a lot of muscle that doesn’t really add value, but does burn calories. By lifting the ankle up in direct line with the hip, the body can just fall to the next step and few muscles are used. An increased cadence (~90 steps per foot per minute) is a cruising speed.

There is more too it, but then again, there really isn’t. The beauty of the Pose Method is that it allows you to run very fast with minimal exertion of large muscle groups.  If you want to see a picture perfect example of how this type of running looks, here is a video of Dibaba.  I am pretty certain she did not have any Pose Method training, but her natural method has all of the elements of a good Pose run.

When you tie together persistence hunting with efficient running form, you have a solution that makes sense. In other words, for millions of years we ran naturally in a very specific way. A way that minimized the calories used but still allowed us to run great distances to capture prey that yielded a very positive caloric reward.

Thanks for reading. I hope this has been interesting for you. As a writer, I am compelled to keep asking why something happens and digging a little more each time to get to a kernel of truth that makes for good character motivation.

Enjoy.  Run free. Run easy.

Fit to Recover

I have been a personal advocate of staying fit for a long time. At least the last 40 years. This past week that advocacy paid off. A large reason for my speedy recovery from the hip replacement surgery has been my fitness. A 40 plus year pursuit of fitness has given me two benefits in making the recovery happen.

Let me be clear. I consider myself to be pretty much an average guy. I am not fast, big, or strong like professional athletes. I place pretty well for my age group in races that I have done and I’ve always been able to improve my performance or not have it deteriorate over time. I am proof that you don’t have to be a world class athlete to stay fit and have fun doing it. One indicator is that my weight really hasn’t changed much in the last 25 years. I still wear the same jeans I had from the mid-90s.

What I Had to Get Over

It might seem prideful, but I’ve always been very healthy and I attested that more to a consistent workout lifestyle than to any particular eating program. Whether it was running, tennis, racketball, cycling, or lifting, I was active all year round. I was never a musclehead, but weights of some sort have always been part of the routine to compliment the other activities.

Having to go in for hip replacement made me seem like a failure. All that work and effort and my body still failed me. Going into the surgery I did a lot of reading and talking to people who had replacement work done themselves. It was a consistent message that this surgery had a high degree of success and people returned to near normal activity levels. That improved my expectations and attitude, but the sense of failure still lingered.

Head in Hands

In retrospect, there are a number of things I would have done to hold off the onslaught of arthritis. Most of all I would have focused a lot more on my running form, not just running exercises to get faster or build endurance. Unfortunately, there are few materials that really talk about running form from a true biomechanical perspective. I have found one that is proven, but that is for a future post.

My Post Surgery Realization

Now that I am 1 week and 4 days post surgery and my recovery consistently gets called a “model” by the physical therapists and doctors, I realize that my level of fitness had two benefits.

First, it was a lot easier for the orthopedic surgeon to do his job. My legs are fairly lean and the muscles are fit from cycling a lot lately. It made it easier for him to get to the joint and to do the work. I was told a little about how much manipulation you go through when they test the joint. It is not something I want to find on YouTube, although I am sure I could find it.

Screenshot 2014-12-06 16.13.13

His incisions are clean and not showing any indication of infection or leakage and I can tell they are healing well. A fit metabolism comes with the general fitness. It is a body used to recovery from some trauma. I needed some pain meds to get through those first few days, but even that requirement has eased off quite a bit. I’m on to Tylenol a few times a day and one pain killer before bed to make for a better rest.

The second benefit has been in the process of physical therapy. I’ve got a good base to work from, but I am also used to the process of doing sets of exercises and keeping good form while doing repetitive motion. I expect the burn to happen when I push the edge and know how to breath to keep relaxed while putting in the effort. It is just a natural thing for me. The therapy progresses faster if you push it to the limit, but not much further. You can’t overstrain, but you need to work it.

Again, I’m not that unusual. I just have a habit that seems to be paying off.

The Fear Is Gone

I mentioned the fear of surgery in the last blog. It is normal. I really was not looking forward to being cut open. Now that it is all done I am looking forward to continued recovery and rediscovering different activities. Yes, I plan on running again and I will focus on the Pose Method of running. I will also start building the mileage on my bicycle, increase plyometrics and even getting into swimming. All that and just playing around like a kid. We all need to be kids.

All of this has led me to start reading a lot about biomechanics of the human body. It is a fascinating subject and I hope it will inform my active lifestyle in the future.

If this helps any of you to rekindle your desire to get in shape, then I am happy. Take your time. Find your limits. Give your body the recovery it needs, but be consistent and always push a little more.

I would love to hear your thoughts and views.

Thanks for reading.