Thursday, September 3, 2015

On Paths, and the Niceness of Them

Where I work is a big place. And since being moved to the far end of the campus (it's big enough to merit being called a campus, if that is any indication), a certain amount of my time is devoted to calculating the quickest distance between my office and wherever it is I'm supposed to be in ten minutes.

I am apparently not the only person who has spent time considering this, as I often encounter unofficial paths trodden into bits of tall grass and weeds that happens to be everywhere where it's not mowed.

This lengthy preamble is all so I can set you up for this conversation I had last week.

I'm doing my full-barreled meander up a small hill, on a ragged bit of pseudo-trail that happens to connect the main campus road with a dirt access road, and as I pop up over onto the top of it I encounter an older lady heading my way. We exchange smiles, as humans are wont to do, and then she says:

"I assume there's a nice little path down there?"

My mind balks a bit.

"Well, there's a path. I don't know about nice, but it's a path."

And then my mind promptly spirals into how this seems a metaphor for my life, and I managed to get in quite a few thoughts on the subject before reaching my office.

I am finding myself continually surprised at the amount of people who grew up, went to school, got a four-year degree in four years, talk to their parents, and never worked a minimum-wage service job of any type. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It's just not like anything I've ever experienced.

My path through higher education, for example, is peppered with some shaky foundations (never took trig or geometry before calculus, for example), juggling schedules for multiple majors, and then having to make some decisions on which major when I discovered that financial aid credit limits are a thing. I got my major in geology, but most of my internships were in astronomy. This is probably more like randomly wandering around in the underbrush and coincidentally falling onto a paved street.

Take the only mode of League of Legends that I actually like: Dominion. I am one of a ever dwindling population of players that continues to play the mode. I wouldn't be playing LoL today if it wasn't for Dominion. But when Riot decided they weren't ever going to do anything more than life support for the mode, a lot of upper tier players left. And I realize that, yet again, I ended up on the path less traveled and it's sort of muddy.

I got hired at a software company (nothing related to my major, of course), and found myself placed into one of the smallest roles at the company. A role that was subject to misunderstanding or outright uneducation, and while it's gotten a lot better over the past few years, I can't help but notice that, while the path is sort of here, it needs a lot more people to step on the grass before people who are not in the know will recognize it as such.

But that's the thing, isn't it? Some explorer climbs to the top of a mountain and within a decade you've got tourists in flip flops and shorts standing on the same summit taking pictures. Some person in an online game figures out all the quests the day of release and the guide for the quest is up within hours. A person in a lab makes a discovery and within a year some long-standing disease is in jeopardy of extinction.

Some people set out to make paths, to blaze trails into unknown lands. Some people just want a shorter distance between two points. And some chase a butterfly into the woods and find themselves without a compass.

Eh, sometimes the best bits of life are where there's no quest guide - yet.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Things I Would Do If I Were Some Sort of All-Powerful Deity

  1. Randomly write in the sky, "Hi! I'm up here and I have lighting bolts!!!", complete with the exclamation points.
  2. Utilize the "three strikes" rule on things that annoy me (or are evil), using two lightning bolts and a meteor strike. Then I would mix up the order randomly.
  3. Plant Nokia phones in Cambrian rock layers.
  4. Bring back dinosaurs from extinction. Brontosauruses in particular. 
  5. Make a rock just slightly too heavy for me to lift, but make it the size of a normal rock. Then I would call over a random human and have them help me lift the rock.
  6. I wouldn't accept worship, but I'd accept offerings of tiramisu and coffee.
  7. Randomly create dragons.
  8. Give humans immunity to dragonfire. Until I deem otherwise.
  9. Flumphs would be a thing.
  10. Fly.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Le Luth Brisé: First Poem Translated

Well, I have finally managed to pick my way through the forwards and introductions in Le Luth Brisé and gotten to the first poem. Since I'm excited about getting this far, I'm going to post it here, but you can find the entire document thus far here.

It's depressing, thinking about under what circumstances this poem was written. I get the feeling it's only going to get more sad as I move deeper into the book. It is a book of Holocaust poetry, after all. This brings me to something the original translator, Irene Kanfer, said in the forward. It is, best as I can translate it, "The fact that these men, these women, these children, have, in the face of death, chose the poetic form, proves that poetry is inherently in the heart of humanity." 

Poetry seems to be the form people often turn to in times of great distress, great anger, great joy. Prose is all well and good and perhaps easier to understand, but poetry is the beat that we hear when we're not listening.

Without further rambling, first the original French, and then English. Any errors in translation are all my fault. If you want to read the footnotes for this piece, please refer to the link above.

Premier temps de l'occupation allemande en Pologne


Oh, combien c'est agréable: faire la queue pour un morceau de pain
Attendre des heures et des heures
Repartir sans rien
Sauf un coup de poing sur votre crâne.
Oh, combien c'est agréable: traverser la Piotrowska sous un cri :
Zerück, verfluchter Jude!  Demi tour, Juif maudit!
Une étolie devant, une étoile derrière
Ainsi tu sauras plaire
Tu auras l'air d'un général.
Alors: que manqu-t-il donc à ton bonheur?
Oh, qu'il est doux de se coucher très tard le soir
Se lever en sursaut dans une nuit noire
Travailler dès cinq heures du matin
Faire la queue pour un morceau de pain.

The first German occupation of Poland

MAKE THE WAIT...(at Lodz)

Oh, how much is agreeable: make the wait for a piece of bread
Wait for hours and hours
Leave with nothing
Except a blow on your skull.
Oh, how much is agreeable: traverse the Piotrowska beneath the cry:
Zerück, verfluchter Jude! Turn away, cursed Jew!
A star before, a star behind;
And you shall know, please;
You have the air of a general.
Then: that failing that is your happiness?
Oh, it is sweet to lie down very late in the evening
To get up, to start in a black night
Work at five in the morning
Make the wait for a piece of bread.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Motivating Yourself For Fun & For Word Count

This is based on a presentation I gave at my writers' group. It seemed to strike a chord with a number of people, so I figured I'd make a post on my blog where perhaps it can also help other people.

So maybe you made a New Year's resolution to write every day. You have a story that needs to be told. You have information you want to share with the wide, wide world. Maybe you want to do it for the money, the fame, the torturing of school children two centuries hence. You have reasons to write.

So what keeps you from writing?

Tiredness, sleepiness, work, family, friends, depression, stress, sickness, a conviction that what you write isn't any good and therefore no one will read it?

So you have reasons.

They're not sufficient excuses.

To quote Charles Bukowski, "If you’re going to create you’re going to create whether you work 16 hours a day in a coal mine or you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children while you’re on welfare.” If you have the fire of creation burning in you, you need to get it out. Sure, your life may not be easy, but only YOU can share with us the words in your head. We can't get them out for you.

Or to use an anonymous quote that I personally like a lot: "Your daily schedule is your creed; what you believe in, you have time for." If you truly believe that you should write, that you are a writer, you will make the time. Now, before you offer the thought, "Maybe I don't really believe I can write, because I haven't been." Nope, nope, nope. You've got today. You've got tomorrow. You've got the rest of your life to be a writer. Yesterday doesn't count. You can't change it. Today and tomorrow are yours to change.

So what are some things we can do in our quest to become writers?

First of all, I'm going to share with you something that I only realized after years of starts and stops, something I've heard from a lot of people, something that makes it harder to write.


It's worse than your mom looking over your shoulder while you type, and commenting. Perfectionism will shoot your writing in the face, stomp on it a few times, then leave you in despair with the mangled corpse while it laughs at you.

Seriously. It's not going to be perfect now. Accept it, and move on. Every time you find yourself thinking, "am I saying this right? Am I using the right words?" or ANYTHING ELSE of a perfectionist nature, club it over the head and move on. You can edit later. You need to write now. Refuse to be stymied by nonperfection. 

So, let's talk about what you want to do, specifically. Write a book? Blog posts? Magazine articles?

Set some specific goals. Some "I wills." Things that you WILL do. Not things you will TRY to do. Make a note of your "I will," either in your head or on paper or in a document somewhere.

"I WILL finish writing a novel by July 2015."
"I WILL write two blog posts a month."
"I WILL have four articles ready to submit to magazines by Dec. 2014."

You may find it even more helpful to set more specific deadlines. A friend of mine, who writes for a gaming site, sent a list of deadlines of when he will have certain articles in, because he writes best with an impending deadline. Another figured how many words he needed to write per week to finish his book by a certain time, and set that as a minor goal

Now for word count.

Pick a word count that sounds good, that you think you could easily write every day. Got it? Good. Now cut it in half. It's better to set the bar low and then raise it rather than setting it high and then quitting out of frustration because you can't keep it up. By halving your initial word count figure, you eliminate some of the potential frustration right out of the gate.

Also, keep in mind this word count you chose is a MINIMUM, not a MAXIMUM. Think of it as a minimum, and if you're in the flow of things, don't let passing your word count goal stop you from writing more. Again, the word count is a MINIMUM.

Also, it doesn't have to be word count. Some people write by hand, and have a goal of writing X pages a day. Set up an equivalency system if you use multiple mediums or write different forms. If you write poetry as well as prose, you probably know 500 words of poetry is going to be significantly harder than 500 words of prose. Figure out what your equivalencies are, and stick to them.

Time. You might have regularly reoccurring days that are really bad for writing. On Mondays, you might not even get home until 11 pm. Perhaps on Fridays is the night you hang out with friends until 2 am. You know what days these are. Treat these as "bonus days." You are not expected to make your word count on these days. If you do, it's a bonus. If you have these set in your mind as "bonus days," you'll be less likely to miss even more days because you couldn't write on those especially busy or tiring days.

Figure out what time of day works best for you. For me, it's before I go to bed. Sure, this has led to a couple of late nights, but since I write better at that time, it's worth it. A couple years ago, I tried getting up an hour earlier before work to write. I rapidly discovered that I don't write worth jack shit at 5:30 in the morning.

Maybe you don't have a lot of time in your day. You probably have moments, where you're sitting on the bus, or waiting for dinner to cook. Little times. Utilize those for thinking, for planning; you might even be able to write if you have a notebook or an IPad or a Kindle with you. Use the time you have. There's probably more of it than you think.

Things to write about. Keep in mind that background information for your novel or assembling your notes for that nature article count towards your word count. Take a day to brainstorm ideas. Keep in mind that you don't have to write in linear order. Write whatever scene or point you currently are thinking about.

Have more than one thing to write. There are days when you will hate your novel, or you really have no idea how to proceed. That's fine. Write something else. As for me, in addition to the novel I'm writing, I occasionally will crank out poems, blog posts, and bits of other stories that are bouncing around in my head (If I ever write a vampire novel, I've got like 12 ideas I could pull from), It's okay to take a break from your main project, and may even be beneficial. The goal is the daily word count. At all costs, reach that daily word count.

Day-to-day: You can't go to bed until you reach your word count. When you roll out of bed in the morning, that should be a settled fact in your mind, like brushing your teeth. You WILL write those words before you fall asleep tonight. Treat that as an absolute in your life.

Cheating on your word count only benefits Current-You, and Future-You will have to pay the price for it. We all know Past-You is a bit of a lazy bum, or Current-You wouldn't be such a pickle, now, would you?

If you can't stand what you're currently writing, switch to something else. Write what's on your mind.

Above all else, The Word Count is Sacred. Have it settled for a fact: when you roll out of bed in the morning, know that you will reach your word count before you go to sleep. Don't go to sleep without reaching your word count.

Some more tidbits: If something isn't working, change it. Change the time of day. Lower the word count (it's a minimum, not a maximum), change your music, change your location. Do what you need to do to optimize the word flow.

When you miss a day, because it will happen, it's okay. Don't try to make it up. Next thing you know, you're 3000 words behind and the task of catching up is even more daunting. Don't try to make up for the past; focus on achieving today and tomorrow and the next day. Your mindset should be focused on today going forward, not on what you failed to do yesterday.

 You are your own best friend in this quest. No one knows you like you do. Figure out how to make the magic happen. Use every trick in the book, and add your own. Today is yours to write. Remember, the word count is sacred.

You can do it.

Remember why you write.

Feel free to leave your own comments, tips, and tricks in the comment section.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Le Luth Brisé, My Translation Project

So last Saturday I went to a book sale. All you can stuff into a bag for $4.00. I perused the foreign language section and was able to pick up some French titles, including a quantum mechanics textbook. I anticipate reading that one will be a challenge.

That's not the one I'm translating.

I found a book of poetry called "Le Luth Brisé" (The Broken Lute), and I figured it would give me some good practice with writing and comprehending French if I translated it. Also, it seems like it's short enough to not be overwhelming or turn into an eternal project. If nothing else, I'm going to master the Alt codes for all those accented letters.

The book is autographed by the author, Iréne Kanfer. There is a short message, but it's both cursive and French, so I haven't tried to translate it yet. It can be hard enough for me to read cursive when it's English (Also, I wonder if "cursive script" will get it's own classification as an ancient form of writing in oh, say, fifty years or something).

When I find an autographed book at a sale, it makes me feel a little sad. Someone once cared enough to get the book autographed. Then something happened, and it makes it to the $4.00-a-bag day in the course of a four-day book sale. Did the owner of the book die, and all their books get donated to this sale? Did the owner just look at the book and go "meh, this is taking up too much space on my shelf"? What has this little book seen?

Welp, it's mine now.

There's also not a lot on the Internet about Iréne Kanfer. I *think* she was a Polish Jew, who translated "Le Luth Brisé" from Polish and Yiddish into French (she got mention as a Jewish French writer, and from the forward, she appears to have lived in Poland). She also appears to have written or compiled several other books of poetry, and may have gone by the name Irma Kanfer, based on one of the names in the early pages of "Le Luth Brisé."

I also can't find anything about the publisher, "Presses du Temps Présent," except that they existed and printed a number of books.

As amazing as the Internet is, I can't help but wonder how much media - books, music, art - simply isn't there, and how much information will be lost as we advance into the future. Which is sad. We won't know what we don't know, because in a number of cases we won't know that it had ever existed.

So here's my small contribution to rectifying this issue. The French is on the left, and the English is on the right. I'm copying the French into the document since it's in book form, and it gives me practice with writing French. I am linking to a folder rather than straight to the document, because apparently Google Docs doesn't like columns so I'm going to have to upload a new copy of the Word doc every time I want to update the copy.

Le Luth Brisé

Hope you like it.

P.S. Haven't gotten past the forward yet. Looks like there's at least two more pages before the first poem. This could be...a week or two.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Feels Like Yesterday Tonight

Seven years ago tomorrow                      
Is the night I can't forget;                        
A thousand dreams I haven't dreamed,     
A thousand nights I haven't slept;             
I've woken to a world gone gray,              
A world fractured with blight;              
Seven years ago tomorrow                      
Feels like yesterday tonight.                     

Seven years ago tomorrow                      
Is the night that I retrace;                       
This is the world I've lived in,                  
The world you haven't had to face;          
This is my life without you,                  
But you're never out of sight;                  
Seven years ago tomorrow                      
And I'm missing you tonight.                     

Seven years ago tomorrow
My agony is now cliché;
I wish that I could blame someone,
It might hurt less that way;
Some days I can't see tomorrow,
Some days it's too much fight;
Seven years ago tomorrow                      
Hurts like shattered glass tonight.

Seven years ago tomorrow
And a thousand lives I've lived;
A thousand memories I've cherished,
All the things you had to give;
I'll shine with your best virtues,
Your soul I'll polish bright;
Seven years ago tomorrow                      
And I'll be okay tonight.