a goal

Of goals made and goals missed.

As 2016 winds down, I guess it’s a good time to review my 2016 resolutions and see just how well I did with keeping them and meeting the goals I set myself. (Spoiler: Not very well at all). After reviewing those, I’m going to touch on another few goals and challenges that I had set for myself and my progress therein. First, let’s take a look at each of the individual resolutions and how I did with four days to go.

New Diet

I feel like the main aim of this one (to eat out less) was certainly achieved, as I’ve definitely cooked far more often at home, and my wife and I have documented that on our food blog. Though we did go for a while without updating the blog until we kind of dropped an archive of some of the year’s recipes towards the end of November and December. The minor downside is that things became less collaborative between my wife and I due to health issues on both of our parts at various times, so it became more individual efforts with occasional contributions, which is a pity because cooking together was one of our bigger couples activities. Hopefully we can get back on track to working together in 2017 as our health issues start to resolve.

2017 Goal: Continue in the same vein, with less delays on the food blog.

New Weight

Still working on this. I’ve maintained my weight at around 220 lbs. I’m still shooting for 200 lbs, and I’ve remained committed to the gym for cardio exercise. It had been a lot of treadmill work and stationary bike work, but the treadmill work has fallen off in the last month thanks to my having a broken wrist. You wouldn’t think that would affect treadmill running that much, and it probably doesn’t, but because I’m paranoid, it means I can’t grip the treadmill handles or hit the emergency stop button in the rare cases where that might be needed. Soon I’ll be out of the cast and able to rededicate myself to treadmill running, which I enjoy greatly as a kind of zen way to clear my head. I also use the Zombies, Run! app on my phone to make things a little competitive because I enjoy the idea of metrics and leveling up with any challenge I face.

2017 Goal: Still shooting for 200 lbs, and I have a jacker picked out as a reward if I get there.

Communicate Better

Yeah, I’ve pretty much completely failed at this one. I need to reach out to my parents and sister more throughout 2017 to try and re-connect with them instead of just kind of ignoring the contact details I do have with an “I’ll get around to it eventually,” which is the utterly horrible approach I’m currently taking.

On the plus side, I feel like I’ve done better by my son communication wise. In additional to seeing him in person on a regular basis (at least until this past month where, once gain, the broken wrist has interfered and made driving exponentially more difficult), I’m able to reach out to him between visits thanks to some social media interactions. Notably, he’s became a big fan of Snapchat, so it’s been great to send him a quick picture or video message through that. I need to do it more frequently still, but there have definitely been strides made in that direction.

2017 Goal: Maintain & improve communication with my son. Establish regular communication with my parents & sister.

Blog More

 

Let’s see, my initial target was to add an entry to this blog at least once a week throughout 2016, and this is the 52nd week of the year. If I’ve counted correctly, this is my eleventh entry of 2016, which means that i only missed this goal by forty-one entries, so I made it a whole 21% of the way towards my target. Amusingly, one of the projects I called out was my Supernatural blogwatch project, to which I managed to add a grand total of ZERO entries in 2016.

2017 Goal: Attempt to hit that once per week target. Have at least one season of Supernatural blog watch finished.

Read More

At last, a goal that I was able to achieve! I’ve been keeping track of my reading thanks to the Goodreads app. One of the things i like about that app is that you can set yourself a reading challenge target for the year. again, big fan of numerical metrics and competitive goals to meet. I’ve been increasing my targets by five books each year. In 2014, that was fifty books, in 2015 it was fifty-five. Fans of pattern recognition will realize that means that my target for 2016 was sixty books. And per that very same GoodReads app, I finished my sixtieth book of the year (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) on December 21st. this is in a bit of contrast to 2015 where I was cramming a couple of short books in early on New Year’s Eve.

2017 Goal: Ready sixty-five books. More non-fiction and less graphic novels. join a book club to read titles outside my comfort zone.

Write More

This started with the best of intentions and fell by the wayside as different life things piled up (the aforementioned health issues, moving to a larger apartment). For the second year in a row, I failed to complete the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I was actually close to getting back on track with that with a solid four day writing binge planned over Thanksgiving weekend. Then I broke my wrist and was basically unable to type or write properly for the rest of November. That means my 2017 NaNoWriMo attempt is going to have a lot of making up to do (see the goal below). On the plus side, I’m revisiting the historical fiction idea I had, and now have most of a year to gather and read the research materials to keep it a little more organized.

Outside of NaNoWriMo, I did get some more things written, even if they were mostly flash fiction pieces (a few of which made up those eleven posts for 2016…) and I also got more disciplined at outlining and planning out my story ideas. Hopefully, I’ll be able to translate that into more output for 2017.

Another thing that helped here was the establishment of a weekly writing thread on the Fark.com new aggregator website that I’ve been a member of forever. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get a story into the Start of Farkness fiction anthology that arose from those threads though.

2017 Goal: Complete at least 150,000 words during National Novel Writing Month (Equivalent to the 50,000 for 2015, 2016 & 2017) as 1-3 stories. Successfully submit a short story for a hypothetical 2017 Fark.com fiction anthology. Also, write more short stories/flash fiction and potentially draft one novel outside of November. Possibly invest in a copy of Scrivener software.

Game More

Well, I did game more than I had in 2015, but I didn’t come close to completing the “12 video games in 12 months” challenge, unless someone can recommend 10 ultra-short games I can finish in the next four days. I managed to finish two games in 2016, mostly because I’m not a big gamer, so it’s seldom been a priority for me. I was able to finish Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the original Secret of Monkey Island. I’m also very close to finishing off the original Portal, so I might be able to claim 25% of the goal by year’s end. I have taken advantage of some Steam sales to buy/download a few games for next year. As someone who’s not been a computer/video gamer, I haven’t played a lot of these older games, so I can catch up now without having to buy a new system by playing new-to-me games which have been published since around 1999…

I’m also going to some more tabletop gaming. My wife and I did play quite a bit of Magic: The Gathering, a couple of games of Munchkin and a lot of the DC Comics Deck-Building Game when it came to card-based tabletop entertainment. I’ve also purchased some actual tabletop role-playing games in order to run some games in 2017. You’ve probably seen the fruits of these purchases as part of the It Builds Character sub-series on this very blog (A new entry of which should be coming before year’s end.)

I’ve also finally given up on Games Workshop’s miniature war games as they’ve finally priced themselves out of my comfort zone. Of course, I haven’t abandoned miniature wargaming completely and am switching over to the World War II miniatures game Flames of War. So far, I’ve purchased but not painted or assembled my first few British forces for an Airlanding Company.

2017 Goals: Attempt the 12 in 12 video game challenge again, run at least one tabletop gaming campaign (probably Pendragon) either in person or online. Purchase and assemble enough Flames of War miniatures for two forces so that I can play a few games. Start a small Star Wars: Armada force.

Goal stock photo by Sander van der Veen.

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NaNoWriMo Thoughts: Ideas & Inspirations

Inspiration can strike in the strangest ways. This is probably why most authors hate the inevitable “Where do you get your ideas from?” question.

 

This is my attempt to answer that question: I get my ideas from the world around me. I think everyone does to a certain extent, which is why one of the most common mantras is “write what you know,” though I do think that advice is a little misleading. After all, if I’m writing a period piece or so me far-flung space opera epic, then what I know as an English computer dude living in Delaware really isn’t applicable.

 

So what can inspire you? One source is dreams, which is why it’s a good idea to keep a pen and notepad on your bedside table to jot down the ideas as soon as you wake, because you WILL forget if you decide to wait until later, as I’ve learned to my cost. An infamous example of the dream as inspiration is the “Terminator” franchise. It began when James Cameron had a dream that consisted of a metal exoskeleton walking out of flames (Harlan Ellison might disagree on that form of inspiration and there’s legal reasons for Ellison’s credit on the first film, but Harlan is infamously cranky and litigious so who knows?). That dream became the finale of The Terminator and is, in my opinion, one of the best “holy crap” film moments of the 1980s.

 

Another obvious source of inspiration, and one partially alluded to in my Ellison aside above is whatever you might be reading. I know one of my earliest short stories was inspired by me reading Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon and thinking “I could do better than this!”

 

Thankfully, there are no extant copies of that story online as it was typical of a new, young writer in that it was terrible. That’s beside the point though. I read a lot of non-fiction, and listen to a couple of different history podcasts. And one of my most frequent thoughts are generally “what if this happened instead?” which leads to alternate history ideas or cross-pollination between disparate historical events and genres. What would the Roman Year of the Four Emperors look like through the lens of a fantasy world? I don’t know, but I might well find out by the end of National Novel Writing Month as that seems like fertile ground for at least fifty thousand words.

 

My current plan for the 2016 edition of that exercise revolves around an eighteenth century naval battle with a commander who was very much conflicted about whether he was even on the right side, which means I’m going to be hip-deep in geographical and historical research for the next couple of weeks. And that inspiration came from a single line in one of the “…for Dummies” series of books.

 

I also have dumber ideas inspired by mass media such as movies or television. Like most of the residents of the United States right now, I’m drowning in Presidential election coverage. Watching bits and pieces of the debates not long after finally succumbing and watching The Silence of the Lambs has lead me to a short story parody idea which so far involves Donald Trump looking in a mirror and asking “Would you vote me? I’d vote me so hard.” It’s very stupid, and I’m not sure I need the mental image of Donald Trump as Buffalo Bill, but since I inflicted it on myself, I figured I’d inflict it on my loyal readers, as few as you might be.

The last source of inspiration I’m going to consider is people watching. As I type this, I’m sat in a coffee shop facing a large window that opens to the street. This is both because I’m clearly a terrible cliché and because it’s a fantastic spot to observe the small section of the world that is my street. For example, about five minutes ago there was an African-American woman in a purple halter top engaged in an animated discussion with an older gentleman in a wheelchair. I don’t know what they were talking about, but judging by the wild gesticulations, it was clearly something both parties felt passionate about. I created a backstory in my head that it was the first meeting in around fifteen years between a school custodian and an infamous vandal who made his work a living hell. They’ve both long put such things behind them, but were reminiscing about old times in the way that people who aren’t quite friend sometimes do.

 

So, how do you get inspiration for your stories? I submit that the easiest way to do that is simply to keep your eyes and ears open.

 

Lightbulb stock photo by Kyryl Lakishyk

Ashes to Ashes

I’m not typically someone who is affected by celebrity deaths. After all, the passing of someone who I have most likely never met, and wouldn’t be aware of my existence isn’t really something I find worth dwelling on.

But there are two very big exceptions to that rule, and it surprised me that they hit me so hard. The first exception was Sir Terry Pratchett, whose death in March 2015 after a multi-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Pratchett was (indeed, still is) my favorite author and I’ve enjoyed the Discworld series of comic fantasy novels since a friend recommended The Colour of Magic (I was still living in England back then, so the title did have that extra ‘u’ in ‘Colour’) to me in 1993.

Now, twenty-three years later, there is one last entry in the series that I haven’t read. The forty-first Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown awaits me. In some ways, I don’t want to read it because then it really will mean that there won’t be any more output from Pratchett to read. I think that’s why I decided to re-read the entire series again from scratch. If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll see that I’ve gotten a good way through the series on this re-read. I’m both looking forward and not looking forward to the end of the series.

The other celebrity death that really affected me is that of David Bowie. As of this writing I’ve known that Bowie is no longer among the living for eighteen hours, and it still doesn’t quite have the sense of reality. When it comes to favorite things, my answers for favorite book, favorite song, favorite movie or favorite food vary depending on my moods, but s far as I can remember, I’ve always only ever had one answer to “Who is your favorite singer?” Bowie.

I’ not going to claim that I have some kind of ineffable, ephemeral connection to his music or that I associate seminal moments or compelling memories of my life with Bowie’s music. In fact, most of the seismic events in my personal life (two marriages, the birth of my son, moving to the US) and in the world in general (the death of Princess Diana, the 9/11 attack) are associated with quite banal music that has become elevated by association with those moments. It’s the only reason that I unabashedly enjoy Avril Lavigne’s Complicated (and I’m guessing this blog is the only place that song will ever be associated with David Bowie ever.)

Bowie’s music was different. It is different, it didn’t need personal associations to elevate it to greatness. It achieved that all on it’s own (with the possible exception of The Laughing Gnome) The omnipresence of the tributes to Bowie online show the sheer breadth of the man’s body of work. I’ve heard snippets and songs from just about every album from 1967’s David Bowie to last Friday’s Black Star and it’s impossible to narrow any of it down to choose a favorite song. Heck, it’s such a strong discography I don’t think I’ve heard two people pick the same Bowie album as their favorite. For the record, my pick is Lodger,  the last of the Berlin trilogy. But even that is subject to change.

And beyond the music, Bowie was a damned good actor. The range that can encompass the haunted Major Jack Celliers of Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence to the gleeful malevolence of Jareth, the Goblin King in Labyrinth and so many roles in between shows that it was more than just the novelty take of a musician turned actor.

I’m also amazed that the internet, noted home of trolls, malingerers and assholes galore doesn’t seem to have a bad word to say about David Bowie. There’s none of the toxic vehemence and disagreements that have characterized reactions to so many news events and deaths. It’s weird and also somehow life-affirming to see the outpourings of so many strangers united in their unabashed love for the musical output of David Bowie.

There are o words here that can really pay tribute to him any better than the literally thousands of other sites and posts that are doing so, so if you feel inclined check those out. For me, I’m going to pay tribute by appreciating the man’s work one more time. It doesn’t even matter which album or song that plays when I hit “shuffle,” it’s Bowie. It will be great.

For the record it was the title track on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps.)

A few thoughts on sports

I’m afraid that this particular blog entry is going to be a disorganized and disparate collection of thoughts and bullet points, much like this entry, though I’m attempting some thematic unity by making this one all about sports.

*Sochi 2014: Aside from the background press about how terribly organised and unprepared the site was and is for an event as prestigious as the Olympics, I’ve really not paid much attention to this. Which is odd as I’m a big Ice Hockey fan, and I find Curling oddly hypnotic to watch. I think part of it is that the Winter Olympics are definitely seen as the lesser games compared to their Summer equivalent. Something that isn’t helped by NBC’s frankly embarrassing coverage, the time differences involved, and (if I’m honest) the likely complete and utter lack of success for Great Britain in the event overall. Having said that, I did check the complete medal standings and Britain has achieved a single Bronze in Women’s Slopestyle Snowboarding, whatever that might be. So, I guess Britain is on par with Latvia and the Ukraine. Which is nice.

* Derek Jeter to retire: I’ll be honest, of the “Big Four” American sports, baseball is the one that appeals to me the least, though I am a fan of the Washington Nationals and would like to catch a game at Nationals Park (I have seen one MLB game live, Baltimore Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards. The Sox obliterated the O’s which pleased me). Even with that caveat, I have to say that Jeter seems like a classy guy, and I’ve never really heard fans of non-Yankee teams speak ill of him other than his defense being below average for his position. Jeter’s a for sure Hall of Famer.

* Manchester United: I’m a Limey, indulge me the opportunity to discuss soccer a little. I have to admit that I’m enjoying the struggles of Manchester United this season under David Moyes since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Most of it is schadenfreude at the fans of Manchester United, who have been unrelentingly arrogant since roughly 1992 when the team became the perennial contenders for the Premier League title that they were until this season (heck they won the whole shebang in the 2012-13 season). I’m aware that even struggling that Manchester United are  far better than my team of choice, the MIGHTY Oxford United, who sit three entire leagues below them in the standings (though they seem to have a respectable shot at promotion this year) but there’s something gloriously petty in sports fans that likes seeing perceived power teams struggling… And Liverpool FC (my adopted Premier League team, as I can actually see some of their matches on NBC Sports this season) might finish above Manchester United for the first time in forever.

* Michael Sam: I guess it’s a brave decision to come out as gay before the NFL draft, and it might hurt his stock among a few teams. I’m not exactly sure why this should be the case, as i’m not sure why this needs to be a big deal in 2014. I’m sure he isn’t the first gay pro footballer (or pro footballer to be), even if he is the first to be open about it. My big concern would be “how good a Defensive End can this guy be in the National Football League?” (That does sound a bit of a sportscaster-y sentence doesn’t it?). I guess my bottom line is “can the dude play?” If the whole media circus does hurt his draft stock, that might help my beloved Washingotn Redskins, who need a lot of help on defense and don’t have many picks due to their usual incompetence/trades/shenanigans.

A few quick thoughts

Sorry if this isn’t as coherent as my prior weekly blog entries, but I’m just not organised enough in my thoughts to go beyond bullet points tonight (I’m also writing this entry on my Kindle Fire and a touchscreen keyboard isn’t conducive to essay format blogging.)

* I’m still on pace for one blog entry a week in 2014, and will likely ramp that up as my writing gears up alongside my mood & enthusiasm.

* While my weight loss goal for the year seems an impossibly distant number, I am down a little over 5lbs, so it’s a start. Also, having an app with numbers & targets appeals to my competitive nerd nature. Now I just need to start exercising.

* I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m seeing some positive signs for my job search, so I’ve been doing a couple of extra things toward that (which has delayed my writing a little, and means my submission to the Richmond WriMos February critique group is running late.

* Another reason it’s running late is that I’m constantly trying to write out passive voice/to be verbs and thought I was doing well until someone posted a link to an analyzer that presents numbers and targets with a maximum threshold of 20%. As a competitive nerd, I’m shooting for less than 10% and struggling. Because I am insane.

* My gigantic Star Trek rewatch project continues apace. Having finished The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, and the first seven movies (The Motion Picture through to Generations), I’ve gotten through a lot. I’m currently in Season Three of Deep Space Nine and Season One (3rd episode) of Voyager. Don’t be surprised to see future blog entries ranking a few of these things….

* As a sports junkie, I suppose I should make a pick for Super Bowl XLVIII. I think Seattle keeps it close and low scoring, but can’t get anything out of Marshawn Lynch, and so Denver wins thanks to Matt Prayer’s leg. Broncos 17 Seahawks 14

* Have committed to beta reading someone’s novel by the end of February, so I’m trying to finish the book I’m reading before then.

* What’s going on in your lives, my dear followers? Continue reading