Category Archives: Ramble

We Got Some ‘Splainin To Do


I just got done speaking to a couple of students.

Things are a little … tumultuous right now; in this country, in our school, shoot… in *life generally*. They hung around after the bell just to talk, to ask some questions, to vent… and I’m happy to be that for them. They obviously needed to talk to somebody. Heck, *I* needed to talk to somebody.

I came away from that conversation shaking my head. The older generation has so much to answer for with these kids. They have been robbed of so much, and yet they’re weathering the storm with so much more resolve and level-headedness than so many of the adults in their lives.

I often joke with them about how I’m glad I’m not a kid like them in the world we’re living in (even though it’s not actually a joke).

But the truth is, many of them don’t even get to be kids anymore. They got yanked out of that and plopped straight into adult problems, starting a few years ago, but especially here in 2020.

And even adults don’t know how to deal with 2020.

These kids have it worse.


A Good Excuse


I am finally realizing the secret to why I’m so cyclical with working out.

I go back and forth on this. I’ve done it for years. I get into a good habit — waking up early, getting after it before work — then I slack off and fall off the wagon. Then I get mad at myself and climb back on the wagon. And a few months later I’m off again.

It struck me the other morning why this happens. (Or at least, why I’m going to allow myself to believe it happens.)

The days are getting shorter right now. There’s less daylight out there to go around. Therefore by the time I’m going to bed, the night hasn’t been upon us for very long and when the morning comes, daylight is still a long way off.

There’s something in here, too, about the fact that when we’re deprived of the natural day/night cycle, our body naturally calibrates itself to a 25-hour day, not 24. So, y’know. That’s a thing. And it’s relevant somehow, I’m sure of it. (It’s also heckin’ bananas. Evolution finely tunes organisms to exist in a certain environment under certain circumstances, so how the heck is our natural clock off by an entire hour every day?)

This is not, in other words, a me-versus-my-alarm-clock thing. It’s a me-versus-my-evolution-given-circadian-rhythm thing. It’s the adjustment from long days and short nights to the other way ’round that gets me crossed up; not staying up late to watch Cobra Kai and Jessica Jones.

Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself this week.

Of course, I’m still able to drag myself out for runs, somehow.

I’ll solve that one later.

Anyway, maybe I’ll work out tomorrow.


Can’t We Just Like Things?


If there’s one article of clothing that gets me more comments than any other, it’s my Star Wars hoodie.

The garment itself is nothing special, but something about it just seems to draw people out. I get people all the time that will scan the logo, look me in the face, and give me that knowing nod.

I even had a guy approach me in the parking lot a few weeks ago, all serious:

“Excuse me, sir?”

“Yes?”

“May the force be with you.”

I smiled and said the only thing you can say in such situations: “and also with you.”

He then got all quizzical and asked me if my mask had a cat on it, which it did at the time, but this is not a story about how I had to wear my wife’s cat mask to the grocery store, it’s a story about my Star Wars hoodie.

Thing about Star Wars lately — as is the thing with so many things lately — is that it’s polarizing. With the new movies out, people put themselves into camps, and you’re either on team “love new Star Wars omg YAY” or “new Star Wars is 100% bad and Star Wars belongs 40 years in the past”. (For the record, I’m on team StarWarsYAY.)

And you know what? Fine. Everybody gets to have their opinion, and if the new Star Wars aren’t your thing, well, you’re wrong, but that’s ok.

But for some reason, because I was wearing my Star Wars hoodie, the guy sweeping the floor at the Kroger decided I was his buddy.

(Detour. I make no prejudgments about the guy based on the fact he was sweeping the floor at the Kroger. I myself started my working life sweeping the floor at Kroger. But I would never have done what this kid did, and for that, and that alone, I judge.)

He approaches me: “Nice sweatshirt.”

Me: “Thanks.”

“Glad to see it’s for the old ones, too, and not the new ones.”

I mean, I get he was making an attempt to be cordial, but you can see he’s made some rather large assumptions right from the go. (The first of which is that I am interested in his favorite Star Wars movie, which, no offense, but while shopping for my family’s dinner for the week, I am not.) ‘The old ones,’ he said, ‘and not the new ones.’ As if this were obvious, as if nobody could conceivably feel any other way, as if We Two Dudes are connoisseurs who know what Real Star Wars movies are and anybody who feels otherwise deserves worse than ridicule. Never mind that he’s expressing nostalgia for a thing that existed decades before he was even thought of. This is the equivalent of your eight-year-old telling you that Fraggle Rock is far superior to Muppet Babies. What the hell do you know about any of that?

But I have a special sort of disdain for the sort of person who goes all elitist about their favorite intellectual properties. So I engaged.

“Actually, I’m quite a fan of the new movies. In fact, I think The Last Jedi may be the best Star Wars movie.”

(I don’t believe this, not really — though I do quite like it and I think it’s top-3 — but this is guaranteed to bait a Star Wars Snob.)

“Are you kidding?”

“Nope, I think the new saga is great.”

A moment of silence from my new friend, who stood agog. “Even though the writers themselves said that, after the second movie, they realized they’d written themselves into a corner and wished they could re-do the whole thing?”

I don’t know if this is true, and I don’t care. “Did they? I dunno. Certainly nothing in the new movies is any worse than Ewoks.”

He’s shaking his head, now, aware how badly he’s miscalculated and trying to figure a way out of the conversation while saving face. “I just felt like we deserved better.”

Here I could have gotten on my soapbox and given a lecture to this young whippersnapper about how The World Owes You Nothing and Beggars Can’t Be Choosers but I went with a rather tame “Man, just be happy you’ve got this thing you love, and you’re getting more of it. When I was your age, we got the Prequels.”

Which is true.

It was a dark time.

He walked off shaking his head, and I did the same.

Star Wars is this weird thing, now. It used to be you could spot another fan in the wild and have a great conversation about the movies, the characters, your favorite moments.

Now even a thing so pure as Star Wars is poisoned with snobbery and holier-than-thou thinking.

Harry Potter is the same. (Ask me how I feel about my Deathly Hallows tattoo now that J.K. Rowling has become a font for ethically dubious statements on Twitter.) And so are so many things.

Can’t we just like things anymore? Isn’t it enough to see another fan and say, “hey, I love Star Wars too,” and let that be the end of it? I could’ve walked away feeling good, he could’ve walked away feeling good.

But no. It’s not enough. You’ve got to pick a favorite, and that means you’ve got to pick a side, and if you’re on the other side, you’re dumb and stupid and probably a socialist or a nazi to boot.

Man, I’m tired.


Do Your Tools Matter?


This is a stupid question. Ask any woodworker, plumber, electrician… anybody who does any sort of job that requires tools, and they will tell you without hesitation that the right tools make the difference between a job well done and a job that takes ages longer than it should and ends in frustration.

But writers aren’t woodworkers or plumbers or electricians (most of them, anyway), and tools aren’t part of the process for us the way they are for lots of other jobs. So do tools matter to us in the same way?

I’m the wrong person to answer this question, as I’m finicky and flighty and I love one thing then the next for a couple months at a time, proudly proclaiming this new thing to be “the best thing ever” before getting bored with it and moving on to some other new thing which itself becomes the new “best thing ever”. (Maybe what I really like isn’t each successive thing along the way … maybe what I like is just *new* stuff. Did not mean to psychoanalyze myself here today but, yikes, I may have done.)

Regular readers will know about my brief affair with fountain pens (current status: they are lovely but I am too clumsy to own them for long). For a while there I was on mechanical pencils, and while I still love a good clicky pencil, they are far from my first choice in writing implements. But pens are their own animal, and they have a tactile sense all their own.

What about keyboards?

They come in all shapes, sizes, and *feels*, and I am sure somebody in the industry could describe these things to me in a way that would make sense, but all I can tell you is what I’m noticing right now.

Our schools just updated our computers (you know, that whole work-remotely-because-the-world-or-at-least-America-is-on-fire thing), and while I don’t love the new laptop in general — it’s too flimsy for my taste, I feel like I’m gonna break it just moving it around the room (although therein lie points in its favor, because it’s *super* light and easy to move around, which is a plus for me) — I must count myself a fan of its keyboard.

I don’t know how to quantify it, but there’s a stiffness to the keys, a crispness to each keypress, that previous laptops I’ve used did not have. There’s a sense of certainty around every time you press a key, a sort of “yes, you definitely pressed that button, there’s no need to worry about whether you actually pressed it or not or whether the machine registered the pressing… that button was pressed and it’s gonna stay pressed”.

And the click. My goodness, the click! When you strike a key home, there’s this deep, satisfying click that you hear with your fingertips as well as with the ears. And it’s all the more resonant and satisfying when you type with gusto, letting your fingers crash down upon the buttons like so many tons of rocks in a mudslide, the way I do when I’m writing something I really enjoy.

It’s a silly thing, but the physiological reaction I have to using this keyboard is delightful. It makes me want to write more on this little machine that I otherwise don’t care much about.

For a while, back when I first had the thought of “I’m going to try to be a writer!”, I tried out several word processors. I didn’t love Word because I was a poor recently-graduated-from-college type and since I was also messing about with writing scenes at the time, Word was too clunky to use and gave me heartburn. So I tried out some other ones, writing a few pages in this one, transferring my files over and banging out some words in another one, tweaking settings, testing the way each one “felt”, trying to get it right. (I eventually landed on Scrivener, by the way, which is a lovely program, but we’ll get back to it.)

Some of the programs I enjoyed the most were these bare-bones plain-text editors like q10 and WriteMonkey. These are not robust programs by any stretch, not the sort of thing you want to put a novel together in… they’re essentially glorified versions of Notepad, designed for various purposes but generally with the aim of eliminating distractions and leaving you with only the blank page. I found them great for drafting and would probably still use them for this purpose if it wasn’t so heckin’ tedious to transfer files back and forth when you want to edit them or cram them into a larger project.

But the thing I miss the most about them is so small and silly it’s almost not worth mentioning, except for the fact that this is my personal site and if I want to wax romantic about silly little things then that’s what I’ll bloody well do. And that thing is: they had this option — you could toggle it on and off — to have the program give you aural feedback whenever you struck a key. They had typewriters in various models and other, more exotic clicks and boops and such, but the sounds were varied: striking the space bar was a little different from pressing a letter key, striking Enter gave a little “ding” as your cursor leapt back across the page … it was so strangely soothing and satisfying, a monotonous symphony of white noise as the words spilled out onto the page.

Scrivener does not have this feature, and I wish it did. And sure, you can get programs out there that will run in the background of your computer and make these noises for you… but I don’t want typewriter noises when I’m browsing the web, for goodness’ sake… don’t be ridiculous.

I only want them when I’m capital-w Writing.

This keyboard makes noise, though, which is loud enough to scratch that “typewriter sound” itch without being full-on noise to the point of annoyance when doing other things. It’s not quite that full-on typewriter sound, but it’s close. And it makes me want to write more.

So, do tools matter?

Flippin’ obviously.

For nostalgia’s sake I went and looked back at the WriteMonkey site and it looks like they’ve had a lot of updates since the time when I used it. Which may necessitate me going back and giving it a spin again, just to see what I’m missing out on.

Crap.


Why are Shoelaces on Kids’ Shoes Even a Thing?


For the longest time, I’ve put off teaching my kids to tie their shoelaces.

What age is the right age?

And is it even necessary, I mean, really? We live in an age of technological wonders. Velcro has been around for decades. (By the way, in the last xxxx years I learned that “Velcro” is a brand-name — if you’re not dealing with the name brand, you’re actually talking about “hook-and-loop strips”. The more you know!) When is the first “smart shoe” going to be invented? (It ties itself, then reads you your notifications while cooking your dinner!)

I think I’m going to continue to put it off for as long as I can find shoes in their size that close up with Velcro.

It’s just such a pain to teach kids anything that deals with fine motor skills, and lace-tying is among the finest skills you’re going to ask of a kid. Think of all the things you have to do! Cross over, make a loop, loop another string around the stem of the loop, make ANOTHER loop, pull that loop through the gap created by looping your second string around the first loop… I’ve just typed that out after untying and retying my own shoes and it still makes my head hurt.

And that’s if you use the bunny-ears method you learned in grade school.

A few years ago I learned a (far superior!) method for shoe-tying that gets the job done in about half the time. Why? Because the information is there to be learned, that’s why. It’s called the Fieggen knot and if you invest the five minutes necessary to learn the method, it will change your shoe-tying life, to the bemusement of friends and family. (“Look at this,” you’ll say. “I can tie my shoes really fast!” And you’ll do it. And they’ll shrug and say, “that’s neat, I guess.” You, too, can create this sense of underwhelmed wonder!) But forget trying to teach this intricate little movement of the fingers to a grade-school kid.

I don’t even tie my own shoes that often. I leave them loose enough to slip on and off, so I can go for weeks without re-tying my laces. But if you do that with a kid, they’ll be throwing shoes all over the room because they run everywhere and they run with the grace of the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

But both of the kids play sports, which means laced cleats, which means shoes are gonna come untied a lot — and they have to be tied a bit tighter than slip-on status. So I guess I’m gonna have to bite the bullet and teach them, lest I be that parent constantly jogging onto the pitch at a dead ball to tie their kid’s shoes.

You don’t wanna be that guy.


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