Story Mode

I can’t take a picture of my new writing rig because it’s also my camera. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been making use of my Nexus 6P combined with Google Docs and a cheapo Bluetooth keyboard to get my words down.

As long as everything stays charged the combination works well enough. Editing in this mode is far more difficult and considerably slower. Also, BT response times sometimes cause minor issues, but I am turning out stories once again so there’s that to be thankful for.

I’m currently sitting at the coffee shop watching my youngest play AD&D with a pair of brother’s who have occupied the community table. They keep walking around with the character manual and Star Wars men, jumping in and out of their collective narrative.

They’re loud and happy and working it out and that’s good.

I was writing until my phone, the device I was using to write with, rang. Incoming call from a Dodge dealership I visited yesterday. They had a 2009 Subaru (go figure) that I was interested in and they’re interested in my 2014 Prius V.

I picked up the call and talked with the sales person for a bit, then, eventually hung up with her. The leak I’d found on the ’09 has been repaired, would I like to continue with the trade. They’re really interested in my car. Questions and uncertainty swilling around in my head.

I put the phone back on the keyboard and tried to write. What was Merra doing again? I read the last few paragraphs recapturing her mood, drawing the thread of the story forward, but it’s very obvious, I’ve lost my place in the narrative.

I want to blame it all on my phone. On the call that came over the ether on what is essentially my magic story telling machine, but I know that’s not the problem.

I’ve got some real world problems to take care of, life decisions I need to sort out so I can keep stories threaded.

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The Perfect Dream

I’m going to break the Primary Unspoken Rule of Writing right now. Why? Because I had this dream last night that woke me up. Instead of it being one of those cold sweat, terror induced exercises in heart stopping I was in fact awoken by self-induced paroxysms of joy. Seriously!

Retro Futuristic City by HTECORE

The dream, as best as I can recall, centered around the idea that I had started a gym. People would come to my gym to swing around like Tarzan or Spiderman. Sort of a city sized exercise in parkour in which no one ever missed a leap or came down hard in a fall. And I was the *best* at it.

The setting was rich, luxurious.  Somewhere between the vast darkness of Los Angles in Blade Runner and the vertical richness of The Fifth Element, and the whole time I was flipping around this place like a trapeze artist operating outside gravity.

Like I said, I awoke from this dream, and a huge grin was plastered on my mug. I felt elated and I spent the next hour or so contemplating all the “whys.” “Why was that dream so good?” “Why did I wake up from feeling so satisfied?” “Why can’t I do this on command in my waking life?” “Why don’t I have the words to describe this amazing experience inside my dumb skull on the page?”

 

Fire Weather

This is the view from the upper deck of my house, across the East Passage looking toward Mount Rainier right now. It’s cleared up considerably, can’t you tell?

In good weather, we’re usually able to look out over the rail and see the volcano some 40-ish miles away. Often, we can even see the Cascade Crest, situated well beyond the volcano, in the blue distance. So, when the air quality is this bad you know something is up.

What is up is a complex of fires burning in British Columbia. The whole area has been socked in since Monday varying amounts of smoke and ash. I’ve had a headache since about then, and my only relief is when that pain becomes punctuated with periodic lung sensitivity and shortness of breath. Who knew a 45-year-old man could develop asthma?

Well, apparently I did. Starting about two years ago I wrote the bones of a story called Fire Weather. It’s a spec-fic piece about an Air Quality Refugee who flees summer fire weather in Chi-town only to become entwined in a pirate fire-fighting effort working off the coast of … wait for it … British Columbia.

It’s got everything too — semi-autonomous wild fire-fighting robots, boats, heroes, anti-heroes, swine, disaster, and rescue — and there’s no reason (other than a keyboard failure) that I can’t find an editor and get this thing out there.

Look for it on Patreon first.

A Kludge, Fully

Fast and furious followed by complete silence. The kind of silence you’d only find at the bottom of a dark and deep cave. Yeah, that’s how things have been around these parts since I’ve had to turn my laptop, a highly portable writing utility, into a desk potato.

The top row of keys on my laptop’s keyboard (the one built into the computer) stopped working. I tried troubleshooting using a shop and their solution was to replace the whole upper deck of my computer (late 2013). Not just the keyboard. Not clean out the notoriously dirty and potentially clogged fans or ventilation passages. Just the whole top deck. A >$800 part apparently so capricious in repair that they couldn’t even give me an exact estimate.

So yeah, there’s no way I’m going to do that. I bought a $20 USB keyboard and began to learn how to use a ‘desktop’ productively for the second time in my life.

Okay, so then July happens. The ‘E’ key (third from the left in the top row on most laptops) apparently becomes stuck. I take the whole key apart all the while mumbling something like “I thought you were busted? Why can’t you remain busted?” After hours of looking for any reason the ‘E’ would show up as depressed every 1.5 seconds I give up on repairing the borked keyboard. “I’m going to pull the case and disconnect the keyboard.”

Easy enough right? I’ve invested in a pentalobe screwdriver specially built for this specific purpose and I can nudge connectors with the best of them. So I turn it off, disconnect the power supply and begin surgery. It’s delicate work, like microscopic knitting for a ham-handed lout, but I persevere. When completed, I reassemble my increasingly Frankenstined MacBook Pro, open it and press … the … power … button … on … the … keyboard.

“Oh, good grief!” Hands involuntarily covers my eyes

It’s a wonder I didn’t transform it into a frisbee and chuck through a window in that moment.

Second surgery:

  • Step 1: Open Laptop
  • Step 2: Attach keyboard
  • Step 3: Take deep, cleansing breath and pray to various electronically inclined deities
  • Step 4: Power on computer
  • Step 5: Detach keyboard
  • Step 6: Reassemble computer

The words are still happening, just slowly.

Back On the Rails

Derailing

So, if I’m honest with myself, I derailed last January. ConFusion 2017 was a great big ball of fun, and I came home inspired by all the excellent people I got to hang out with for three whole days of Sci-Fi enriched shenanigans, but I also came home with a raging case of pneumonia. By early February it had consolidated in my right lung to such an extent that the doctor I ended up seeing seriously tried to get me to go to a hospital.

I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I completed the prescribed levofloxacin followed by self-congratulations because of “how great I felt” in the aftermath of my affliction with the reduced price tag for the cure. “Yeah me!”

The March rolled over me with a second bought of walking-pneumonia.

#Derp

So yeah, I lost my writing discipline. Round about April I found myself doing anything but writing. Instead of getting up in the morning and laying down words, I did the dishes I should have done the night before.

And so it went, me letting crappy little things get in the way of my desires. For a while there I even considered the possibility that rejection (and there has been plenty of it since January) was a sign that perhaps Sci-Fi really wasn’t my calling.

I derped once and then couldn’t help but derp again.

Derp.

Derp.

Derp.

This morning I woke up, compelled to evaluate my current situation and my future prospects. An existential crisis fueled by OCD. While standing on the ledge just outside the window of my metaphorical 13th-floor apartment, I was lucky enough to have an interested friend to talk me back inside to chair in front of my writing desk. Also, “Yeah me!”

Re-Railing

My writing group continues to send me reminders that they’re meeting every Sunday. Writing friends have asked if I’d like to get together or why I’m almost never seen at the coffee shop banging out words. I’ve even gotten polite queries about when the next episode in a space opera series might be released. Ok, so there are people out there who a) like what I write and b) want me to write more of it.

There’s even this overlooked gem of a review for The Big Red Buckle which has me thinking I should engage Melanie S. as a blurb writer for future projects. 

Much of my distress and worry regarding my writing of late is tied to the notion that I’m not actually making anything close to a living from it. Classic cart-before-the-horse thinking I know, but still, there it is. Add to this that I’ve sent out a literal butt load of submissions since the start of the year and all of them have come back negative for a variety of reasons.

I expressed this to another friend recently at a chance island encounter, and his response was both pragmatic and worthy of my attention. “If you find someone to work with, do it on your own.” He’s entirely correct, but again that damnable compulsive voice in my head, there are days when I can’t stop obsessing about the rejection.

So, the outstanding question right now is “How?” How do I get myself back on the rails, headed down the tracks toward some yet-undefined-life-goal? Make some money from my words? Write the best novel ever written? Write a story I’m happy with?

How about, “Just continue to write?”

Summer

Summer is *not* the best time of the year for a stay-at-home Dad and writer to reinvent himself, this is a fact of my life of which I am critically aware. That said, I know that I can write 300 words a day without taking much time or it devouring much effort.

So we’re back to this simple goal and will build from there. Three-hundred words a day and down the tracks.

Top Five for Hiking with a Six Year Old

I think, if it were possible to write a guide about how to get *any* six-year-old out on the trail with a minimum of hassle or complaint, I would have already written the definitive tome. This activity, as we all know, requires subtlety and nuance; you’ve got to have the right touch at the right time in order to make it happen. Success is fleeting, but I’m here to tell you that getting to the point where your kid finishes a hike and immediately asks when the next one is going to be is possible.

That said, here are my top five suggestions (I won’t say “rules” because then they’ll just get bent and become useless) for taking your favorite child on the trail.

1) Set Reachable Expectations

Understand your kiddo. Figure out what motivates them and then use this as a carrot to propel them along your chosen path, sure. That’s good advice, but learn to set expectations with your kids too.

My six-year-old likes to know what’s coming. The expectation is that I will choose interesting trails for him to hike and let him know some of the things he can expect to see and experience along the way. In return, he knows that I expect that he’ll have a good time, exercise his curiosity and learn without whining. All this is reachable.

Neither of us expects the other to do more than we’re able. In his case, I can’t demand he hikes a 25-mile day with a pack (not yet anyway). In my case, AralBear understands that I can only endure so much slowness before I crack. We’re honest about how we’re feeling and performing too, without being judgy, which means that we’re staying ahead of those acute moments where burgeoning hikers become couch potatoes.

2) Good Boots, Better Socks

AralBear has a couple of different pairs of shoes that are hiking capable: a sturdy set of Keen’s and now a pair of Vasque boots which protect and support his ankles. The problem with the former is that the tread is meh on snow fields and in the mud. Additionally, they’re not waterproof. They’re great for shorter, dry distances but when we’re stretching our distances beyond three or four miles they’re worthless.

Enter the need for the Vasque boots. These dandies have thick lugs, are waterproof, and I haven’t heard a peep about his feet hurting since getting them. Maybe they fit a little better, maybe they’re just that much more comfortable.

Or maybe (and this is where I’m putting my money) the new socks I got to go with the boots are entirely responsible for the improvement in his experience. Ever since an early season hike we went on where his feet got wet, I’ve been buying him a couple of pairs of really nice hiking weight socks a month. Now I carry a spare pair for both of us (and I carry them because I don’t want the spares to become wet or dirty on accident). On long days, if he starts to complain, I usually insist that we sit down and take our shoes off. I’ll have him switch out socks after a quick blister check and a snack, and then I hang his dirties on my pack to sunbake for a bit. We’ve always been able to get back at it without further problems.

3) Change the Narrative

“How much further?” or “When will we get there?” or the fatal “I can’t do this. I hate you forever.” Add to the list your favorite excuses for not being able to finish a trail, mount a series of switchbacks or and acute and undying need to turn-around-now-yes-right-now-before-I-lay-down-on-the-trails-of-throw-an-unholy-devil-fit-Dad-why-are-you-so-mean.

Adults do this too, but kids, man, they can really invent some amazingly rich narratives. Add a little pain to the mix and you’d think that they were trudging toward an icy Channel swim before an invading Nazi army.

My advice is learn to help them take control of their narrative. Arrest those negative thought patterns as early as you can, confront them with some reality, then provide some suggestions for alternative lines of thinking.

With my eldest, I wasn’t very good at this and ultimately I paid for my own deficit. With AralBear I’m very conscious of the tone and tenor of what he says when we hike. “Dad, my feet hurt.”

Okay, I buy that, but what can you do to change the narrative? “Try using these rocks to massage your feet as you walk. That’s it, roll your feet over each of them and feel the stretch in your arch and heel. Work those toes. Can you feel it?”

“Yeah Dad, I feel it!”

Help the pick the lens they’ll use to look at the world around them.

4) Channel Patience

Sometimes, I’ve got to yell “Hey, don’t go further than you can see me.” Sometimes.

Most other times, AralBear’s pace is somewhere behind mine. He’s got things to do and see. That means I’ve got to wait.

Forty-year-old Matt is orders of magnitude more patient than twenty or even thirty-something Matt ever could have hoped to be. He watches at the six-year-old Aral is doing and saying (especially when he stops to beatbox … go figure).

Point being, patience is your friend. Get comfortable with it and you’ll be living on six-year-old time.

5) Be Picky About Friends

This is a tough one, of the five, the toughest in my opinion. Of AralBear’s array of friends, however, there’s only a handful I’d like to take with us on a hike.

First, it’s difficult to impossible to apply the first four rules-of-thumb to other people’s kids. I can’t afford to shoe the world with good boots (and socks) and when I attempt to help an unknown kid change his or her narrative I’m increasingly likely to be met with the OMG old man eye-roll.

Perhaps, most importantly, if you allow the wrong kid to come along you’re tainting your hiking ecosystem. To be clear, when I speak of hiking with a kid, I’m talking about the cultivation of a precariously balanced mental garden. Keeping your rose standing up tall in the sunshine can be difficult on its own, but let another flower into your garden and you’re likely going to watch both of them wilt.

That’s not to say you can’t have outside kids come. I’ve had some great times with other-people’s-kids along for the trek, but, I’ve also learned that it’s important to understand what these boys and girls bring to the trail.