Monday, January 20, 2014

A woman sitting on a bench, part 2

Another entry in the 500 Word Challenge, this is a direct continuation from here.

You cannot yet state precisely why this is. There is nothing outwardly striking about her appearance--no capes or clown shoes, no Capuchin monkey skittering across her shoulders, no harlequin scarf kiting across the breeze.

And yet, her appearance is that of someone singularly not belonging on a park bench.

Lolly tugs forward on her leash like she's concerned about missing her target heart rate; she has no patience for your slowing to speculate.

The shoes? Brown pumps. Likely not "brown" but rather "chocolate" or "mahogany" or "old growth forest" or some other proper color for a woman's shoe, but in any case not a sensible walk-in-the-park shoe.

Slacks and blouse leave a similar impression; this is someone dressed in the upper range of business casual, not someone who planned to sit on a park bench on a chilly, overcast morning. Were there any doubt, the incongruity of the coat settles it; this dingy white coat, a stoutly functional marshmallow that must dwell neglected on her closet's floor, surely was grabbed in desperation, a pivotal, decisive act altering the course of her morning.

This is a woman accustomed to driving from covered parking to covered parking, free from the imposition of weather; she keeps her expensive jacket hanging in the back of her car. She didn't take the time to fetch it.

A woman who composes herself with care has forsaken her appearance to grab what was likely the only available jacket in her wardrobe offering practical warmth. She chose this rather than take the time to change into appropriate park attire. She knew she needed to act on the moment--any delay, the inconvenience of changing, and her resolve would be gone. Again.

She's been thinking about something for a long time, then. And only today, this morning, has her fortitude prevailed. She came here to think. No, not only to think: to decide.

Again the feeling that you shouldn't be here. At the gazebo she sits, deeply engaged in an intimate, conflicted moment of decision. A woman sitting on a bench, standing on a razor's edge. You're walking straight at her, Lolly driving forward, the slavering hound and the unwashed oaf with the flamboyant walking sneakers. There are no detours.

What to do?

Plow resolutely forward? Avoid eye contact, hope Lolly doesn't park at the woman's knees? Hope your bit of antisocial behavior doesn't tip the scales of her decision?

You're closing fast.

Maybe pause to throw out a bit of Zen wisdom in passing? What was your last fortune cookie? "You will soon go on a long journey." That might work. But to what end? Do you dare disturb her universe?

Mere steps now.

Sit next to her on the bench and play social worker? Listen to her dilemma, steeple your fingers and bestow sage advice? "That must be hard," you'll say. Always a good opener. Listen carefully, then close with a coin flip?

We're here, and Lolly the friendly, huffing dog has stopped to sit at the woman's chocolate or mahogany or old growth forest shoes. Lolly isn't one to overthink matters, and she has decided that this woman needs a dog to pet.

Friday, January 17, 2014

500 word challenge update

Just a quick update, as the writing I've done of late has been offline. Yesterday I didn't hit 500 words, and what I did write I promptly scuttled. Some days that's for the best. I'll have something up during the long weekend, assuredly.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A woman sitting on a bench

The day broke dank and overcast, not a morning for walking your dog in the park, unless your dog was the sort of chocolate Labrador that, neglecting exercise, would routinely chew the windowsills off the wall during the lonely workday. Your dog, Lolly, is precisely that sort of dog, calmly gnawing your house like chewing tobacco and spitting the moist pulp into piles for your later collecting. Facing the choice between another weekend hammering down fresh molding or walking off your dog's destructive energy,you chose to log-roll out of bed and grab the leash.

The sun, good sport that he is, chose also to rise, casting a meager glow on the damp sidewalks and bedewed grass. Lolly pads along with an eagerness that forces a quickness to your step. She tacitly refuses to acknowledge that this is anything but the most splendidly fabulous morning. The smell of earthy, ionized air, the bracing coolness, a tousling breeze--another perfect day for walking. Lolly glances back at the bobbing leash and then up toward you, wearing a goofy labrador smile. You smile back.

You've arrived at one of the park entrances, taking the fork to the right through an opening in a split rail fence. It's a civilized park, with poured concrete walkways suitable for dry or wet weather, and wide trails with multiple diverging branches allowing for walks and jogs of variable duration.

Lolly has her favorites, the trails with kaleidoscopic animal scents floating throughout the underbrush, but today her broad nose points you toward the center of the park, home to an modest gazebo. An odd choice.

The mist is thicker here, the air cooler, enclosed by woods and spotted with copses, shifting leaves batting away the sun's heat. You are warm enough from the exercise, but the chill clings to exposed skin.

Typically you'd encounter a few familiar faces, though only the diehards on a day like today, the ones wearing modern synthetics and GPS watches. All is quiet this morning, though, the thickness of the air dampening sound, save for Lolly's breathing and the tapping of her nails against the walk.

Lolly's pace slows. She's sniffing the air. "Let's keep moving, girl," you say. There's a schedule to be kept--walk, shower, off to work. You're looking around. Did everyone else hit the snooze button?

You've been to this park a hundred times, know well its twists and shadows, but now this morning you have a dogged sense that you shouldn't be here. Silly. You tighten your grip on the leash.

A glimpse of the gazebo appears ahead. A small structure, perhaps twenty feet across, with a wooden shingled roof, open on the sides save for several benches spanning its posts.

As you approach the gazebo, sun still struggling to burn off the overcast clamminess, you at last spot another person, a woman sitting on one of the benches affixed underneath. An unfamiliar face, even at a distance, but more than that, you are struck with the realization that she shouldn't be here either.

To be continued...

Monday, January 13, 2014

In which everything is JUST FINE REALLY

--heck, I always was a terrible liar. I fell off the wagon this weekend. Hard. I had a remarkably productive weekend and attacked the to-do list viciously, but didn't get a single word down Saturday or Sunday. Avoiding writing may well be the key to success in other areas of life.

What I do have written down, however, is quite a superb list of excuses. Easily 500 words. Care to hear them? Perhaps the one about the back injury? Compelling and vivid, I assure you.


Moving along. How is everyone else doing on the challenge? I need to browse through some of the website links and scout everyone else's progress. I had a thought that in the near future I would do 500 words in comments on other people's sites. Twenty-five words on twenty sites? Seems a good idea.

I had thought as well that perhaps it's time to move from blogger to WordPress, like all the cool people (and because blogger is incredibly flat and restrictive). That would likely serve as little more than a distraction during January, however, so best push that to February. Does anyone have a favorite platform--something other than WordPress to recommend?

Funny how it isn't enough to establish good habits--they need constant maintenance. Years ago I couldn't look at someone sitting on a park bench without spontaneously thinking up her backstory and what was churning through her mind. Now? Lady on a park bench. The end. Given sufficient laxness we gradually atrophy our abilities, becoming less like Sherlock and more like Watson. Fourteen steps up to the room, you say? There were steps?

Part of the problem is how incredibly capable we become at the everyday overhead of life. I have to rub my cheek to confirm the morning shave--yes, smooth and not scratchy. Wearing pants? Thank goodness, yes. Wearing underwear? I'll get back to you on that.

Remember learning to drive? The intense attention required to maintain a relatively constant speed, check the mirrors, stay in your lane, shift focus rapidly between near and far traffic? Now we drive in traffic eating a banana while talking on a cell phone and watching nothing but the rearview mirror. Easy.

Our practiced perfection numbs us to detail. Our autopilot is so well trained as to simulate a life without us even needing to be there. My body has gone on to brush its teeth without me. I'm somewhere up in my head pacing off steps, smoking an imaginary pipe, mentally chewing upon some academically interesting bit of gristle.

Autonomic systems gradually subsume consciousness. The body already regulates temperature and heart rate independently; it is more than capable of handling the entirety of routine living. Life becomes like breathing--it goes on without our attention, but with thought and effort we can govern it. Writing demands that thought and effort.

In my pacing I now come across a woman on a bench. And I know what she's thinking.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A change in the air

Day Ten, nearly a third of the way through the 500 Word Challenge. For the remaining two-thirds I may need to change gears a bit and work on some writing that doesn't get posted on this blog. I want to focus on some fiction writing exercises that would likely be ill-suited to this format. Perhaps go with an even/odd schedule--even days for private writing, odd days for site posts; that would allow me time for more liberating free-form scribbling, which I sorely need.

No cheating, I promise--I'll report back here with progress.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

One post away from becoming a hobo

A second ago I had zero. Now I have six. Scratch that--ten. Definite progress. The words are flowing easier now. Trying with music tonight. Loud music.

If only you knew how exciting this was--I've done the math and the odds of this reaching 500 words and posting before midnight...well, not something you would put money on.

You have the advantage of me. I'm staring at blank, blank screen, but you can already see the words; you know how this ends. So, do I make it? Missing tonight after a stinker as recent as January 7th would be calamitous; it could derail the whole project and send the 500 Word Challenge tumbling into a ravine.

At that point I'd have to scuttle the whole blog, drag Scrivener to the trash, perhaps become a hobo and hop trains. One can only withstand so much disappointment with yourself, especially as you are always there.

This, I'm guessing, is why people take up drink. How else do you get some peace from that chattering loon in your skull?

Three hundred words separate me from ruin. Let's notch up the music volume a bit. There's more below this, yes? More words? I didn't stop at the two-hundred mark? Because that's where we're at, and my eyes burn with fatigue. Fatigue and what I suspect is napalm in my shampoo, which seared my left eye half a day ago and still burns. Mental note to check the recipe on that bottle. Turpentine? Lime remover? Drain cleaner? I should also make sure the word "shampoo" appears somewhere on the front label as well.

I stare at screens and type all day for a living. Nothing like this, of course, but it's remarkable how much of our lives has come to typing. Ruminate on that for a while. It's coming up empty on my side but perhaps you can dredge something out of that.

Long blank stare here. You're skimming, aren't you? Such a luxury of the reader; I have to make this stuff up, with exercises to build healthy writing habits, and, like exercise, sometimes it comes easily and feels thrilling and other times it's just tedium and irritation.

Maybe you can help. Do you write with or without music? If you listen to music, does it have to be purely instrumental? When do you write? Morning, evening, at intervals during the day? Do you have to leave the house and head out to a library or coffee shop to get anything done? Can you read books during a writing project or do you need to isolate yourself from the thoughts and styles of other writers?

I think we're going to make it. Thanks for sticking with me. I definitely need to wrap this up sooner rather than later; the glow and clicking of my laptop is keeping my wife up. The difficult posts are certainly educational--it's becoming increasingly clear what works and what doesn't, and nighttime writing isn't harmonious with an exhausted household.

Do leave a comment if you're considering it--perhaps you can tell me how tomorrow goes.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mac vs PC vs 1943 Underwood Upright

You're a writer and you're using a PC. This is a sensitive topic, I know. Writers have MacBooks, it's said. There's this sense that using Windows will hamstring your abilities, that you're attempting to ply your trade with inferior tools. I possess decades of vast knowledge on computer operating systems, including every version of Windows released, both client and server side, and I can confidently tell you: it's true. I'm sorry.

This post is not intended to explain exactly why this might be true (it's true), but rather this post serves as an act of commiseration. You can transcend the limits and deficiencies of your writing implements. We employ various tools in the physical act of writing--chisels, quills, pens, as well as the subject of today's commiserative post: typewriters.

Specifically, a 1943 Underwood upright typewriter. Owned by a bank during World War II, this black, 30-plus-pound beast became my grandmother's property (along with some chairs) when the Great Depression closed any number of banks. She bequeathed it to me. During the bulk of my teen years, I used it nearly every day.

Note first that the Underwood does not have spellcheck, nor an integrated dictionary or thesaurus. As to typing, there is no gossamer pip-pipping your fingers across the keyboard. Each key has a long throw requiring jabs of significant depth and force to smack the ink against the paper. As with a piano, you must strike using strength from your arms as well as your fingers. There is no exclamation point key; this symbol is assembled by typing an apostrophe, then backspacing (an especially resistant press), then typing a period.

And so we begin writing on the Underwood. We're jabbing at keys making a satisfying thwackety-clack, with each press the entire upper assembly trundles to the left, the carriage dragging the paper along. Ink smashes into the paper, each letter pressed like braille, the analog intensity of each stroke recorded in words.

We're thwackety-clacking along, building speed, and the deep bell rings, signaling our left hand to reach up, grab the smooth silver lever, and slam the carriage back to the right. Ding-zip-boom! The desk is trembling from the steel's weight and thundering staccato energy.

With the Underwood there's no going back, no editing, no word "processing," so we plow forward, building tremendous rhythm on the keys. Thwackety-clack, thwackety-clack, ding-zip-boom! The desk is heaving, gears spinning, ink splattering. For all the sound and fury we might be anvil-hammering red-hot horseshoes by the dozen but no. We. Are. Making. WORDS.

The sun has set; the room has darkened as we pound. We're lit by a coursing orange glow inside the Underwood, the heat and warmth of a boiler. We're startled to see our muse to the right--she's done with faint whispering, we've put her to work--her face covered in black dust; she is wearing a leather apron and plunging a wide-bladed shovel into coal with abandon, heaping fuel into the boiler's mouth.

We are making words, as in the beginning, when there was only the Word; we have tapped into the fundamental force behind the cosmos--not particles or processes but words.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The dog ate my 500 words

Part of establishing new habits is figuring out what works, and working 13 hours and then trying to write 500 words just before bed isn't a great idea. Lesson learned. Adjusting and adapting tomorrow to get back on track. Starting early!

Monday, January 6, 2014

In which we are melancholy

It's wise to set expectations accurately--I am never going to hit 500 words tonight. There isn't a vestige of a shadow of an inkling of a semblance of what might be mistakenly considered hope of that this evening. I lean over and mention this to my wife and she tells me to "think positive," so I tell her "I'm positive I won't hit 500 words tonight."

Day 6, and the honeymoon is over for the 500 Word Challenge. I've consumed those few ideas that sustained me through signing up and breaking past inertia, and now it's supper time in Mother Hubbard's Cupboard.

The holiday season is truly over (Merry Christmas by the way--it's twelfth night, the final day of Christmas, the day your true love presented twelve drummers drumming, no receipt). Work has resumed in earnest and the December backlog looms, a persistent creditor, the Pied Piper demanding his wages.

Now we see whether writing works into the daily grind; we begin to feel the little sacrifices throughout the day made necessary to squeeze in 500 words. Less time to read, less time for the daily amusements to which we've become accustomed. Each moment becomes a choice in a relentless series of choices, another opportunity to choose poorly. A raised consciousness can be exhausting.

But be positive. Here's an odd question for you--guess my blood type. Got one picked? Answer: "B-". Yes, "be negative." Fairly rare, I understand, which makes it seem that much more like destiny. Writers are prone to melancholy, yes? Is this a stereotype or has someone done the math on scribblers? In the grand scheme there is cause for nothing but joy, but still, always the little ache, the shadow, the love for rainy days, the cloistering snow, a steaming cup of coffee to bow into. We work harder on the day, don't we, keen attention on people, knowing that giving away even a morsel of kindness can pull a stranger from despair, tracing back in memory the morsels that have rescued us.

That would be a worthwhile exercise, logging a manifest of when another has reached down to us, extending uninvited a hand to help us regain our feet. But tonight? Not so very likely tonight.

Be negative. Which reminds me it is time again to make an appointment to donate blood--missed one due to the busy-ness of the holidays and that's another habit I need to make more consistent. A good and noble thing, donating blood. Giving away "B negative" can be positive, the draining of self to help another. That's syrupy, but behind it there's something workable, perhaps even profound for someone willing to stretch that out and develop the subtleties of how giving away your negatives can be a positive for others. Wait--actually, I read that blog a few days ago, and it was quite good.

I'm glad someone gave that concept the attention it deserved, because I haven't the energy tonight, not even 500 words.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tea and Mocha

Writing today's 500 words seems inordinately difficult for two reasons:

1) Thanks to Mr. Goins retweeting a note about yesterday's letter to him, I had a few visitors to this blog. As my blog has rarely seen anyone in the past, not even me, the attention is a bit unnerving. That said, sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to comment, tweet me, or simply read what I've written. I'll do my best to fully engage this kind community of writers.

2) One of my three dogs keeps chasing me from room to room, making it a challenge to settle and write.

This dog, a wee thirteen pound black-and-tan dachshund we'll call "Mocha," is not, in fact, chasing me in the sense of a "game of tag" or "Friday the 13th" movie. That would be ridiculous. She is almost entirely blind, entirely deaf, and her old joints appreciate a boost climbing the stairs. As to explanation, allow me to proceed briefly and with delicacy, after which we'll continue with today's writing exercise.

By way of example, imagine a tableau, thus:
Living room with three folding chairs, a sofa, a loveseat, occupied by, in no particular order, three married couples and a single woman, engaged in pleasant conversation. Hot tea, slices of Dutch apple pie, fruit salad among them on the coffee table. A Bible study, it would appear.

From the kitchen a low slung dachshund plods, her chin flecked with grey, eyes unseeing; she navigates through the doorway by whisker. In the past she skulked along the baseboards like a greasy ferret, but in her oblivious dotage she has abandoned subtlety and simply rotates twice to lie down unnoticed under the coffee table. Minutes pass. In the distance, a faint train whistle.

This we'll call the "before" picture.

For those nearest the coffee table, there is no warning. They are speaking; they are happy. The little dachshund curled inches below their tea and pie and fruit salad has fallen asleep, and in falling asleep has fully relaxed, and in fully relaxing has started venting toxins. Out of kindness and propriety we shall restrain ourselves from employing similes or metaphors or adjectives describing this scent, except that it is "bad." Wicked, sizzling, bad.

The results are beyond etiquette. Mouths clamp shut. No one is happy; no one is speaking. It's purely up to the hypothalamus now--fight or flight, fight or flight--flight it is.

And so they flee in all directions, keeping in mind that during an emergency the nearest exit may be behind you. Forks crash, chairs wobble. And the room is clear, save for the dog.

They will carry on in the family room. No one is sure how exactly to add this to the prayer list.

This is the dog that curled up alongside my chair a moment ago. Her senses are almost gone but she is a black specter that somehow tracks my movements. She has fallen asleep.

The calendar rustles as I pass. The daily quote is an Irish Proverb stating that God's help is nearer than the door; if that's true then God's help and I must be sharing the same trousers because I am already out.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A sealed, secret, personal letter to Jeff Goins from no. 286

Note that this is NOT an Open Letter. Were this a paper letter it would be folded into a wax-sealed envelope. Due to conditions of Jeff Goin's 500 Word Challenge, I get no writing credit unless I post this letter on my blog, so here it is. If your name isn't "Jeff Goins" you can't read it. It's much too personal and full of mortifying secrets to be read by the Internet at large. Instead maybe find some baby otter photos to look at. Thank you.

Dear Mr. Goins,

It's Day 4 of the 500 Word Challenge and I have no idea where the words will come from, but I'm showing up at the keyboard and trust the words will too.

At 3:42 PM Eastern an incredible 799 people have signed up for your challenge. I'm one of them--number 286 in fact, a good number for a computer person--and thought I'd drop you a note and let you know what this particular one means.

Early success can be a curse. The popularity of my "Turnip Man" and "Captain Klink" comics, surreptitiously passed around during elementary school classes, gave me a taste of the amazing satisfaction gained by creating something and finding an appreciative audience.

After years of similar triumphs, by high school I had my answer whenever anyone asked what I wanted to be: "A writer."

In the first year of college I majored in journalism, wrote for the school newspaper, had an internship offer from the local city paper. One problem: I hated journalistic writing, and so did what any sensible person would do; figuring I couldn't make a living as a writer, I changed my major to actuarial science, for no other reason than I read in a magazine that it was a good job. It made sense at the time, and bystanders are accustomed to blaming these sudden moves on my red hair. Perhaps you get that too?

Fast forward to the second semester of my senior year in college. Three years as a math major, a few months away from a bachelor's in actuarial science, and a company already has me placed at a job in Kentucky post-graduation. All set, it would seem.

But no. Captain Klink and Turnip Man and a hundred stories since have started a throbbing in my gut, an ache strengthening as the diploma approaches. Red head. I grab my student dossier from the math department at Altgeld Hall--a cramped and fantastically unpredictable building that I love, by the way--and stride across the UIUC campus to the English building.

I'm no longer a math major on the brink of graduation; I'm an English major (specializing in British literature) with a lot of catching up to do. A sympathetic student advisor juggles my credit hours and determines I'll need a summer and two semesters to change that BS to a BA. So be it--I'm back in the game.

I'm writing and I'm writing and I write my way to that English degree and looking to become a smoke jumper in California after graduation--a fellow recreational skydiver is already out there and all I have to do is go. Someone performs a play I wrote at the university's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Then someone in Georgia wants to be my literary agent. So of course I go to Georgia and get an apartment.

What happens next should best be abbreviated, but bits of it are on the 10 o'clock news and my now former literary agent needs to focus all his energies on staying out of prison. Fortunately I know how to put a roof on a house and pay the first month's rent. A friend finds a job for me in a corporate accounting department--rescued by those math skills! I have a knack for computers and get recruited by the IT department after a few months.

Seduced by corporate employment and a rapidly increasing salary, I'm enjoying myself, gainfully employed in the technology field. Time, lots of time, rushes by and it's suddenly today. A wife, four kids, three dogs, two rabbits and a hermit crab. Life is rich, rewarding, and abounding in love from family and friends. Not easy, by any means--the valley of the shadow leaves its scars and wrinkles on anyone old enough to walk very far.

But the throbbing returns. I'm not so old yet, but old enough to know we're all running out of time, and I'm not writing. Haven't for many years. The Captain Klink and Turnip Man comics are long lost, and there's no student advisor to help me juggle the time I have left.

I've been reading your works for some while now, and at the perfect moment, a small fraction of time that could have easily passed without consequence, I see your challenge: Write 500 words, don't edit, show up. Not the great American novel, but an exercise.

Red head. I'm in. Thank you Mr. Goins. Number 286 is writing again.

Truly yours,


Friday, January 3, 2014

The results are in! (Spoiler: the results are bad.)

Here on Day 3 of the 500 Word Challenge, I best tidy up some loose ends that have been wantonly dangling until now. As with 2012, in 2013 I signed up for the challenge of reading 50 books and watching 50 movies during the year, though I hedged on watching 50 movies (if you want to read about it, here's a link that will make you circle the Internet to travel several inches down this page).

Back in 2012 I read thirty-four books and watched twenty-four movies. In 2013? Thirty-five books and twelve movies. Also, I've read deep enough into two additional quite thick books that could compassionately nudge the total up to 37, so let's split the difference and call it 36 books, 12 movies.

We could ramble on fruitlessly--again--about my miserable, abject, total failure to hit 50 units in either category, but rather, given we have four whole data points, let's submit these figures to deep statistical analysis. And a graph.

According thus to Science and here submitted for Peer Review, the graph indicates that in 2020 I will hit my goal of reading 50 books a year. But we mustn't celebrate yet--while we're in good shape with books, something goes horribly awry with movies.

Firstly, I will see absolutely no movies this year. Not a one. And the year after? Minus 12. In 2020, the year when I hit my stride in books? Minus 72.

Minus 72 movies? I'm not sure what it means to consume minus 72 movies, but I'm fairly certain some wild speculation is in order. We must go where the data leads.

I submit the following hypothetical explanations for negative movie consumption:

--I could begin rapidly forgetting movies I have already seen. My memory isn't what it used to be, but this hypothesis seems rather unlikely. I'll never forget that classic film where the guy goes to that place with the lady and something bad happens with the thingy. You know. That one.

--I could become a director and craft movies so impossibly bad as to damage the concept of film itself. I must confess; this is something of a dream of mine. Consider adding this hypothesis to your fantasy team.

--Another me in another dimension of the "multiverse" could consume irresponsibly vast volumes of movies, forcing my negative movie consumption to maintain the balance of existence. This is about as likely as anything else coming out of the multiverse, and actually puts me in the running to be Doctor Who in six years. I'm not British, but I am ginger. Even odds, then.

There is nothing in the graph to contra-indicate the possibility of ALL THREE of these possibilities occurring simultaneously, meaning I'll be a Doctor Who traveling the multiverse directing awful movies while forgetting everything he knows about film. If the poignant resonance of that doesn't make you excited about the future, I don't know what will.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Day of Zeroth, satisfactorily explained

Exceptionally alert readers will have noticed that yesterday I made a blog "post." Don't be alarmed. I voluntarily signed up for a 500 Word Challenge, which mandates I write 500 words each day in January and deposit them on this blog.

Altering my blog in this way wasn't something I took lightly. The static immutability of this site has brought it no small fame as a historical snapshot representative of blogging culture in the early 2000s. The charming blend of links, photos, seamless background image, even a Twitter widget (since broken), made this humble site a favorite reference of computer science theses and nostalgic "web log" articles.

Alas, one must move on. Thus, a second post in as many days.

Yesterday's suggestion of adding a new day to the calendar--Zeroth, the day between years--has provoked numerous questions as to how, exactly, such a beautiful thing would work.

Question: What is this new day, Zeroth, that you want to add to the calendar between 12/31 and 1/1?
Answer: Zeroth, the date 0/0, the Day Between Years, can be thought of as an "airlock" between the previous year and the coming year. Just as an airlock provides a transitional refuge between external and internal environments, Zeroth is a contemplative refuge between years.

Q: Where would this additional day come from? If we blithely add calendar days, our descendants will end up celebrating Christmas during the summer solstice.
A: Excellent question. To accommodate the additional day of Zeroth, we will remove the last day of February. February will have 27 days, 28 during leap years. Few will notice the difference.

Q: What happens to February 29th?
A: It is already the case that February 29th comes around rarely. Now the 29th will come around exceptionally rarely.

Q: How rarely?
A: Never. Let it go. Greater good. All that.

Q: Won't this new day of 0/0 cause havoc with computers?
A: Yes. Gloriously so. Zeroth will knock computers back on their heels and fuel IT industry jobs for years.

Q: Don't you work in the IT industry?
A: Stop getting distracted.

Q: Given the focus on reflection and rumination, are you concerned about the commercialization and merchandising of the Zeroth holiday?
A: Yes. This idea hasn't put a single penny in my pocket, which concerns me greatly. I'm mocking up some Zazzle t-shirts, however, which all the cool people are already probably pre-ordering.

Q: Are these actual real questions from actual real people?
A: No. I am making these up.

Q: Do you honestly think this "Day Between Years" will catch on?
A: Stranger things have happened. If a small circle of deeply committed people embrace the brilliance of Zeroth, I have some hope of being internationally labeled as the crackpot who  hatched it. That's a gift of sorts. Good enough for a CNN interview or two, certainly.

Q: Have we hit 500 words yet?
A: No, but we're very, very, very, very close.

Q: Will you be writing about this yet again tomorrow?
A: Absolutely not. Something new tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Day, fixed.

New Year's Day is a horrible way to start the year. You stayed up too late stuffing your gullet with greasy snacks and glutinous dip, imbibed a bit more bubbly than was prudent, perhaps even shook a booty that--be honest--needed more than a few minutes of stretching before attempting such rhythmic indignities, and now, here, January 1st, when all the buoyant resolutions have come due, you are exhausted, bloated, stiff, dehydrated.

This is not a day of triumph; it is a day of convalescence. Happy, happy new year, indeed.

But enough about me. Perhaps, instead, you are the sort who retired to bed early, awoke early, ate something incorporating kale, and then embarked on an invigorating run, singing hymns as the sun broke majestically across the horizon. You kept your resolutions, but have much to lament today as well. Specifically this: everyone hates you. I'm sorry, but truthfully, we're all hoping for an opportunity to clip your kale-fortified flank as we head to the drive-through at Dunkin' Donuts.

Either way, there's no winning on New Year's Day. One might think the solution would be to look inward, to seek moments of quiet introspection, to start with "the man in the mirror." But why, when we can construct elaborate schemes such as, say, completely altering the calendar?

What do I have in mind? First, some background.

Historically speaking, calendar alterations have not been uncommon. The Julian calendar was broadly used before adoption of the current Gregorian calendar, but there have been dozens of others. Even today, people have suggested new calendars that would bring uniformity to the number of days per month. We're already accustomed to Leap Years and the wanton vacillations of Daylight Savings Time, why not nudge the calendar a bit?

What I'm suggesting is a new day--a true new year's day. Much like noon and midnight are technically neither AM nor PM but rather simply noon and midnight, this day would be between years, neither past nor future year. Rather than go from 12/31 to 1/1, we would go from 12/31 to 0/0, and then tomorrow to 1/1. The zeroth day of the zeroth month. I quite fancy that--and so it shall be called Zeroth, the day between years. A day to rest and recuperate from yesterday's revelries and initiate the loin girding for tomorrow's conquests.

On the day of Zeroth, time is suspended. It is like a baseball thrown high into the air that is, at its apex--for that brief moment between rising and falling--floating in stillness. You have this stillness, this moment, to reflect. The previous year has passed; it is a dissipated vapor. The next year waits, with all its promise, for you and your resolutions.

And your kale-eating. They say your body craves what it needs, and if your body craves kale then something is terribly, terribly wrong with you. We both know this. Don't worry, we'll figure it out together, this year.