Haiku very much

The ‘Here, Now, Broken’ Trilogy

Untouchable

So close, one could touch
The dreams inside of being
Untouchable, here.

Apocalypse

So close, burning heart
The fires of hell ignited
Apocalypse, now.

Retreat

So close, far away
Now, the instant of regret
Retreating, broken.

 

The Japanese Haiku’s 5/7/5 syllable structure is a source of great enjoyment and wonder for me.

I don’t know why I write Haiku’s in groups of three. I just do.

Healthy Huff ‘n Stuff

As you may or may not know, I’m a bit of a health nut. I work out regularly, get plenty of cardio, try to eat right, read fitness magazines, and so forth.

Over time I’ve picked up a few things here and there to keep healthy.  Here’s some:

  • Tabatas – if you don’t know about tabatas as a way to lose weight and improve cardiovascular fitness, check out my rave about them here.
  • Sprinting – the equivalent of a Tabata. University studies have shown that 3 x 20 second sprints at maximum effort provides the same stamina/cardio improvements as 50 minutes of low intensity exercise. Three sessions a week is all you need to make a huge difference.
  • Multivitamins – ensure your dietary bases are covered. Just make sure they are balanced, and don’t take too many – overdosing on vitamins is not good for your body. Check the instructions on the label and the daily allowance indicator next to the ingredients. Don’t forget you also get vitamins and minerals from food as well.
  • Exercise – at least 3 times per week, for at least 30 minutes. If it’s just walking, walk fast to get your heart rate up, otherwise it’s a bit pointless.
  • Stretch – make sure you stretch well before attempting strenuous exercise. I stretch for at least 20 minutes before my workouts. The stretching warmup is a workout in itself, involving traditional stretches for all body parts and yoga stretches. Some people in training also stretch after their workout.
  • Eat well – but don’t overeat. You don’t need to consciously avoid eating fat either – fats, in moderation, are needed by your body. If you need to lose weight, reduce you serving size and drink more water. Your body will utilise the calories it has, and the water will help fill your stomach to overcome hunger pains. Do NOT cut out food altogether – your body thinks you are going into starvation mode and conserves fat by consuming muscle tissue first. In starvation mode your body takes a few days to start burning fat. Eat slowly – your brain uses hormones to know when you’re full – if you eat too fast your brain won’t have received the signal from your stomach and you will still feel hungry.
  • Measure rather than weigh – use your pants or dress size as an indicator. As you lose weight your clothes will fit you better or loosen. If you do have to weight yourself, try not to do it every day, especially if you are working out regularly – muscle is heavier than fat, so the scales could be misleading. And have a regular weigh time (8:00 in the morning, for instance), after you’ve gone to the loo!
  • Drink Tea – one cup a day supplies your body with antioxidants – the chemicals that help you live longer. Green Tea is even better.
  • Laugh – sometimes it’s hard, especially if you suffer from depression, but laughing is one of the best things you can do for your health. It generates endorphins, reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), increases blood flow, helps reduce damage to your brain from stress, improves medical recovery time and decreases anxiety. If you can’t laugh, find a comedy show you like, find a friend who makes you laugh. Force yourself to laugh if you have to.

Okay, some of these are obvious, and it’s not meant to be an exhaustive list.

But sometimes the little things in life can make the biggest difference.

 

I am not a doctor (although a lady once mistook me for a gynaecologist). If you have an existing medical condition or are obese, speak to your doctor first before attempting new exercise or diet routines.

13th Age – Storytelling and innovation set this Fantasy RPG apart from other D&D-derivatives

13th Age is a fun and interesting fantasy role playing game (RPG). It’s meat and potatoes RPG elements are very much in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons, but it differentiates with a number of innovative mechanics, some of which are transferrable to other D20 systems. 13th Age is a game created on the back of the Open Game License, or OGL* for short.

The designers of 13th Age, Rob Heinsoo and Jonathon Tweet, are veterans of the RPG industry, having worked on previous incarnations of the D&D game. In 13th Age they have taken the best elements of their D&D design experiences, and added a focus on role playing and storytelling, with individual character backgrounds and relationships helping to drive the plot.

13th Age is set in the Dragon Empire, during that world’s tumultuous 13th Age. Players take on traditional D&D-style character roles (e.g. Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Rogue, Paladin, Ranger, etc.), create a ‘unique thing’ (which can be any type of story element the player wishes), and chooses one of thirteen ‘Icons’ to have a positive or negative relationship with.

The icons are extremely powerful entities which can influence the characters and their adventures. They include such figures as the Archmage, Dwarf King, Emperor, Lich King, Great Gold Wyrm and Prince of Shadows. At the start of each adventure the players roll their icon relationship dice to see what part (if any) their icon will play in the game.

There is an emphasis on character backstories shaping character skills. Adventures tend to be more character-centric than traditional D20 games, and are more flexible as a result – Game Masters (GMs) will need to do more thinking on their feet. It suits ‘sand box’-style play (where players make the choices as to where they go and what they do). For this reason, the system is oriented to more experienced referees.

Characters are customised via class and background feats. I like that starting characters have three times as many hit points as in regular D20 games. I’m not a fan of dying in my first adventure, and having more hit points allows players to focus on the epic nature of combat.

There are 10 levels for characters to advance, and within those levels are three tiers – Adventurer, Champion and Epic. The tiers aid GMs in balancing encounters – a lot of balancing has gone into this game to ensure fairness and to enable GMs to generate adventures and monsters quickly.

Hit Points and damage modifiers accrue exponentially as each character levels up – they get powerful quickly. This helps to further establish the player-centric nature of the game.

Spells are handled well – instead of hundreds of spells as in most D20 systems, there are a core of spells for each spell-using class, with effects that vary/accrue based on level or tier. I don’t like massive spell lists, they tend to be unnecessarily repetitious and slow down the game as players look up their effects. It’s one of my major criticisms of D&D’s spell system. The system in 13th Age is manageable and has enough variation to keep things interesting.

Combat is similar to other D20 games, with initiative, D20 to hit, Hit Points, Armour Class, specific combat actions, etc. A standout innovation is the Escalation Die, a 1D6 that increases players chances to hit from the second round onwards. The die reflects the characters building up momentum and strategy as the battle progresses, thus making it easier for them to hit their opponents. The bonus goes from +1 in the second round to +6 by the seventh round, but can reduce if the players actively avoid combat. The physical die is a handy reminder of the bonus.

Characters recover hit points via quick rests or Full Heal Ups. Combat is fast and furious, but with enough crunch to keep grognards happy.

Rather than keeping track of multiple monster abilities during combat, certain attacks are activated based on the monster’s D20 to hit roll. Another great innovation that saves the GM time and keeps battles moving, and possibly my favourite aspect of the game (being a long-term GM who dislikes having to remember cumbersome monster abilities).

I like that Heinsoo and Tweet provide intimate little asides about how they play and referee the game. I also like the fact that the rule book is printed on heavy stock paper and is perfect bound (no chance of this rule book falling apart with use, unlike some other games. Yes, Wizards of the Coast, I’m referring to your D&D books).

The artwork in 13th Age is stylish, and the artists Lee Moyer and Aaron McConnell received cover credit along with the authors. It’s not the breathtakingly evocative work found in Symbaroum, my current yardstick for fantasy RPG art, but it’s still good.

13th Age is a fun game for both GMs and players. It focuses on player stories and spectacular, fast-moving battles. If you like D20 systems but want something that emphasises player stories and fast, innovative gameplay, this could be the game for you.

 

13th Age is published by Pelgrane Press, and is available via their website.

 

* The OGL was introduced by Wizards of the Coast, owners of the D&D game, to promote usage and enable creators and contributors to create content (and other versions of the game) without the need to worry about copyright infringement. The official OGL statement must be included in every derivative product.

Alone. A poem.

An ocean world of islands
Tarred in starless night
Crowded on the waves
Like vessels passing by

Around each lonely island
Dark waters, deep and cold
Vast, forbidding depths
And dangerous undertow

Closely float the islands
And each one has a goal
To reach out, touch another
Two to make one whole

On this ocean world of islands
I have made my island home
Just one more lonely island
In a sea of lonely island homes

 

One of those days. Unfortunately, the internet is not a cure for loneliness.

The Lie. A poem.

(They lived the lie)
Squeezing through gaps in walls grown around themselves
Too high to climb, so much easier in between, in stealth

(Shifting patterns of discourse)
Clockwork fundamentals and wanton thought distractions
A world built upon duplicitous arguments and actions

(The audience and the empty tale)
Franchised so eagerly, outrageously, multifaceted and bold
Some level of acceptance won, for untruths bought and sold

(The error of their ways)
The wolf cried boy cried wolf, in judgements purveyed
Friends thought won now bled, long-term crisis of faith

They lived the lie that left them broken
And, as with all broken things, tossed aside and rotten
They became, in time
Lost
Forgotten

This has been a big week for me. I’ve written a number of poems (some I like, some I don’t) that have been well received. Thank you to everyone who has read, liked and commented.

Next week I start two new uni subjects. I hope to write more poetry in the future. Time will tell.

Today. A poem.

Today, you fell down
You didn’t mean to, didn’t want to
Into an abyss profound

Pulled down in pain
All hope sucked away, a whirlpool
Clockwise down the drain

Reality Check, 1, 2:

Flames lick the ceiling of the car
This is not how it read on the net, CO poisoning
Is the most peaceful way to go, by far

You parked your vehicle
In a ditch behind the freeway, coals and firelighters
And a hasty charcoal grill

A raging chemical pyre
Belching smoke, you hack and cough
Choice: choke or door (kill the lie)

Door it is, decision made
You have to laugh, despite the tears
What a pointless, shitty break

Consequences so profound
For your son, family, friends
But them, you didn’t think about

‘Life sentences for all
If you succeeded,’ said the psych
How could you have the gall?

No matter how low you fall
No matter how deep the chasm
No matter how big the wall
No matter how lonely you get
No matter how many you hurt
No matter how much you can’t forget

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

 

This poem is a true story.

If you’re feeling, or thinking, this way – choose life.

Every time.

Symbaroum – a tabletop fantasy RPG that reeks of deep darkness, blighted evil and drawn out death. Fun!

(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”

“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”

“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.

“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.

“I guess so-”

“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)

 

I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to exercise my imagination – ideal for any would-be writer. (What’s an RPG? You can find out more here.)

A while back I bought a tabletop RPG called Symbaroum. It’s a dark-edged fantasy set in a kingdom on the edge of Davokar, a massive forest consumed with corruption, wherein lies ruins of the ancient kingdom of Symbaroum. Adventurers based in border towns like Thistle Hold, venture warily into the dark forest to loot the ancient ruins, battle elves, trolls and blight beasts. This often ends in madness and hideous death. Yeah! Sounds like good times all round.

Symbaroum is the brainchild of Mattias Johnson and Mattias Lilja, of the Swedish games company Jarnringen. Symbaroum is big in Sweden, and is slowly breaking ground around the rest of the world. Modiphius Games distribute the English-translation of the game.

The game uses some interesting RPG mechanics, a few of which I’ve listed below:

  • Whilst there are archetypes to create base characters (Warrior, Mystic, Rogue, each with multiple occupations), and five races, players can elect to build their characters from scratch, selecting abilities (skills) they believe relevant, up to the limit of the build.
  • The eight attribute values that underscore each character range between 5 and 15. To succeed at an action, the player rolls a D20, with success below the tested attribute value. Traits, abilities, weapons and conditions provide positive or negative modifiers. Tests compare one of your character’s attributes against another character’s/monster’s attributes.
  • Players roll all the dice in the game. This includes defending against attacks. The Games Master (GM) never rolls at all.
  • Magic and artifacts can cause corruption in characters, turning them into blight-stricken abominations, if they’re not careful.
  • Battles are hard. More often than not, players may run from conflict. That doesn’t mean they don’t fight at all, but battles can be deadly.

An adventure, The Promised Land, is included in the rule book to introduce players to the systems used.

The campaign background is very detailed, focussing on the country of Ambria and the nearby Forest of Davokar – a small section of the overall game world. The location and background establishes the flavour of the setting – it’s very dark, dank and mysterious, full of horror, manipulative factions, layered history and deep secrets.

The art in this game is by Martin Bergstrom, and it is phenomenal (see the image above for a teaser). Never before have I seen such evocative, haunting and awe-inspiring artwork in an RPG. It really helps to set the scene and emphasise the dark nature of the game.

There are a number of supplements that have been released, with the latest being Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden, the first in a grand campaign called Throne of Thorns.

Symbaroum is a great role playing game. It’s well worth your attention. Even if you’ve never played a role playing game before.

 

(“Hah!” cries Alpha Girl. “I killed you! You’re dead! DEAD!” She’s dancing in her seat.

Beta Max and I look at each other bemusedly. Beta Max whispers in my ear: “I think she’s getting into this game a little too much.”)

 

* Disclaimer: I never said playing RPGs would give you ‘magical math powers’. For more on that, click here.

 

You can order Symbaroum online from the Modiphius Games website at http://www.modiphius.com

Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden is available in print/PDF from Modiphius, or PDF from DriveThruRPG at  http://www.drivethrurpg.com

To find out more about Jarnringen, visit their site at http://www.jarnringen.com (in Swedish, Google will translate the page for you)

Womb. A poem.

I sit and watch
(I watch and stand)
Here in my
Womb (away from womb)

Where I am safe
(And sound)
Away from the anxiety
Of a thousand eyes (empty)

Black dog (by my side)
Guards me (warily)
'You won't get away'
He growls (with a smile)

My bed (wood and cotton, both lounge and bunk, sit and sleep, sleep and sit)
My weights (heavy metal bars and plates, engaging muscle, stamina and pain)
Guitars (mahogany, maple, rosewood, steel, tremolo and vibrato, liquid notes)
My books (precious sanity, shelves of glorious imagination untamed, unleashed)
Bible (faith, hope, love, commitment, wonder, toil, sanctification)
Laptop (lifeblood, link to the world wide network of lost, hungry, lonely souls,
fed on a steady voltage diet of creation, allusion, and self deprecation)

Here I sleep soundly
(Yet fitfully)
Waking up far too early
(And yet far too late)

Writing
And building dreams
(Within dreams)
Of immaterial reality

Here I live and breathe
(Dying inside)
Here in my
Womb (away from womb)

 

Another poem. So much for me saying I don't write poetry. It's almost all I've done this week. I think I've got a bit of a knack for it.

 

Like poetry? I'm starting to more and more. Here's a link to some more samples of mine – https://stevestillstanding.com/category/poetry/.

Online Dating Fail – Strike 3!

(I walk in the door, despondent after my latest online date.

“So, what was she like?” says Beta Max, reclining on the lounge with Xbox controller in one hand and beer can in the other.

“She looked like my ex-wife,” I say. “And was just as opinionated.”

He purses his lips. “Ooh, not good.”

“No. I’m a bit over it, actually.” I plonk on the lounge next to him, watch Beta Max despatch a few enemy soldiers in the latest Call of Duty game. Engrossed in the on-screen carnage, fingers and thumbs tapping away on the controller buttons, he doesn’t take his eyes off the TV screen. “What is it I always say?”

We speak simultaneously: “Plenty more fish in the sea.”

Alpha Girl enters at that moment. “Blew it again, did you?” she says.

I look back, resignedly, at her. “No, not this time.”

“Well, you know what Beta Max says…”

“Don’t say it-”

Beta Max and Alpha Girl in tandem this time, a huge and devious smile on Beta Max’s face: “Plenty more fish in the sea.”)

 

My second face-to-face date (and third woman I’ve spoken to*). Not so bad. Had a nice meal. Company was okay. Looking like my ex-wife was not a positive point.

Why is it that people don’t look like the photos they put online? Is it because they use old photos, when they were better looking, thinner, had different hair, before they got old and before they got the skin grafts? Yes, my photos are a few years old, but I still look basically the same (except for a few more grey hairs in my goatee and my hairline receding slightly…okay, maybe I shouldn’t be complaining about anyone else).

It is a bit unfair though. I know we shouldn’t judge people based on their looks alone, but isn’t that what first impressions are all about? If the datee puts a misleading photo (or photos) on their online dating profile, aren’t they enticing the unwary would-be dater into a trap, of sorts? The meeting is going to be a surprise, if the dater recognises them at all. Maybe they’re hoping their sterling conversational skills will save the day. After all, looks aren’t everything, right?

Maybe I’m complaining for the sake of complaining. I’m disillusioned and I’ve only met three women so far. I’m sure there will be more. Hopefully not as misleading as the first few.

Back to the coal face. Once more unto the breach. Plenty more fish in the sea (Ugh!).

 

(“Maybe you should hang out at the supermarket,” says Alpha Girl.

“You think I’ll be more successful at meeting women there?” I say.

“No, but I’d see a lot less of you.”)

 

*To find out how that one went, click here. To find out how the second one went, click here. To avoid my whinging altogether, click here for some poetry.      

The Veil of Love. A Haiku Trilogy.

The Veil of Love (a Haiku Trilogy)

Blind

Two make lust make love
Their empty hearts clamouring  
Blindly revealed

Veil

Their fears awakened
A corruption internal
The red veil lifted

Apogee

Point of no return
A course correction applied
Zero apogee

 

This came to me this morning. I love Haiku – it’s simple 5/7/5-syllable structure is challenging, but allows one to speak volumes with its brevity.

Black Dog. A poem.

The Black Dog snarls again, hanging from your neck
With caged fire teeth, its canines, piercing your carotid
Blood oozes, spits and sprays again, raining all around  
You struggle, gasp, hew and cry, finally falling down

The Black Dog is your enemy, Black Dog is your friend
Who everyday will shake you hard, just a little plaything
The Black Dog, he won’t let you go, at any time of day
Not for S.R.I.s, or N.R.I.s, or even T.C.A.s

But if and when he does, when you’ve finished bleeding out
You claw your way back from the pain, all the fear and doubt
Then you praise and pat the Black Dog, for the fire that burns inside
For the holy hearth that lets you write, for the fulsome dreams inspired

For the Black Dog has you by the soul, and darkness is his tool
The Black Dog hanging from your neck, who drains the life from you
The Black Dog with his irony, insincerity and woes  
The Black Dog he will never, ever, ever, let you go

 

As a person who suffers from long term depression, I thought it only right that I write a poem about it.

Homeless. A poem.

Where did our pale love go?
One day it packed its bags and left
And our home became a house and so
We strangers walked the halls, past mirrors lined with filigree cracks
Reflecting lives and wars

Solace found, a tale of woe
Which I pay until my dying day
When does home become a house to go?
Secrets in the floors and walls, that play amongst the ornaments
Telling tales of rise and fall

Where did our pale love go?
Left, unable, unwilling to return
From a house, not a home, no more
Away from what I valued most, all guilty tears, bittersweet regret
New house, not a home at all

Well, I’m on fire this week. Here’s another poem I composed.

As with all my poems, it’s deeply personal. But hopefully it speaks to all.

Haiku, haiku, haiku. Bless you

Lost

Dark enshrouds my heart
Fingers find walls of regret
Navigating blind

Gravity

Gravity I bear
Atlas never knew such weight
My lingering doubts

Memento

The last bitter pill
Twist the knife deep inside me
Memento of you

Some haikus I wrote – Japanese poems based on a 5/7/5 syllable structure. Like I said, I’m in a poem-writing mood.

Work Out Woes

(‘So, you’ve been resting for a week,’ says Alpha Girl. ‘Does your arm feel any better?’

‘Well, it did,’ I reply, ‘But I just worked out and now it hurts again.’

‘Did you go to the doctor last week?’

‘Yes, I did. He’s referred me for an ultrasound on my elbow in four weeks.’

‘Well, make sure you go to it.’

‘No worries. You know you sound like my Mum.’

‘There are worse things I could be.’)

 

So, the week of rest is over, and I’m back into working out.

I did my back workout this morning – 5 supersets of wide grip chin/pull ups (8-10 slow reps per set) combined with bent over dumbbell rows (10 reps each side per set), 5 sets of neutral grip chins (8-10 slow reps per set), 20 sets of push ups (20 slow reps per set), and 20 laps of the back yard (2 kilometres). Yes, I know push ups are for chest, but I was doing them after each lap, as part of the cardio.

And my left arm was in pain. It still is.

I know I have to get something done about it. But I’m not about to rest for 6 months. My workouts are not just physical training, they’re part of my mental health routine.

Tomorrow is chest day. We’ll see how that goes.

 

(‘Dude, you still working out?’ says Beta Max. ‘You should take a leaf out of my book, man.’

‘And do what, exactly?’ I reply.

‘I just rest 24/7, man. And I never strain anything.’)

Unrequited. A poem

Unrequited

Forever and a day
No recognition there
Saying nothing in return
And yet you have so much
To say and show and do

But it will wait anon
While your heart skips
And your nerves clench
And your tongue numbs
In clumsy symmetry
And synchronicity

And then they’re gone
Their scented trace
Just wisps of memory
Curtailing reality
Until

You stand isolated
Empty and broken
Like a bottled ship
Cast upon the shoreless floor
Fragments of navigation
And skewed courses

Matchless servitude
Enslaved to whimsy
Knowing that your love
For them remains
Forever and a day

Unrequited.

Another poem I wrote. I guess I’m in a poem writing mood, at the moment.

 

Reborn. A poem

Darkness then

             warming rays

                         bright fingers on my face

Cellphone silence

              binary muse

                          prod me back to life

Womb of sheets

               engulfs my being

                          consumed alive

Silken lover

                her promise yields

                           to the light

Reborn.


I don’t normally write poetry. But I woke up early, as I always do, thinking about what to put in my blog, and this came to me.

I love reading poetry, when written by others. My own, not so much.

I guess now I’ve done this one, I’ll post some more. But only if they come to me when I’m about to post.

Otherwise the moment is lost.

Sherlocked

(‘So what are you watching?’ Says Alpha Girl.

‘Sherlock,’ replies Beta Max without taking his eyes off the TV.

‘It’s the BBC Sherlock Holmes show with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman,’ I say, my eyes glued to the set.

‘What’s that?’ Says Alpha Girl.

Beta Max and I do a slow double take. ‘You’ve never seen it?’ I say. ‘It’s one of the best shows. Ever.’

Beta max concurs. ‘It’s the shit.’

Alpha Girl watches for a few minutes. ‘I don’t understand what’s going on. That tall guy is a bit of a jerk, yet the little guy just puts up with him?’

Beta Max and I smile at Alpha Girl’s unintended irony.)

 

So, many of you have probably already seen the latest season of Sherlock on cable. I’m just catching up as the DVD set is now available.

I love shows that are well written, well acted, well produced and well…bloody good. Sherlock fits that bill. It’s a modern day take on the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, written by Stephen Moffat (current show runner on Dr Who, another brilliant show) and Mark Gatiss. Sherlock is up to it’s fourth season (fifth if you count last year’s movie fill in). Cumberbatch and Freeman have busy schedules, so they have to squeeze the series in between movies.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a quick-witted, super smart sociopath, who basically treats everyone he knows like a doormat. This includes his long suffering housemate, Martin Freeman’s Dr Watson, who writes about their cases via an online blog. They solve crimes.

Sherlock has a huge fan following. And so it should. It’s funny, smart, gripping television.

And with new seasons sometimes taking several years to get here, and Moffat indicating that the show might not continue, enjoy it while you can.

Season Four is a cracker. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you don’t know what you’re missing.

 

(Alpha Girl, is now ensconced on the lounge between us. I’ve pulled out the DVDs for the previous seasons, and we’re watching from the beginning.

‘Sherlock is so nasty to Watson,’ she says. ‘I like him.’

‘Thought you would,’ I say.)

Writing. Some basics. Use ‘em or lose ‘em.

I’ve been writing for a short while. Obviously, I am now an expert and need to share my accrued wisdom with the world. Yes, that was a joke.

Like anyone who enjoys to read, I like particular authors for their creativity, their characterisation, dialogue and the worlds their characters inhabit – all part of a writer’s style. When I read, I apply the things I’ve learned when critiquing another’s work. This is not always a good thing, as it can distract from the pleasure of reading.

Nevertheless, here are some writing “rules”, by the great writer, Elmore Leonard. He was a huge fan of Ernest Hemingway, an author whose ‘lean’ and ‘muscular’ approach was a major influence on modern writing:

Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. For example, “he berated”, or “she rebuked”. There are good reasons for this. Strong, well-written dialogue is the basis of character. Using verbs other than “said” or “replied” is the writer getting in the way, an indication that they may feel uncomfortable using “said” too many times. And their dialogue isn’t strong enough without the use of additional verbs. When someone reads dialogue, the amateur writer’s verb gets in the way.

Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”. As Mr Leonard says: “To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.” Putting “she said slyly” or “he replied earnestly” is similar to the last point – the dialogue should be able to stand on its own. The reader is intelligent enough to work out what the character is saying and feeling, if the dialogue is well written.

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Readers like to form their own impression about a character’s looks, often at the behest of the author’s actual description. Let the reader use their imagination. A few details are okay, but don’t make them so detailed that the reader has no ‘wiggle room’.

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. Once again, let the reader’s imagination do this. You can add as much description as you like, but it will slow your story down, and your reader will either picture it to their liking, or skip the cumbersome text.

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Many readers (not all, but many) skip large sections of text because they are keen to get to the meat of the novel, and often that’s the dialogue. I bet you’ve done this once or twice. I love J.R.R Tolkien’s overflowing descriptions, but now I’ve read Lord of the Rings a few times, I skip them when re-reading. Sacrilege, I know, but we’ve all been there. And I bet in the case of average books you’re tempted to do the same.

If it sounds like writing, re-write it. You know what I’m talking about. Some writers like to show off, adding lots of unnecessary similes and metaphors, and lovingly described scenes, overflowing with adjectives. I am so guilty of this. Is it necessary? Depends on the story and style you’re writing in. But most of the time, no.

The full text of Mr Leonard’s wonderful 10 Rules of Writing includes these insights (but written far better), and can be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/16/arts/writers-writing-easy-adverbs-exclamation-points-especially-hooptedoodle.html.

Next time you read a book, or start to write one, keep them in mind.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

You can find out more about the late Elmore Leonard, by visiting his website at http://www.elmoreleonard.com/index.php.

Ernest Hemingway? Who’s that? Only one of the most important writers of the 20th Century. He won the Nobel Prize for literature, for Pete’s sake. Find out more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway

Waving, not drowning. Just watch out for the sharks…

(‘So, what are you up to, now,’ says Alpha Girl, glancing over my shoulder at my laptop screen. ‘Blogging? Online dating? Writing recipes, or whatever it is you do all day on that thing?’

‘I’ve started writing a book,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to be a writer. It’s about time I started.’

‘A book,’ she says, with an air of incredulity. ‘You’re writing a book?’

Sometimes its exasperating having to justify everything I do to her, but I’m used to it by now. I guess I blow off a little steam in my response.

‘Yes, a book. I intend to be a writer and writing short stories, novels and blogs is part of that. I know you look down your nose on the things I do because you consider them unimportant, but they’re important to me. I know you probably think I’m wasting my time, and maybe I am, but if I don’t try I’ll never know if I can do it. I have time on my hands and now’s the time to do it, rather than stagnating and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of my life. Happy?’

She steps back. The silence hangs heavy. ‘What?’ I say. ‘Are you going to tell me to stop wasting my time and get a real job?’

For a moment, I could almost believe she’s hurt. Her mouth is a thin line. ‘I was going to say good luck with it. I’ve read your blogs, and you’re obviously passionate about writing.’

She leaves the room, leaving me feeling like more of a tool than I usually do.)

 

I’ve started my novel. I’ve written unfinished novels in the past, but my intention with this one is to actually write an entire book. Maybe I’ll toss it in the trash at that point, but I have to write it, anyway. I would like to try to get it published.

I read some good advice in a book I’m reading, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  In one of the many essays, Bill O’Hanlon advises to write in small increments. This ensures that you write every day and that you can fit writing into your busy schedule (yes, I have one of those. In between uni work and sitting around, that is). O’Hanlon also comments on overcoming the mental barriers associated with big and daunting jobs, using a process called ‘externalising’.

Externalising is taking the unhelpful inner voices (you know the ones – am I good enough? Why is everything so hard? Did I leave the gas on when I left the house?)  – the one’s that affect motivation – (okay, so I meant that, not the gas thing) and begin to consider them as external.

One of the examples O’Hanlon uses is: ‘I self-sabotage by telling myself I’m not a good enough writer to get published’. He suggests to think instead: ‘self-doubt is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough’. The change, he suggests, helps you to challenge negative thoughts, rather than allowing them to undermine you. This works for all things, not just writing.

O’Hanlon has written 28 books, so I can’t really argue with him. It’s one way he managed to overcome his own self-doubts as a writer, along with some other Jedi mind tricks he discusses in the essay.

So, I typed my first chapter with a newfound sense of confidence, clear headedness and purpose. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. Maybe this is my true calling.

Time will tell.

 

(I find Alpha Girl in the kitchen, making herself a huge, multi-layered sandwich.

‘Sorry if I lashed out earlier,’ I say. She turns to face me, a tight smile pinching her features.

‘I was going to say what you said, about getting a real job,’ she replies. ‘But then I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t shoot you down over this.’

I’m not sure how to respond. Is this a trap, another mental mind game wrapped in duplicity and deceit? I swallow involuntarily.

She turns her attention back to her sandwich. ‘I like seeing you all insecure and confused. It makes it all worthwhile.’ She turns back, the malevolent glint in her eye has returned. She tears the sandwich with razor teeth, chews and swallows, like a shark consuming a dolphin that’s irritated it for too long. ‘And I still think you should get a real job.’

I’m imagining the dolphin’s death throes, the water permeated with blood and pieces of frayed meat. The shark tears and tears, and it’s sinking into the red-hazed waters, plummeting deeper and deeper…)

 

Yes, my spelling is English, not American. So stop wincing every time you see an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’, or a ‘u’ in ‘Humour’.   

To find out more about Bill O’Hanlon’s books and methods, visit http://billohanlon.com/

To find out more about ‘The Complete Book of Novel Writing’, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/novel-writing

Rush Lozenge, Spaaaaaaaaaaaace Ranger…Ranger…ranger…ranger…

Here’s some dialogue I wrote for Uni. It’s not meant to be serious, and wasn’t included in any of my assignments, so it’s okay for me to include it here. Enjoy! Or not.

Captain Rush Lozenge, space ranger, stroked his gamma gun methodically. “There’s nothing more for it,” he said. “We have to take over that ship. This calls for a boarding action!”

Veedle, his alien octopus companion and occasional lover, rolled her four eyes. “Are you sure that’s the right course of action? Maybe we can just shoot them with our multi-mega watt space lasers.”

Lozenge grimaced, then struck a heroic pose. “Don’t be ridiculous, my love. We want them alive in pieces, not dead in pieces.” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Now if only we could work out how to get onto that ship.”

“Why don’t I just fly up to their airlock and connect,” said Veedle.

“That’s a brilliant idea, my adorable little eight-legged octo-pudlian. You’re not just a pretty pseudopod.”

“I try,” she replied.

Suddenly, the bridge door slid open and Banger, the ship’s part time cook, part time engineer and full time hairdresser, leapt in. “Captain,” he cried. “We just don’t have the power!”

“Damn,” thought Lozenge. “Well everyone. Looks like we’ll have to put our thinking caps back on.”

“Fire you in a hollow space torpedo into the other ship?” said Veedle.

“No. Too dramatic.”

“Crash our ship into their bridge?”

“No. Too messy.”

“Convert your body to electricity with the Galactic Ion Vapouriser and send you as a message to the other ship’s omni-communications system, so you can take over their computers like an electronic virus?”

Lozenge’s eyes widened like flying saucers. “By the gods of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Quorx Maidens of Ceti Four! You’ve got it, Veedle!”

 

Valentine’s Day Massacre

I hate Valentine’s Day.

I don’t like the rampant commercialism. I don’t like being railroaded into an expectation of gift giving due to a marketing exercise based on a particular day. And I don’t like being alone on said stupid day.

When I was married, my wife and I celebrated three anniversaries (first time we met, time we got back together after breaking up, wedding anniversary). We used to buy each other little things at offhand times as well. Go to dinner on the spur of the moment. That sort of thing. Both of us hated Valentine’s Day. Our own celebrations felt more real.

Of course that was over two years ago, and here I am, lonely and down, hating Valentine’s Day with renewed vigour.

And wishing I could be celebrating that crappy day with someone I loved, instead of lying in my bed typing a stupid blog post about how I hate Valentine’s Day.

Fatherhood – Never-ending Love and Never-ending Guilt

Every time I drop my teenage son off at his mother’s after staying with me for the weekend, he waves me off with a look of intense poignancy that tears me apart. He has stayed over almost every weekend since he was six months old. I am his father and his friend. And I’m also guilt-stricken because I can’t be there for him all the time, the way I think I should be.

I’m sure that many fathers feel some kind of “survivor’s guilt”, the same way I do. I’m sure that they look back at their time with their kids and blame themselves if something didn’t work out the way they expected, or if their kid went off the rails. Perhaps they fall in to the tried-and-true blame game: “oh, it’s obviously his mother’s fault, because I only had him on weekends”.

But that’s an easy out. Responsibility is part of the job of being a father. We help to raise, to develop, to forge our children and what they believe, how they act, and ultimately the kind of adult they become.

Every father loves their children. Every father feels responsible for them, no matter how small a part they may play in their upbringing. Often we blame ourselves, and sometimes we’re right to do so, sometimes we’re not.

For a long time I was the stable influence in my son’s life. I had the stable relationship, the stable home environment, the stable job. His mother flitted here and there, never in one place for too long, moving from one relationship to the next and moving my son from school to school at her convenience. Now, through some bitterly ironic twist of the knife, I’m the unstable one, without a home, without a job, without money, without the confidence and influence I previously projected. My son’s mother now has the stable home, the stable relationship, the steady income. She’s now the picture of solidity and commitment that I used to be.

Do I resent it? A little. But I’m also happy that she’s finally found someone she loves, has finally settled down. I’m glad that my son has another father figure, one who is currently far more responsible and upstanding than me.

At one point, I attempted to take my life. Afterwards, I spoke to a psychologist who advised me that I would have been giving my son a life sentence if I had succeeded. She was right, of course. All too often we don’t think about the impact these things have on those around us. We are overtaken by our sadness, pain and selfishness, and don’t care about the consequences. I still feel guilty about the potential impact a successful attempt  may have had on my son.

My son remains the most important person in my life. Sometimes I’m not as attentive as I should be. Sometimes I miss his phone calls because I’m doing something else. Sometimes I’m too critical of him. Sometimes I worry about my own problems more than I worry about him. Sometimes I think that I’m the worst father that ever lived because I’m not there for him when I should be.

But my son loves me. He misses me when I’m not around. He knows that I love him and that I will always be there for him. And when he waves goodbye to me after I drop him off, he knows we’ll be back together next weekend, no matter what.

Rest, Recuperation and the Art of Camouflage

(It’s been three days since my last workout. I’m lying on the lounge, checking Twitter. Alpha Girl enters and does a double-take. “Hey,” she says. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing 500 push ups or something, by now?”

“I’m having a week off,” I reply.

“So, you’re resting your arm?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

“Good. It’s about time you used your brain for something other than being stupid, or upset with yourself. Are you intending to lie around all week?”

“That was my intention.”

Alpha Girl’s hands are on her waist, her head cocks slightly to the side. An air of haughtiness floods the already cramped room. “Oh, no you don’t, mister. If you’ve got a week off, you can help Beta Max to paint the spare room. And clean up all that crap in the back yard.”

Beta Max enters the room and smiles. “No rest for the wicked, bro.”)

 

Every few weeks of working out, I have a week off. This is so my body has a chance to completely recover, allowing time for muscle tissue to grow and ligaments to repair themselves.

At my age, you don’t recover as fast as you do when you’re younger, so you need to take a bit more care. For those of you who have followed my blog from early on (that would be none of you), you may remember (or not) that I have a long-term tendonitis injury in my left elbow that causes me pain when I use it (read about it here). I’ve been using an ultrasound wand on it, but after some initial positive results, my elbow seems to have settled back into the “I hate you and intend to hurt you by making all your fevered self-torture dreams come true” mode.

If you’ve read any of my blogs, you will know that I use exercise as a way of combatting my ongoing depression (along with medication, therapy – you know, the usual suspects), so skipping a week is a big thing for me. But I have to weigh up the pros and cons. On one hand, it’s good for my tiny brain, on the other, I need my arm to get (slowly) better.

Yeah, I can still do chores and the like, I just don’t push myself with big weights until I’m a wet smear on the ground. That means no tabatas as well (don’t know what a tabata is? You really haven’t been reading my blog – check it out here). So, this week is going to be laid back. A week I can catch up on my uni work, watch some TV, look for jobs (yes, I do that occasionally, y’know), read, and do some work around the house. I might even do some meditation.

I think I’m going to be absolutely desperate for a workout by the end of the week.

 

(“Have you finished that yard work, boys?” calls Alpha Girl from the kitchen window.

Beta Max hides his beer and yells: “No worries, we’re right on it.” It’s been three hours and we’ve managed to move one small pile of junk about five feet away from where it was originally.

“She’s going to come out at some point,” I say.

“By that time, my friend,” says Beta Max, “we will be safely ensconced at the pub.”

While his logic is sound, I don’t believe the final outcome will be ideal for either of us.)

A Tsunami of Taking Back Sunday Goodness – ‘Tidal Wave’ album review

American alt-rock band Taking Back Sunday have an alt-rock sound verging on punk. They’ve released their seventh studio album, titled Tidal Wave, in Australia a few months ago. As usual I’m catching up.

Death Wolf opens the album, an up tempo rocker that surges ahead at breakneck speed. The title track is straight-ahead rock and roll that wouldn’t be out of place on a Ramones album. You Can’t Look Back, I Felt It Too and I’ll Find a Way To Make It What You Want showcases lead singer Lazzara’s slightly off-key vocals. Fences is a standout, with the driving Police-style sparseness of its verse. All Excess is a pumping rock anthem. The driving Call Come Running is perhaps the most commercial sounding track on the album, but still manages to rise above the mundane with its catchy hook and lyrics. We Don’t Go There is a heavy, percussion-filled ode to dishonesty.

The band has lost none of its youthful energy. Every song on this album pops with a vibrancy that is not present in slicker, alt-rock releases. There’s an honesty at work here, in the lyrics and the music, and it’s a fine thing. The musicianship is excellent – Eddie Reyes and John Nolan do the honours on guitars, with Shaun Cooper on bass. Drummer Mark O’Connell is in fine form. Adam Lazzara hits new highs on lead vocals.

Tidal Wave is raw and energetic rock. There are twelve songs, with a thirteenth ‘outtakes’ track, clocking in at around 55 minutes or so, so you won’t feel short changed.

Taking Back Sunday may not have varied their style too much over the years, but they are still producing top quality music that deserves a listen.

You can find out more about Taking Back Sunday at their website: http://www.takingbacksunday.com/

 

What the Frack? (“Battlestar Galactica” frack, not the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks)

I had a few things on my mind today.

Firstly, the good news:

I’ve been watching The Newsroom, a quality HBO television show created and written by Aaron Sorkin, creator of the series The West Wing and writer of the movie The Social Network. If you’ve ever seen anything written by Mr Sorkin, you will know that he writes intelligent, complex, nuanced, and eminently watchable television. His writing always has something important and relevant to say about politics, public policy, legal rights, advocacy, ethics and morality. If only the show was still on the air to comment on the antics of the current American administration.

The Newsroom is brilliant. Watch it on DVD or stream it.

And now, the bad news:

I’ve been reading a book by Josephine Cox, called Midnight, which I downloaded for free from iTunes. I’d never read one of Miss Cox’s books before, and I have to say I’m very glad I didn’t pay for it.

This is one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever seen. This is an author who has written over 50 high selling books, yet writes like an amateur.

One of the great rules of writing is “show, don’t tell” – this is because writers should (and rightly so) assume readers are intelligent people, who can understand plot and character motivation based on scene, dialogue and context. Ms Cox likes to re-state what has happened or what the character is thinking, even though it has previously played out in the scene. She writes overly melodramatic, soap opera-style dialogue. Her characters are two dimensional and clichéd, and often change personality from one chapter to the next. Ms Cox loves the overuse of adverbs, and telegraphs the plot such that there is no need to actually finish the book (which I will, because I don’t like starting something without finishing it). The story is packed with filler; it’s drawn out, tedious and boring.

I’m not sure what I expected from Midnight, certainly not writing and editing that makes me fume every time I sit down with it.

To the weather:

Australia is in the grip of a heat wave and we’ve just been informed that New South Wales will suffer power outages tomorrow because the grid can’t handle (or more correctly, the energy companies have not planned for) increased energy use across the country. I guess they forgot that people like to stay cool. And run things like refrigerators.

So, climate change isn’t real, huh? I guess it will solve my employment woes. I can help build sea walls – I hear they’ll be in demand, soon.

And in human interest news, today:

I’m feeling needlessly sorry for myself, with self-esteem hitting an all-time low. I guess life isn’t working out the way I want it to and as a result my brain is having a hissy fit.

As a privileged white male, protected by his country’s social security and Medicare safety net, I have no right to complain or feel bad about my particular position. There are people all over the world with circumstances far worse than mine, both mentally and physically,  ravaged by war, famine, disease, starvation, natural and man-made disasters, and political agendas.

But I’m selfish, so there. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

So, what the frack was on your mind today?

Awkward Online First Dates

The first date when you’re online dating can be a bit awkward, can’t it?

I don’t know about you, but I felt that way, sipping a flat white (that’s a standard coffee with a thin layer of frothed milk, for American readers) and talking about an array of subjects and philosophies, at once engaging and confusing.

I’m new to this game, and so hadn’t had the opportunity to meet someone face-to-face (my previous strike-out didn’t get that far).

I assume these first dates all start the same way: you indicate online that you like someone by sending them a “kiss” (or some other, less than elegant sobriquet the website has implemented to indicate interest). The other person responds with the same. You are forced to buy a contact “stamp” and then use it to email (on the website) the person you are interested in. This goes back and forth, like online badminton, until you agree to exchange a phone number. Then, the texting begins. Eventually you get up the nerve to make a phone call, and near the end of that phone call, you set up a meeting in a public place (possibly a coffee shop), ostensibly to ensure you’re not meeting some crazy psychotic or potential stalker.

You get to the meeting early, a bit nervous and not knowing what to expect. The other person turns up and she looks a bit different from what you expected (even though you referred to the photos on the site specifically to avoid misidentification). You look a bit different from your own photos as well as they were taken a few years ago, so you’re both feeling a bit guilty.

The conversation starts off apprehensively, and gets more comfortable as it goes along. There may even be a bit of flirting (intentional or unintentional, or if you are me, completely no idea). By the time you’re about 15 minutes in, you’ve made a decision about whether you are going to see her again.

But even when the date is over, and you’ve gone your separate ways, you’re not sure whether the other person liked you or not (or at least, that’s how I felt, but I’m full of insecurities). And so, a follow up text is sent to confirm your intention to follow through with the “next date” plan you set up during the first date. This still doesn’t alleviate any concerns you may have that the other person is just being nice and wants to dump you on the kerb like last week’s recyclables.

I guess I’m just a bit paranoid, aren’t I?

Either way, online dating seems to be just as awkward as regular dating – a minefield of social niceties, posturing and personal hang ups.

But as awkward as it may seem, at least it’s happening. So it can’t be all that bad, can it?

No, I thought not.

Free-Wrench. A book review.

I recently finished Free-Wrench, an e-book self-published by Joseph R. Lallo. The book is available on Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/439135), iTunes, Amazon and other digital book stores. You can download it for free on most sites, to your tablet, e-book reader or mobile phone.free-wrench

Free-Wrench is a swashbuckling, steampunk fantasy set in a world of islands, where airships are the primary form of travel between them. The island of Caldera is isolated, by choice, from the rest of the world. Nita is a “free-wrench”, one who works the steam power plants in Caldera’s volcano. Her mother has a fatal disease, and a chance encounter with a black market skyship sees Nita taking off to become part of their crew. She plans to trade the incredibly rare “Trith”, only found on Caldera, with the Fugs, a technologically advanced race that lives in the poisonous purple fug cloud on another island, for the medicine that will save her mother’s life. The Fug limit access to technology and the steam-powered skyships, ensuring their power over the surrounding islands.

Lallo has created an interesting story and setting, that hits its stride during the third act; the skyship crew undertakes a daring robbery of one of the Fug’s warehouses. With the exception of Nita, most of the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, but later books in the series may address that shortfall. There are a few editing issues here and there, but nothing too irksome.

For a free book, Free-Wrench was an enjoyable read. It has two sequels, which I am considering buying. If you like the steampunk genre and are looking for something a little different, try it out.

You can find out more about Joseph R. Lallo and his other books, at his website http://www.bookofdeacon.com/.

Tabata This, Tabata That…

So, I’m a bit of a fitness freak (well, less freak and more fitness). Exercise is not only great for physical fitness, but for mental fitness as well. Research has shown that regular exercise can decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and contribute to improved self-esteem. So, I need to exercise to keep reasonably on track, head-wise.

I work out regularly and also do tabatas. So what’s a tabata, you say? I’m glad you asked that very intelligent question.

A tabata is a 4-minute routine that utilises four different exercises done at full intensity for 20 seconds each, with a 10 second break in between. These exercises are then repeated to complete the 4 minutes. By the end, you are exhausted. It’s designed to improve your cardio fitness and to burn fat.

Want to see one? Check out this YouTube video.

So, now you know what it is, I can tell you it is one of the best short exercises I’ve come across for improving fitness and burning fat. You can also customise the tabata to target particular body parts. I’ve included examples below of some of the routines I use:

Kettle Bell Tabata

  1. Single-Handed Kettlebell Swing (core and shoulder – one hand at a time, between legs to shoulder height, transfer to other hand at top of arc)
  2. Double-Handed Kettlebell Swing (core and arm workout – two handed, usually with heavier kettlebell – between legs to shoulder height) – see the picture above
  3. Kettlebell Spider Power Plank (core workout – legs are raised during plank one at a time to touch elbows)
  4. Kettlebell Power Plank with Renegade Row (for core and latissimi dorsi muscles – the “wings” of your back)
  5. Repeat each of the four exercises again

Bodyweight Tabata

  1. Push Ups (chest exercise – can be normal, incline or decline)
  2. Wide Grip Pull Ups (back exercise, using chin up bar)
  3. Dips (chest exercise, using dip rack)
  4. Mid-Grip Chin Ups (arm exercise, using chin up bar)
  5. Repeat each of the four exercises again

Keep the intensity high throughout the tabata. By the end your heart rate will be elevated, and you’ll probably be puffed out. The high intensity and increased heart rate kick starts your fat-burning.

So you’re interested in doing tabatas? You’ll need an interval timer, to set alarms at 20 and 10 second intervals, so you can keep track of where you’re up to. Here is the one I use:

If you already do tabatas as part of your routine, please share in the comments!

 

Warning: If you haven’t exercised before, are unfit or carrying an injury, check with your doctor prior to commencing any exercise routine.

Blog Addiction – it’s a real medical condition…

(“So what are you doing, now?” says Alpha Girl.

“The usual,” I reply. “Posting a blog.”

“You have become obsessed with that thing.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“So, how often do you post?”

“Almost every day.”

“Hmmm. And how often do you check your stats? You know – looks, or whatever they’re called.”

“I don’t have to, I have an app that tells me. It beeps at me.”

“Oh, it beeps, does it? And I suppose you look every time it does?”

“Ummm. No.”

“Really… So, if I was to check your phone right now the app wouldn’t be open?” Alpha Girl swiftly grabs the mobile phone from my hands, flicks through the screens. She turns it to me. Sure enough, the app is open, the stats bars shiny and resplendent in blue and white.

“That proves nothing,” I say.)

 

I started this blog to force me to write every day. So far, so good. Originally, I said I’d be the only person reading it, and didn’t care if anyone else did. After all, it was cathartic, a way of getting issues off my chest. But I guess lately I’ve gotten caught up in whether people are actually reading what I’m writing.

Yes, you got me. I care if people actually read what I write. That’s what writers do, after all – they write to be read. That doesn’t mean I have to cater to the popular crowd. It just means I have to write what I’m happy writing, and hopefully other people will like it, too.

So, I’ve had about 400 views on my blog so far. That’s not bad for a month, I guess, and it is early days. I haven’t exactly been marketing it, or anything. (Okay, I told some people at Uni via the discussion board threads – that doesn’t really count, does it?)

So far, my blogs have been varied, from film and music reviews to posts about my mental health issues, my son, gym workout injuries, computer breakdowns, writing and recording music, Dungeons and Dragons, Kung Fu, books and Christian online dating. I understand that blogs should really be a bit more focussed if you’re aiming for higher views, but I’m happy talking about anything. And that’s how it will stay.

I’m not obsessed with blogging. But I do really, really, enjoy it.

 

(My phone beeps. Before I can reach for it, Alpha Girl pipes up. “Bet you can’t stop yourself from checking your views?” she says.

“Yes, I can. Look – not touching it.” It beeps again. Sweat on the brow. Hand visibly shaking. Alpha Girl watching like a hawk.

I grab the phone and check the app. “Hah!” says Alpha Girl. “Just as I suspected – a blog addict.”

“Shut up,” is my brilliant comeback.)

What is Love? “Real Love”, that is

In the 1980’s, an English musician called Howard Jones released a great single called What is Love (Anyway).

Today, I find myself asking that question more and more. It’s not like I haven’t been in love before; I have a few times, but I don’t consider those times as “real love”. It’s something I’m still waiting for.

So, what is it that constitutes real love? Well, that’s where I draw a blank. Despite the fact that I have been in love, I find it virtually impossible to describe what real love is. We all believe we have an idea, of course.

Maybe real love is the fires of passion, experienced only briefly and then fading like embers at the end of a long winter’s night.

Perhaps it’s the kind of love you see in movies, where you hold each other in the pouring rain as the credits roll, all expectation and suggestion.

It could be the “honeymoon” love which exists before you’ve really gotten to know the other person and started to get annoyed at their foibles and quirks. When your hunger for each other is insatiable and you’re at it like rabbits (not if you’re Christian, unless you’re married, of course).

Or is real love the love that settles in after the honeymoon period is over, after the bitter arguments and drawn-out compromise. Maybe it’s a longer term, settled love, when you are living with your better half and things are quiet and comfortable.

Possibly real love is the type that is nurtured slowly, like the slender sapling that grows into a mighty tree, shedding leaves and carpeting the ground with autumn.

Or maybe real love is when you are both old and grey, spending little time together, where the only words you say to each other are weather or food-related?

Perhaps real love is love of the unrequited kind, where your desire smoulders for one who doesn’t know how you feel, or even whether you exist, whose every word leaves you hanging, whose absence leaves you sad, whose smile lights up the room and sets your heart beating like timpani?

Maybe real love is all of these things. Maybe we just fail to recognise it when we’ve got it. Maybe we don’t know how to recognise it when it arrives.

What is love, anyway?

Rock Cliché in Spades (“Night People” album review)

You Me At Six are an English alt-rock band with four successful albums under their belt. They’ve recently released a new album, Night People.

Night People is short and to the point, clocking in at just over 35 minutes for 10 songs. It has a polished and commercial sound, leaning heavily on 70’s and 80’s hard rock influences.

The title track swaggers to a stadium-ready We Will Rock You-vibe, but where Queen’s understated classic truly rocks, Night People seems tired. Plus One is straight ahead up tempo rock mired in clichéd chord progressions. Take On The World is a ballad with an arena-made “audience participation” coda. Make Your Move starts with a semi-funk intro riff and subdued percussion, but grabs an over-used four chord progression for the chorus, undoing all the good work. Spell It Out is a dark and minimalist tune concluding with a Led Zeppelin Kashmir-style chorus.

Each song, both musically and lyrically, is lazy and mired in rock cliché. This may not be a bad thing for their existing fans, but it seems You Me At Six is playing it safe, and as a result Night People will be relegated to history’s CD bargain bin.

If this review seemed hard, please realise I am a big fan of this band. Their previous albums have been great, just not this one. To find out more about You Me at Six, check out their website at http://www.youmeatsix.co.uk/

Down Daze

Some days I just feel down.

It’s part of who I am, part of the depression I suffer. I can’t get motivated, it’s difficult to think straight, everything just seems too hard. It’s as if the weight of gravity has increased and I’m just too weak to get up.

There’s no particular reason for why it happens. It can be triggered by a bad night’s sleep, the weather, a sad song, thinking about my non-existent love life. Sometimes, nothing at all.

It’s like my brain wants to stifle me. If it could, that gelatinous mass of neural tissue would creep out of my skull, grab a pillow and start smothering. “And that’s for all those times you subjected me to King of Queens,” it would scream.

Today is one of those days. I’m trying to catch up on my Uni readings, and I just don’t have the motivation or care factor. Part of my brain is saying “I need to do this, now”, and the other part is saying “wouldn’t you rather just sleep? Life is a pain anyway.” I need to post some discussion threads as part of my unit, but I can’t do it. I feel exhausted, even though today is no more strenuous than yesterday.

It would be nice if I could pop a happy pill and everything would be fixed, but I’m already on medication and I don’t do recreational drugs.

So what’s the fix? Sometimes I try to read, and if that doesn’t work, I watch a movie or a comedy series to get my mind off…well, me. Sometimes I try to write. Like this post. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

I need to ring up and book an earlier psychologist appointment (my next one is in March), but I can’t pick up the phone. It’s just too hard. And I don’t want to experience the receptionist’s rejection: “I’m sorry, but there are no earlier appointments, she’s all booked up. And even if we did have an opening you’re the last person we would give it to.”

Maybe I should go out, but what would that achieve? I’d be surrounded by people who don’t know me, don’t care if I live or die. I’d just get more down.

I know it will pass, eventually. I wouldn’t be alive if it didn’t.

Suddenly, the phone rings, and it’s my psychologist’s receptionist, advising that there have been cancellations on Friday, and asking would I like an appointment! God continues to smile on me. I take the appointment. I’m feeling a little better. I’m realising that sometimes, no matter how down you are, some things just happen (I’m thanking the good Lord as I type this).

If only that were the case every time I was having a down day.

Beyond Blue – About depression

Mindspot – Online depression testing

Sane – What is depression?

MindHealthConnect – Depression – symptoms and treatment

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