An Abundance of Balls

I’m been trying to become the Jeff I prefer again. The one who writes, goes to the gym, cooks a lot, loses weight, and on and on… I’ve encountered him before, and miss him.

But, truth be told, he’s a lot of work. And I think trying to go from this version, which… well does very little of the above, to the good version, is a rather tall order. Plus, I doubt when the good version was in full swing that it all happened at once. Only now do I try to make such an abrupt switch.

It is like I’ve never juggled and want to start with six balls. Not one to get the rhythm, two to learn the motions, three to find the timing, and on and on… nope. All six balls… go!

And that’s just too many balls for me to handle without warming up (If you’re wondering, yes, I intentionally write sentences like that to amuse myself).

I’ve read sites about how to form positive habits, and how the brain works, and blahblahblah, and it seems like you’re supposed to do one thing, and keep doing it for quite a while, until it forms a habit that you start to naturally do without prompting. And then… add something new.

This is basic stuff, but the basics are always the hard part.

So, I was faced with a dilemma. What ball do I want to grab first?

The two main contenders are the weight loss ball (which is both the gym and the cooking combined) or the writing ball.

Obviously, I want the results of both NOW, which is impossible. So, I had to choose.

And, I chose writing.

It was a bit surprising, since I’m probably at my heaviest, and it does annoy me to no end. But in February, I’ll be staying outside of NYC and seeing no theater. So, that huge gap in my social calendar seems too perfect for writing.

Now, being away from everything may kick everything on the right track, which would be fine. And, honestly, I’m not going to a vegan haven, so I will have to cook a lot, so who knows…

But the plan right now is to gear everything around writing, then the fitness/weight stuff, and by then I should have finished the first writing project and moved on to the second.

I do wish I had more exciting balls in the mix, but that’s not at hand right now.

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Day after day, it reappears…

I should be asleep, but I’m not.

I recently had a project at work go a bit nutty, require some extra late night hours to finish, and I’m still trying to convince myself to be asleep now and not nod off mid-evening.

The project did bring up that normal feeling I get in these moments, which is that I never give my own projects as much attention.

On two different nights in the last two weeks, I stayed up until 5 a.m. to get things done for this project, but when is the last time I ever gave that focus to my novel?

I always write and work out like a person with a very strict regimen, despite not having a strict regimen.

“I write best in the morning…” Well, that’s fine, but no one is stopping you from writing in the morning. And, if you didn’t write in the morning, oh well, too bad, I guess today you write at night?! I mean, if you prefer the morning, then do it.

Still having a rough go of the novel, although that is to be expected. I only recently realized that I never seriously worked on my novel while having any sort of job before. I’ve always been unemployed or living on a beach in Thailand when things went down.

So, I try to segment my days and this piece is when I’ll be at the gym, followed by this piece working on the novel, then sliding into work when the west coast is showing up for the day (the advantage of working for a west coast company on the east coast, you can do whatever until noon, although you then may have to work into the evening, so it does cut both ways).

I also have a second gig that is more intermittent, and I’ll get an e-mail asking if I can do a bunch of writing in the next 48 hours. I say yes, and then I do.

I guess I’d be more concerned if I weren’t constantly proving I have the capacity to achieve the things I’m supposed to be achieving…

In any event, that’s what’s been going on lately.

It did take a while to get off of the Facebook mental model, where everything you do was meant to be shared, and I’ve still been seeing more theater in any given month than a lot of people will see in a year… or decade.

So I intentionally didn’t want to turn my website into “everything I would have posted on Facebook…” so I just stopped posting anything.

I still get people asking when I’m coming back, but it certainly won’t be until mid-2014 at the earliest, I wouldn’t think. 

OK, I should try and sleep…

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Finally finished Wool by Hugh Howey

howeywoolI’ve been threatening to read this for a long time, but it finally happened. I just finished reading Hugh Howey’s Wool.

I first learned of Howey because of the success of his self-publishing journey, a path I will take in 2014. But the more I heard about Wool, I thought I would like it, and I was right.

I have a very tiny niche when it comes to reading sci-fi (and I ignore fantasy altogether), and that is I love dystopian post-apocalyptic tales, which is where Wool squarely falls. No one shape-shifts, or has to explain the crucial details of an alien race in bald exposition that will perfectly foretell what will happen later.

Instead, it is just people presumably in our miserable future, trying to figure out life and survive. And it’s a crazy-compelling page turner. If you love dystopian stuff with a story that moves along at a brisk pace, and makes you want to immediately dive into the following two books in the Wool series, by all means check it out.

The timing on finishing this book, which I started while on vacation recently, is that I will be reading the ancient draft of my own manuscript starting on Wednesday, so I stayed in all of Saturday to read Wool to clear the decks. As things worked out, I will be squeezing one more book into the mix to review on Oasis, about the real story behind Matthew Shepard’s murder, but hope to finish that by Monday night. That review is available on

After I read the Haterobics draft, and start editing that again, I’m still unsure how my reading habits will change. In previous writing sessions (and, editing is really a massive rewrite), I read a lot of non-fiction, especially celebrity memoirs and stuff. But this time, I think I’m actually going to pop some classics into the mix. Things I’ve read before, so I’m not completely sucked into the narrative pull, but more to enjoy the craft and beauty, as well as providing inspiration.

I’ve also start accruing a massive amount of research, almost none of which I’ll probably use in the finished product, for my next project. I still can’t believe I’m considering writing what I’m going to write, but so far, my love and interest in the project continue to grow. I was certain that by now I’d’ve found some exit strategy, some reason why it won’t work… but it hasn’t happened yet. So that should be fun.

The novel writing will affect by TV watching this fall, so any shows with ongoing narrative will have to get queued up for after I’m done, or for when I can blast through a whole season on a weekend, so that no hanging narratives but my own are in my head. So, this will put Homeland and a bunch of others I can’t think of in a massive queue for a future date. Sitcoms are fine, and reality TV like Survivor should be fine, despite the ongoing narrative, since I don’t get invested in who wins the million dollars.

I must say that it is perfect timing to be starting my novel edits as Breaking Bad finishes its run, because that show has been amazing and very involving lately. But, by the time I’m writing, that will have wrapped…

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The power of text

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 1.37.56 PM

I have an unusual attraction to text that goes back many years, but I think the real attraction began while reading Stephen King’s On Writing, where he described the magic that occurs when readers interpret text.

His example, if I recall properly, was that writing was telepathy and then wrote a description of a table with a red cloth and then referred to a few other things on that table.

The magic was that almost no two people were probably picturing the same sized table, the same color red cloth, the same type of cloth, and then all of the objects on the table were probably different from person to person as well…

But we were all sharing the same experience. So, he put an image out into the world and we all see it. We all see our version of it, but we all see it nonetheless.

That simple thing really clicked with me, and made me really appreciate the alchemy of mixing words together that could conjure visual, emotional, and other reactions for people to experience through interpreting those words for themselves.

Although I tend to wear funny or ironic T-shirts with phrases that are more amusing, my skinny wardrobe also tends to have a lot of textual elements, as well, although not as funny/pop cultury.

In my apartment in San Francisco, I had a valance above the living room windows, with text in French (I think), and although I never knew what it said, I still liked knowing that it said… something.

Recently, I’ve started buying artwork from an online site called Five Spot Derby, where text forms the basis of the artwork. Each week, the site features one new piece, and every five pieces sold increases the price by $5, so buy early and you get a great piece at a great price, buy later, well, you still get a great piece.

But the combination of the text, the simple imagery, and I’ve become very engaged with getting the pieces I want every week. Some weeks, they don’t hit me, but most weeks they do, and I’ve been stashing them away, building up an archive.

This week’s piece is featured above, and you can click through the link two paragraphs up to see the full image. It is a Steve Jobs quote, so I kind of like having artwork I enjoy, with text I appreciate, from someone I actually got to know (ever so slightly).

The quote is: “When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

So, of course, I bought this week’s piece (for way less than whatever price you see when you click the link), and someday it will be hung somewhere, and most people will probably never know what the text is that makes up the artwork. I’ll have it ready in case they ask. But I sort of like knowing it has important lessons to tell.

Plus, it seems to add something to the Stephen King telepathy, where Steve Jobs was quoted, that quoted has now been captured and converted into a singular image by TEKSTartist, and now when I see that image, the meaning of the quote is linked to the image, and I may not recall every word of the quote, but looking at it will convey its meaning on sight.

So continues by love affair with text, as I start working to create more of my own…

Here is a video of TEKSTartist creating the Steve Jobs quote:

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La Paglia nails it, as per usual…

Discussing Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, she says:

“Madonna, a trained modern dancer, was originally inspired by work of tremendous quality — above all, Marlene Dietrich’s glamorous movie roles as a bisexual blond dominatrix and Bob Fosse’s stunningly forceful strip-club choreography for the 1972 film Cabaret, set in decadent Weimar-era Berlin. Today’s aspiring singers, teethed on frenetically edited small-screen videos, rarely have direct contact with those superb precursors and are simply aping feeble imitations of Madonna at 10th remove.”

But lays the blame for this at the feet of an industry in shambles:

“At a time when profits are coming far more from touring than from CD sales, performers are being hammered too early into a marketable formula for cavernous sports venues. With their massive computerized lighting and special-effects systems, arena shows make improvisation impossible and stifle the natural rapport with the audience that performers once had in vaudeville houses and jazz clubs. There is neither time nor space to develop emotional depth or creative skills.”

You can read the whole Time interview here.

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The Cloister

The cloister has begun. Well, it’s ramping up…

It isn’t really a switch that gets turned on. It just means my schedule is nearly empty, and will be filled by the stuff I need to be doing: reading, going to the gym, cooking, going for quiet walks and, of course, writing.

So, I just stop doing the previous list of things: Facebook, Twitter, too many TV shows and movies, theater, comedy, etc., and start subbing them with the cloister list.

Within 2-3 weeks, it starts feeling like its own natural thing and that’s pretty much it. You just keep repeating it at that point.

My reading list will be compromised to some degree, since I need to read pretty specific things when I’m writing. Of course, as soon as I finish up Wool by Hugh Howey, the next book I’ll be reading is Haterobics, draft four, by Jeff Walsh.

I’m not sure what an honest number would be, but I know calling that draft four is pretty insane. But it is the fourth major revision, with many multiple things in between. At this point, though, I haven’t read or thought about that book for 2-3 years, so I should have a very fresh perspective going in to get it as perfect as I can.

Of course, it will always be a graveyard of past ideas to some extent. I know where all of the abandoned plotlines are buried, and some of the tracks for them are visible to me in the book. But I kind of like them there. It shows how this story clawed and fought its way to making the draft.

So, it’s still early. I’m still feeling the absence of that social pulse. Still pumping up to go back into the book again and make it everything it needs to be.

Even more exciting, I’ve been filling up my Kindle with research for the backdrop of the next work, which is also newly reframed. It still seems ridiculous and absurd to me now, but I have yet to come up with a single reason not to do it.

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Pre-cloister Broadway run…

Facebook isn’t the only life change going on, as I will go back to writing on my novel daily starting next week…

This week, I am mainly reading each day to sort of start clearing that space. When I am writing, I like as few narratives as possible to intrude, so that will restrict both my personal reading and my theatergoing to some degree.

To that end, I saw three Broadway shows this week…

On Tuesday, I saw Pippin and adore it. I never saw Pippin performed before, so it being reimagined as a circus didn’t mean anything to me. I’m more interested that it could NOT be set in a circus now. I intentionally booked this because of Andrea Martin’s departure, knowing there would be a transitional time between my vacation and the writing kicking in, but when I booked it, I was unaware Terence Mann would be on vacation. I try to OBC it when I can, although Christopher Sieber was so fabulous, there was no way to know it was one of his first times in the role. As someone who doesn’t tend to learn musical numbers prior to seeing a show, it is a delight to have this new arsenal of songs in my library now. A definite highlight on Broadway right now, said long after everyone else has attended and said the same, of course.

Wednesday was Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad. I’ve seen Romeo and Juliet more than any other Shakespeare play, and this was a great production.   There was an interracial element with the Capulets being black, and Romeo enters the stage on a motorcycle, and why not, the crowd is going to stop and applaud Orlando’s entrance anyway, may as well give him an entrance, but beyond those things, it seemed to exist in no specific time. And why should it? The themes are timeless, although the leads are always so much older than the characters as written, as Juliet is 13 in Shakespeare’s original, and Romeo is slightly older but never specifically nailed down. I always wonder how we’d react to seeing a 17 y/o or somesuch bedding a 13 y/o and thinking how sweet and romantic is it, heh. Perhaps the aged-up casting is the right angle? I thought Orlando was great in the role, as was the whole cast, really. I couldn’t tell if they whittled the book down, though, since 2.5 hours with an intermission seems a bit light for Shakespeare, no?

And on Thursday, I saw First Date, which is a 90-minute, no intermission musical about a couple on a first date. It stars Zachary Levi (from “Chuck,” which I never watched), and Krysta Rodriguez (from “Smash,” which I adored). Was a fun time, but the shallowest of the three. It was a crowd pleaser, though, and despite the bad online buzz I had read, it seemed as though everyone in attendance was along for the ride. The gay character was pretty stereotypical, but he only has one repeating function in the play, so stuff I had read about him doing the same thing every time was pretty ridiculous when seeing it in context.

So, Pippin said sometimes you need to stop trying to find an extraordinary life if you’re missing how satisfying an ordinary one can be. Romeo and Juliet showed the power, beauty (and OK, tragedy) of love. And First Date was about the need to put yourself out there and connect with people. All things I plan to be exploring during the cloister…

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