Thoughtless

“Why don’t you ref foil in the morning, then fence sabre in the afternoon?”

Coach made that suggestion this week for today’s D and under. Tournaments lately have been frustrating experiences, and I’d already decided not to compete in today’s foil event. Officiating, on the other hand, is a great opportunity to be involved with the sport without feeling the pressure of one’s own expectations. Sabre? Been playing around with the weapon at practice for a while, even bought the electronics; competing at some point was in the plan, and coach’s suggestion this week was the motivation to take the next step.

And why not? With so little experience in the weapon, there was little reason to be frustrated, whatever the outcome. If I got shut out entirely, well, that should happen when facing opponents with far more experience. Hook in and let it fly; have some fun doing what you can, and let the results worry about themselves.

And those results, not surprisingly, were pretty positive. Reffing the foil went smoothly, with only a few calls made with more confidence in my voice than my eyes. And competing in sabre was a blast — scored the initial touch in my first pool bout, and actually won my second bout on a shutout (nailed this kid with an undercut to his hand for the first touch, and he never recovered). Decided after that victory to take a more strategic approach in the rest of my pool bout, and after three quick loses realized the folly of that approach. Compared to the other two weapons in fencing, sabre is notably faster, and success in the weapon is all about instinct and reaction — when you start thinking in a sabre bout, you’re in trouble. And by the time the pool bouts were over, I was tired of being in trouble.

Started the DEs against the guy who’d shut me out in my last pool bout. Let it fly, and see what happens. Suddenly I start scoring touches with no real idea what I’m doing, and at the break I’m up 8-6. Bout’s close the rest of the way, and at 14-all I catch a parry but can’t connect on the riposte, losing on the remise.

It was a wonderful afternoon of thoughtless fun. Resulting with the strong suspicion that, after several years of middling results and enduring frustration with foil, I may have finally found my weapon with sabre.

Good for you

[In his Today In History post, Mark Aldrich commemorates Oscar Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol on this date 119 years ago today. Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” serves as my inspiration for the following.]

“I dunno.” Eyes focused on Butch’s shoes, Rune grimaced. “Tired of kid stuff, guess.”

“Oh!” Butch was disturbed by the distress evident on his friend’s face. Students hurried past along the narrow corridor of Bark Bay High School, Butch and Rune standing like stones in a noisome stream. “So you, don’t like the stories?”

“Butch, they’re comic books.” Rune raised his head, eyes latching on to an EXIT sign near the ceiling. “They’re, I dunno, the literary equivalent of junk food — they’re tasty and make you feel happy for a little while, but in the end they’re not good for you.”

“Oh!” An image from lunch yesterday, of Rune gobbling a package of cupcakes he’d purchased at a vending machine while Butch ate the carrot sticks prepared by his mother that morning. “Well, maybe OK, said she might go to Pageturners with me, tonight.” Butch raised his right forearm, pointed with his thumb behind his shoulder.

“Huh.” Their eyes met. “Have a good time.” And then the greasy-haired teen walked past his portly friend, who turned and stood watching Rune walk down the emptying corridor, past one door on the right, another, then disappearing into the third door on the right as the bell announcing the start of the next period clanged.

Two hundred and 75 words about counting

In her most recent contribution to her Write Better Fiction series, Kristina Stanley demonstrates a technique for using word counts to aid her creative process. For each of the scenes within her novel’s chapter, Kristina calculates the number of words and inputs that data into a spreadsheet, and generates a graph. As an IT professional, I’m intrigued by her innovative data-driven approach, despite the apprehensions of my more linguistic instincts regarding this data.

As I’ve observed previously, word count by itself is a horrible metric for gauging successful writing — as words go, two good are more than five times powerful than ten bad. Reaching a certain number of words neither means you’ve won, or you’ve reached your limit. However, I see value in Kristina’s approach because she uses her data not to set rules for herself, but rather to identify trends in her writing, and then uses what she identifies to ask herself questions:

The first scene is only 50 words long . . . In this case, am I trying to create an effect of shock, or fast pace, or intrigue?

This chapter only has two scenes where every other chapter in the novel has three scenes. Was this done on purpose?

This scene is 2500 words long. The graph shows you it’s out of balance with the other scenes in the novel . . . In this case, I must ask what is so special about this scene. If nothing, then I’ll consider breaking the scene into two or more scenes.

Data leading to analysis, producing questions that generate answers, resulting in decisions. That, my friends, is an example of how a data-driven approach can be useful in the writing process.

KBoards

Taking up advice from Ana Spoke, Author, I’ve decided to join Kboards, “a community forum for Kindle Users and Authors.” While I’m not necessarily planning on publishing to Kindle, epublishing in general is definitely an option I’m considering as I become more ambitious in promoting my writing. Creating my Kboards account today was a small step, but perhaps the first in a very long journey.  

The Peril of Ambition

Another insightful vignette from Depression Comix, and while it focuses on social media threats to female self-identity, I can certainly relate to the anxieties it identifies. I’m making a concerted effort this year to expand the horizons of my writing beyond this blog, appeal to a larger audience — a couple-few hundred followers is neat, but I’m curious to discover how far my writing can go. This marks a significant change, as until lately I’ve focused almost exclusively on producing the highest quality writing I could muster, with little to no concern about the number of Likes my work was garnering. Don’t have any regrets about my past approach; just feel it’s time to experiment with a different approach.

My new ambition comes with a fair amount of anxiety, not only about how my writing will be received but also how I’ll respond to that reception. Will numbers (Likes, followers) become a distraction? How will I react if those numbers suddenly drop? When faced with negative or sarcastic criticism, will I see it as a defeat or opportunity? This anxiety is similar to the apprehension expressed in today’s strip from Depression Comix, and I’ll certainly experience this feeling as my writing goals become more ambitious.

I really have no idea what effect ambition will have on my writing. But the uncertainty I feel is far outweighed by my curiosity.

Red Pill Blues

Over at the Karma Linguist blog, Nicholas Gagnier just posted an intriguing poem that explores the uneasy relationship between love and sanity. It includes a reference to The Matrix, a tremendous film that in my opinion has suffered through two dismal sequels (fell asleep during the second film, decided not even to bother with the third). Rumors circulated a few years back that the series may be rebooted, but fortunately the energy in that wave seems to have expired. More is not always better; the pill might look just as red, but it doesn’t take you to the same place any longer. 

Budget

[Inspired today to respond to another one-word prompt from The Daily Post — Survival]

“Six?” Right arm laying palm-up across the metal table, Stu Johnson leaned forward, a late-afternoon sunbeam striking the bald spot on top of his head. “Dan, we have twice as many students on the swim team, and the school doesn’t even have a pool. You really think I can continue funding your fencing team, if all you have is six members?”

On the other side of the desk, Dan Jacobs scratched his beard, short curls of black flecked with white. “Stu, we don’t need transportation, we’ve got drivers.” Not the time to discuss the suddenly uncertain status of Double-J, the only team member who owned a car.

“Equipment?” Stu drew his arm close, picked up a manila folder on his desk. Flipped it open. Pointed with his left index finger to a sheet of paper inside. “Last year, you invoiced $300 for — ” squinted, looked confused, as if suddenly reading Latin — “foil?” Looked up at Dan — “What the hell you doing, roasting a turkey?”

“Foils.” Dan shook his head. “Weapons — ” shook again — “swords. That’s what we call them, foils.” Smiled. “With Myles on the team, we had a couple dozen students come to the first practice last year. Didn’t have enough foils — swords — for everyone. There was room in the budget last year — ”

“Yeah.” Closing the manila folder swiftly, Stu tossed it contemptuously on top of the desk. “Things were different, last year.” Right hand extended, palm up, towards Dan. “Budget cuts are coming, Dan, everyone sees it. Town’s tax base is strong for now, but enrollment’s down, ten percent in the grammar school over the last five years.” The hand sighed down onto the desk. “Only way the school district’s going to have enough money to survive, is to trim fat. I respect you, admire what you did with the fencing team the last couple years. But Myles is gone, and when he graduated it looks like he took most of your team with him.”

Dan nodded slowly. “Well we obviously won’t need any new equipment for a while. Repairs — ” Rune had broken a blade that week, Butch’s jacket was tearing at the seams — “I’ve got resources to help us with those.” Any armory and tailoring work he couldn’t complete at his apartment he could take to the Academy, accepting Gavvy’s open invitation. “And I talked to the Hutchinsons, they’ve agreed to pay the laundry bill.”

Stu shut his eyes, wagging his head. “Sorry, can’t do that. School district’s got a contract with the cleaner, any school-related laundering has to be done by them.” His right index finger jabbed down on the manila folder. “They bill on weight — care to guess how much all your fencing jackets weigh?”

Realizing his fists were clenched, Dan unflexed his hands, laid them on top of his legs. “Rather not. Because I suspect you’ve already made up your mind, about whether to approve that expense.”

“Huh.” Stu Johnson raised his arms high, then twisting in his chair laced the fingers of his hands together and brought them behind his head. Stared up at the ceiling a moment. “Huh. Sending your jackets to the cleaners every week, that’s a little much.” He twisted towards Dan, bringing hands down to the desk. “Once a month, first Friday. Best I can do.”

“Deal.” Dan Jacobs extended his right arm forward, dismissing the image of Annie wrinkling her nose in disgust at practices towards the end of each month.

Stewart Johnson, assistant principal and athletic director at Bark Bay High School, glanced at Dan’s hand with amusement. “This isn’t a negotiation.” And stared into Dan’s eyes dismissively.