Thursday, June 25, 2015

My First Post-Retirement Writing Class

“We should do a blog.”

Our assignment was to write about, “My first … .” I chose my first post-retirement writing class.

It was three sessions long, offered by my parish but led by a third party, and well-attended. Attendance dropped from each session to the next, something like 20, 15 and, finally, 8. But, still … .

The instructor paired us up randomly, tearing playing cards in half, distributing them to us, having us find the other half of our card. I found my partner to be a young female. We were to be writing buddies for the duration of class, all 3 sessions. Support one another; help one another; bring out the best in each other.

I told my buddy that I was taking the class because I knew I wanted to write – at least journal – regularly, I was not doing it, and I thought the class would help.

About being writing buddies, we agreed we’d be in touch and determine some specifics about being writing buddies. This interested me more than it did her; she responded to none of my e-mails and failed to attend the remaining classes. I attributed this to either scaring her very badly, or her real disinterest in the class. I’ll choose the latter.

The instructor dealt with missing buddies; this wasn’t random selection, it was self-selection, and another man at my table and I became buddies. A woman late-comer sat at our table, noted that we were buddies, and wanted in. We accepted.

This worked slightly better than my first experience. My male buddy was too busy to be able to spend any time on the class. Our female partner failed to respond to my emails.

This female was brave enough to show up at the last class, even sitting with me. Before class, in hushed tones during it, on breaks, and afterward I expressed my dismay while she expressed remorse and apologies. We spoke quite a bit after class. Eventually we agreed we’d like to discover what it meant and be writing buddies, we’d be in touch to figure it out and kick it off. I have not heard from her, but that was only a little less than three years ago.

In class, I paid attention. I applied myself to the writing assignments. I did the exercises, and won a book by blurting out the answer to the instructor’s clever riddle. Finally I said I’d be interested in getting together with other students to continue writing.

Reflecting on the class, as I reflected in real time, I was not enamored of it. The instructor was not as cute and clever as he thought; many of the exercises seemed mundane and borderline pointless; nothing ever came of my interest in continuing the work; his buddy system, which intrigued me, completely failed me.

Nonetheless, I considered, and still consider, that class a huge success. Why? Because I met the goal that I told my first writing buddy I had set: I wanted to write more regularly. Beginning then, I wrote every day for several months. During those months, I took my first writing class from Minneapolis Community Education, and continued to write daily. The MCE class was the first in a series of ten MCE writing classes in a row, and eleven of a possible twelve classes in three years.

While I am not claiming I’ve written every day during that entire three year period, I am claiming that I wrote most days of that period, except for one time that I let my discipline slip. An MCE course got me back on track. Not only have I written ( virtually ) daily since that initial class almost three years ago, but a while after that a friend of mine and I were talking about how to remain active writers. “We should do a blog,” one of us said. This story is the one hundred fourth item I’ve posted since then.

I owe a hug debt of gratitude to that first post-retirement writing class.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Not Much of an Update

Having worked an additional twelve hours in the past seven days, and another ten building a space ship (see my previous posts), I can't say I have much else on my mind to blog about.  I intend for this blog post to just be an update on that.  Tune in next week for something more interesting.

First there is Convergence.  I was able to get a hotel room!  Several of my Manticoran brethren have the volunteer hours they need in spades.  Two have asked me if I want to share their room.

I gave up on an amazing costume this year, and purchased a ghost buster costume off the shelf.  I do, of course, have my Royal Manticoran Navy uniform.  In can actually add some patches to that due to my recent efforts.

The only other interesting development for me is Star Realms.  The folks in my new club are totally into it.  I'm into card games, so I'm giving it a shot.  It's been slow going, but I'll keep at it.  Expect more about that in future posts.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Taking Care of Myself

( I ) watched the Warriors beat the Cavs for the NBA title tonight.

I’ve written before that I struggle when my dear wife, Ellie, is not home. She has not been home in six months, having left to take care of our dear friend Loretta, who is in home hospice care with cancer.

Near the end of the linked to article, I said, “I go to bed alone ( and almost always way too late … but that’s the subject for another story ).” This is that story, and perhaps the beginning of dealing with it.

I start by admitting my inability to get myself to bed before midnight; sometimes staying up until ( well ) after 1:00 a.m. I sleep fairly late in the morning, and, by the time I get through my morning ritual ( bathroom routine, making the bed, getting dressed, morning prayer, a light breakfast, ( sometime very ) quick reading of the paper ), my actual day doesn’t get started until 10:30, 11:00 or sometimes later. My “actual day” can include plans with Ellie and Loretta, lunch with other friends, walking ( alone, with a friend ), my weekly volunteer Basilica inspection, helping my friend with her genealogy project, working around the house ( inside and out ), taking an evening writing class, and working in my office
( writing, home paperwork such as bill paying and checkbook balancing, various computer activities for the several Basilica volunteer jobs I do, reading, organizing and responding to email, exercising my fountain pen addiction ). Many days I don’t get to my office until 6:00 or 6:30. I do much of my office work on the computer, I am a techie and I very much enjoy using the computer. But I do find that I am easily distracted when doing so.

Examples include: Stumble Upon sends a notice about an interesting set of pictures from NASA; National Catholic Reporter sends an email about the resignations of the two bishops I am in the diocese of; LinkedIn sends a notice about a Work Anniversary of an ex-colleague. None of these, perhaps, takes much time on its own; each, however, invariably shows something else that interests me and I take that link. I get engaged and pretty soon an hour, or ( much ) more, has elapsed.

I am happy to engage in the distractions until I realize how much time has gone by. Then I disgustedly return to my work, but almost certainly another similar distraction occurs. Before I know it, it’s 11:00 and one or two important things are still undone, and I do them. Eventually, I leave my office, perform my evening ritual ( taking out my contact lenses, collecting the day’s newspaper for recycling, evening prayer, bathroom routine ), and, about an hour later, I’m getting into bed … ( well ) after midnight. After weeks of this, I am ready to admit I seem unable to break the cycle.

I was going to lament this in my journal the other night:

“Late again … watched the Warriors beat the Cavs for the NBA title tonight. LeBron is now 2-4 in NBA Finals. ( Jordan was/is 6-0. )

But I want to write – again – about being up late. I went to my office about 6:00, had a ToDo list, added a few things, and went right to work. Worked until game time and got what seemed like an amazing – though not all – number of things done. I just worked, focused, refused to let myself get distracted and really did some amazing and good work.

I used a Notebook in Evernote, so I could take the notes
( list ) with me on my phone and keep track of them in Desktop Evernote. It was cool to check things off as I did them, and, really, even cooler to decide, “This can wait until tomorrow,” and know that I will see the item – and do the task because of seeing it – tomorrow.

Suddenly I realize I’ve just written the first draft of this week’s post. Hmmm. Pardon me while I add posting a story to my ToDo list.”

I had just realized that I used that ToDo list to do a good amount of work in the two hours I had before the game started. It slowly dawned on me that having a written ToDo list could, for me, be a very powerful tool to help focus my activity and possibly allow me to better manage my bed time. This, for me, means taking better care of myself. It is a very good thing.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

The Royal Manticoran Navy

My last post was about Manticon, a convention based around the series of books staring Honor Harrington.  Yesterday I actually attended a meeting for the fan club that runs it.  I've decided to post my initial observations.

The first thing that surprised me is how seriously everyone takes it.  Life is better than ever, I have no doubt of that, but I do think our modern lives are lacking a community that most of us enjoyed until very recently.  These people have formed their own group of likeminded individuals, and want to see it grow.

What kind of individuals are they?  Practical people.  Many are former or current military.  It surprised me how many have skills they are happy to bring to the table.  They are capable of accomplishing a lot.  They are currently working on building the group, but I can see us accomplishing much more.  I understand there was a successful Toys for Tots drive last Decemberween.

They are organized into departments, then ships, and fleets and navies.  I just joined the engineering department of my ship at the meeting.  My ship is the one focused on gaming, and the gaming culture in our area.  The engineering department is the group working on the Artemis Bridge Simulator, which is pretty cool.  And they even meet in my neighborhood.

When I got involved I didn't realize it, but they are actually becoming more and more involved with the group that organizes Convergence.  They put the bridge simulator up there where hundreds of people get to try it.  Hours spent building it even count towards volunteer hours for Convergence.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

An Era Closes

I recently played the last game of cards with a neighborhood men's group that has been playing together for upwards of 15 years. We play 500, we play monthly, we draw for partners, we're fairly loud ( my wife comments on the noise when we're on the screened in porch two houses away and she is indoors ) and we're relentless. Don is moving to Arizona and, though he and his wife will be back for summers, and we'll likely play again, it won't be the same

Arizona Bound
Don, friend and neighbor,
and sometime card knave,
gritting our teeth we’d
play Willie and Dave.

Over many a year,
we'd play as we ought er,
I would drink a beer,
then we’d all gulp water.

“Inkle hearts.” “Seven no.”
“Double,” with a frown.
“At least we have honor,”
when bidders went down.

Set to move away,
you'll miss all this fun.
Dare I say it now?
“Don, use your option!”*

* Option: a novel rule in our game allowing each player, once per evening, under strict circumstances, to change his bid after picking up the middle. Both Don and I eventually hated this rule.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Parking Lot Encounter

“How long is this journey going to take?”

Early one afternoon, I did some shopping at a big box store. I stowed my purchases, put the cart into the corral and a car pulled up. I was on the passenger side, the window was down and the driver asked for help, “Is that the airport there behind us?” I noticed right away that he spoke with a very understandable foreign accent.

How can you be so close to the airport and not know where it is?” I wondered. “No, it’s not that way, it’s off to the left, straight that way,” I replied and pointed.

He was well dressed, wearing a suit that seemed to be tailored, a tie and a handkerchief in his breast pocket. Seeming a bit agitated, he said something about directions from a woman and winding up here. “So, where is it you need to be?” I asked.

“The passenger terminal.”

“OK,” I said, “here is what you do.”

I gave him directions, and showed him how these directions looked on the map that he had.

“How long is this journey going to take?” he asked.

“Five, maybe ten minutes.”

“Oh … well,” and I saw him relax, “I have to catch a 4:00 flight.” 

That’s at least two and a half hours from now.” “So, where are you going?”

He was going home to England, having been here for a week. He wondered about our unseasonably cool temperatures ( “Yeah, we wonder about that, too; all the time.” ) but said he generally likes the Twin Cities. He was working for a clothing manufacturer, doing prep work for the opening of two stores. As he spoke, he pulled up one of several large paper bags in the passenger foot well, and pointed to the names on the bag. I recognized one of them.

He then looked more focused at me; “What size do you wear?”

I stepped back; “Huh?” “Well, 42.”

He reached into the back, bringing another paper bag forward. “Trying to establish the brand, we give samples to customers all the time.” He showed me a very nice looking leather jacket, outerwear, medium weight. He showed a second one, similar, but zippered. Both are gorgeous, soft, supple black leather. He eyed me as if to see if my body would fit into this jacket. “Another thing, I don’t want to take all these bags on the plane.” He showed a third, much lighter colored jacket, richer looking, with a feminine style. “… an $800 jacket.”

What?” I resumed listening.

“ … give as a gift, to maybe your wife.”

You’re going to give me an eight hundred dollar jacket to give my wife? What about mine? What … ?

“ … and I need some cash to buy gifts for my wife and daughter at the duty-free shop.”

I had missed another segue. “Did he just ask me for money?” I had no idea how the conversation became what it did, or even if it did. “Did you just ask me for money?” my speaking apparatus asked.

“Well, yes; I want to buy those gifts, my credit card is maxed out.”

I managed to ask, “How much?”

“Well …  I want to buy those two gifts.”

 “He’s giving me a jacket, or two, and hoping for some money so he can buy gifts? I really don’t have enough cash on me.” Feeling kind of bad, I said, “I really don’t have much cash on me.”

I was reeling and didn’t notice that all his ‘sample’ jackets were back where they had come from.

“OK, then, good bye,” he said, backing away.

“Good bye, have a safe trip back,” I called, still feeling a little bad.

Suddenly I was as alone as I was in the beginning. “Did I just miss being scammed?

The truth, however, is I was not sure what had happened, how the conversation turned from my getting a jacket to my giving him money, and in some ways I wasn’t even sure this had happened at all.
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Monday, June 1, 2015

Manticon 2015

I may have been noticeable absent last week.  It was not my intention.  The truth is, I worked the holiday, and spent the rest of my free time at Manticon.  I thought I could do it all, and I could not.

It was my first time attending, and only the second year they put it on.  Compared to my only other convention experience, Convergence, it was quite the intimate gathering.  They ended up with about 350 attendees, compared to about 20 times that for Convergence.

This is a three day convention centered specifically around the Honor Harrington series.  You may be thinking that a convention geared toward a sci-fi series most people have never heard of has to be the epitome of geeky.  Well... a little bit of column A, and little bit of column B.

We're all nerds, and we all recognize that.  It's kind of amazing spending time around so many people who share that.  It's a place where you'd be the odd man out for not wearing a uniform of a fictional military.

But there's more than you'd expect.  I was surprised to find how many real current and former military members are part of this club.  It kind of makes since when you think about it though.  It's like the military, which they are interested in, but purely fun.  No one really dies, and the good guys always win in the end.

Because of this, the panels there were a little too real for my taste.  Some of them at least.  They talked about life in a totalitarian government, and the physics of powered flight.  But some were fun, like an authentic tea ceremony, and a brief sword lesson.

Having not taken time off of work, I didn't have the time or focus for such practical matters.  I ended up spending more time playing games.  You can look forward to a detailed description of the Artemis Bridge Simulator in a later post.  Lets just say, these guys take gaming seriously.

Now that I've been, I'll definitely go again.  Next time I'll have my uniform ready, and take some time off to take it all in.