Total Solar Eclipse

Note: this is directed at my United States neighbors. If you live outside the US, these dates are meaningless. If you’d like to see your own eclipse, adjust your travel plans accordingly.

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote a blog post about an event so far in the future it seemed almost a lifetime away. Well, nearly one lifetime later that event is now just a mere six months away.

If you’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, you’re missing out on one of the most spectacular sky events there is. At least that’s what I’ve been told. I’ve never actually seen one.

But I’ve wanted to see one my entire life. I remember when I was just two days old I pointed up to the sky and said, “Me want see moon block sun!” I grabbed my laptop from the maternity nurse and quickly looked up all the times a total solar eclipse might cross the United States in my expected lifetime.

In reality, though, the concept first came to my young scientific attention sometime after I was ten. Had I actually made that list near the date of my birth, it still would’ve been a very short list. The first was in 1970, the second in 1979, the third . . . well, six months from now: August 21, 2017.

What’s particularly spectacular about this upcoming event isn’t just that it’s been nearly four decades since the last one to cross US soil. It’s that it’s going to be the first time in nearly a century, that the path of totality cuts across the entire country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic:


Source: eclipse2017.org

Make your travel plans now! But if for some reason you can’t make it to this once-in-a-lifetime event, fear not: you only have to wait until 2024 for the next one. Amazing that after a 38-year dry spell, the central United States will get two just seven years apart.

But if you miss that one, you’ll then have to wait until 2045. You’ve been warned!

Image credit: NASA

Out of Order

I’ve been sick for about ten or eleven days now. I’m not exactly sure how long it’s been because there’s no specific point in time one can generally flag and say, “Yep, that was it. I wasn’t sick before then and then I was sick after that.” Unless maybe there happened to be an episode of The Jerry Springer Show in there.

By “sick” I think I mean “have a cold.” The two worst symptoms have been a cough and sore throat. The one worst symptom has been a sore throat. As far as non-life-threatening ailments go, sore throats are about the second worst thing you can get, topped only by earaches. While my body flirted with earaches here and there, I thankfully avoided a full flare up. The supporting cast of symptoms were the usual: headaches, mild fever, and an inability to count calories.

The first few days delivered the usual, start-of-cold, mild-grade symptoms. It’s that hopeful period where you think it just might just dodge a bullet this one time. But around eleven in the morning last Friday, while at work, I’d decided enough was enough. I headed home.

One of my first tasks after arriving home was setting up a doctor appointment. I hit the appointment web site, found a slot open at 11:30 Saturday morning but failed to click “submit” before inadvertently passing out. When I woke up a couple hours later, the slot had been taken and the next opportunity wouldn’t be until Monday. Looking back, I don’t think that would’ve changed anything. It was a miserable weekend either way, followed by an equally miserable week after the appointment anyway.

Let’s skip ahead a week.

The good news is I seem to feel well enough to produce a blog post. I’m not “all better” by any means, but I’ll take what I can get. The bad news is, I’m far behind on everything else. The most important “everything else” is my upcoming book. Last October I said it would be ready in April. I said that again in January. We’re now getting close to days of February that start with a two and I’m worried. I have to get this thing done. I just have to.

So if anyone wants to take over the last few days of this cold for me, that’d be great. Or if anyone has a couple weeks they can donate, even better. Thanks!

Oh, and I also need to know how long I have to wait after taking codeine before I can have a beer. Because I need one of those too.

The Three Facets of a Good Writer

There’s always talk in my writing circles about being a good writer. And most of the time, it’s within the context of how to become a better writer. Typically with respect to omitting needless words and avoiding frilly adverbs. At face value, this doesn’t sound unusual. A social group of gardeners would talk about how to increase plant yield. Musicians would discuss ways to improve their chops. Bloggers would examine ways to better alienate readers and decrease traffic.

But I have one issue with much of this talk about improving writing skills. Why? Well, let’s first ask ourselves: what is a writer? Technically speaking, anyone who writes. Blog post? You’re a writer! Quick email to a friend? Yep, you too! Grocery list? Congrats!

Except that’s not really what we’re talking about. In the colloquial sense of the term, when we say writer, we generally mean a novelist. And having good writing skills is only one facet of producing a novel.

The mechanics of writing are important: syntax, grammar, and being able to take a particular thought and take that thought and string it into an assembly of words in a row that is the best way to put those words into communication.

But good writing does not a novel make. You must also be a good storyteller. And this is where things get tricky. Because good language skills can be defined, taught, and learned. Good storytelling skills are another thing completely. It’s easy to say, “Once upon a time there was a princess and she was locked away in a tower until one day an ogre and a donkey came to save her. They escaped the dragon. They defeated the evil lord. And they lived happily ever after.” That’s a story. And apart from lacking a great amount of detail, it works. But it’s really hard to assemble the story in such a way that critics would use words like “gripping” to describe it.

But even harder than that? It’s the third facet. And I don’t know of any way in the world any external entity can help with this: imagination. Before you can put words in a pleasing order. Before you can spin them into a gripping tale. You need a good idea. When asked, the typical question by most successful novelists is, “It just popped in my head.” Once a story is written, we never really think of what went into its inception. And once we read, hear, or see it, we just assume that coming up with a story is the easy part.

And maybe it is easy. If you think about how many new stories that are produced across all forms of media in any given year. Millions of books published. Thousands of television shows produced. Hundreds and hundreds of movies released. Then multiply that by ten (maybe more) for all the ones that never make it as far as production. Multiply that by one hundred (maybe more) for all the ones that stopped at really good, solid elevator pitches. They’re still stories, even if just a few hundred words.

So easy to come up with a story.

So easy.

So . . . uh . . . anyone want to share one with me? 🙂

2017 Reading Challenge

Are you reading enough? Probably not. Why should you read more? Because it makes poor pathetic souls like me, who like to write books, feel like we’re doing something useful. To that end, a number of “Reading Challenges” have been issued this month which I see circling around my writing community.

These challenges are typically designed to get you out of your comfort zone by listing a number of writing prompts. The “number” is often twenty-six so you can read one new book every two weeks. The prompts are in lieu of actual book titles, since it’s the only way to guarantee that no book on the list has already been read.

Here are some typical prompts:

  • A book recommended by a librarian
  • A book written before 1900.
  • A book longer than five hundred pages.
  • etc.

I already read about as much as my schedule allows. It’s typically in short bursts as I try to squeeze some time in between other events. I wouldn’t say I read a lot. Perhaps at one time I might have said that until I ran into people (lots of people) who say, “Oh, I read about average: like a thousand books a year.” Uhhhh . . .  I could do that if I did absolutely nothing else. I don’t want to do absolutely nothing else. I’m bursting with all sorts of projects I need to complete.

I’ve looked around at the wide array of book-reading prompts out there and believe me there are a lot of them. Seems like for every ten avid readers out there at least eleven of them have issued some sort of challenge and uploaded it to the interwebs. I would declare this is completely unnecessary except for the singular fact that I want to do the same thing.

I can’t read one book every two weeks, but I can probably read one every two months. And so can you! So here’s Charlie’s Reading Challenge for 2017:

  1. A book written in 1941 with exactly eleven chapters but over 200,000 words.
  2. Any book currently banned in at least forty countries.
  3. A book where the protagonist is a fourteen year old girl named Waldroop who is the mayor of a Midwestern city.
  4. A book about a group of seven kids doing nothing as they battle no one in a futuristic utopian society.
  5. One of my finished novels.

Hey, it’s not called a challenge for nothing. Good luck!

Return to Onederland

About five years ago I finally struck upon the diet to end all diets. For fast and effective weight loss, nothing beats chemotherapy. Many long time fans of my bloggin’ will know that “Return to Onederland” was a major theme for years. (For the uninitiated, “Onederland” is that magical place where your weight, in pounds, begins with a one.) I’d been there before, when I was younger, but I wrote a lot of words about getting back there.

Then suddenly, there it was! Never mind that it was due to a life-threatening illness. Psssh. Cancer? Who cares. Going below two hundred? Now that’s news. And so it was then and there that I vowed I wouldn’t waste that golden opportunity. That would be both the first and last time that I’d be putting the “die” back in diet.

And guess what? I actually stuck to it.

Wait. No I didn’t. I did way better than just “stuck to it.” After a brief upward spike during The Holidays that year (October 31 through January 2) I spent 2013 and 2014 continuing to work on it. I watched my weight fall: 195, 190, 185, 180, 175. Toward the end of 2014 I dipped to a low of 173.5.

Amazing.

Oh, if the story only ended there.

For whatever reason, 2015 didn’t go well. I gained a little — not a lot — back. But it all went to heck in 2016. And the part that bothered me most is that it didn’t seem to bother me. Not really.

I mean, my higher order brain functions cared. I said, “One ninety! That’s the absolute upper limit, Charlie!” And then when I hit 191 I thought, “You know what sounds good? Two or three pizzas! Because one ninety five: that’s the real absolute upper limit.”

When I hit 196, I thought, “Oh no. Danger zone. I’d better do something about that. Right after this giant bag of potato chips. Besides, everyone knows the real upper limit is two hundred.”

When I hit 201, I thought. “Crap. This is…” The next word was supposed to be “serious” but I couldn’t say it because my mouth was full of Chex Mix and beer. Still, I wasn’t too alarmed. Because, as everyone knows, the real upper limit was 205.

Interesting fact: According to the very first web site that came up in my Google search on the topic, it states that the “average weight gain during the four-week holiday period is actually closer to one pound than the seven to 10 pounds that many people believe it is.” Man, the one area I would love to be “average.” Gaining one pound every four weeks? Hell, by New Years Eve I think I was gaining one pound an hour.

When I went to bed very early in the morning on January first, I felt awful. Full. Sick. Bloated. Dejected (aka “the usual”). And it was then and there that I vowed I wouldn’t waste that golden opportunity of five years ago. It’s not too late.

But first, assessing the damage. I stepped on the scale.

Two hundred and fifteen pounds.

Sigh.

That’s over forty pounds in just over two years, people. And most of that was just in the last year alone. And most of that was in the last week.

What to do. What to do…

Happy New Year

I wasn’t quite sure if it’s “New Year Resolutions” or “New Year’s Resolutions”. So I ran a web search and was slightly taken aback by the first hit: “50 New Year’s Resolution Ideas And How To Achieve Each Of Them.” What offended me first was the capitalization of And, To, and Of. But once I got past that I wondered, who goes out looking for resolutions? “I want to better myself in some way this new year but damned if I have any ideas!”

Fortunately (or unfortunately) I don’t need to go searching. Fortunately (no, I’m going with unfortunately now) I already have a list. It’s the same one I had last year. And the year before that. And so on. For anyone who loves the time-hop concept and is extremely bored today, feel free to look them over:

Granted, each year varies slightly. And a couple of those years don’t have any resolutions at all (rare showing of wisdom on my part). But there’s definitely a theme.

Which is why I was on the fence about doing any such thing again this year. On the one hand: what’s the point? It’s pretty obvious I don’t have any control over anything. Sure, one year there was that whole dumb cancer thing. And last year, a house move. But the theme is: it’s always something. And after a while you realize that the one constant is one’s self.

But as I realized last year, a goal without a plan is just a wish. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how many times I fall short. I still have to try. So let’s turn that frown upside down and list them here! If nothing else, I’ll have fodder for a future blog post, right?

1. Weight Loss

Ha. I thought my weight got alarmingly high last year. That’s nothing compared to this year. Not only did I not lose the twenty-five pounds I promised one year ago, I went up about seven thousand. This year’s goal: take one year to lose the weight gained the last two years.

2. The House

Three big projects here: 1) landscaping, 2) junk removal, 3) topping things off. We still don’t have any sod or anything in the back. My dream of getting rid of all the junk before moving was just that: a dream. Plus about a hundred other projects, small to medium sized, before I feel like we’re “settled in.”

3. Writing

One bit of good news: the book I was working on a year ago is actually about 95% complete. I had intended to publish it last September, but then realized this year would be better, and purposefully set it aside. Look for it in . . . April?

4. Music

My home recording studio is still just a pile of boxes. I will unpack and reassemble these into a studio and finish Connections which is a project now entering its third year. Gah.

5. Cook

I have a kitchen. I should use it more.

That’s It

Or, I should say “That’s Plenty.” I feel like I’ve already set myself up for failure, but there you go. Tune in next week for an update on Resolution Number 1.

The Year in Review

Whelp, we’ve put yet another year behind us. And what a year 2016 was. “The worst” according to the wisest of all institutions: social media. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. History will tell. (But if you ask me, 1349 might give 2016 a good run for its money.)

Like many others, this is a time where I look back and reflect again on the passage of time. Its pace continues to quicken and if I’m going to finish any of my projects, I need to quit wasting time on stupid things like eating and sleeping.

So without further pointless typing, let’s take a walk back through my 2016.

January

I kicked off the year by doing something really stupid. I turned fifty. Sure, it seemed like a good idea at the time but looking back on it, I don’t know what I was thinking. On the creative front, my meager accomplishment was starting this here new blog. But the house move continued to dominate all aspects of life.

February

Um. Let’s see. February. February. Spent forty hours working on the move. Went to work. Ate and slept some more.

March

March. Hmmm. Big month working on the move: 182 hours in all. This was mostly prepping the old house for sale. Stressful period. Biz helped. Thanks, B.

April

Okay, so now it’s April. According to Timekeeper, I spent 44.7 hours working on move-related stuff, but also have mysteriously logged 26.87 hours on one of my writing projects. I don’t remember doing that. I do remember eating and sleeping.

May

Logged over eighty hours of house-related work. Yep. Definitely a theme here.

June

And finally, the actual move. I “only” spent 140 hours on the move this month, but at least it’s finally behind us. Now there’s now just six to seventy-two months of unpacking and settling in ahead of us.

July through November

I blinked. What happened again?

Worked on the house. Dusted off an old book project and worked on that for NaNo. Went to work and ate and slept.

December

And here we are. For the first time in a year and a half I kinda sorta feel like maybe I can think about maybe sorta relaxing. That is, we’ve done the basic settling down into the new house and there are no more real hard deadlines to hit. The holidays are behind us and I think I’m ready for that fresh New Year feeling.

I’m definitely done moving for a while. In twelve months we:

  • Moved Sarah out of Austin and to Ft Worth.
  • Moved half our house to a temporary storage facility.
  • Moved the rest of our house to a new house.
  • Moved Rachel out of her apartment back into the new house.
  • Moved out of the temporary storage facility.
  • Moved Sarah from Ft Worth to Dallas.

I should’ve given everyone a head’s up: you could’ve invested in U-Haul a year ago and cashed out a fortune today. Oh well.

Whelp, that’s about it. I guess looking back on things, I really didn’t have much to report. Tune in next week for the ever-popular New Year’s Resolutions. (Sneak Peek: I’m planning on having a lot to report for the 2017 Year in Review post.)

12 Facts about “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday tradition for many. Growing up, our family watched it every year, to the point where I think I could recite the entire screenplay for you. But there are a number of fun, behind-the-scenes facts about the movie that I’d love to share with you this holiday season.

  1. Jimmy Stewart’s role was initially given to Buddy Ebsen, but Buddy had to drop out to play the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.
  2. Bedford Falls is a fictional town but it is based on the real life city of Detroit.
  3. Henry F. Potter’s character was originally named Harry Potter, but Frank Capra changed it so that audiences wouldn’t mix him up with the boy wizard.
  4. Jimmy Stewart was forty-seven years older than Donna Reed.
  5. The actors playing George Bailey’s children are Jimmy Stewart’s real life children: Patrick Stewart, Martha Stewart, Rod Stewart, and Stewart Copeland.
  6. In spite of saying otherwise, Violet Bick always cared about how she looked.
  7. Every single actor from The Little Rascals has a part in the film.
  8. Contrary to popular opinion, Kermit the cop and Big Bird the cab driver were not named after Sesame Street characters.
  9. In an early version of the script, Mr. Martini’s bar was to be a front for a drug trafficking ring run by Harry S. Truman.
  10. The gym floor that opened over a swimming pool is based on a real life school gym that opens up over a pit of fiery lava.
  11. The Old Granville house was Frank Capra’s actual residence. They tore it apart and roughed it up for the movie. Fortunately, actress Donna Reed got everything fixed up again during filming.
  12. Young George Bailey always wished he had a million dollars. This is the same amount of ransom money that Dr. Evil wanted in Austin Powers. Coincidence!?

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my contribution to the Fake News machine. Why, it’s almost like you can’t trust the internet anymore. But I hope even more that you have a wonderful Christmas and get some well-deserved rest. Be sure to drop by next week for my 2016 Year in Review.

Charlie

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A Brief Contemplation of Time

Time. I think about time a lot. You might even say all the time. My relationship with the concept runs from fascination to obsession. I can’t see it. I can’t touch it. But I can feel it leaving me in the dirt with every passing day.

Back in January 1999, I began a side project: writing time-tracking software. I was already a software developer and I enjoyed the time I spent crafting lists of instructions to make the machines do my bidding. It was at this same time my job implemented a new requirement: everyone start logging time spent on projects. I’d never be able to do that in my head and writing it down on a cocktail napkin seemed less than ideal.

That’s when Timekeeper was born. It began very simple, didn’t have a lot of features, but it got the job done. In 2008, I finally got around to writing Timekeeper 2 and then two years ago, in 2014, I topped off the most advanced version ever, Timekeeper 3. And because of this, I can tell you how much time I’ve spent on things. Won’t this be fun!

Project Hours
Timekeeper 3 802
Winter’s Gate (novel in progress) 725
Back to the Fridge 339
Upcoming “Cancer” Book 116
This blog post 2

But modern software isn’t the only way to sit back and ponder in awe about how much time one has wasted invested in their lives. Nope! You can also do it with period television shows and movies. For the sake of the math, let’s just assume it’s already 2017.

  • Gone with the Wind came out in 1939. It was about Civil War events in 1861. If this story took place today, it would be about World War II events in 1939.
  • If That 70s Show started today, it would be That 90s Show.
  • Same with M*A*S*H. Relatively speaking, that show today would be about a war in 1995.
  • If Happy Days started today, it would be about a middle-class family in Milwaukee set in the nostalgic era of 1998.
  • The film Animal House would be about a zany group of college students . . . in 2001.
  • And The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Will Smith today is 48: three years older than Uncle Phil when the show started. Mind. Blown.

I’ll leave you with one other fun fact. In addition to my fascination with time, I’m also fascinated by history (I guess the two are related). And when it comes to history, it gets hard to really quantify distances in time. Something that happened one thousand years ago vs something that happened ten thousand years ago is genuinely difficult to “internalize”. Once an event as passed, we tend to just lump them all together.

Take Cleopatra and the Great Pyramid of Giza. From our point of view, they were contemporaries: two ancient concepts that live in a vague and distant past in our collective memory. Except that by the time Cleopatra was born, the Great Pyramid of Giza was already about 2,500 years old. Which means that Cleopatra’s birth was closer to the founding of Pizza Hut than it was to that pyramid.

Wow.

Oblivious

As much as I like to think I’m smarter than the average bear, and on top of things, and possess lots of obscure knowledge over a broad rang of topics, all of this is overshadowed by how oblivious I am in general.

For example, today is Friday. Friday is when I write my weekly blog post. Friday is often the last day of the work week. It’s that day that until five minutes ago I would’ve sworn was Thursday.

See you all next week!

(Maybe)