Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Friday, 04 July 2003

Happy Independence Day!

I assume everyone who might be reading my journal has already heard that MSU has decided to stop funding the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop. You also already know how important Clarion has been (and continues to be) to me.

Here's the letter I wrote to Provost Lou Anna Simon and Dean Wendy K. Wilkins:

I attended Clarion at MSU in 2001. It was one of the most important experiences of my life.

For six weeks I worked on the craft of writing with other beginning writers in workshop sessions led by professional writers. It would take many pages for me to describe how much I learned and what a difference it has made in my life. Being a writer, I have written those pages. If you're interested, you can read them here:

But, since I doubt if you have time to read many pages, let me just say that it would be a tragedy to lose Clarion. Not only would twenty beginning writers every year lose the chance to learn and grow the way I did, and six professional writers every year lose the chance to mentor them, but the reading public would lose--some of the best writers of the last thirty years attended Clarion.

Perhaps most important to you, MSU would lose. The group of students and teachers drawn to the campus each summer by the workshop is small, but diverse, energetic, and influential. I'm not the only one to have documented my experiences at Clarion in an on-line journal--there are a dozen journals like mine, read by thousands of people each year. The Clarion teachers do public readings every week, amounting to both a public resource and outreach to the community.

I urge you to restore the funding for the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop.

If Clarion has made a difference to you as a reader or writer--or as someone who cares about one--I encourage you to write and express support for Clarion.

Went to Espresso Royale, a local coffee shop that's supposed to have wireless networking--and does, but it wasn't working. The system, apparently provided by an outfit called SilverWireless, has some sort of authentication server, to restrict access to customers only. The thing is, it wasn't functioning--I got redirected to a secure page that failed to load. I thought it might be because I had a Mac, but there was another guy with a Mac there and he said it had worked for him before, but wasn't working today.

It's not important--I've got a wireless network at home, there's no need to go to a coffee shop to get access to one. But I've had some success lately writing in coffee shops and felt like giving it a try today. Having a network is handy if I want to do a quick bit of research.

It's a good example of why trying to restrict access is a bad idea. Presumably they put the system in to attract customers, and think they have to restrict access to avoid having freeloaders sit across the street and use their network without buying anything. But an authentication server is another whole set of infrastructure elements that can break. The result is that I was a paying customer, but didn't get access. So next time I feel like going to a cafe with wireless access, I'm not likely to think of Espresso Royale.

It would have been better just to have an open network--cheaper for them, because they don't need to pay to create and maintain the authentication server, and better for their customers, because they actually get access. Those freeloaders they seem to be worried about are unlikely to be numerous. It's a college town--the most likely freeloaders are students who already have net access. Even if they got some freeloaders sitting across the street using the network, it's so hot out, I bet they'd end up coming in to buy a cold drink anyway.

Just across the canal from my hotel in Copenhagen was a wonderful park. It's kind of like the park where I run here at home--a small lake with a path around it. It attracted a somewhat different crowd--nobody was fishing, which is a major activity at the Kaufman Lake, but there were a lot of sun-bathers, which we don't have many of.

Champaign is a rather cosmopolitan city for central Illinois, but Copenhagen certainly has it beat. These two parks, though, seem to attract a mostly local crowd, which makes Kaufman Lake at least look more diverse, if only because of the range of people in the nearby neighborhoods. The people in the Copenhagen park overwhelmingly looked like northern Europeans while Kaufman Lake adds a lot of African Americans, some south Asians, and a smattering of east Asians and Hispanics.

I got in two runs while I was in Copenhagen, running at the park both times. I ran an intermediate distance, between the 1.5 miles that has been my most common run and the 2.5 miles that I've been running for my long runs.

Yesterday I got up early and went for a long run. I'd been a bit daunted at that length in the spring. I could run it, but it left me too sore and too exhausted to run again for several days. Yesterday's run, though, turned out to be no big deal. As soon as I'd run we went and lifted weights, and today I'm neither sore nor tired. I guess I'm finally at the point where I can push the length of my long runs up a bit.

It's been a long, long time since I could run this far, and it only gets better from here. Being able to run further makes it possible to do more interesting runs, which makes the running more fun, so I'm more likely to do it. When I can only run a mile or two, there's really nowhere to go besides Kaufman Lake or along one of the busy local streets. Once I can run more than three miles, though, it doesn't seem so tedious to run a few blocks along one of those busy streets to get to someplace else that's nice to run. For example I could run around Centennial Park. I could even run in some organized running event. There's this 5.5 mile trail race at Allerton Park that I ran in back in 1991 . . . .

Any book on fitness will tell you to track your resting heart rate. That is, your pulse or heart rate as measured first thing in the morning, before you get any exercise. There are several reasons for tracking it.

First of all, it's an easy way to see some measurable progress early, when your gains in fitness aren't big enough to be obvious. As you get more fit, your resting pulse slows down. It happens because your cardiovascular system can move more oxygen with each heartbeat, so your heart doesn't need to beat as often. Just two or three weeks of running can bring your resting heart rate down enough to be noticeable. It's a nice bit of positive feedback when you're at the stage where running is hard and painful and you're not seeing much improvement in things like speed or distance.

Another is that a lot of people see a jump in resting heart rate when they're over-training. With a bit of experience you can learn if that's a clue that you've overdone it and need to take a rest day or two.

The absolute value of your resting heart rate doesn't really mean much. There are plenty of elite athletes with resting heart rates of 70 beats per minute who can run or swim or bicycle three times faster and ten times further than I can. But lots of very fit people do have very low resting heart rates. (Cyclist Lance Armstrong, for example, has a resting heart rate of 32 beats per minute.) I happen to be one of the people who quickly responds to training with a low resting heart rate. My resting heart rate has come down to 51 beats per minute. That's as low as I've ever seen. Perhaps with a few more hard runs (and a few days of rest) I'll get mine down into the 40s. It's not important or meaningful, but it's just the sort of geeky thing I tend to feel inappropriately smug about.

Since I quit drinking sodas I've been drinking a beer nearly every day. (Usually just the one, though.) So, for my birthday, my brother got me a huge Istvan Bierfaristo beer stein. It's a great mug. Drank a beer in it this very afternoon. If you're a beer-drinking Esperantist with some money you've got no better use for, follow that link and buy yourself one.

Besides drinking beer we've been watching Buffies. In anticipation of the release of season 4 last month, Jackie and I watched seasons 1 through 3 over the past few weeks. Now we're re-creating the original experience, watching season-4 Buffies alternately with season-1 Angel episodes, lined up so that we're getting the "crossover events" that they had that year. It's especially interesting because season 4 was the first season we watched from the beginning (we came in late in season 3), so these episodes are full of little jokes and references that we get now, but that had gone over our heads when we first saw them.

And, especially apropos, the next Buffy episode is "Beer Bad." One of my personal favorites.

Washed Jackie's hair this afternoon. That's always fun to do. She let me trim it a bit when we first started dating, and then again a couple years later--just an inch or two each time. Since then, though, it hasn't needed any trimming, so she's just let it grow. When it's wet, hanging straight down her back, the longest bits of it reach past the back of her knee, almost to the swell of her calf. She's so beautiful.


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