A little journaling

Several things came together to get me started with paper journals again.

My brother suggested that we might write one another actual paper letters. I think that was partially just because it’s fun to receive actual paper letters, but also because we’d been talking about reviving an idea we worked on a while back, for collaborating on an epistolary story in Esperanto, which would involve the characters writing actual paper letters, which put us in the frame of mind of thinking about letters.

At about the same time, Tobias Buckell wrote a post about starting a bullet journal, with links to a couple of videos (one a nice review of a particular notebook designed with bullet journaling in mind, the other a video on starting a bullet journal).

As an aside, let me mention that the main bullet journal site has the “reference guide” for bullet journaling translated into many languages, including Esperanto! (They want you to give them your email address and sign up for their newsletter to get the link to the reference guides.)

I’m perpetually vulnerable to diving too deep down this particular rabbit hole, geeking out over anything and everything related: notebooks, paper, pens, etc. Already I have:

  • Gotten out and inked a couple of fountain pens that I haven’t used since I was working at a regular job (and had enough opportunities to take notes that I could work my way through a piston converter full of ink before it dried out).
  • Rearranged sheets in several of my Levenger Circa notebooks to clear one for daily use as a bullet journal, and used it as such for almost a week now.
  • Drafted a handy Field Notes notebook for separately tracking my bodyweight workouts (which seem to call for their own non-bullet journal).
  • Downloaded two separate PDF workbooks on Spencerian handwriting, and spent perhaps an hour practicing (my long-ago forgotten) cursive writing.
  • Written two letters to my brother and one to my mom.

I’m having great fun. It’s probably a big waste of time, but I’m finding it a at least a little bit useful:

  • I’ve probably remembered to do a couple of things I’d have forgotten, because I had noted the task in my journal.
  • I’ve probably done a couple of things that I’d otherwise have procrastinated on, because I had noted the task in my journal (and didn’t want to either strike it out nor carry it forward another day).
  • I’ve definitely got a much better idea what I’ve actually gotten done, because I have a record in my journal.
  • I’ve gotten to play with my fountain pens, the new Mont Blanc pen the Wise Bread founders gave me, my Dr. Grip G2 gel pens, and my Fisher space pens (all excellent pens—each the right tool for one circumstance or another).

I think Steven and I will continue writing one another, at least for a while; it’s fun! I’m continuing my bullet journal—I’m currently on day six. My handwriting has definitely improved.

Basically, it’s all good. Even if there are obvious advantages to just keeping stuff in a computer, it’s not as much fun, and why do stuff if it isn’t fun?

Playing on the slackline

Most nice days there are some folks on the quad with a slackline—a strip of nylon webbing perhaps an inch wide pulled fairly tight between two trees. You—if you’ve got pretty good balance—can walk the line from one tree to the other. Today for the first time, I gave it a try.

My first attempts were not a success—I was able to get up on the line, but not able to balance myself without an assist, nor walk more than a step even with an assist.

I did, however, learn a lot.

The balance work I’ve done as part of my taiji practice—single-leg standing—has been very different. All my experience in taiji has been about establishing a stable base on the standing leg. If you do that, then you can do pretty much whatever you want with your arms or your other leg.

The slackline is completely different. There is no stable base, and trying to establish one is pointless. Instead, you need to just accept the fact that your base is unstable: You need to actively provide your own stability, by constantly adjusting to the constantly moving slackline under you.

I only had a few minutes to experiment before my Esperanto meeting, so I didn’t figure out the trick before it was time to move on. But I think I’ve got the intellectual part figured out. Just like a tray is balanced with your hands and arms and not with your eyes, you need to trust your feet, ankles, and legs to do what is necessary without staring at the line: the feedback via your eyes is simply not fast enough to be useful.

To attend my Esperanto meeting, I’ll be wandering through the quad most Saturday afternoons all spring, so hopefully I’ll get several more chances to play on the slackline. I expect I’ll get it figured out before summer.

No Admittance Except on Party Business

I considered putting a note to that effect on the door, but I was afraid there would be people who wouldn’t get the joke. (The downside of having such a diverse group of friends—no matter how pervasive something is in our culture, Jackie and I will know a few people for whom it is utterly outside their experience.)

Party preparations are nearly complete.

I got the study tidy! (Those of you who have seen it in the past month would be astounded.) I need to do a photo shoot of my writing space, now that it is so wonderfully open and inviting, but I have not yet had the time to get good pictures.

This morning I made candy and baked cookies for the party. (The candy is what I call Platonic Candy, because it is candy reduced to its platonic essence: sugar, fat, a little flavoring. The cookies are Ginger Sparkles.)

This afternoon, while I’m at Esperanto, Jackie will prepare her contributions to the party comestibles.

In the evening we’ll do our final cleaning up.

Sunday we’ll be able to laze about lazily all morning, until people start showing up for the party.

Yesterday’s weather report was kind of alarming, predicting that several inches of snow were possible. Today’s forecast is better, with less snow expected. Hopefully the weather won’t keep too many people home from our party.

Projects for winter and spring

We have a bunch of things we’re hoping to do this year, and most of them require some amount of preparation—preparation which will have to occur in the winter and spring.

My plans stretch out to the end of July, because the last week of July I’ll be in Lille, France to attend the 100th Universala Kongreso de Esperanto.

As preparation for that, I really want to spend half an hour almost every day practicing my Esperanto. That should be plenty—I already read and write the language and I’ve attended international Esperanto gatherings in the past. But just a bit of practice listening to spoken Esperanto (podcasts and such) and a bit of practice actually conversing (with my local Esperanto group, and such other folks as I can find) will go a long way toward making attending this kongreso a rich and satisfying experience.

About a month before that will be the solstice, and right around then—second half of June or very early July—is the only good chance do the Kal-Haven trail walk that we’ve hoped to do each of the last two years. (In those weeks because only then are the days long enough to finish the walk in daylight.)

As preparation for that, we need to go on several walks each week, including a very long walk roughly every other week, working our way up to being able to walk the 33.5 mile trail.

Several months earlier—just one month from now—we’re going to have a little party for people to come see our townhouse. We’ve fixed the date as February 1st, and are thinking of it as a celebration of Groundhog’s Day Eve, or  Imbolc, if you prefer. Invitations are forthcoming. If you don’t get one, it is surely an oversight—let me know.

As preparation for that, we need to finish unpacking!

Without a specific deadline, but very soon now, I want to finish revising my novel so I can get it out to first readers.

As preparation for that, I need to spend an hour or two every morning writing.

Normally at this time of year we’d also be planning our garden, but Jackie has convinced me that working a garden plot this summer will be more than we can manage.

Storytelling (including running with zombies)

We went to a local storytelling event last night. There were about six storytellers, telling stories over the course of most of two hours (with a 15 minute break). They served beer and wine, but we’d been to Whiskey Wednesday, so we didn’t get further alcohol.

There’s an active community of storytellers in town. As a writer, I’m extremely aware of the difference between writing stories and telling stories, and I’m endlessly fascinated by storytelling. The stories I write in English wouldn’t lend themselves to telling (although they read aloud okay). But the theme of the events (monsters and dragons) reminded me of my first Esperanto story, which was about monsters, and it occurred to me that story would probably work for telling pretty well.

Somebody ought to get some Esperanto storytelling events going.

This event, which was in English, was pretty cool. They had a good number of children in attendance (drawn, I suppose, by the monsters and dragons theme). They’re talking about making a monthly thing out of it, and I just might make my way downtown to listen to stories on a regular basis if they do.

Speaking of storytelling, I’ve been continuing to use Zombies Run when I run, because I enjoy the storytelling aspects. (And I am enjoying hearing the story unfold, quite a bit. I’ve got quite a bit more to listen to, but I’m already looking forward to replaying season one. In particular, I’ve been playing so far without zombie chases, and I’m sure adding those will change things enough to make it extra-replayable.)

Not really related to the storytelling aspect, but interesting to me, is that using the game has had an impact on my training runs.

The game is set up to give you training runs about 30 minutes (or about 60 minutes). The story is divided into 5 or 6 audio clips that dramatize the story. Between each pair of clips, the game plays 1 song (or 2 songs) from your running playlist.

Early in the season like this, my fitness improves almost every run. (Especially because the weather often makes it impossible to run day after day, so I’m getting my recover days in.) Normally what happens is that I’ll find a distance I can run at my current level of fitness, and I’ll run that distance pretty often for a while, until I get fit enough to run further. (Later in the season I mix it up more with a weekly “long” run.)

In years past, at this point in the season, I’d be running my regular 2.2-mile loop for most of my runs, and my times would be gradually improving.

Now, though, all my runs are about 30 minutes. But, as my fitness improves, instead of finishing a standard length sooner, I’m running for a standard period of time and having to run further.

The last two runs there was still story to go when I got back, and I ended up having to run around the apartment complex. In order to be sure I’ll have finished the story by the time I’ve finished my run, I’m going to have to start running a longer route! (The game has a feature for making sure that a route that runs longer than an episode doesn’t leave you bereft. It’s called “radio mode” it goes on playing stuff from your playlist, still alternated with audio clips, but these audio clips don’t try to advance the story. They just provides some local color. So, if you finish a mission, but end up running another 10 minutes to get home, it switches seamlessly to those bits.)

Once the weather improves a tiny bit more, and I’m running more days per week, I’ll probably ease up just a bit on my all-zombie running, which will make it easier to mix up the distance a bit more.

Maybe I’ll also practice telling a story in Esperanto.

The Esperanto@UIUC table at Quad Day

The Esperanto@UIUC table, originally uploaded by bradipo.

I was really pleased with this picture of Darcy, Dan, and Omar telling a couple of undergrads how much fun it is to learn Esperanto as a member of our group.

Creative Commons License
The Esperanto@UIUC table by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Running and me

I’m of two minds about running for exercise. Except when I’m running or wishing I was running; then I’m all for it.

I used to have a lot of reasons I ran for exercise, but they’ve been dropping away.

One reason that I run for exercise is that I want to be able to run. (Sometimes I want to get somewhere reasonably close in a hurry, and running is great for that.) I always figured that, if I wanted to be able to run, I needed to run for exercise—to build and maintain the capability.

Except, twice this month I had to run to catch the bus, and I did—even though I haven’t been running for exercise since last year. These impromptu bus-catching runs weren’t long runs, but I did them flat-out, without warmup or stretching, wearing whatever shoes I had on at the time—and both times were fine. I did them without undue effort and without getting hurt.

So, it seems that my regular fitness activities are enough to maintain at least a minimum capability for running.

Another reason I run for exercise is that it’s wonderfully efficient. All winter, the aerobic portion of my fitness regimen has been to walk for an hour on the four days a week that I’m not lifting and doing taiji. In an hour I walk a bit over 3 miles. If I cover the same distance running, I do it a good bit more quickly, meaning that I don’t have to spend as much of the day exercising.

Except that I’ve found myself fitting the hour of walking in very easily, without scheduling any exercise at all. There are several local errands (grocery store, bank, neighborhood restaurants) that are about a 10 minute walk each way. To run my slightly more distant errands, I take the bus. It’s a similar 10 minute walk to the bus stop, but that’s typically followed by 10 minutes of walking at the other end as well, for a total of 20 minutes walking each way.

So, if I go on one outing by bus plus one neighborhood errand, that’s my 60 minutes already. Running is efficient, but it’s not more efficient than that.

Less important than either of those, but still a reason I run, is that it gives me a sense of health and fitness. If I have an irrational sense that there’s something wrong with me, going for a run will usually take care of it. (Surely, I tell myself, if there were something really wrong with me, I wouldn’t be able to run like this.) I always knew that this was the sort of false comfort that’s only appropriate when I’m really quite sure that my sense of unwellness is, in fact, irrational. Going for a run is a fine way of dealing with, let’s say, a  panic attack. It’s a really dumb way to deal with a heart attack. (I don’t have panic attacks, but I am prone to worrying about my health unnecessarily. Those worries don’t prey on my mind as much when I’m running regularly.)

The problem with running is that I get hurt. Almost every runner I know gets hurt. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never had a walking injury more serious than a blister nor a bicycling injury more serious than a sore butt. But I’ve lost months of exercise time due to running injuries.

Still, despite the problems with running, and despite the loss of some of my rationalizations for running, I’ve started running again. But I’m doing it a little differently, now that I recognize that my reasons for running aren’t as strong as I’d thought they were.

Now I recognize that I run mainly for fun. I run because I really enjoy it. I enjoy the runs themselves. I enjoy the feeling of tiredness in my legs after a run. I enjoy knowing that I can run further and faster than I’m likely to need to.

If my enjoyment is the main reason I do it, that suggests that I should only do the fun part. So, I’ll abandon any effort to make a plan or set a schedule. I used to carefully structure my runs around an idea of stress followed by recovery. (I’ll still include both stress and recovery, but I’ll just decide each day which is appropriate, based on how I feel.) I used to aim to be able to run a particular distance on a particular date, so I could run in a race. I won’t do that any more. (Although I might run a race on a whim, if I feel like it.)

I went on my second run of the year today. It felt great. My first run, a couple of days ago—merely a good run—moved me to haiku. In the original Esperanto, it’s:

spiro laboras, genuoj doloretas… jara ekkuro.

Which in English might be rendered as:

Breathing hard,
Knees a little tender…
Year’s first run.

Hiking and Viking at Forest Glen

Jackie and I went to the Forest Glen Preserve, a nature preserve in eastern Illinois, over near the Indiana border.

We scouted the campgrounds, because the local Esperanto group is planning to some tendumado. We found two, although there’s at least one more.

One is a pretty ordinary Midwestern campground with a mixture of tents and RVs. It was pretty full, but only as crowded as you’d expect on Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend. It had showers and flush toilets, firewood on sale, etc.

Near that one (but far enough away that noise wouldn’t be a problem) was the “tent campground.” It was different in that it didn’t have parking spaces for the campsites. There was an area just a few yards away where you could leave your car for up to 20 minutes to unload, and then you were supposed to move it to a parking area that was still really quite close—I’ve carried my luggage further in a hotel. Still, it seemed to be enough to discourage campers. Even Memorial Day weekend, there was nobody there—sixteen vacant campsites. (It did lack flush toilets. Also, the recent rain had left some of the campsites under water, although the dry sites were also vacant.)

Once we’d scouted the campgrounds, we went for a hike. We picked the Big Woods trail, which a posted list had described as the most rugged of the preserve’s trails. We took that with a grain of salt. Here in the flatland, pretty much any change in elevation seems to qualify a trail as rugged,  but it was somewhat rugged. The train went down twice into ravines, then back up again, and ended at an observation tower at what I assume is the high point of the preserve.

We saw plenty of neat stuff—sugar maples and tulip trees, white oak, sassafras, ferns, various kinds of mushrooms. (I saw what might be the tallest sassafras tree I’ve ever seen. It was huge. I usually think of sassafras as being scrubby little things.)

The trail was muddy, but only very muddy in a few places (plus, of course, the places where it crossed running water). We ran into three very wet, dirty guys with tools who said they’d been doing trail maintenance.

The trail was only a little more than 1 mile, but out-and-back so we got in maybe 2 ¼ miles of hiking.

We left it at just that much hiking, because we still needed to go to the Viking Reenactment, which was the reason that we were visiting Forest Glen this weekend in particular.

Two of the reenactors seemed to focus on fiber crafts. One is a member of the spinners and weavers guild, and was using some of Jackie’s handspun yarn to demonstrate weaving with a warp-weighted loom. We had a fun chat.

The other fiber-crafty person told us about her theory of mud-colored peasants. Many reenactors, she said, end up with clothing in colors of sheep, because dyeing fabric is another whole skill that you need to learn—and making your own natural dyes is two or three more skills (growing or gathering dye plants, and learning how to prepare them for dye use). However, in her experience meeting actual modern-day poor peasants, even the really poor ones go to considerable effort to not be the color of mud. Hence, she proposed, actual Viking-era villagers probably wore clothing that was as brightly colored as possible, within the limits of the natural dyes that were available to them. (They had several sources of yellow, yellowish green, red, and purplish red. Blue was available. A really good green was tricky, because you had to get a good yellow and then overdye with blue.)

Despite her theories, all the other reenactors seemed to be wearing clothing in natural colors.

What with scouting and hiking and viking, it was already lunch time. We had lunch at Gross’ Burgers, then headed home (pausing just a bit at a rest stop to let a severe thunderstorm pass).

A good outing.