First run of the season

Milky Slough, originally uploaded by bradipo.

I went out for my first run of the season today. I ran about 1.5 miles in 20:36. That’s not very far and it’s pretty slow, but it’s still a good sign, because I could run for over 20 minutes. I wasn’t at all sure I’d be able to, because I’d been pretty sedentary this winter. It speaks well of Taiji as exercise, because it’s been about the only exercise I’ve gotten. I know from experience that once I can run for 20 minutes, it’s pretty easy to build up some endurance, so I’m starting from a good point this year.

I did my usual short run around Kaufman Lake, and noticed this scary looking white stuff flowing down Copper Slough. (Maybe it was just some sort of white scum floating on top of the water. I couldn’t tell.) It was weird enough that I felt compelled to walk back and get a picture, although the picture I managed to get fails to capture the terrible wrongness of the fluid flowing in that ditch.

Creative Commons License
Milky Slough by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Seasons

One convenience of living in Central Illinois is that the astronomical seasons and the meteorological seasons line up pretty well—you can reasonably expect spring weather along about the third week of March.

Just now, though, the equinox is still a full month off and the weather is wintery. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen the temperature manage to make it above freezing. But today it is forecast to do just that. It won’t be for long, certainly not long enough to melt much snow, but any melted snow has to be counted a plus right now.

I’m ready to get back to running and bicycling, but not quite ready enough to run or ride over the ice and snow. But, in Central Illinois, I can look at the calendar and have good reason to hope that the sidewalks and road shoulders will be soon be clear.

Perfecting Taiji forms

I studied Aikido briefly when I was living in Salt Lake City. My teacher was a gruff Asian man whose English was just adequate and whose teaching style was not unlike what you see in martial arts movies—he would mock or berate students who got things wrong. I don’t know if he thought that was the best way to get people to learn, or if it was just how his teachers had taught him.  Maybe he just didn’t want to waste his time teaching anyone who could be deterred by a little mocking or berating.

At one point, talking about his philosophy of teaching, he made fun of some locally available Taiji classes that focused on “perfecting” your Taiji forms.  With his somewhat limited English he made it perfectly clear that he thought it was stupid not to learn your Taiji correctly in the first place.

It made sense to me at the time.  I mean, if you’re going to practice something hundreds or thousands of times, surely it makes sense to learn how to do it correctly first, right?  Who’d want to practice doing it badly over and over again?

My current teachers, though, have a completely different attitude.  Unlike any martial arts class I’ve been in, they basically never correct anyone.  This may be partially due to the makeup of the class—mostly old people who might have limited range of motion due to arthritis or some other medical problem.  Also, I think it’s because they’re focusing on the deeper fundamentals—things like shifting your weight and turning your body. Exactly when you turn your hand is simply not as important.

Even more fundamentally, though, it’s because you have to do the practice to learn to feel the difference.  I suppose if you had a private tutor telling you that you were turning your hand too early or were forgetting to straighten your foot, you might spend a little less time practicing the form incorrectly, which would mean that you’d start practicing the form correctly a little sooner.  But I think you’d lose the chance to learn how to feel why one way is wrong and the other way is better.

I have no particular natural ability at things like this—things like martial arts or dance or tennis.  I’ve seen dancers who can pick up choreography in a fraction of a second, copying the lead dancer’s moves so quickly that you can scarcely tell that they’re unrehearsed.  I’m the opposite of that.  It takes me tens or hundreds of tries to get even reasonably close.  However, I’ve been surprised to find that I get a little closer each time, even without an instructor telling me what I’m doing wrong.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the way you learn how to do something is by practicing.  I knew that already.  But it’s been very interesting to see how effective this sort of minimalist instruction is.  The teachers demonstrate the forms, and they answer questions.  There’s no pushing people to do the forms more correctly, and there’s certainly no mocking or berating.  And yet, I’m learning at least as fast as I’ve ever learned anything equivalent in the past.

So, I think my old Aikido teacher was wrong.  It makes perfect sense to start learning Taiji at the most basic level (weight shifting, turning your body), and then to move on to foot work and arm movement, and only then to worry about things like how you move your hands.  It makes perfect sense to have an instructor show you what to do, but then let you learn how to do it through practice.  And, since you can do 90% of the practice entirely on your own, it makes perfect sense to have an advanced course in “perfecting” your Taiji forms, to get whichever small bits don’t come naturally out of your practice.

Taiji and napping

Over 700 words yesterday, but only 400 today. My seven-day trailing average barely budged–it’s been between 655 and 688 all week.

Productivity was lower today because Mondays we do Taiji and then have lunch out. All that, together with travel time, takes a couple hours out of the day–plus I usually end up wanting to take a nap.

Today we learned “push with both hands.” The instructor listed the 9 form sequence that we’re going to learn this session, and we were all relieved to see that we’ve already learned the basic moves for most of the remaining forms.

Last week we learned “lazy about tying coat.” Today I told the instructor I’d invented a new form and demonstrated it, simply moving directly from the start position to the end position. I told him it was called “lazy about lazy about tying coat.”

Thursdays

I’ve been trying to get out for a walk each day, and trying to take a photograph on the walks. I want to do both of these things, and my theory is that these desires will be self-reinforcing: My desire to take a photo will get me out on my walk, and my desire to go out on a walk will prompt me to get out and take a photograph.

With that in mind, I’ve been going ahead and scheduling a chunk of walk/photograph time between my two morning writing sessions. Today, though, I was meeting some friends for lunch, so I postponed the walk until late morning, then did my walking and photography in the neighborhood of the restaurant.

Thursdays are my most social day–I have lunch with one group of friends (a couple of them former coworkers) and then before dinner meet with my local Esperanto group. With all that, plus the fact that I spent a chunk of the afternoon working on a short talk that I delivered to the Esperanto group, meant that my fiction word count was just 500 words. But they’re words I’m happy with.

Taiji, manuscripts, database

Today was Taiji class.  The instruction is following an interesting direction.  It’s our third class, but we have yet to do a taiji form.  Instead, we’re learning pieces.  We spent two days doing the upper-body parts of Cloud Hands one-handed.  Today we did them two-handed for the first time.  Separately, we’ve done several bits of footwork:  shifting weight, empty step, etc.  We’ve not yet done anything that combines upper-body and lower-body motions.  However, I have a strong sense that we’re building a proper foundation.  By the time we do our first actual piece of the form, I expect we’ll have most of the moves for doing the whole thing.

Got some writing-related work done today.  I put two manuscripts in the post.  I also revitalized my old submission-tracking database, which I hadn’t gotten properly set up when I got a new computer several years ago.  I wasn’t actively submitting manuscripts, so it didn’t seem urgent.  Then when I started sending them out again I didn’t want to wait to get my tracking system working, so I just did the tracking in a spreadsheet.  Today I got the old tracking system working again, and moved over all the data from the spreadsheet.  So, I once again have complete submission information for all my manuscripts, including a few old manuscripts that hadn’t yet been submitted to every market.

Getting outdoors

"Bee on Clover" by Philip Brewer
"Bee on Clover" by Philip Brewer

I do fine at getting outdoors enough in the summer.  In the winter, though, I’m prone to spend far too much time indoors.

There’s a sidewalk around the interior of our apartment complex that makes for a fine short walk.  (It takes about seven minutes, so I think it’s probably close to a third of a mile.)  In the summer, I might do that walk at any time.  In particular, I do it while I’m writing, when I find that the prose isn’t flowing.  That’s usually a sign that I’ve taken a misstep in the story, and a seven-minute walk is often just what I need to figure out where I’ve gone astray.

In the winter, though, I don’t do that, because the cold and the snow turn the little walk into a big production.  Changing into outdoor clothes (and then out of them again) can easily double the time for taking a quick walk, so instead of being seven minutes it’s a quarter of an hour.  Plus, I figure if I’m making that kind of investment of time, I ought to do more than just walk around the block–I should get a real walk in, or run an errand.

That kind of thinking leads to trying to optimize my time–scheduling my walk not when I need a short break from writing to get back on track, but when I need to go to the bank or pick up something at the grocery store.  And if I don’t have any such chore to justify the outing, I tend to just stay indoors all day.  (One of the few upsides of having a regular job was that it did get me out every day.)

Since I know I’ll feel better if I do get out everyday, even if just for a few minutes, I’m thinking of creating an artificial errand:  taking a picture.  I figure it’s something that can be added onto any actual errands I have–I can just bring the camera along.  If it seems like a day for a longer walk, I can take the camera along for that, too.  And if it’s not a day for a long walk–if I’m busy, or the weather’s bad–I can just as easily take a picture on a short walk.

When I get a picture that I’m pleased with, I’ll post it here.  This one’s from a day or two ago.  When I was a boy, one had to be careful walking across a field of clover because there’d always be bees around.  This summer, finding a bee on a clover was a rare treat.