Feeding the soul

I was feeling kind of glum yesterday. It was just brain chemicals, I think—the result of a gray day when I was already feeling a little discouraged about my progress on my novel. (My recent post on how I’m not suffering as much from seasonal affect disorder notwithstanding.)

Poster detail showing loom setup

Poster detail showing loom setup

I was feeling kind of glum yesterday. It was just brain chemicals, I think—the result of a gray day when I was already feeling a little discouraged about my progress on my novel. (My recent post on how I’m not suffering as much from seasonal affect disorder notwithstanding.)

I was already feeling better today (it’s sunny), but decided to do something cheering anyway. So, I went to the Krannert Art Museum, which turned out to be showing an exhibit of turn-of-the-century poster art. I’m a big fan of poster art and art deco, so it was full of wonderful stuff. By merest coincidence, I’d earlier in the day happened upon this Art of the Poster 1880-1918 site, so I got a fun double dose of poster art.

Plus, one of the posters featured a loom, which I thought Jackie would appreciate.

There was also an exhibit of student art in the lobby outside the art museum that was much more interesting than 90% of what was in the museum itself. I couldn’t find a link, which is too bad. There was a lot of good stuff—some pretty, some funny, some thoughtful.

When it comes to dealing with glumness, I think it’s basic things that really matter—nutrition, exercise, getting enough sleep, spending some time out in the sun whenever there’s a sunny day. Once I’ve got that covered, though, the best short-term response to short-term glumness is to fit something cheerful into the day; preferably something that’s not just cheerful, but also meaningful in some way. For that, I particularly like going to museums. Something that’s merely cheering is worth doing. Something that’s cheering and also feeds the soul is even better.

Less SAD

Sunset SilhouetteThis used to be a pretty bad time of year. Already the days have gotten dark. Already dawn comes too late to get me up on time to go work at a regular job. Worse, the solstice is still six weeks away. That means it’s going to be twelve more weeks before things are even this good again.

It used to be that I’d start obsessing about the coming dark days only a few weeks after the summer solstice. July was usually fine, but sometime in August I’d start thinking that summer was winding down. I’d dread the prospect of getting up in the dark—something my brain chemistry thinks is profoundly unnatural. Shortly after that I’d be not merely getting up in the dark, I’d be heading off to work in the dark—and then coming home in the dark as well, since the sun would set before 5:00 PM until late January.

By now, despite a brief respite with the end of daylight savings time, I’d no longer be merely dreading seasonal depression, I’d be actually suffering from it.

The last three years have been much better. Not only am I suffering less during the depths of winter, I’m also much better off through late summer and early fall, because I’m not spending that time dreading the winter.

A lot of it, I think, comes from not having to work a regular job. Not only can I sleep until dawn (which is when I tend to get up even during the summer weeks when it means getting up before 4:30), I have more flexibility to take advantage of what hours of sunlight there are. Perhaps equally important, my depressive thoughts used to center on work: Because I was depressed, I’d have trouble getting things done. Because I was not getting things done, I’d worry about keeping my job. And then, in a classic spiral, worry over keeping my job would make me more depressed.

So, not having to work a regular job is win on both fronts, and is the main thing I credit with my improvement these past three years.

I did do one other thing that may have helped: I started taking vitamin D. I take 1000 IU daily from October to March, figuring that I get enough sunlight to make my own during the other months of the year. (It doesn’t take much.)

(I also now understand people who use tanning booths, many of whom have told me that they don’t do it because they want to have a tan, but because they “feel better” when do. I have no doubt that many are treating themselves for a vitamin D deficiency.)

Back when this was more of a problem, I experimented some with full-spectrum lighting, which some people find helpful. It never seemed to help me. One thing that I never tried—because the apparatus tended to be expensive—was a dawn simulator. I might have been really helped by a timed light that started out dim and then brightened over the course of thirty minutes to something akin to early morning sun streaming through the window.

I should say that my seasonal depression was never severe. I never felt I needed to seek medical treatment, for example. I handled it informally with the ordinary, obvious stuff—trying to get enough exercise, trying to get enough sleep, trying to minimize stress, adding some more fun stuff to my day when I was feeling out of sorts.

That was enough to keep things under control during the dark days of winter. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from spending late summer and early fall worrying about the dark days of winter.

Progress

A productive day today.

Thursday is my busy day—lifting weights and Taiji in the morning, lunch with friends, and then the weekly Esperanto Club meeting in the evening—so I hadn’t hit my word count that day. On top of that, I’d fallen slightly short on Friday as well, so I got up this morning some 500 words off the pace.

One long day of writing today, though, and I’m back on track with just over 10,000 words. And that progress was despite some minor restructuring of the stuff I’ve already written.

I often find it hard to go on when I’m writing stuff that won’t mesh with what I’ve already written. It helps a lot to take an hour or two and get the earlier stuff to match my current conception of the story. Of course it’s better when I don’t spend my time that way, but sometimes it’s just faster to go ahead and do it than to try and keep track of what I need to fix.

Not only that, but I also finished up a Wise Bread post which will probably go up tomorrow or the next day.

Toby on NaNoWriMo

Tobias Buckell’s analogy of NaNoWriMo writers being like the crowd of guys with new gym memberships on January 2 is very good. But I’d like to qualify it just a bit. As a year-round gym user, I like those guys.

Yes, the gym is a bit crowded for a few weeks, but they’re mostly gone by February—while the dues those guys pay help to keep the gym open the rest of the year.

Maybe the analogy breaks down at that point, but maybe not. Anybody who tries to write a novel in a month is going to learn something about being a writer. Maybe they’ll learn it’s hard work, and come to have a little more respect for the people who succeed at it. That’d be good. Even better, maybe they’ll find it’s easy and natural, and the world will gain another great writer.

Whatever they learn, I expect the world is a better place for them having learned it.

Knitted Slugs

Slugs, originally uploaded by bradipo.

A couple years back, Steven expressed an interest in a slug stuffy, seeing as how its his totemic animal and all. Jackie knitted him a slug for his birthday. (Here’s a picture of Steven admiring his slug.)

The additional slugs she knitted sold pretty well, so she decided to knit some more this year. The three middle slugs (Pumpkin Slug, Blueberry Slug, and Quarry Slug) will be available for purchase at the Spinners and Weavers Guild Annual Show and Sale, coming up Friday and Saturday this week. (The first and last slugs are our household slugs.)

Creative Commons License
Slugs by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Doing NaNoWriMo

I’ve generally viewed NaNoWriMo as a kind of a stunt. After all, only by lucky coincidence would writing 1667 words a day be the ideal pace for any particular writer to write any particular novel. And yet, I’ve often felt a little left out, watching the NaNoWriMos go by without me. So, I decided to participate this year.

After all, having already made three failed attempts at writing a novel in the past three years, the worst that could happen would be a fourth. Against that rather modest downside, the best-case result—that I produce a completed novel that can be turned into something salable—seems worth shooting for. Even if I fall short of that, I’ll almost certainly learn something new about how I write.

It’s already been useful, actually. I’ve been outlining my novel for about a week, but I find just outlining somewhat tedious. If I’d not been following the rules, I’d have jumped in and started writing some of the bits that are already outlined. But if I’d done that, I’d have run into some serious structural problems. I know, because I’ve run into them as I’ve continued outlining. Fixing them in the outlining phase is a lot easier.

So, I’m doing NaNoWriMo. If you are too, friend me. I’m in the system as bradipo.

Futurismic announcement

Sad news: Futurismic is no longer a market for fiction, at least for a while. Paul Raven says:

I’ve just shut off the Futurismic fiction submissions webform, and after two more stories – one in November and one in December – we’re not going to be publishing any more fiction for a while.

Especially sad for me. Futurismic published one of my stories a while back—and although they haven’t bought any more, both Paul and Christopher East (the fiction editor) seem to like the sort of thing that I write, so I’d been figuring that I had a pretty good chance of selling more to them in the future.

Paul does hold some hope for the future:

Don’t go calling us a dead venue; we’re just gonna hibernate for a while.

Sad news even so.

Guest post #2 at Get Rich Slowly

Back in July I got a note from J.D. Roth, who was lining up some guest posts to run on Get Rich Slowly while he and his wife were on vacation in France and Italy. I was pleased to be asked once again, and wrote a piece that I ended up being rather pleased with. . . .

Back in July I got a note from J.D. Roth, who was lining up some guest posts to run on Get Rich Slowly while he and his wife were on vacation in France and Italy. I was pleased to be asked once again, and wrote a piece that I ended up being rather pleased with. It went live this morning: Why Now is the Time to Think Long-Term. (Spoiler alert: low interest rates are the reason that now is the time to think long-term.)

About twenty-five years ago (as an example of long-term thinking), I had a whimsical investment idea: Buy some cheap land and plant hardwood trees. The trees wouldn’t be ready to harvest for 100 years or so, but it would have been a cheap investment with (eventually) a fairly large payoff.

It takes a certain perspective to make such a long-term investment. I call it a whimsical idea because I’d never have been able to enjoy the financial return. I was already in my mid-20s at the time. Even if I’d selected the hardwoods for quick maturity, they wouldn’t have been ready until I was well into my 90s.

It’s a topic I’ve been aware of since the early 1980s, when very high interest rates produced a spate of very short-term thinking. (In particular, my dad’s publisher tried to weasel out of a book contract, because it seemed more profitable to invest their money in the money market at a guaranteed 14% than to invest it in a book that might not make so much.)

When rates are high, it doesn’t make any economic sense to think long-term. But when rates are low, long-term projects are suddenly reasonable. Since just now rates are at multi-generational lows, Now is the Time to Think Long-Term.

How much exercise?

I’ve always struggled to get the right amount of exercise.

I used to blame much of my difficulty on having a job. My experience over the past three years makes it clear that it wasn’t so simple. (It wasn’t completely wrong. Especially when the days get short—when I would be going to the office before sunrise and returning home only after the sun had set—it was very difficult to get enough exercise. That is much improved.)

There have been periods I have managed to get enough exercise. Three different summers I managed to do so by organizing my exercise around training for a future event (twice a race, once a century ride), but those efforts never carried over into the following winter. More successful have been the times when I integrated my exercise into my day’s activities, such as by walking to school or by bicycling to work.

The first time I was running seriously, I kept a training log. At the peak in late summer I was spending just over 100 minutes per day exercising. (That was averaging a 5-hour weekend bike ride in with shorter weekday bike rides, almost daily runs, and two or three sessions of lifting per week.)

The problem was that 100 minutes per day turned out to be more than was sustainable if I was also going to hold down a job, keep up with household tasks, and have a life. Even now that I’m not trying to hold down a regular job, I’ve found it impossible to put 100 minutes per day into exercise.

That’s all prelude to mentioning the extensive coverage in the news lately on a recent study on physical activity and weight gain prevention. For people of normal weight, it seems that one hour per day of exercise was sufficient to prevent weight gain. People who got less exercise gained weight. (The details were complicated. People who were already overweight didn’t seem to benefit from exercise.)

Still, even with the complex result, it seems like a target of 60 minutes per day of exercise is a reasonable one. It seems to be enough to maintain a healthy weight. (That is, if you can’t sustain a healthy weight when you’re getting that much exercise, the solution is not likely to be more exercise.) And it’s well under the 100 minutes that I found unsustainable.

The first news story I saw on the study had a great line, to the effect that if an hour a day seems like too much time to spend exercising, think instead that 23 hours a day is too much time to spend being sedentary.

So, that’s going to be my goal: about an hour a day of exercise.

I’ve already got two days a week covered—on Mondays and Thursdays Jackie and I have a well-established habit of doing about 30 minutes of lifting plus 60 minutes of Taiji. If I aim to spend an hour a day on the other five days of the week walking, I can hit my target even if I miss an occasional day due to bad weather or schedule problems.

And I’ve already started. Thursday I did my lifting and Taiji. Yesterday I walked with Jackie for an hour just after lunch. Today I walked into campus for the Esperanto group meeting.

One great thing about this new exercise plan is that I don’t need to work up to it—I’m already in good enough shape to walk for an hour every day. I just need to do it.