Monday, September 28, 2015

A Livelier Post

Things are looking up here in Vancouver. I mean, I was looking up at the moon earlier and that was kind of cool, though it wasn't as cool as you had it back in the Midwest. I thought that maybe I could get a photo of the moon and Mt. Baker in the same shot, but sadly, no. By the time the moon was visible, Baker was invisible, not to mention the two of them being in different parts of the sky—er, horizon (in the case of the mountain). My biggest accomplishment of the evening was not telling the woman standing behind me to leave her negging, braggart of a boyfriend. Maybe that wasn't an accomplishment, maybe that was cowardice. 

Now that my cold has abated I've been able to get out running again. And any running here is a workout. I live at the top of a mountain and, if I want to go anywhere, I have to run down. Then I have to get home somehow, so I run up. Yesterday I did 300 vertical meters (984') and about 12k, today I did 168 vertical meters (550') and about 5k. No long runs just yet.

School is fine and all that, but I am trying hard to keep it in its box. I don't want it to take over my life and make me miserable. Thus the running, and also some reading.

I finished Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book One. It's an astounding book. I wasn't sure exactly how he would pull off a rambling autobiographical non-fiction novel, but he did it. (Hint: it's not actually rambling.) He uses sentences like, “The sky was blue,” and “The grass was green,” and rather than roll my eyes I'm like—YES! The sky is blue and the grass is green! That's exactly how it is. Like any good literature though, meaning is more than literal. If a novel could be summarized in a few sentences then it should have been said in a few sentences. Luckily, for the art lovers among us (and un-luckily for the literalists among us) there is much that can only be said in metaphor. A great novel, I believe, is just as long as it needs to be to get this metaphor across.  A six-volume memoir-novel? I believe that Knausgaard knows what he is doing.

I also picked up Stephen King's On Writing. This is the first book of King's that I've read. Some very good essays, but never a book, and oddly enough, never any fiction. I'm convinced that King is an impressive writer. He knows how to get out of the way of a good story, and maybe that's what's most important. But this is a book about writing and, despite many attempts to become a memoir, it succeeds. He has serviceable advice about writing. I don't agree with him on every point (apostrophes, for instance), but he does give good reasons for why he does what he does. And really, that's what I want and need. I want to know how to make informed decisions on writing. He's best when discussing revision. Every writer repeats Strunk & White's advice (and every writer has repeatedly heard) “Omit needless words.” What King does is show, by example, how to use that advice. Then again, I think that King could take his own advice and lose some of the snarky asides and vaguely sexist remarks that pepper his writing. He needs to get out of his own way, take T. S. Eliot's advice, and extinguish himself in his writing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Vancouver Rain

Last night I had a headache so bad that it made me wonder whether, were I stuck with that kind of pain, could I go on living? I say this because years ago I remember saying that I thought I could deal with most any hardship so long as I could read and communicate. Such a level of function does presuppose that I'm some way up Maslow's hierarchy, but still, I didn't think it such a high standard. But this sinus headache made me wonder. For the past few days I've had a nagging cold and, while it hadn't stopped me dead, it had slowed me down. I could read, but only fitfully and reading philosophy was out of the question—when I read φ, I ψ-ed.

Since I arrived in Vancouver two and a half weeks ago I've been eating beans & rice and peanut butter & jelly. I'm used to a pretty boring diet, the same veggie sandwich every day for thirteen years, but these particular foods have become disgusting in short order. The peanut butter & jelly is cloyingly sweet and the beans & rice is just a bowl of fiber. However, as my expenses total about 150% of my income—before food and entertainment—I don't feel inclined to splurge. Today I decided I had to splurge. After three days of leaving my room only to go to class, I had to get out. My headache was significantly improved and I was neither coughing nor snuffling constantly, so I went for a walk all the way to the Starbucks on the other end of campus where I bought a coffee for $2.25.

I thought that I would sit and read a sci-fi novel for a while, but that wasn't to be. Every once in a while I would give a snuffle, I'm still recovering from a cold, after all, and when I did the woman two tables over would glance over her shoulder and give me a look that said, “This is a nice coffee shop, you don't belong here.” Maybe so. In Ames, Iowa, my look said, grad student, bike mechanic, or bartender, but here it says, hobo, drunk, guy-who-yells-racial-slurs-on-the-bus. The fact is, I haven't seen a single person with long hair and a beard here except for people sleeping on the streets and, yes, yelling racial slurs on the bus. I've seen more fist-fights and heard more hate speech here in two weeks than I did in Iowa in a lifetime. Perhaps I've just lived a sheltered life.

When I arrived I had a plan. I planned that I would get up each morning, go for a run or a bike ride, write for an hour, then go and do my eight hours at the office. I did pretty well the first week, but I still don't have a bike and since I came up short of breath—the first signs of this cold, I expect—on my run last Saturday I've had to take it easy there too. Writing is sporadic. I have two blog posts 90% done, but that last 10% is proving too much. Some days I've managed 500-600 words—blog, essay, or story—easy, others it's too easy just to go in early and get a start on my day. Hopefully this has just been an off week and I'll settle in to the routine, but today it feels like it's all falling apart. Campus looks more like a damp parking garage than a benevolent futuristic utopia. The rains have just begun here in Vancouver and will likely not abate until next summer.