Wednesday, 20 June 2018

WRITING: Worldbuilding and Wiki Worries

Am I world building enough? (to be clear, I mean updating my world wiki) The answer, is a bit of yes and no.

I feel like the progress and strides I made the past few weeks have completely stalled. My focus has been with trudging through the list of wanted pages (pages which are linked to but don't exist yet) and bringing them to life. This usually means writing a sentence or two, creating a parent page, and adding tags. It's made me feel accomplished, in a way, but I think what's unsatisfactory about it is I have no other goal right now other than completing the list.

When I started the wiki, it was recommended to me to start with a small place, like a bar, and then expand outward, asking questions like "what street is it on?" "who are the neighbours?" and moving outwards like that until you're at the continent level, then planetary level, and etcetera. Instead, I started with a city and moved outward from there. As a result, I have the name of the continent and the twelve countries, as well as the Empire and some politics. But ask me to walk you through Amherst and I'd have trouble telling you where the cheapest meat vendor is.

Did I make a mistake? No, I don't think I did; after all, I could always pick a building in some town and try the recommended process like that. What I've found most useful for my writing is actually the names I came up with for the countries. The more I write, the more solid these countries feel. 

I did write another story (for class) taking place in fantasyland. Writing is the simplest, most organic form of world building, but in the first draft I included far too much back story. On the stripped-down second draft, the town, a border, a road, a supply chain, a city and a country become more fleshed out than ever in my wiki. This is the most progress I've had in a while, and I'm now satisfied.

What's the next step? I'm not sure. I have a general sense of the world now, countries, names of towns. Is it so important to establish 700 years of supply chain routes and guild leaders? Maybe not, if it doesn't come up in the story. Not sure how I feel about this sentiment since it might mean a world that feels less lived-in. 

Thursday, 14 June 2018

WRITING: I wrote a poem!

On the subway ride to class yesterday, I wrote a poem in my notebook. I don't think I've written a poem since elementary school, and you might be able to tell. I picked the syllables per line (5) and subject (my headache) and let it happen.

It went kind of like this:

And here it is:

Each step brings the pain
A curt reminder
That I'll be insane

Choice priorities
New gear and gimmicks
Head not in the knees

The fight for balance
In march and in life
Add to my talents

How was that? *dodges tomato thrown at stage*

Some lines are literal (too literal?), such as the first one. On the other hand, I have no idea what I meant "Head not in the knees." That means it's profound, I think.

What's interesting is next week for class we are reading examples of poetry to get a grasp on how writers use language and the ways it can be manipulated. I've been desiring to read poetry for a while now, specifically The Illiad, but I haven't found a translation I enjoy so far. Almost all of the ones I found have translated it into prose, which I suppose is correct in a way, but I really want to enjoy it as a poem. Really sink my teeth into the words and read something for what it is, that is, words. I don't want to read it passively, either. Just to study the art of word structure and the images that they can invoke on their own without the confines of prose. I'll find it one day.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

LIFE: Dance Gavin Dance @ Danforth Music Hall

On June 11, 2018 I saw Dance Gavin Dance at the Danforth Music Hall.

I'll begin again by saying "I don't listen to the band." I actually went to see the second opener, Erra. I arrived more or less just in time to see them and I'm glad I didn't miss it since they were magnificent. Their setlist mostly contained songs from their latest album "Drift," but they also played a new song that I hadn't heard before. I'm a little surprised by how lively the crowd was, definitely happy about that, it seems a lot of people are familiar with the group. I think Erra stole the show, however, I'm bias since they are one of my favourite bands.

Next up was I See Stars, and I have mixed feelings about these guys. On the one hand, the venue was alive when they were playing. Everyone was moving; shaking their hips or at least headbanging. But on the other, I couldn't get into the lead's voice. It was raw, but it felt untrained, and not in a good way. I did like their song "White Lies," though (I had to ask someone what it was called). That song featured the lead and the keyboardist/programmer singing together and the call and response worked well. It was just something about the group. While it was flashy with a great light show, the band was constantly lit as a silhouette. It was weird, for example, during "White Lies," when I couldn't differentiate the two vocalists really. The music was otherwise basic and I couldn't get into it.

Finally, though, was Dance Gavin Dance. Now to explain when I said I don't listen to them: I've only listened to them for the past two weeks and exclusively to their setlist. I was prepared, and just like the audience, I was bouncing all over the place to the music. It's so fantastic to be in a crowd so invigorated like that. At one point, there was two pits, but I lost my energy rather quickly and resigned to the edge of one. The band was having a good time as well, with both leads dancing to the music as often as they could (I've always liked it when singers who don't play instruments dance during their sets. It's like the only thing they can do besides sing and it's awesome.)

That being said, I'm not sure I would go see another DGD concert. Maybe I would if the openers were as good as these. I'm disappointed I missed Sianvar, though. It turns out A Lot Like Birds' guitarist is Sianvar's bassist, so I bought their two releases at the merch stand at the end of the show. Altogher, it was a great night and happy I saw Erra play and hear one of their new songs.

Friday, 8 June 2018

WRITING: Re-introductions and Character

So I'm reading "Before They are Hanged" by Joe Ambercrombie, which is the second book of the "First Law" Trilogy, and as such all the major players have already been introduced in the first one.

But the one thing I've noticed is the way Joe re-introduces these characters to the reader: he makes it seem quick and easy.

The first time we hear from Jezal is in the following passage:
Jezal gave vent to a ragged sigh. Why on earth the old man had undertaken to enlighten him was past his understanding. The towering self-interest, perhaps, of the mildly senile was to blame. In any case, Jezal was unshakable in his determination not to learn a thing.
It's also Jezal's perception of Bayaz, first of the Magi who is the "old man" being referred to here. The use of the word ragged to describe his sigh gives a tell about his mannerisms, and directly how he feels about this situation. Us being told he doesn't want to learn a thing reveals how he thinks about things that aren't already known to him. He has things figured out already.

This one shows us what he thinks about the setting, Calcis:
Jezal glanced around him, unimpressed in the extreme. If history was nothing more than age, then Calcis, ancient city-port of the Old Empire, was plainly rich with it. If history went further—to grandeur, to glory, to something which stirred the blood—then it was conspicuously absent.
This is how we find out about the city, through his perspective, and how he simply doesn't care for it's past and history. Through his apathy we learn about the setting itself. This is the first time we really hear anything about Calcis in the series.

Let's take a look at Brother Longfoot, their navigator, along with Logen Ninefingers, in conversation. We already know that Logen is a badass, but this is how we are re-introduced to him:
Brother Longfoot grinned over his shoulder at this sorry display. 'How are your injuries progressing, my friend?
'Painfully,' grunted Logen, through gritted teeth.
'And yet, I suspect, you have endured worse.'
The wounds of the past were many. He'd spent most of his life in some amount of pain, healing too slowly from one beating or another. He remembered the first real wound he'd ever taken, a cut down his face that the Shanka had given him. Fifteen years old, lean and smooth-skinned and the girls in the village had still liked to look at him. He touched his thumb to his face and felt the old scar. He remembered his father pressing the bandage to his cheek in the smoky hall, the stinging of it, wanting to shout but biting his lip. A man stays silent.
That last part - A man stays silent was a superb line. What we learn is that Logen carries a great weight of the past with him, and that he's lived a hard life. He's also one to meet expectations, and not exceed them. He knows his place. All of this with one paragraph.

I'd like to examine these more since I think this is a useful technique when writing short stories. Get to the point with the characters. Who are they, what motivates them, and what do they care about?

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

LIFE: Diabetes Hope Foundation's 20th Anniversary Symposium

Since receiving a scholarship from the the Diabetes Hope Foundation (DHF) in 2009, I've had the personal benefit of volunteering for them ever since. This includes being part of the Scholarship Advisory Committee, where we read and select winners for their eponymous scholarship.

I really enjoy reading the scholarships. Everyone has their own story with their diabetes and I absolutely love learning about each and every one. The choices this year were difficult to make as most of the applications were top-notch.

This effort all culminated on June 3, 2018, where the DHF celebrated their 20th anniversary for their Scholarship Program. The day couldn't have gone better.

It began early in the morning at 9 AM, where I watched a panel discussion among our alumni who focus on teaching and mental health. I learned a lot from that! Did you know you can request to waive the standard 3-month waiting period before receiving benefits from your work if you play the diabetes card? What about using your diabetes as a way to prove your skills in an interview? Time management and self-care being some of those. I never thought about doing that before. Thank you, panel.

As for myself, I was on the panel for "Math, Technology, and Engineering." Why I was selected is a bit beyond me, although I suppose my career does require a Science degree. The panel discussion went well; our moderator took us off-script for a bit and asked us some good questions. I had nothing prepared but felt I pulled it off. I know my story very well.

The reception in general was very nicely put together. As well, the weather was cooperating. The sweltering heat of the previous week did not show itself to us, and in the old Hart House at U of T, that was a godsend. 

The evening concluded with the Scholarship Awards Ceremony. There were five keynote speakers, each sharing their diabetes stories and their own struggles and advice with the new 2018 winners. They were both entertaining and inspiring, striking all the right chords with the audience. I saw a few people's eyes welling up with tears (do I count my own?) Even a bird flew into the hall during the festivities to be a part of the audience.

I'm also glad my girlfriend was able to attend. I really wanted her to meet the amazing people I know through the DHF, and see what the group is all about. Introducing her to my diabetic family, so to speak.

Another year, another ceremony, but that's not it for 2018. Coming up soon will be the Scholarship Committee's debrief for this year as well as what we want to change for the next application coming up. 

Thank you to the DHF for accepting me in the family and giving me the opportunity to be a part of it all. I truly love the experience of being a part of this community. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

My Reading and Writing Goals for June

A summary of my goals:
  • Finish reading "Before They Are Hanged" by Joe Ambercrombie
  • Write three "3-5" page short stories
  • Edit my "long" short story and submit it to class
  • Blog every other day (two or three times a week)

A lot has changed for me in May on the reading and writing side of my life. I started blogging on Wordpress, and intend to more frequently. I started my Creative Writing Through Reading class and I'm very pleased with how that's going. I also completed the longest short story I've ever written, which is definitely a big accomplishment for me. I also finished reading "The Blade Itself" and started reading the next book in the trilogy, "Before They Are Hanged" all thanks to ebooks!

I want to read the novel by the end of the month. I think I can pull this off simply by getting in as much reading as I can with the found time method: if I have time to open the app on my phone, I have time to read any amount of the story. Anything. Let's just finish this, okay?

I have my class to worry about now when it comes to writing. That's two assignments, and on top of that I'm encouraged to submit work each week of class and I want to do that at least twice. That means I need to submit a short story every week of the month.

I'm fortunate that the final assignment aligns with my goal of finalizing a second draft of the aforementioned short story. I'll be making a readable version of that story to hand in and get some feedback for. One interesting thing for me is that I wrote half of that story by hand in a notebook, a new technique to me I've been enjoying. In fact, that's the case for almost all my blog posts. It's as if my wrist thought of what to write by itself. It comes out horribly, but at least I get it out of my system and by the time I transcribe it to a word processor it's at least half-readable.

I want to blog at least every other day. I'll take days off on weekends, maybe, so that will be about two or three posts a week.

This month I'll also be reflecting on how I'm spending my time and how I can fit in more time with physical books. Can I do it? Find out next month!

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

LIFE: Slayer @ Budweiser Stage

Slayer performed their last concert at Toronto's Budweiser Stage on May 29, 2018 and I was fortunate enough to watch them.

I never listened to Slayer before, but I do now. To prepare for the show, I queued up their setlist in a Spotify playlist and it didn't take long for me to head bang listening to those killer riffs.

I don't normally drive to these things, even to such out-of-the-way / poor-transit-options places such as the Bud Stage, but leaving work at 5 made it the only practical option. Besides, once I got there, and much to my dismay, everyone else was doing it. Lakeshore was crowded and so were the closest parking lots. I managed to find a parking lot on the Exhibition grounds for $12, which is far too reasonable, and made the "far" 10 minute walk over to the venue.

Anthrax was playing when I arrived, and of course I'm not familiar with their work, but I did know that one song that was playing as I was reaching my seat. In my section, 14 kilometres from the stage, people were sitting for most of their act, except for the last song. Then, with all of us standing, the band led us to sing "Oh Canada." The crowd even diverged during the French and English parts. I stood there, silent and impressed, and also respectful, I hope, since I was tempted to sit. From what I saw, Anthrax was excellent, with enough energy to get me excited to see the rest of the show. They're another band to add to my list.

Next up was Lamb of God, and my section stood up for them. On my left was a guy built like a fridge, and he was standing comfortably next to my buddy who got there just in time to my right. That left me to stand behind them, this wall of men, and there was no where else to go for any of us. I tried not to let that ruin the show for me, but I was quite uncomfortable, and my legs were starting to ache - I wanted to dance, to mosh, but we were all standing, and I was standing in the worst possible position. Besides that though, Lamb of God performed well, enjoyable to watch and listen even though I only knew their song "Laid to Rest."

Slayer (f*ckin' Slayerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr), was last, of course. I wasn't going to let discomfort get to me, so when they started, I stood quickly in front of the man-wall. I thought I screwed over the fridge next to me, but in actuality the arrangement was more comfortable for everyone involved. Thank goodness I got that out of the way.

But how was their performance? Superb. They nailed the large-stadium format nicely, with pyrotechnics and a great stage presence that I could only tell from the screens (see above). My neck hurts from headbanging.

The night ended with tears in Tom Araya's eyes as he said goodbye to Toronto from the stage for the last time. I held it together. The woman in our row next to my buddy said he has the nicest smile in the industry. I have to agree, and seeing him well up and say thank you to us was touching.

I'm glad and feeling blessed I had the chance to see them at all. I'm not a major fan of the venue, but it's the best performance I've seen from the crappy seats. The three bands I saw played really well and I'd consider seeing them again. Wish I could say the same for Slayer, but that was quite the final send off. No complaints. Cheers.