Min/Maxing my Footwear

If you’re a regular at this blarg, or if you know me, then you know that I’ve been struggling with foot pain in one form or another for… ehh… erg… about a year and a half.

It started when I tore up my foot on a nail in our back porch, continued when I recovered from that injury and promptly blew up my left heel with plantar fasciitis, and continues further still when about a year ago I did something (doctor never did tell me exactly what was going on) to irritate the heel and Achilles in my right foot. The other injuries have all healed, but I’m still battling my right heel. The pain ebbs and flows like the tides. I’ll have good weeks and bad weeks, solid months and shaky months. One day I can go run a brisk eight miles and feel no ill effects, another day I can shuffle through a low-intensity three miles and be hobbling for days afterward. It’s maddening and frustrating.

And of course, it plays havoc with my running. It’s impossible to set any long-term goals because I don’t know if I’m going to have to slow down on my training to accommodate my injury throwing a tantrum. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to fit in some speed workouts again, and it’s been going fine… until Monday, when I tweaked the heel again and spent the rest of Monday and Tuesday limping.

My wife — ever incisive and ready to call me out when I’m being dumb (thanks honey) — pointed out that I started having all these issues about the time I went bananas over minimal shoes and started trying to do a lot of my runs in my Vibram FiveFingers. Shoes that I love. I’ve written about them before. For good measure, she points me to stories of marathon runners, like, just off the top, this one from the NY times; marathon runners, plagued by injuries, who have tried this new shoe and had their chronic injuries vanish like students in the bathroom when the principal walks by.

And I’m conflicted. I’m wary of the magic bullet, and I don’t want to believe that simply buying “the right pair of shoes” is going to solve my problems. By the same token, I don’t want to believe that wearing “the wrong pair of shoes” is responsible for the issues I’m having.

And that doesn’t even touch my bias. I got into running when the minimalist trend was flying high. I read Born to Run and bought into the hype. The thinking was “less cushioning, more natural mechanics”, and boy oh boy does that keep in touch with my philosophy in general. Or at least the philosophy I try to believe in. Less stuff gumming up the works. More focus on what you control. Letting the body do what it’s meant to do without gadgets or ridiculous footwear getting in the way. All that hippy-dippy treehugging kind of stuff.

Maximalist shoes, from my vantage point, seem to go against everything that I thought was neat about minimalist shoes. Minimal shoes strip out the cushioning so that you feel more of the ground beneath your foot. Maximal shoes cram more and more cushioning in there to further insulate you and make every step feel the same. Minimal shoes allow for fuller range of motion so that the leg and foot can follow the circuit nature designed for them more closely. Maximal shoes cut out the motion of the ankle instead, keeping you “locked in” to a “better form”. (I’m air-quoting those because those are my unstudied perceptions. Make no mistake, I’m not an expert, and I’m not nearly impartial.)

Also, and this cannot be stated heartily enough, maximal shoes look RIDICULOUS. Honestly, they look like elevator sneakers. Just look.

The thought of even putting those on my feet makes me feel like I’m going to topple over like a tower of tinker toys. (We won’t say anything about the goofy toe-gloves I prefer.)

Still, the demon of doubt is in there now, clanging off the inside of my skull and raising all sorts of argument. Much though I love my minimal shoes, I really don’t want to accept that this pain in my foot might just be something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

I love my minimal shoes, and I loved the thought of unburdening myself from conventional shoes. For a while, it was great. I want to believe they could be great for me again, but the possibility that my minimal shoes have done this to me is getting hard to ignore. Could there be something to this maximal movement? It’s all anecdotal evidence at this point, but could it work for me?

I have to find a way to make running work for me again. When I run well, I write well… when my running suffers, so too does my writing. Could these land-whales be the way to get it back?

I have to think about this.

Stuff Worth Watching – The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

I am a lover of language.

I adore aphorisms. I moon over malapropisms. I can’t get enough of witty wordplays. And then there are things that take it to the next level completely.

I wrote a few weeks back about how I dig on inventing words — I think all writers do, for that matter — but for me, it’s something I just noodle with, inventing a word to suit the moment. More often, I’ll simply invent a word to fit a dumb little alliterative pattern, or worse, bend and break a word to rhyme it. But the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig is next level word genesis.

His postulate — that other languages have words for complicated concepts, while English lacks the words for similar artful expression — is one that I’ve bemoaned, but Koenig takes the matter straight to the mat. He not only invents words in an academic fashion (spinning together etymologies of Greek, German, Chinese and so on), he creates hauntingly beautiful videos to illustrate the concepts. Sounds a little bit hokey or pretentious, but his creations are elegant in their simplicity.

Take, for example, the cynical angst of Vemodalen: the frustration at the knowledge that everything you do, every creative endeavor you pursue, everything, in fact, that makes you unique, is as subtly differentiated and as lasting as a snowflake on the wind. Sure, no snowflake is exactly like another, but who gives a sharknado in a blizzard of billions?

Or, perhaps the quiet reverent awe of Socha is more your flavor; that realization that other people are not merely supporting roles in the great sprawling film of your life, but that they are the protagonists in their own stories, and you are just an extra at a coffee shop. The shift in perspective could dislocate your spine.

Maybe, rather, you’re a parent (like me) experiencing Yu yi on an almost daily basis: the desire to experience the world through new eyes again as only a newborn can, casting aside expectation and the monotony of the routine to be delighted by the delicate staccato of raindrops in a pond, or the graceful carving of the sky by birds’ wings. It’s a great sadness that we can never again know the world with the joy and wonder of a newborn, but we can live it vicariously through them.

At any rate, if you’re a wordnerd like me, you owe it to yourself to take a glance at the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. There’s not much else like it on the web, much though our Vemodalen might tell us otherwise.

How to Introduce your Childhood to your Kids through Netflix

My son watches some awful cartoons. I mean, really… terrible cartoons. I’m talking about your Animal Mechanicals (where every character is an idiotic robot… think about it… if you’re a robot, how can you be an idiot? At the very least, you’d be programmed with the intelligence of every creator who worked on your creation, unless your creators are evil overlords in their own right, in which case, hold on, I have to write down an idea for another short story), Color Crew (where the only spoken words are the names of colors, and in every episode one color gets all gung-ho about coloring the entire page in his color and all of a sudden you have BLUE SUNS and ORANGE COWS, and then the dictatorial eraser with his Stalin mustache swoops in and he’s all like “how dare you interrupt my schedule, now I have to clean up all this sharknado”… this is literally every episode), and then there’s this one on Youtube where they’ve animated all these nursery rhymes (cool) and rewritten them (not so cool) so that suddenly in the middle of London Bridge is Falling Down there’s a superhero pig who knocks the enormous green monstrosity (you know, the one knocking down the bridge) into the Thames. Suffice it to say that we’ve seen all these adventures in animation enough to memorize the high points. And yeah, I know, “why do you let your kids watch so much TV,” and yeah, I know, “puzzles and wood blocks and brainpower,” and to that I say, yeah, okay, you’re probably right. But Netflix puts all this awful entertainment a finger’s click away, and it’s kind of awesome and kind of awful for that.

See, in light of all the mind-anesthetizing programming we usually have to endure, I’ve been on the lookout for something that actually has value in the world to expose the boy to. Something that will expand his horizons, make him a better person. Something like Star Wars. Now, we have the movies, and I thought of that, but I can no more interest the boy in the original trilogy than order my cat to start tap-dancing. (Sure, he could do it, but there’s no interest there.) I even tried him on episode I, the one I don’t speak of, in the hopes that with its cartoonier nature and the canonical abortion of Jar-Jar Binks, it might appeal to his three-year-old sensibilities. No dice.

Fine, I thought. The boy isn’t ready for one of the prized gems of my formative film collection. We’ll try again in a few years. Tried a few other programs. There’s a Transformers series for little kids now, and he goes for that now and then if I turn it on while he’s out of the room. (He comes back from a bathroom break and he’s all, “oh, this? I guess that’s okay.”) But he won’t choose it. Which baffles me. He loves robots and he loves cars; how can he not love robots that turn into cars. He’d rather watch computer-animated documentaries about dinosaurs. And yeah, okay, that’s kind of cool, too. But I want him to have something of mine, to care about something that I cared about.

But then my wife — for reasons unknown (though probably for my benefit) — bought the boy a new toothbrush. One that’s red and translucent and, when you push the button on its side, lights up and makes lightsaber noises as you brush away. (Oh my god, I want one for myself.) And if there’s one thing my kid loves, it’s brushing his teeth. Seriously. We can ask him a hundred times if he wants to go to bed, clean his room, pick up his toys, and he will very eloquently respond “no thank you” or “not now, but later”. But, ask him if he wants to brush his teeth before bed, and he can barely shout out an “OKAY!” before he’s bolted up the stairs.

On day one, he thought the lightsaber toothbrush was weird. I explained to him what a lightsaber was and why it was awesome.

On day two, he reminded me to turn on the lightsaber noises before he brushed. All systems were go.

Then, Netflix offered up something awesome. Apparently, on Cartoon Network or something a few years back, they made a whole animated series. A whole, six-season, animated series. My wife pointed this out to me, and I turned it on, fast-forwarded to a scene with Yoda and his lightsaber flipping around, and showed it to the boy. Done deal. Now I can ask him if he wants to watch Yoda with his lightsaber, and I get the “YEAH!” that’s usually reserved for asking him whether he wants to take a bath. Granted, if Yoda isn’t in the scene it’s all “where’s Yogurt?” so there’s still a little bit of work to be done. Nevertheless, it’s time to start planning his exposure to the films. I figure he can handle the whole original trilogy by age five, and I can have him responding to his mom’s bedtime “I love you” with Han’s super-smug “I know” by age six.

But all this teaches me something. Something I already knew, but like all lessons with kids, a bit of redundancy is never a bad idea.

When introducing something to the child, it’s important that you don’t make a big deal of it. You can’t say, “Okay, son, how would you like to watch a movie that I loved as a kid? It’s full of spaceships and explosions and really neat swords made out of lasers, and I think you’ll love it.” Doesn’t work. He wants to watch the freakin’ Space Buddies again (a movie about the kids of the famous slam-dunkin’ dog, Air Bud. Except, you know, IN SPACE.) For a new idea to take root with the kid, it has to fall into one of two categories:

  1. It’s something he finds himself, be it on the aisle of the toy store, the front yard, underneath the back seat of the car.
  2. It’s just there when he walks into a familiar space, as if it’s already part of a routine he didn’t understand. We do this with dinner all the time. Ask him if he wants to try some spaghetti with meatballs, and we get “NO. Want macaRONI.” But if it’s just in his seat and we say, “Time for dinner!” and put him in front of it, most of the time, he’ll clean his plate.

Kinda like that movie, Inception, but with squash casserole instead of a multi-million dollar company. Or whatever that movie was about.

Eyes Up

I think I said it at the end of last week, but I’m saying it again to convince myself.

The first edit is done. When I say “first edit” what I’m really talking about is the first series of edits, a smattering of various angles of refraction on this novel of mine that I’ve been alternately using and discarding over the past… god… seven months? Seriously, the time for this “first edit” has now handily outlasted the time it took me to draft the novel in the first place. That fact makes sense to me now, having gotten my hands and feet quite bloody along the way and having read a lot of advice in the interim, but if you’d told me at the outset that editing would take longer than writing the novel in the first place, I’d have had a good laugh at you.

I mean, the writing — spinning the tale out of the void — that’s the hard part, right?

Ha. Ha, ha ha ha ha. No.

But I’m not here to talk about the edit. I’m thinking about what comes next. Because it’s now time to cut the cord on this thing and release it into the wild. And then I’m going to have to play a waiting game in the meantime while it founders around out there, waiting to hear from actual real people what I need to do to actually really fix it and make it worth possibly sending to a for real editor, agent, publisher (seriously, I have no idea what to do from here).

To my way of thinking, there are basically two things I need to consider after I send this thing out for reading and do my best to put it out of mind for a month or two. 1) Figure out what my plans are, and my time frames for accomplishing said plans, for when I get some reviews back. 2) Decide what the next project is. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this whole writing process, it’s that momentum matters.

So, it’s time to get my eyes up on those two things. In fact, I took a break mid-post to take a step on the first thing, and reached out to a friend of mine whom I’ve been out of touch with for entirely too long. Sorry about that. But there’s no time like the present.

And nothing like a stream-of-consciousness post to kickstart my thinking and remind me there are things I should be doing.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

Lingua Caca

Today was a day of great pain and sorrow for me, because today I made a pass at cleaning up the language in my novel.

I really feel two ways about this. On the one hand the language, most of the time, feels natural and right and perfectly at home in the book where it was. On the other hand, I’m willing to accept that, perhaps, foul language is a crutch that I maybe lean on a little too much.

Want numbers? Here are numbers:

  • The novel as a whole is ~97,000 words in its current iteration. (It probably still needs trimming, but we’ll see what my first round of readers thinks.)
  • 37 were Fargos. (7 of those in my notes to myself. I’m a bit of a self-abuser in my own editing.)
  • 53 of those were Sharknados. (only 3 in my self-abuse notes. Also, and I’m rather proud of this, 7 of them came in one sentence. It was a good sentence.)
  • 1 Ash. Not a word I use a lot.
  • 48 Haberdasheries. This one makes me laugh a little, because its usage irks me in popular shows. If you watch Once Upon A Time critically, as I like to do (who am I kidding, it’s also a lot of fun), you might notice that they lean on the phrase “what the hell” or “who the hell” or “how the hell”. I can usually count 3 or 4 iterations per episode. Well, 90% of my offenses came in the same flavor. That old adage about the man in the mirror being a big, fat jerk comes to mind.
  • 7 Clams. Again, not one I overuse. 2 of them were directed at myself. This is within acceptable parameters.

So, after a few surgical strikes with the delete key, what did I accomplish?

  • There are no f-bombs left. It hurt me, but in every instance I was able to find a way to say what I was trying to say, only, y’know, with less fargoery.
  • There are 2 sharknados left. The ones still standing are really fargoing funny, and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find a phrasing any sharper than a well placed s-word.
  • The ash is gone. I didn’t feel strongly enough about it to fight my ego-writer for it. No great loss, there.
  • The clams stayed. I figure if a person can handle a couple of sharknados, they can clam sure handle a few clammits.
  • The haberdasheries… well, I’m addressing those tomorrow. I can probably cut most of them, but again, for emphasis, a little haberdashery is hard to beat.

So how do I feel about all of this? I’m conflicted. The Fargos and Sharknados were easy enough to trim out. Those are the biggies, that people really seem to take issue with. Higher on the hierarchy, if you will. In a novel of almost 100,000 words, I think a couple of profanities are well within reason.

Aren’t they?

My wife argues (probably rightly so) that my novel may lose some of its appeal for younger audiences with the profanity intact. To be more precise, with the profanity in place, the book could get labelled in such a way that might make it hard to sell parents on letting their children read it. (As a teacher, I can assure you that a stray f-word or worse does not bother the average whateverteen-year-old in the least.) And I guess that’s a consideration worth … considering. Then again, the language is as natural to me as breathing, and I think that removing it from my characters’ mouths (and rarely from the prose) is a little like the aliens taking the nose off the Sphinx. (What, you don’t think aliens built the Sphinx? LOOK AT THE FACTS.) Maybe it looks better that way, but still, it feels … off, somehow. Certainly it feels like adjusting my style for an external factor, regardless of how relevant that one factor may be. One character in particular was exceptionally foul-mouthed in the first draft. Like, it was an integral part of what made him unlikable (I thought). The character works without having a sailor’s vocabulary, but knowing what he was, he feels like, I dunno, maybe 80% of what he could be? 85%?

Then again, maybe my wife is right, and the language is a barrier to more readers than I think.

It’s weird; usually I can bring an issue here to my dumping ground, marinate on it for the forty-five minutes or so it takes me to pinch off a blarg post, and come away with some clarity and feeling a little lighter. But on this one I feel even more conflicted than when I started.

What to do? Leave the salty language intact and ask my beta readers how they feel about it? Or proceed with the edited-for-TV version and ask, at the finish, whether foul language would read better?

Is the language a part of my authorial voice? Or is it a crutch getting in the way of my voice?



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