Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

The past, present, and future of Steven Townshend, version 2014

Month: April, 2014

April 30th, 2014 (Cruisin’)

CRASH
CRASH

YESTERDAY

Though it wasn’t quite the season, I used the last two hardening limes in the green mesh sack to mix up margaritas. This after a cool jog along the lakeshore, and then heating up the grill to barbecue a rack of ribs. These are the trappings of summer, and this an optimistic ritual in hopes of enticing the sun to shine on us again. In the past week, the rain has come once or twice, tapping on the roof as we drift off to sleep, or waking us with the gentle randomness of its rhythm. Last night as the grill warmed I walked down to the beach to watch a storm come in. The rains were curving wisps that streamed from the cloud formations far away over the lake. South of us, the sky was a melange of black and gray and white over the light turquoise water that roiled over the stones and sandy beach in the fading of the day.

TODAY

I introduce some of my fancy pizzas to friends who haven’t had them before. This, and a few light games. The past week has gone this way as well—one game after another, one friend’s house after another, each day a different game. I spend my days working and freelancing, but there’s nothing new to say about that even if I could. So long as I hit my work goals during the day, I enjoy the nights and try not to feel guilty about not working every minute as life speeds by around me.

TOMORROW

It’s time to book tickets for a trip we’d like to take, but I’m dragging my heels as usual. It’s such an easy thing to arrange travel, but for some reason it always feels like a monumental task. Decisions to be made that I never feel fully awake enough to do. Some thoughts about a longer work of fiction I’d like to do, but with work already filling up my days, who knows when I’ll ever get to it.

Watching

Game of Thrones, of course. What began 3 years ago as an informal gathering of 3 has become a ritual viewing where 7 of us gather for dinner, drinks, games, socializing… It’s our special weekly event. Catching up on last season’s Mad Men, too. Both are excellent so far.

Stranger Than Fiction

On Thursday nights I’ve been playing a role-playing game called Sagas of the Icelanders with a small group. It seems to be a game about mundane folk living in Iceland in around 900 A.D. For example, I play a farmer. One of my tasks is to make sure we have enough food, wood, and other materials to survive the winter. Disasters regularly happen on the farm and I have to work harder to sort them out. Only… the game has turned from that relatively humdrum story into something we’ve been describing as Icelandic MacBeth, with the mature content of Starz’s Spartacus series. It’s a story where all the players involved have found themselves playing really ambitious, desperate people who do terrible things to get ahead. At first I think we were all tentative about making those character choices but now that we know those characters and what they want, we’re delighting in watching them scheme and plot. This won’t end well for them, I’m sure.

April 23rd, 2014 (In It)

Holy Minded
Holy Minded

YESTERDAY

I have no regrets about painting all those miniature space ships this winter. I tell myself I should have spent my time more wisely, more productively, more…. whatever. But in the end I truly enjoyed the time I spent staying up late bent over those tiny models, looking at them through a magnifying glass as I tried to bring out the details. I enjoyed listening to audiobooks about World War I and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman. It was a meditative time—a forced meditation of sorts—at the end of which I had made something I could be proud of. (Still need to play the game for which those ships were made, though).

TODAY

Putting down words in the freelance project. I keep hoping that I’ve learned something from the past winter, but every project I do starts out as something scary in which I have no clear idea how I’m going to turn it into something good. Most of the time, this reveals itself as the project goes on and I spend more and more time in the world of the project. Sometimes there are sections that need to be filled with a certain amount of words and I can’t imagine what words will go there because I don’t have much to say on the subject. In those instances, I improvise the words; then, later on as I’m looking back on the project, I can see where the words need to change or what words need to be added or taken away. It’s easier—at least in freelancing—to have material to work from than to have nothing. In fiction I’ve found it’s often the opposite. Having too much of the wrong thing makes it more difficult, more confusing.

TOMORROW

I keep buying margarita supplies in hopes that the summer will show itself. So far, this hasn’t happened. Living in Chicago, I should know better. But those days when it’s 70 degrees make me a believer. I’m going to be ready for it when it happens.

Reading

I’ve begun reading Jack Vance’s Cugel stories again, the second part of The Dying Earth. I can’t identify specifically what I love about The Dying Earth, but I know I love it and so I return to it to read it again. Last year I bought the Dying Earth tribute anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and featuring stories by several contributing authors, but had to stop reading it. When the stories brought back characters or explained or expanded upon events that Vance had left ambiguous, I felt like some of the magic was draining away from the world and my appreciation for it. Like many other book, movie, television franchises that went on too long, it’s one of those things where my enjoyment of it necessitates that I forget that part of it exists.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Over the past week I’ve felt a strange and rare sensation of contentment that I suspect has to do with working on a freelance project. As stressful as it can be over the long term, and as much as I need breaks from it from time to time, there’s magic in making things.

April 16th, 2014 (Rest and Reset)

Two Hundred and Six!
Two Hundred and Six

YESTERDAY

Last night I finished the painting project I began in late February as recourse to the despair I felt over my broken January goals. I keep circling the ground of those goals again and again because to me they represent a larger problem. Why is it that the things we most strive for sometimes seem the most impossible, whereas other things that we need to do fall naturally into place, or they don’t, and we hardly concern ourselves with their completion or attainment? You may fail two or three times in your attempt to light a candle—a very simple thing. Maybe the match doesn’t strike on your first attempt, or it blows out before you ignite the wick, or you singe your fingers, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t think about it overly much. Because you don’t define your personal success or your place in life by the candles you’ve successfully lit. However, when it comes to the things we most desire, we do define ourselves by them and we drive ourselves into anxiety and despair with the self-judgment that comes from failing at relatively small things.

All this is to say that because I don’t define myself as a person who paints, or paints model ships, and because this ability means little to me, I’ve painted 206 miniature ships in less than 2 months. There were complications and frustrations aplenty, but because there are few personal stakes associated with painting those ships, I was able to confront those problems and overcome them without the misery and woe that come with trying to do “something important.” This is another lesson from painting that I hope to take with me from this (record-breaking cold—it snowed again yesterday, April 15) winter.

TODAY

Everything’s in place for my freelance project, and I set up my workflow, the importance of which I cannot emphasize enough. Especially now, after painting all those ships. In the past, organizing the execution of a project has been important—breaking down how much I need to do, and tackling small pieces of it—has been critical to success. One of those ship-painting lessons was: The hardest part is finding out what it’s going to be. I think that relates to setting up the workflow. Finding out how you’re going to go about the task and generally what do you want it to look like? It takes time, but as I’ve learned, “Fools rush in.” I’m not against blind experimentation—in fact, I practice it daily in “exercise” writing—but it’s not so great when something needs to be DONE. The other important thing about creating a workflow for a project is planning the times when it’s possible to rest and let your subconscious mull over what you’ve done, where you’re going next.

TOMORROW

It’s tough to see the end of winter right now, it still more or less being winter. My tomorrows are aligned toward accomplishing pieces of my new freelance project, and figuring out when I can stop wearing winter clothes.

Reading

I started (and finished) Flash for Freedom, by George MacDonald Fraser, over the past week. Flashman is one of the most deplorable anti-heroes in literature, but George MacDonald Fraser is such an exceptional writer that you can’t help but follow Flashy around. You can’t help but root for him, despite his horribleness. I’m excited to read the next one.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

I saw Babes with Blade Theatre Company’s mad, post-apocalyptic production of L’Imbecile last weekend. One of the coolest shows I’ve seen in a long time, and utterly unlike anything else playing.

It was like David Bowie tripping at a ren faire that happened to be the only surviving fragment of human civilization.
I kept thinking of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, in which our era has been so long forgotten that the people and customs that make up the distant future are alien to the way we think and behave–but the basic human drives and troubles remain the same.

The show is a good example of something you can only experience by seeing it on a stage, as it would be difficult (perhaps impossible) to translate well to film or TV. Chances are, you’ll be carrying the weird dream of it around in your head for days. I certainly am.

April 9th, 2014 (Right Then)

The Old World
The Old World

YESTERDAY

The cold had decided to linger, which is no surprise for this part of the world, though after such a winter as this—the coldest on record in Chicago—it feels as though this is the normal state of things, and that there will never be anything but winter for all time to come. Even so, the spring birds are back, singing in the morning, and the grass began to slowly turn from brown to desert yellow to a faint army green. Rains returned here and there, and the outside isn’t quite so intolerable. On Saturday, after breakfast at my local cafe, I hung around and talked to the locals for a few hours. I’ve been by myself too long this winter.

TODAY

Last year I had all my old film negatives scanned by a company called ScanCafe, and after a number of issues with color and contrast, the order is complete and I have my photos—scanned at high resolution in jpg format. So many of these had been buried in old photo albums for years—to see them again, and be able to share them digitally—is beyond wonderful. The bittersweet sensation of seeing people and places again as they were a long time ago.

TOMORROW

At long last my freelance work begins again, and I am nearly prepared to start. The painting project that’s occupied the past two months is on the verge of completion, and should be finished by the weekend. After that, it’s writing, writing, writing for me until summer.

Reading

I finished reading A World Undone, by G.J. Meyer. It’s one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read, and one that’s working on me in ways I can’t fully express. The Great War never needed to happen. Virtually everyone involved actively tried to prevent it from happening, but due to poor communication, bad decisions, paranoia, and fear, one small thing led to another until Europe became involved in the greatest bloodbath it had ever known. It continued for four years because no one had achieved anything of note, and no one could declare a peace without some sort of justification for the staggering loss of life and the lies and propaganda that each nation had told its public. For no good reason whatsoever, millions died, the most powerful empires in the world fell, and the results of the war changed the world in such a way as to set the ground for a second bloodbath. All for nothing, really. The most frightening thing about it is that I think it could easily happen all over again. All it would take is more bad communication, the posturing of nations, the delusion of invincible might, and the fervent belief in the righteousness of one’s own country above all reasonable and rational thought.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Two of my favorite baristas have left my local cafe within the past year. I ran into one on Saturday, and got to finally wish him well, which turned into a long conversation in which we found we had lots in common and became friends outside the cafe. The other went to pursue a new job, which turns out to be where Elizabeth works. It’s a small world after all.

April 2nd, 2014 (Right Now)

The Galactic Rim
The Galactic Rim

YESTERDAY

My regular job grants me vacation time, and Friday morning I awoke to realize that the beginning of April meant that I would lose some of that time if I didn’t use it immediately. Last weekend I took a spontaneous vacation therefore, in which I didn’t go anywhere and didn’t do much of anything. What a waste, I thought, to fritter away one’s time this way.
The first day, I did my taxes. The second and third I enjoyed as I would any other weekend.
The fourth day, I did very little of anything of import. I went outside and took a jog—the first since October, before the cold. With little to do but rest, I felt fantastic at the end of it all. I don’t know that I really accomplished anything last weekend except for a healthy state of mind. And you know, that’s something.

TODAY

Any minute now, my next project begins. Every free minute, hour, day, is precious before I’ll be a concentrated word-manufacturing machine. I think the project will be great fun, but it’s sure to involve almost all of my time for three months to come. This week I’ve been declining invitations and getting myself in a place where I’ll be ready to focus for an extended period of time.

TOMORROW

As winter lingers into spring I think back on the goals and ambitions I had at the beginning of the year, the ones I instantly failed to meet. I’m confused about my goals and ambitions; as long as I’m confused, I’ll just continue to enjoy doing what I’m doing. It’s difficult to be patient with the future; we want spoilers and we want them now. The best we can do is work toward what we want to do and be, and when that direction seems hopeless or unclear, the best we can do is what makes us happy. I think?

Reading

I’ve been delving into some of Gary Gygax’s classic works from the 1980s. Stuff I’d never read before, like the Temple of Elemental Evil. Many of these classic works in role-playing game design can feel clunky or overblown, but at the heart I always find some unique idea, element, or feeling—the raw potential that people who used this material brought to life in their own words and made special for their own audiences. I continue to find this to be true as I discover why these works are considered classics.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

My weight has gradually dropped month by month as the winter gnaws away. The other day it was at its 2003 post-Utah depression weight, which was about 179 lbs. It’s that same weight except without the months of depression or the living on the road. This is without any particular effort on my part. I was almost worried, but I’m guessing that a daily repast of raisin bran, spinach salad, home-cooked meals, dark chocolate, red wine, exercise, and little junk food or big, overindulgent meals has done it.