Tag Archives: personal narrative

blaugust #01: how does your blogging grow?

I look forward to August. It’s when the plums and apricots start coming in, and I daydream about making jam and pies. Back to school advertising starts in earnest, and I also enjoy thinking about pencils and notebooks and plaid shirts. It’s my birthday month (I will be the answer to life, the universe, and everything this year!). And this year, it’s also Blaugust, a daily blogging initiative started last year by Belghast. The challenge is to post every day in August, at least 10 sentences per post. I’ve done daily post challenges for myself before, but never with a prescribed minimum or a community commitment to keep me honest and afloat.

A few months ago, I wrote a little bit about intending to blog more regularly. I’ve been keeping this blog since May 2007. Sometimes I write a little, sometimes I write a lot. My focus tends to be two-pronged: I use this space to write about my life and who I am, but I also use it to talk about what I’m making and to promote my work. On my very best days, those two purposes work hand in hand, but that’s a rare achievement. Looking over my archives, I’m pleased at how far back they stretch. But the inconsistency of it nags at me a bit. I like using this space as both a life archive and a wrestling mat to work things out. Writing through a problem or a feeling is generally a productive approach for me, and I always intend to make that more of a habit. So when I learned about Blaugust, I hemmed and hawed for a few weeks, but then I bit the bullet and signed on. For the last month, I’ve been posting a bit more often, trying to get my blogging muscles limber. I’m confident I can do this, although I’m not sure about the quality of my content. This is a good exercise, and I’ve made a deal with myself to not sweat every tiny little thing. Just write, and keep writing. I have a vague list of things I’d like to write about, and a couple of days when a scheduled post will be necessary for calendar reasons. But for the most part, I’m planning to take this day by day, and I’m looking forward to following the rest of the Blaugusteers, and to seeing where I am at the end of the month.

gamers buddy system.

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I talk about my niece a lot. She is precocious and pithy and imaginative, and I love to tell the whole internet about her. Sometimes I need the hive mind to decipher what she’s saying, and sometimes I just think everyone needs to know about it immediately. Just lately, though, I’ve realized that I don’t talk as much about her older brother, my nephew. Partly that’s because for most of the year, he’s in school during the day and I don’t see him as much. Partly it’s because he’s a quieter person than she is. But I am prodigiously proud of him. He’s smart, patient, and good natured, and I think I learn something every time I talk to him. He absorbs every detail about things that interest him.

He also plays a lot of video games. In fact, that’s the only time he’s not patient. He’s still good natured, but he’s fiercely competitive, and he will gleefully roll right over anyone whose skill or investment in expertise is less than his. He’ll encourage you to play with him, but he will not accommodate your weaknesses. It’s infuriating and hilarious, and I love to see the confidence in him when he’s talking about his home territory. This past week, when Phil was here, I finally got to see the two of them play some games together, and it was glorious.

My initial interest when I started playing video games was twofold: I wanted something I could fall into as immersive relaxation therapy after hard work, but more importantly I wanted a vocabulary and a skill set that would let me bond with my nephew. A few years, a lot of rabbit-hole conversations with Phil, and many game experiments later, I’ve learned enough to know what I look for in a game I’ll really enjoy. I have the vocabulary to listen to my nephew and to occasionally even be able to offer him advice or suggestions.

So it’s a pretty sweet part of my day when he sidles up next to me and his serious small face cracks a missing tooth smile and he boasts his latest triumph – conquering a tough board in Mario, or outwitting Enderman, or his newest dinosaur acquisition in Jurassic Park. I like to get the update while we’re dropping the day’s shipping off at the post office, or unloading the dishwasher together. Sometimes we talk strategy. Sometimes we debate how much real life money is reasonable to spend on what is essentially a picture of a dinosaur. Sometimes we talk about how he interacts with other gamers. Sometimes he just wants me to watch him play so he can show off his mad skills.

And sometimes I bribe him to do the hissing Dilophosaurus thing on camera by telling him he can use my iPhone to play a game. It’s shy kid economics. I love the boy.

ow, my blogger.

caake

Just a few short weeks ago, in this very space, I resolved to start blogging more often. I then, true to form, vanished without blogging more often. My intentions are always good, but my list of excuses is legion.

1. Right after I finish prepping and shipping these orders.

2. Only I swore I was going to the gym today.

3. I will just finish one of the 47 draft posts I have sitting on my dashboard. Just as soon as I finish the top three or four books on my pile so I can add them to that one about what I’m reading.

4. Oh hey there’s a pint of ice cream in the freezer and new episodes of Brokenwood.

But Blaugust is just around the corner, and I really, really want to participate this year, because I really, really want this habit back in my life. I’m not going to make it if I don’t take some kind of running start. I’ve had a look round at the inside of my head just at the moment, and it’s like the back side of a botched embroidery in there. This is not going to be pretty. It’s going to be choppy, and stream of consciousness, and there will be a lot of days when I only get my ten sentences by denying my inner run-on sentence and lopping my thoughts off at the knees. But I’m going to give it a try.

So, where to begin? I went to the gym today on my way home from work. This would not normally be a momentous event, but for the last two months I’ve been either really sick or literally had somewhere to be for every minute I was awake. And with one thing and another, I haven’t worked out in almost 10 weeks. The trainer called me last weekend to make sure I was okay. So I got my shit together today and went. It was horrible. I’m out of shape there as well as here. Normally when I go back after a period away from cardio, the first workout is this glorious, easy, lung-expanding, blood-pumping affirmation of life and wellness. Not today. Today, the best thing that happened the whole time was when a woman got off the elliptical next to me, fished the TV remote out of a bucket on the wall, and changed the channel from basketball to Cake Wars. I salute you, cake lady. See you Wednesday.

I’ve been smiling for 730 days.

006Two years ago today, I made a phone call.

Phil and I met on Twitter in, as best we can establish, early 2011. We followed each other and starred tweets and chatted sometimes, like you Twitter do, and after some months the chatting became more frequent, more habitual. One day I noticed some tweets I particularly liked about a book he loves, and I decided to read the book. I read it, I loved it, and I had a lot of things I wanted to say about it. So I asked if I could email him, and he said yes, he’d love that. We began a correspondence that quickly outgrew the one book and tumbled over into conversations about other books and music and stories about ourselves and what we did and who we were and what we thought about all sorts of things.

That first email grew into hundreds of emails and thousands of words, and after a while that didn’t seem like enough. So we started playing an online game together as well.  And then he worried that maybe he was pronouncing my name wrong, so I recorded a short message with a memo app and sent it to him, and he sent one back and we carried on with that for a while. And then a day came when that wasn’t enough either and we wanted to talk to each other and see each other properly. So we set a date and an approximate time and then…

Well, and then I freaked out. Our story is a great story. It’s incredibly romantic and I like telling it. But it’s also our real life, and there is no question that it’s a pretty intense thing to fall in love with someone who lives 6,000 miles away from you. And I know now what I wasn’t entirely aware of yet in that middle of June two years ago: I was already in love. I knew Phil was very important to me. I knew I was important to him. I knew I really wanted to talk to my friend, to see him smile, to find out what a real, natural conversation between us would be like. But I was also afraid to take that step out of the written world and into the real one, because I had no idea what was going to happen after that.

So I was nervous. I was nervous in the days before the appointed date. I was nervous on the morning of the appointed date. I was nervous and taking a walk around the block an hour before the appointed date. I was unbelievably nervous and chewing on my lower lip as I pushed the connect button and waited and waited and waited while Google Hangouts did its distinctive little dialing ring. And then there was Phil, and right away he was so familiar to me, and we were so happy to see each other and hear each other.

That first date lasted six hours, and we didn’t stop grinning at one another the entire time. It’s been two years now, and we still, from time to time, lapse into silent grinning. We are far apart, and he likes to say that we’re playing this relationship on heroic difficulty, but we are happy. We are so lucky. We’ve built a life together in this in-between space, and we’re working and planning for the next stage.

I’m so grateful for that phone call, for this man, for our life. I love you, Phil. You make my face go like this:
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Wandering in Amsterdam.

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Sometimes when you travel, there’s a little window of in-between-places, a bit that gets suspended in time, not touching the points on either side of it. I got one of these bubbles a couple of weeks ago.

When I’m traveling to Hull to visit Phil, I fly through Amsterdam, and a couple of times I’ve had a really long layover. If you have to be at an airport for 8 hours, Schiphol is one of the best in the world (it’s won awards for best airport to be stuck in, dubious contest though that is). There’s a museum, and a lounge with a piano for anyone to play (in a room with spectacular acoustics), there are restaurants and bars and free showers and a hotel and two spas and lots of shopping and little pod rooms you can rent if you want to grab four hours of sleep. I’ve done most of that, though (I have actually got the Schiphol Airport app on my phone. I’m that person now.). On my most recent trip I found myself with nearly 9 hours to kill, starting at 8 in the morning. Clearly, venturing out into the city was the thing to do.

As I handed my coffee cup back over the cafe counter and picked up my carry-on, I realized that I’ve never had to find my way anywhere in a strange country by myself before. I knew I had this layover, so I’d done a little research about what to see and how to get there, but until I was about to step out through customs, I didn’t really grasp that I was *by myself with no smart phone use possible in a country I’ve never seen before*. Excited! Nervous! If you’re going to do that kind of thing, though, you want to try it out in a small, friendly, English-speaking country. So I had that in my favor.

I needed to get to Amsterdam Centraal Station, so I trickled my way out of the airport to the train station on the lower level. There was a bit of a false start while I played with automated ticket machines that ultimately wouldn’t sell me a ticket due to the American-ness of my credit card. But I got a ticket from a proper old school ticket window, and then I was on a platform in that billowing current of air that seems always to be moving in large city train stations, waiting for a train to take me on an adventure. I love trains. There is always the whiff of adventure and possibility about even the smallest of train journeys.

Three quick stops later, I was in the middle of Amsterdam on a rainy morning, and being jostled down Damrak in an elbow-to-elbow crowd of people. All my reading insisted on first-time visitors taking a city tour via boat through the canals, so that was my plan. But first, I just wanted to wander a little bit, so I kept walking up Damrak. The Sex Museum is also frequently recommended, but there was a line out the door so I skipped it. Next time. (I had planned to put a link to their website here, but they’ve got horrible auto-play music on it and I like you too much to do that to you. Just Google it.) There are plenty of dim and tippy side streets to poke about in, and I wove my way through them for an hour or so, staring at enormous wheels of cheese and mystifying piles of carved wooden tulips (not one single real tulip did I see all morning), debating whether it was too early to drink a beer (it was), and eventually ending up at the top of the street in the large plaza in front of the Royal Palace. There’s a row of low stone benches all along one side of the plaza, with chess boards set into them. No one was playing – no one but me was even sitting, in the rain – but I liked the sight of them.

In fact, I liked everything about Amsterdam, in the four hours I was there. The six-deep racks of bicycles everywhere; the dolls’ house narrowness of the streets and buildings and watercraft on the canals; the cheerful potted gardens on brightly colored houseboats; the contrast between the medieval buildings and the sleekly modern streetlights on Damrak. I took photographs all morning, but none of them are very good. I was bewilderingly tired, and most of my pictures were taken while I was sitting – either on a bench or on a boat. So they’re low down and in grey light and with window and water reflections. Some of them are of places and things I can’t name, in spite of wandering through Google street-view for a couple of hours last weekend searching for them. But here they are anyway, to remind me of my four hours’ adventure in a beautiful and unfamiliar city.