Current Works in Progress

Friday, January 20, 2012

That's my boy

Yesterday was a hellish day filled with extended travel via public transportation and mind-numbing amounts of governmental bureaucracy. We had to go from Hangzhou to the Canadian Consulate in Shanghai to apply for Tyler's proof of citizenship card and passport. By the time we'd arrived back where we'd started (not home, sadly) we were sore, cranky and exhausted. I did, however, learn something very important yesterday. My son is awesome. I can't tell you how proud I am of that little man.

Our day began at 5:30am. It was raining, and we had to catch a taxi to the train station on the other side of Hangzhou's downtown. We counted on at least 40 minutes in the taxi, and our train tickets were for 7:00. What we didn't count on was the 20 minutes it took to catch a taxi, or the taxi driver's inexplicable refusal to drive faster than 40km/h. We also didn't count on Tyler throwing up in the taxi. We had debated, when packing for the trip, whether or not we needed to bring a change of clothes for him. Given that it was just a day trip we decided that extra clothes would just be extra hassle to carry. He has been sick for a couple of weeks with a sinus infection that recently relocated to his chest/throat, but he hasn't been having any stomach problems at all. Boy, were we surprised. On the plus side, it did convince the driver to go faster.

We arrived at the train station, smelling of sour milk and wet-wiping each other's clothes as best we could, at 6:55am. I grabbed all the bags and the folded up stroller (the week before Chinese New Year the crowds at any train station in China are a concrete example of what 1.4 billion people actually look like - no chance of actually using the stroller there) and my wife paid the fare (plus a bit for the puke) and grabbed the baby. We then proceeded to, as they say, "haul ass". We made the train with almost a minute to spare.

In a rare moment of clarity and intelligence we had opted to take the new(ish) high-speed train from Hangzhou to Shanghai. According to the display at the front of the car we were soon cruising along at a speed of 308km per hour. The trip, which used to take more than 2 hours, now takes 50 minutes. I love that train.

Upon arriving in Shanghai we unfolded the stroller and wandered around looking for an open ticketing window. After a time we found one and stood in line behind 1.8 billion people to buy our return tickets for that afternoon. The consulate was only open until noon, so we bought return tickets for 1pm. Tickets purchased, we grabbed a quick bite of breakfast. As a bit of advice, the Chinese KFC version of a sausage and egg McMuffin has all of the weaknesses of the North American McDonald's version (the sausage and the egg, primarily) with the added detriment of not even being on a muffin - they use a regular bun. Gross.

Now fed and ticketed, we made our way to the subway terminal that connects to the train station. We only had to go 8 stops, but in those 8 stops I learned that Shanghai's subway system is clean, efficient, and, at 8:30am on a Wednesday - very, very crowded. We managed to get off at the correct stop, however, and made our way up to street level where we remembered that it was raining.

I would like to pause here to point something out. Tyler usually gets up at 8am. Here it was, 9am, and we'd already been on the road for 3 hours. He'd been gotten up 2 hours early and had puked in a taxi, but my stuffed-up, coughing, sleepy little 14 month old was his usual cheerful self. On the train he sat quietly and ate a bit of apple, and on the subway he held on to the pole with me so we wouldn't fall over when the train stopped (giggling the whole way), and now he was pointing at and calling our attention to the sights of Shanghai as we tried to hold an umbrella over his stroller and walk at the same time.

Note: I didn't take this picture. This is from the portrait studio we went to about a month ago.

After a few minutes of trying to determine which direction the Canadian Consulate was from our subway stop, we'd had enough of the rain and the crowds and hailed a taxi. We knew it was only a few blocks, but we weren't sure which blocks and didn't want to wander aimlessly.

I truly don't want to re-live the ordeal at the consulate, so I won't go into details. I will say that handing in two applications involved standing in a rather long line three separate times and took almost 4 hours. Also, they keep the temperature in the consulate at a balmy 27 or 28°C, which would be fine except that it was about 6°C outside and most places in this part of China leave the windows open year round, so you tend to dress accordingly (in many warm layers). We roasted. Tyler spent the 4 hours wandering around (with his mother) and saying hello to strangers, and playing with my car keys. We left the Consulate, papers properly filed, at 12:48pm - 12 minutes before the departure of our train.

Knowing we had no chance of making that train, we walked back to the subway entrance (now that we knew where it was). Tyler had fallen asleep in the elevator at the consulate, and napped in his stroller until we got on the subway train. We rode the 8 stops back to the train station with the 2.4 billion other people who were also riding the subway in Shanghai that day, sitting in the seat that an old lady had shamed someone into giving up for us. Tyler spent the whole time telling the old lady a story (he can't really talk yet, but he doesn't let that stop him).

Once at the train station we stood in line behind the 3 billion other people at the ticket window to change our tickets to a later train. We didn't have time to catch the 2 o'clock train so we opted for the 3 o'clock. We grabbed some lunch in a little restaurant in the train station, and Tyler played a game of "funny face/giggle" with the waitresses. All of them. I don't think anyone else was served food the whole time we were there.

We made the train with plenty of time to spare, and Tyler spent a large portion of the 50 minute journey playing peek-a-boo with the lady across the aisle. Once back in Hangzhou, we stood in line at the taxi stand behind approximately 9 billion people. Tyler spent the wait finding litter to point at and say "臭"(chou="stinky"). Traffic was lighter than we expected on the way back to my sister-in-law's place, and we arrived shortly before 5pm - almost 11 hours after we'd left. After supper, an hour or so of "chase-auntie-with-balloons" and a bath he almost lasted through the first two verses of "Baby Beluga" before falling soundly asleep for the night.

While it is true that after our very long day Tyler slept through until 8:30 the next morning, woke up enough to drink a bottle of formula and then went back to sleep until noon, it should be noted that he made it through the entire ordeal without crying, fussing, and without a single temper tantrum. Like I said, my son is awesome.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sheepish grin, begin again.

The two months of silence following my last post may have clued you in, but allow me to confirm what you may have already suspected: this year's NaNoWriMo attempt was, again, a complete failure.

Well, perhaps I should qualify that. I finished up the month of November at a word count of 5155 words - somewhat short of my (admittedly hubristic) goal of approximately 200,000 words. I failed to complete the first chapter, never mind two novels. I didn't even come close to achieving my goals, so in that respect I failed. I did, however, learn an incredible amount about myself, the writing process, and how the one fits with the other. 

You may have noticed, in my last post, that I referred to my plans in terms of how many hours I had available. I ended up setting my writing goals that way - in terms of time spent. This was a mistake. "Butt in chair" is a vital concept for someone who wants to be a writer, but it is a prerequisite, not a goal. I will forever more set writing goals in terms of words on the page, because that is the only metric that means anything. 4,000 words is 4,000 words but 3 hours of buttchair time could be anything from several thousand words to none (psst, it was none more often than not). The goal is to put words on paper, not to sit in front of a computer for a certain length of time.

Goals were an important aspect of my learning experience in this year's NaNo. I learned that I had set crappy ones. The goals I set for myself in November were concrete goals, so I didn't fall into that trap, but they weren't the goals I really wanted to achieve. On the day to day side of things, I didn't want to spend a certain amount of time in front of the computer, I wanted to write a certain number of words. With my goals for the month, I came to realise that what I truly wanted to accomplish was not so much the writing of a novel, but the publishing of a novel. While the writing of a novel is a necessary (and thoroughly enjoyable) step in achieving that goal, it isn't necessarily the best first step.

One of the reasons jumping right into the writing of a novel was a bad first step for me is that I lack endurance. A novel takes a very long time to write. Weeks and months of grinding away at something without getting any meaningful feedback from anyone but yourself. It seems impossible for me to maintain the self-belief necessary to keep plodding away in the absence of feedback. The doubt begins to creep in: I've never published anything. Why would I invest this much time and effort into something without a reasonable expectation of success? Keeping in mind that my end goal for writing a NaNo novel was always to get it published, and also keeping in mind how difficult this is to achieve, these doubts had the not inconsiderable heft of truth and reason behind them.

Luckily for me I was, at one time in my life, a high-performance athlete. I know how to build endurance. I know how to build it safely, efficiently, and (most important of all) how to maintain it once you've built it up. You don't build endurance by going as hard as you can for as long as you can, until you drop from exhaustion. You build endurance by going as hard as you can, for short periods of time, as often as you can. As the time required for recovery decreases the time you perform for increases until you can go as hard as you want for as long as you want and still go out dancing that night. Mind out of the gutter, people.

With that strategy in mind, and with my newly refined writing goals in hand, I have embarked on a new journey.

I am signing up for "Write 1 Sub 1". The idea is that you write one piece of fiction (of any length) every week and submit one piece of fiction (not necessarily the same one) for publication every week for a year. As the first week of January is pretty much over now, I'll be writing two next week and then at least one a week after that. I've got my market listings ready to go, I've got duotrope bookmarked, and I've got a list of story ideas a quarter of a mile long. I'm locked and loaded. Time to build some endurance.

The writing part is under my control. I will write a minimum of 52 pieces of short fiction this year. Submitting is likewise under my control. I will submit a minimum of 52 pieces of short fiction this year. I'm hoping to publish at least one of those pieces, but that is less under my control than the others so I'm not going to state it as a goal (just a hope). Write and submit, this I can do.

Now who's with me?