Status Update: Not Much to Update

Well, folks, I’ll own it: seasonal writers’ block is here. Much like Seasonal Affective Disorder, I suffer through a bit of a block around the end of October/beginning of November every year, like clockwork. In the past I relied on lots of light therapy to carry me through, but this year, for some reason, I thought I would be immune. I guess I was falling back on my output being so much higher this year?

Anyway, I was clearly wrong. I’m struggling.

Now keep in mind that my “struggling” still looks like 10,000 words a week, but I need more than that to get through Chapter 25 in anything resembling a timely fashion. I’m back on the light therapy, but I’m not sure how effective it will be over the next few days. So right now I don’t have too much to report past where I was the last time we talked about Chapter 25: working through the first draft. The good news is that it looks to be a relatively short chapter, but I don’t expect to get it finished until December. It sucks, but I’m trying to be patient with myself and not force things. We’ll see where it goes as I ramp up the light therapy. Until then…well, I’m just doing my best. See you Monday.

On Vanished Worlds and Historical Preservation

Hey regular (and new) readers, good to be back. As I said last week, had a minor health setback, but am ready to work once again. Word to the wise, though: avoid swimmers ear if at all possible. Shit is deadly serious. Now I’ve had a kidney stone so I can’t say it’s the worst pain I’ve ever encountered (although that was over in like an hour), but the words “agony”, “torment”, and “suffering” all easily float to the top of the mind.  I’m talking throbbing from neck to temple, the kind of stuff that makes you curl up in the fetal position and pray for death. Conversation was, quite simply, beyond me for a day or two. Real one-star experience, if you know what I mean. F–, would not recommend.

But hey, I’m doing much better today and can actually hear out of that ear, which was a pretty touch-and-go proposition for a few days. Now to ramp my activity back up to pre-pain days.

Anyway, moving on to this week’s (or should I say last week’s) topic, a few words on why I’m so fascinated with the past and historical preservation. One of the prevalent themes in my photography – almost a quest, if you will – is seeking out remnants of the vanished past, bits of detritus and ruins that remain from a long-gone world. This is not necessarily a matter of nostalgia, though that can provide a fun boost to such searches. It’s more about exploration and context and, consequently, what those can mean for your emotional landscape.

Take the photo below as an example. This is a shot of downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia during a holiday season in the late 50s or early 60s. This was an era where “downtown” really meant something, before malls came along and wrecked that paradigm.

Downtown_HBurg01

I came along too late for this era, by far; this was the world of my mother’s childhood, one that she’s described in glowing terms but which I couldn’t quite grasp until I saw this photograph. The reality pictured here haunts me as I consider what such a world looked like, felt like, smelled like. By the time I arrived on the scene the department store in the center of the frame had alreayd entered its decline phase, soon to close forever and live only in memory and photographs like this one. I never knew a world with that JOE shop, or the clothing store next to it. My memories of downtown are seedier, more ramshackle, a place that you visited only when you absolutely needed to grab one of the famous Jesses’ Hot Dogs.

Now even that world has vanished, replaced by a movement to attempt to revitalize the downtown area (but which is still falling short due to a combination of short-sightedness and the times having moved on from such mid-00s trifles). Here is a photo of the place from Christmas Day 2014. The big gray building on the right, a public school administrative building, is what remains of the department store above. I can’t say for certain whether the buildings to the left are the remains of those old stores. They don’t appear to be, but much can change in 50 years, including facades.

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This is where context is so important. The place looks sparse and utilitarian, even on Christmas Day, with little more than the modest wreaths to even indicate the season. The photo by itself might not spark much feeling if you didn’t look at that one above, didn’t know that this place once thrummed with its own vibrant sense of life. With that in mind, you can imagine those angels covering the two windows of the school building, of that display in the window above the entrance way. There’s an ache to the place, a bittersweet emotion that’s hard to define.

Historical preservation becomes near and dear to my heart where this emotion crosses with historical relevancy.  It’s about holding on to the floating ties of a vanished world, about offering context to the world around you. I’m continually shocked and amazed to discover strange realities floating just out of our mind’s eye, waiting to spring to life; the home that was once a convenience store, the general store converted to a restaurant. The lives that once intersected at that location matter, and it matters that we are aware of that convergence.

Now you certainly can’t save everything. I’m also a believer in change and progress, and sometimes it’s truly not worth the time or effort to save any hint of, say, a hot dog stand down the street. But we can save photographs from that time and us amateur archaeologists or whatever you want to call us can seek out the remains that may still stand.

This is why I photograph the places that I do. It’s why I think it’s important to photograph the detritus of places like the General Lee Motor Court, so that we can not only revisit places that we might have once known and get that hit of nostalgia, but also to contextualize our ever-evolving world. The ghosts of the past are all around us. We need to not only notice them, but reach out and grab hold of them, even if it’s simply capturing an image. Without that context, we can easily lose sight of just how our own world can vanish at any moment.

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On another note, expect a status update on my woefully-behind-schedule novel on Friday, and next week I’ll be back to talk about our upcoming trip to Culpeper, Virginia and what it means to me to be on the open road. See you again soon.

Update on the Marathon, Getting Back to Work, Fallout Cat

Hey all, had a decent weekend, managed 18 hours for the marathon (really getting too old for much more). Had some regular viewers and fun conversations on the chat and overall felt good about my participation. Will definitely do again next year, assuming the opportunity is still there. Want to thank all of the awesome people who contributed and made this a success. The money will help a lot of children.

In other news, feeling much, much better today and ready to get back to the work of writing. The illness will obviously affect timelines, but I’m not certain how much as of this writing. Hoping to get some time back over the Thanksgiving holiday, but we’ll see how that goes.

With the release of Fallout 4 just around the corner, enjoy Fallout cat.

FalloutCat

Extra Life Marathon 2015: Live Blog

8:03 AM – Finishing the initial set-up of the stream and getting settled in. I’d like to thank the Motion Picture Association of America for the delay; having some problems with their copyright encoding. First up will be Destiny, a 2014 massively online shooter that saw a major update in September that made it more user-friendly, with more story and proper quest lines. I’d given up on this game earlier this year, but am enjoying it a lot these days. Expect an hour of strikes and grinding. You can watch at http://www.twitch.tv/workingdogv1 and I’m still accepting donations at http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=175107. Thanks!

destiny

9:12 – Sorting some Internet problems and technical software issues. I expect this to solve the ongoing streaming problems…hopefully. Never trust beta software. Soon up is The Witcher 3, an open world Action RPG from 2015. Coffee in hand, ready to go now.

Witcher310:02 – Okay I do believe the issues are hammered out. Leave it to Cox to decide to crap the bed today, of all days. Next up is Life is Strange, a decidedly less actiony game about a girl who can rewind time who’s trying to deal with high school and prevent the apocalypse. More of a story-driven game, this one is a real sleeper hit that I’ve come to love. I’ll be picking up in the middle of Episode 4.

Strange

11:05 – Things are finally going smoothly. Going back to the Witcher 3 since the last time was such a disaster. Diablo 3 was always a fall-back plan anyway.

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12:37 – Just finished up lunch and back to Destiny until 1:30. So far, so good, aside from this morning’s technical hurdles. Some folks have joined in to watch, which is always fun.

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2:39 – Just went back-to-back with Destiny and Rock Band 4, now about to delve back into Life is Strange before the 3:30 afternoon break. Tiring a bit, time for more coffee.

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4:03 – Well that was quite the ending to that stream. Back from the afternoon break and ready to boogey. Time for more Rock Band!

Rock band

5:07 PM – Really feeling the length of the marathon now. I’m up to nine hours now, and it’s starting to feel it. Was doing well on Rock Band right up until the last song and hit a wall. Now it’s time for coffee and more Witcher 3. At least that’ll be slower paced.

6:07 PM – Destiny time again. I think dinner will be around 7, and past that I’m not sure what to play, since my Rock Band session with friends fell through. Maybe finish episode 4 of Life is Strange? We’ll see. Weird having coffee this late in the day.

7:42 PM – Just finished dinner and now it’s unscheduled time. I think I’m going to start by finishing Life is Strange Episode 4 and then maybe dig into Until Dawn? We’ll see how things go.

Life

8:33 PM – Explosive ending for Episode 4 of Life is Strange. Having some fun in the chat as well. Debating whether to go on to four or end at two in the morning…leaning toward the former. Still, feeling all right so far. Now to play Until Dawn.

untilDawn

10:44 PM – Starting up again shortly with Life is Strange, going to try to finish up Episode 5 and the game. In other news, just saw this about a strange light in the western sky. Apparently a Trident missile launch? Crazy stuff: https://instagram.com/p/9zpu4eEmIA/

1:40 AM – Finishing up the fifth and final episode of Life is Strange right now, and then off to bed. Thanks to everyone who donated this year! Hopefully we’ll be back here next year. Until then, later!

Extra Life 2015: Raising Money and Playing Games for Kids (With Tentative Schedule)

Hey everybody! Still on the road to recovery with my ear infection but feeling much, much better. Almost well enough to get back to full-time writing again; I may dip my toes back into the book today, with an eye toward full-scale re-engagement on Monday. In the meantime, I think I may feel well enough to take part in the Extra Life 2015 marathon that’s going on tomorrow.

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So what is Extra Life and why should you care? Good question. Extra Life is a gaming-centric charity that raises funds throughout the year to support the Childrens’ Miracle Network in providing clinical treatment, pediatric medical equipment, and other related items. Every year the network hosts a 24-hour marathon designed to help raise funds, and this is my second year participating.

I’m currently $15 short of my $200 goal and could use your help. All proceeds go to the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital. Any amount is more than appreciated. You can donate here: http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=175107

Last year I met met my goal (and then some) while also playing 18 hours of games to raise awareness and raise funds. This year I’m hoping to do the same, while upping my commitment to 20 hours, which might be a tad much in my current state, but I’ll give it a go. I also plan to stream most of these efforts throughout the day, starting at 8AM tomorrow, the morning of November 7th. Here is the tentative schedule, which may change in the evening as I have some friends who might want to join in on some Rock Band 3; all should be viewable at http://www.twitch.tv/workingdogv1.

Twitch

  • 8-9 AM – Destiny
  • 9-10 AM – The Witcher 3
  • 10-11 AM- Life is Strange
  • 11-12 AM – Diablo 3
  • 12-12:30 PM Lunch Break
  • 12:30 – 1:30 PM Destiny
  • 1:30 – 2:30 PM Rock Band 4
  • 2:30 – 3:30 PM Life is Strange
  • 3:30 – 4 PM Afternoon Break
  • 4 – 5 PM Rock Band 4
  • 5 – 6 PM The Witcher 3
  • 6 – 7 Destiny (Tentative)
  • 7 – 7:30 Dinner Break (Tentative)
  • 7:30 – 9:30 PM Rock Band 3 (Tentative)
  • 9:30 -10:30 PM TBD
  • 10:30 – 11:00 – Night Time Break
  • 11 PM – 1 AM – Until Dawn
  • 1 – 2 AM – Destiny
  • 2 – 3 AM – ???
  • 3 – 4 AM – ???

Again, the schedule may change. I’ll try to live blog some here and interact on the channel as much as possible, but it may be tricky with having to, you know, play the games.

If you’d like to help out, the link again is http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=175107

Should be a lot of fun as well as a test of endurance. Hope to see you there.

Getting There

Starting to feel better, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m not going to rush recovery. This was too painful. I’ll be resuming regular “broadcasts” next week.

Out Sick

Hey regular readers, just wanted to let you know that I haven’t abandoned the new schedule or forgotten about you. I’m suffering from a very painful ear infection, one which makes it difficult to string together sentences, let alone coherent thoughts (ask me how long it took to compose this message sometime). Hope to return to the regular schedule soon.

Status Report: On Skulls and Disappearing Characters

Time for the bi-weekly status report! Work is coming along rather well; as I had hoped, I finally tied the ribbon on the fourth and final draft of Chapter 24 on Tuesday. Thank God. It’s a vitally important chapter (but then again aren’t they all), but it’s also the longest one, or perhaps that’s a result of its importance, I don’t know. Almost 20 pages double-spaced. It took 26 days of real time, or 14 hours of pure, concentrated writing and editing time. By far the longest and most complex of chapters in this iteration of the novel. Not sad to say goodbye, though I will certainly revisit it during the “critique” phase.

Currently in the early phase of the first draft of Chapter 25. This is where I dream up individual pieces and snippets from the planned chapter and write them out in pieces – a quote here, an action there. It usually takes two or three days to get to the point of stitching them together, but once I do, boom! First draft done. That’s scheduled to wrap up on the 4th, but it could be done more quickly, depending on the length of the chapter. Hard to say at this stage, and I don’t have a solid timeframe on how long the chapter will take, though my goal is Thanksgiving, which is somewhat aggressive given how busy my workload will be at the office. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m giving thought to characters and “subplots” that either don’t add anything or never went anywhere as the story evolved. At least two characters will no longer exist by the time this book releases, with a third mentioned in passing only. Just the nature of the beast.

Still, crazy to think that I’m working on the final first draft of Came to Believe. The next first draft will be in service of Lindsay’s novel, which remains unnamed at the moment. Probably some riff on the first one, like “Verb to Noun.” “Stopped to Relieve”.

Anyway, that’s where I am for this week…talk to you again soon and have a Happy Halloween.

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Halloween Post: Rockin the Box

Talk about something strange; while I’m sure I’ve mentioned Harrisonburg, VA as my birthplace and my bio states that I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, I don’t think I’ve talked about my actual hometown. While I would call Dayton, VA my hometown, I spent the first five years of my life in the “unincorporated community” of Lacey Spring.

I credit this to being five when we moved away. Oh, sure, I have some solid memories of Star Wars toys, of playing with Tony across the street and rapidly discovering what it meant to be on the outside looking in (he was the only Hispanic kid in the neighborhood, I was the only fat kid), and of being hit in the face with a rock, but when it comes to Halloween, the nominal subject of this post, I have precious few memories. Photos exist, to be sure. I’ve seen the chubby little kid in brown corduroys with a lavish spread of Halloween candy, and a toddler in a Big Bird costume, but I have no tangible recall of those moments.

My strongest memory is of making a trek to the Lacey Spring Grocery on a hot day to get Sunkist soda, which was always my favorite. It felt like such a long walk back then, but Google informs me that it was a mile-and-a-half. I suppose that’s the nature of being a four-year-old with four-year-old legs. Sadly, the grocery closed down at some point and I can find no photos of what it looked like in its heyday. I recently visited the place, and here’s what it looks like today:

Lacey01

The place is white in my memories, which makes sense with that block of white on the right-hand side. Paint job at some point? Anyway. We moved to Dayton in July of 1981; easy to nail down the date as I have vivid memories of that July 4th. They shot off fireworks from the high school down the street, which blew my little mind. Granted, Dayton’s population couldn’t have been more than 750 people at the time, but compared to Lacey Spring it was a veritable metropolis, full of possibility.

The park where I played as a child.

The park where I played as a child. In ’81 this was an empty field.

We lived in Dayton for 14 years and, consequently, most of my Halloween memories revolve around that place. Hell, it still retains a spooky vibe in the Autumn, even when I revisit it as an adult. The thing about Dayton is that so much of its history still lives on, from the circa-late 19th century buildings downtown to the graveyard (which itself once abutted a long-lost church) with graves dating back to the 1700s. Oh, let’s not forget the potentially-haunted Silver Lake, which was the previous site for said church until a spring flooded out the grounds. Supposedly there are still gravestones in some spots, though I have no idea if anyone has verified this claim. The point is that the ghosts of Dayton’s past still walk the grounds, and it was a fertile place for my imagination.

Silver Lake

I loved to walk the streets around Sunset as the days grew short. A lot of people in Dayton still relied on wood stoves to heat their homes, so the place had this wonderful smoky scent that permeated the air. Imagine a combination of that odor with the loamy smell of fallen leaves and the ambient blue-and-purple lighting that fell across the nigh-deserted side streets and alleys. Absolute magic for a kid fascinated by the dark and decay. I’d stay out there for hours until the sky went black, and even then I’d sometimes linger under the oaks, peeking up through the last few wavering leaves to watch the twinkling stars overhead.

Dayton didn’t have a large population of kids, but we celebrated Halloween hard and well. Oh, we had our usual childhood stratification, with the older kids focusing on pranks and the younger kids focusing on trick-or-treating (sans parents, of course, you could still safely walk the streets alone), but there was a sense of it being a town-wide event. 1985 and 86 were the best that I can remember, though 85 is a little fuzzy, save this photo of me with that year’s Jack-O-Lantern. Note the sweet Movie Channel T-Shirt.

Movie_Channel

My touchstone would be 1986, which would be my last year in Elementary school and represent a jumping-off point to adolescence. We had just discovered the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and, while I would have to wait until Christmas for my own system, several of my friends already had theirs, and they were playing Castlevania that Fall. This would become my go-to-world to visit while I walked through streets, imagining myself as a rogue vampire hunter roaming the graveyard and climbing through construction sites. How could you resist such a fantasy? Practically crack, pure distilled badass as far as I was concerned.

Castlevania

And boy did I think I had a sweet costume in place that year. I didn’t dress as Simon Belmont, the hero of Castlevania (that would be a few years later, for a school dance), but I had something else in mind. That year also represented the last big bang of toys for me, in particular M.A.S.K., GI Joe and Transformers. I had developed a fascination with the recently-released Transformers movie, in particular the character Blurr, a fast-talking futuristic car/robot combination. I have no idea if he’s made an appearance in the live-action movies (I avoid those as much as possible), but I was in love. I had to dress as this robot. Now, keep in mind that this is what the character looked like:

Blurr01

By now you may have figured out that we weren’t exactly rich and, even if you did have money back in those days, you couldn’t exactly pop down to a Michael’s  and buy costuming materials. You either bought off-the-rack or tried to build your own the best you could. Blurr wasn’t a star character like Megatron or Optimus Prime, so the off-the-rack option was gone from the beginning. So, being the, ahem, creative child that I was, I decided to create one myself. With boxes. And face paint. And hair dye.

It turned out about as well as you’d expect. I mean, it wasn’t a terrible idea, but the execution lacked poetry, to say the least. It would become a neighborhood legend, in fact, spawning the nickname Boxman. My parents, God love them, have preserved this moment of shame so that I may share it with you.

Blurr

Not pictured: boxes on feet.

Hey, at least I tried. Sadly, no evidence remains of the Belmont costume, which actually did turn out pretty sweet and got compliments.

Such is life.

Hope all who celebrate have a Happy Halloween, and I’ll see you next week with some talk about Historical Preservation.

Monday Sanity Check: Dragging the Depths Edition

Mary and I have a years-long standing tradition of filling our Octobers with horror movies. The interesting thing about these marathons is that we inevitably hit some sort of theme, quite by accident. Last year it was Satan and possession. This year it’s the 1970s and living doll movies (like the fantastic Tourist Trap, can’t recommend that enough). This weekend we decided to watch the 1979 version of Salem’s Lot, as Mary’s been jonesing to watch it.

It hasn’t aged well. Don’t get me wrong, it had some creepy moments, like the kids hovering outside windows and Geoffrey Lewis as a vampire (see the photo below), but overall it suffered from corny dialogue, poor adaptation choices, and pacing issues. I mean, SEVERE pacing issues. The first hour of the story could have been cut out and it would have been all the same for it. I get that King’s book was just as much about the goings-on in a small town as the vampire threat, but this stuff dragged the movie into the mud.

salems Lot

Don’t get me started on the changes made to Barlow’s character or the limpness of the confrontation between Barlow and Callahan compared to what transpires in the novel. I’m tempted to check out the 2004 adaptation, but while it’s closer to the novel, it apparently has its own issues. Is it really so hard to put together a two-hour version of the story? It didn’t seem that hard based on what I saw, but what do I know?