Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ready to Suffer ...

I would run from sun-up to sun-down if I could.


There are too many smiles in this pic (courtesy of Brazen Racing). I did a pair of Thanksgiving runs hosted by Brazen, a 10K in Point Pinole (above) and a 5K at Quarry Lakes in Fremont. While not among the most spectacular locales in the Bay Area, they still provide a "I-can't-believe-we-live-here" moment.


As a Bay Area transplant, part of the draw of trail running for me is experiencing the natural beauty of the region. (It'd be paradise if the beaches were warmer!) Point Pinole, above, is however almost entirely invasive eucalyptus, giving a weird feeling as if you'd run through a worm-hole and transported to the opposite side of the planet. Imagine if the place was coastal cypress and redwood.

Quarry Lakes below has potential. When the young conifers mature, this place will be quite lovely. Quarry Lakes is also host to Brazen's Western Pacific Marathon (full marathon option available) in May. I think I just might. I don't know if any other flat trail marathon exists so close to home.




Anyhow, I placed 9th in my age division for the Quarry Lakes 5K. I hadn't run for "speed" since junior high school. It felt good to let loose a bit and run over threshold outside of intervals on the gym treadmill. In the future, maybe when the timing and course are right (and I'm injury-free), I'll try more speed work and fast 5Ks. For now, my main goals are 1) a series of hilly trail half-marathons and 2) the full marathon in May.


I've been gushing lately about Brazen Racing's events. They are run so well while still maintaining an indie-like vibe. The events I've attended have had a distinctly East Bay flavor; laid-back with a welcome diverse group of runners; ethnic, age, fitness levels, etc. By all the past race shirts you see at the events, it's clear they have a large, dedicated following. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird: Books, 3Q2014

While Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was assigned reading in high school -- and I do remember having read it, or at least parts of it -- upon re-read, wow! If I'd paid better attention in my formative years, I might've fashioned myself after Atticus Finch.


In school, I think I remember this portion of the reading list concentrating on themes of place and time; how language and characterization (and plot) help to tell the historicity of a story.

Being a father to two young children, To Kill a Mockingbird has that much more cultural relevance (although its place and time is set in the pre-Civil Rights Deep South). I can see Scout and Jem and their crew in my own kids and their friends; their sense of wonder and the return to wildness of long summers.

And of Atticus' damned moral certitude. The ethical man is doomed to tragedy. As rich as the characters and writing are, what raises To Kill a Mockingbird above afternoon-special fare is its ever-present sense of foreboding.

Some sh-- is going to hit the fan. You know it from the opening sentence. You just don't know what it is. How bad it'll be. Lee suspends that uneasiness while at the same time balancing the stories of childhood, then slowly tips the scale as the kids grow from childhood to pre-adolescence; shades of grey and brown added to their worldview.

Atticus, their father, a widower, is imperfect. Downright negligent to his children's upbringing in some ways.

While the story is set in pre-Civil Rights Alabama, the parallels to current events are obvious (namely, the Evans, Grant, etc., killings).

To Kill a Mockingbird is an allegory of American society and its maturation of justice, equal rights and human respect. It isn't pretty. The victories on paper and realities don't make an even upward slope. There are peaks and valleys.

Amid all of this, our lives go on despite the clear societal failures after all we've come to know. Today, are we being true to our ideals? Are we Atticus, driven by the hope of our ideals and, for some, providence? Or are we the mob, the Bob Ewells of the world, swept up by fear and willful ignorance?

The best of literature makes you think in these terms. Takes your gaze from the pages in front of you, and with a deep breath, up to the person nearby. Let's think not just of ourselves, but of our children, and our children's children. Will our actions today help make a better, more just, world for them?

***

At this writing, I'm about a quarter in on the 1200-page unabridged monolith that is the Count of Monte Cristo. I mention it because the book's length will drop my book-completion rate a bit -- if causing an up-tick in enjoyment level.

Books read, third-quarter of 2014:

In Order of Enjoyment
To Kill a Mockingbird, H. Lee
Moon Palace, P. Auster
The Fall, A. Camus
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, H. Murakami
Of Mice and Men, J. Steinbeck
Ask the Dust, J. Fante

Managed Expectations
The Old Man and the Sea, E. Hemingway
Team Yankee, H. Coyle
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, G. Garcia-Marquez
Red Storm Rising, T. Clancy
The Little Prince, A. de Saint-Exupery
The Lover, M. Duras
The Things They Carried, T. O'Brien

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Trial of Miles

Time is quick to carry on
certain as the morning tends to
hollow us and turn our words to smoke
In all that is escaped us
and all that we could hold in place
I saw you shining
saw you shining
brighter than before

--L. Gibson





Been running again lately. Above are from a recent trail run at Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills.

Speaking of which, and while the pics above sort-of show it, it occurred to me how wonderfully the Oakland/Berkeley hills showcase the climate- and bio-diversity of the Bay Area. In the same park, on the same trail, within a few hundred yards, you can go from evergreen coniferous forest (Bay-side ridges and valleys) to oak and chaparral woodland (eastern ridges and valleys).  


I also ran the Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey a couple weeks ago. I ran most of it with my brother and his wife, and that was a ton of fun. My attitude toward running has shifted in recent years: While it is still very much meditative solitary experience  (the Navajo call it "moving prayer"), I've come to enjoy the big social event side of it as well. Events, "races" -- whatever you want to call them --  they're all about celebration. Celebrating fitness, dedication, turning one's life around. Being part of the cosmic dance. And everyone -- fellow athlete, volunteer, organizer -- is there as witness. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Report: Dune

Trying something different. I don't do reviews often, but I find writing them helpful in developing a deeper appreciation and understanding for the item at hand. It's also good practice for keeping up my publication-writing chops.


I don't read much science fiction. Dune wormed its way onto my reading list via an enduring board game that was published to coincide with the 1984 film. Dune also comes up often whenever searching for quality fantasy-genre writing -- to which I'm more open.

So as with with many reads, this one started in the corner of a bookstore basement. What's a Gom-Jabar? I just had to find out.

But first, Dune had its warnings for this otherwise non-SciFi reader: 1) It's massive at 900 pages and 2) it's high-fiction with its own dictionary and appendices -- owing to its well-imagined universe. As I became more familiar with the Dune world, another warning became apparent: 3) There are heavy religious themes.

The main story arc isn't particularly compelling. What is compelling, however, and worth the read, is Herbert's ability to completely transport you into his imaginings: Mankind has recovered from a post-Armageddon dystopia and has left Earth to colonize the universe. And Herbert's universe  is so strange and curious. When events take place in that universe, your curiosity compels you to discover the outcome.

It's like when Google has a really fantastic doodle on its main search page. What happens if you start this little gizmo off over here, and then you press these other buttons over there. What will happen? Will the whole thing collapse on itself?

In the Dune universe, there are the Bene Gesserit, the Mentat, the Freman, Makers... the Gom-Jabar. What happens when they all interact? As with well-imagined and well-crafted things, the book doesn't collapse under its own complexity.

It's quite the opposite: A major episode in human history occurs, yet the universe just shrugs. There's a vastness and depth that invites further exploration. And yet the story told here is small: Two families vying for galactic influence. It is like a less-90210-ish Game of Thrones set in outer-space.

Disregarding the 1984 film (which, except for the awesome set pieces, is a disaster), in further pop-culture comparison, it is like the characters from Star Wars, Dances With Wolves, Avatar, and The Celestine Prophecy(!) all having a dance-off.

And, finally, to address my third reservation: Religion in Dune is handled with maturity. This is a messianic story in which the characters accept their roles with guarded skepticism. Dune is also a war story in which the characters are leery of religious conflict. If a there's a prophecy fulfilled here, it is manifest by mankind's genetic-engineering, psycho-actives, and pure cosmic timing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Missing


the morning 
following a great 
novel's finish
is like the wake 
of silence 
left by 
dinner guests
who've stayed the night

the wash 
of laughter 
settling into the ceiling

the flush of
semi-sweet wine 
passing while we slept

the tales to tide 
us over 'till 
new sleeves to bare

Friday, August 22, 2014

The 300

I finish reading a novel about once a month, according to my entries on Goodreads. That might seem light, but it's about as much as my current day-to-day routine can handle.

That got me thinking; If I extrapolate a book per month over the next 25 years -- at which time I'd be at retirement age -- that would come out to about 300 books. So I'll use that as a ballpark figure, 300, to say how much reading I have left in the tank.

Of course I'll have read tons more than that! But I like the number. It's very SPARTA! Thinking of it in finite terms helps romanticize what I want from future reading. Helps give it an agenda. It has to be top-notch -- new classics in contemporary lit, the canon I've yet to read, an occasional reread, and, of course the flat-out-fun reads. 

When I grow up, I want to be able to talk books, writers, good prose, and, yes, good literary criticism.

Here's the first batch of The 300:  


Of Mice & Men, Steinbeck
Moon Palace, Paul Auster
The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway
The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
Ask The Dust, John Fante 
Chronicles of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Fall, Albert Camus 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fog Meridian


1:15 in the afternoon
wisps of fog spill over
Sutro and Twin Peaks
bearing northeast down
Market Street flooding sidewalk
Indio stands selling
woolen cable knits in August

gusts of scrap-paper
blow past mid-westerners
caught in short-pants and hasty
long-sleeve drug-store fleece
pulled over hands,
collars pulled over ears

my City --

we'd yet made promises
all those years ago
under that bright
late-morning September sun,
standing atop Alamo Square
gazing eastward at rows
of Victorians pretty
as lace edging on cityscape
skyscrapers bleached white-gold
as ribbons of windows
glistened like inlaid marcasite stones

your warmth on my shoulders

it was all so easy to kid ourselves

that we could pay the shroud 
approaching from out west

its mist
its winds


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hustle & Flow


a lone sea bird
before dawn
keeps time
with trains 
above West Oakland 
sidewalks awash 
with gold grass
on thistle,
painted ladies
against purple
darkness of Tilden,
of Sibley, 
of Redwood's 
rolling crests --

while on headphones,
Chinese Ehru notes glide
above sea swell 
sounds from violins

our flights
at such
great heights --

before the train snakes
down its bay-floor tunnel,
before ears go pop
from changes in pressure
and the screams of steel
wheels on rail,
before the bustling stops
at Embarcadero,
at Montgomery,
before the song-change
to some 50-Cent hustle
and the swagger anthems
of Barbary pirates

the truth is,
i am one of them,
awake at 5 a.m.
the early bird
is all business,
all hustle for flow

i don't know what 
you heard about me

while on headphones
Chinese Ehru notes glide
above sea swell
sounds from violins


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Even the Bookstore

what is
to become of us
of no great art,
of no great will,
of squandered youth?

there's come
a point where
even the bookstore
leaves me with
regret for things
yet done
and reminders
of how little
time there's left.

it doesn't seem
so long ago,
stepping through
the entrance with a jingle
from the door chime
and a creek of the floor,
looking upon rows of top sellers
and staff recommendations,
their hand-written descriptions
across index cards --

it was as the record store
of my youth --

each shelf a new song,
each bin a new rhythm,
the rows of spine,
endless measures
wrapping 'round end-caps
singing and stepping,
beating the funk
out from everyday.

but now -- these books.
there are so many
of them!
they seem to
grow from shelves
like baby's teeth
of Great Whites.

all those stories to share,
places to visit,
dishes to taste,
crafts to learn,
technologies to test
our possibilities!

so many turns of phrase
so painfully gained
from all our great losses

from all our great leaps

art is for the broken --
the books, our rummage


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How Low Can You Go?

As mentioned last post, I started to paint at a much smaller scale, 10mm and then 6mm. For perspective, 10mm is roughly the size of a pinky-fingernail.

I've always wanted an ancients and/or fantasy miniatures army, but the popular scales -- 28mm and 15mm -- are both cost- and space-prohibitive. While the 15mm figs of Battles of Westeros and Battlelore could do (games I already own), the scale would demand a much larger playing area. Painting at 15mm also invites a level of detailing I didn't want to get into for a massed army. 

So I looked for something smaller. While Games Workshop as a company might get basheds, you gotta admit that their sculpts sure are pretty. So I started with their 10mm Warmaster line a few years ago. But when GW announced recently that they'd stop making it, prices on everything 10mm skyrocketed.
Click to zoom. A unit of 10mm Warmaster Chaos Army in need of drybrush highlighting. Painted in winter 2011.  

So I had to go smaller again, and accepted 6mm -- which is sustained by a growing number of manufacturers and a dedicated following. I had previously decided against 6mm as being too under-detailed. There's also the fact that in the U.S., there's only one or two companies (MicroWorld & GHQ) making 6mm figures that i find interesting. Beyond that, everything else has to be shipped from overseas. 

Here are a couple units of 6mm MicroWorld undead spearmen and knights. These were painted January 2014.

These aren't finished. I need to figure out how to stabilize the flags. The spearmen were done more recently and I used a finer static grass for the basing, which is closer to scale. I'm happy with how the flags turned out. The skull icons are based on 40k Orks.

So the main point of 6mm is to make massed armies appear closer to scale. Here's a great article comparing the visual benefit and cost benefit (in money and time) of 6mm vs 28mm: The Myth of the 28mm Vision

Below, 25m figures from War of the Ring are used as large creatures to the massed 6mm undead.
Finally, this is what the unit of 10mm Warmaster (unbased) looks like next to a based unit of 6mm MicroWorld undead.
While the Warmaster figs are obviously sexier, they cost at least twice as much and take longer to paint. I found Warmaster's 10mm, like 15mm, still invited a level of detailing I didn't want to obsess over. At 6mm, I'm far less concerned about the details. I can also fit three strips of 6mm figs on the same-sized base, which adds to the "massed" look.    


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Domino Effect, Arts & Crafts...

I've been able to get in more creative time with the girls sleeping through the night more consistently. Lately, that creative time has gone toward miniatures painting. Thought it'd be fun to document the progress here. If the painting has improved recently, it's all been due to learning new techniques and finding the right supplies. 

I think it's also helped that I've been painting lately at more than half the scale (10mm & 6mm) as most of the figures below. I'll post those later.

Ghouls 32mm D&D, Nov. 2010

Kobold Skirmishers, 32mm D&D, Nov. 2010

Haradrim, 25mm War of the Ring, Dec, 2010

Winterfell Cavalry, 15mm Battles of Westeros, Jan. 2013

Note, if there's some drop-off on the Wintefell figs it's due to painting at a much smaller scale, and with brushes not suitable for that scale. Not pictured above, I later painted on a small black wolf emblem on the riders' chests.

And then back to larger scale for more-recent work: 

Ents, 25mm War of the Ring, Dec. 2013

Here, the spray sealer I'd been using the last few years started to spit out white spots. I pretend it's bird poop.

And on to the latest at this larger scale:

Cave Trolls, 25mm War of the Ring, Jan. 2014