A Pocket Full of…Tissues

The past couple of weeks have been a blast. Of course, when I say ‘blast’, I mean whatever the exact opposite of that might be. It was shortly before Christmas that I found myself with a cold, thanks to some flip-flopping weather.

Around here, there really isn’t such a thing as autumn. We go from the blazing heat of summer to slightly less blazing heat and around December or early January, we leap headfirst into winter. As such, the seasonal sickness that used to affect me around September when I was in the US gets put off by a couple of months. Usually, I manage to make it through Christmas sneeze-free, but alas that wasn’t the case this time. So it was that I sniffled my way through Christmas.

But we weren’t done yet. My cold, it seems, came in two phases. The first phase involved a general sense of achiness all over my body, lethargy, loss of appetite and the occasional cough. The next phase, which began earlier this week, involves a leaky faucet of a nose, some richly layered sniffing sounds and a scratchy throat that leads to spasms of coughing. It’s an exciting process.

Hopefully, that’s the end of it and by next week, I’ll be as fit as a particularly robust fiddle. Or if there is another phase to all this, please let it involve telepathy and the power of flight rather than more runny noses.

Out to Lunch

Ah, it feels so good to come back to blogging after a short break. One week off is just what I needed to reorganize my thoughts.

Wait, what was the date of my last post?

November 3rd?!

No, that can’t be right…

Must be a glitch. Let me refresh the page.

Huh.

November 3rd.

Sonuva…

Looks like my little hiatus lasted way longer than I’d planned.

Oops.

Well, nothing to do but hop back in the saddle and continue the journey. After someone teaches me how to ride a horse.

Apologies to my readers and fellow bloggers for the disappearance, but I’m back now!

And better than ever! Or, at least, that’s the story I’m sticking to.

The Future is Full of…Stuff

At last, I’ve reached the end of Writing 101! This is the last assignment and I’m only over a month late! It occurs to me that the past few posts have started with some variation of ‘Oh wow, I’m so behind on this..’, but I’ll be done with that now, I promise! Well, maybe.

This assignment is about looking to the future. What does the coming month hold for me? The coming year? Decade? Well, truthfully, I don’t know. Some days I’m not even sure what dinner holds for me. Given the lateness of this assignment, I’ll be looking at the immediate past and the future, like Janus of Roman myth.

The month after the actual conclusion of Writing 101 was October, which ended up being a ridiculously busy time for me. Had I finished the assignment on time, I would have mentioned that I planned on writing a series of horror stories leading up to Halloween. And indeed, I did. It’s called 20 Tales of Terror, and you can find all the stories on my fiction blog, Tales of Unusual Strangeness. The plan was to write a story per day, starting in the second week of the month. This was mainly because I was burnt out from a crazy hectic September, so my original plan of 31 stories didn’t pan out. That wasn’t all, though! I also decided, in a stroke of genius (or ‘genius’), that I would create an illustration to accompany each tale! What fun! Except, of course, I had no idea what to draw.

At first I thought I’d draw a detailed scene from each story, but that would be too intensive. So I settled for something evocative of the story’s theme/tone, featuring some key elements from the story. Easier said than done. Writing the stories was no problem. I created an editorial calendar of sorts, outlining what stories I planned to write (this was mostly improvised for the last week or so). That was no problem. Barring the occasional bit of writer’s block, my fingers danced over the keys and produced stories I was quite happy with. Each day, I’d have a story ready to publish. The drawings, however, completely derailed my schedule. Conceptualizing the image was the hardest part, but drawing and coloring also ate up a lot of time, and I ended up missing a day here and there and then posting multiple stories the next day to catch up. All because my images weren’t ready. Shoot.

I got there in the end, though, and managed to post my last story on Halloween after a mad dash to get that picture completed. There was even time to participate in a Halloween story challenge earlier in the month. The downside, as the eagle-eyed reader (that’s you) may have noticed, is that this blog became a ghost town.

But that’s all over and done with. Halloween, sadly, is over. A new month is upon us. So, what does that mean? As I said earlier, I have no clue. I’m taking a short break from my fiction blog so I can devote more time to reading all the blogs I’ve been missing out on, and to develop some story ideas instead of trying to put them together on the fly, as I’ve often done. I’m also rethinking how to approach my fiction blog. In an attempt to get more (and more consistent) page views, I had gotten into the habit of posting a short 50-word story and a haiku every day. While that was fun, I found myself getting more focused on the quantity of my posts and let the quality slide now and again. Over the past two months, I’ve been writing stories that averaged 700 words (but usually more) and I’ve really enjoyed that, mainly because it’s allowed me to develop the characters of each story and give them some breathing room. So I’m wondering if I should fall back into the old routine, or only do one or two posts a week, with longer stories. Maybe even a mini series. Something to ponder over the next week or so.

And of course, there’s this blog. I am a fiction writer at heart, but I do enjoy posting my rambling thoughts here as well, and seem to get more feedback than on my other blog. But how to go about this? Shortly after I’d started both blogs, I thought I would do daily posts on both. My pull towards fiction makes that impossible, as I often put this blog on the back burner when thinking up stories. What should I do with this? Leave it as a place to post the occasional ramble or try to make it into something more cohesive? Hmm.

I think, taking a cue from a forgotten Writing 101 assignment, I’ll post a poll in another day or two asking for feedback on both my blogs. It might not give me an immediate answer, but should hopefully nudge me along in one direction or another.

So I guess in the immediate future, I’ll be charting out the course of my blogs. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

Where in the World…?

As the twilight of October approaches, I’m still limping along with the last remnants of Writing 101. I refuse to just give up on the assignments, and my OCD-prone mind won’t allow me to blog about anything else until all they’ve all been completed in order. I think it’s been well over a week since I last posted, because I’m having increasing difficulty in balancing two blogs, a full-time job, and other assorted hobbies. To honor my second favorite festival (that would be Halloween), I’ve started a series called 20 Tales of Terror on my fiction blog, where I’ve been posting a freshly-written short story (with an accompanying illustration, also done by me) every day. As such, the majority of my focus has been on that, and I’ve ended up neglecting this poor blog.

Anyways, we’re now on Assignment 18. Well, I am. Because see previous paragraph. For this one, we’re asked to draw inspiration from some town or city from around the world. It could be a place we’ve lived in, visited, want to visit or, simply one we picked blindly off a map.

Geography’s never been my strong suit, so it’s likely that if I go the map route, I’ll wind up landing on some city in eastern Angola or the south of Turkey, which will require a bit of research before I can even think of what to write about the place. So maybe I’ll ditch the map option. I’m also not extremely well-traveled. I’ve seen a lot of airports in my time, but not nearly enough of the cities outside of them. Instead, I’ll talk about a place that’s close to my heart, mainly because of the people I met there. That place is State College, Pennsylvania.

I have grown up in cities. The early years of my childhood were spent between Kuwait and Calcutta, and my formative years were in Dubai, which was a fairly bustling metropolis even back in the day. I was used to towering skyscrapers, cavernous shopping malls and only the barest hint of greenery, usually found in parks. However, I had grown up on a steady diet of TV shows where people lived in charming suburban houses with wide front lawns and picket fences. It was so different from anything I knew, and I fell in love with the idea of a quiet, sleepy community where everyone wasn’t in a hurry to go places.

Shortly after high school graduation, I went to visit my dad in Austin for a couple of weeks, where he was working at the time. It was my first trip to the US, and it was amazing. We went via Chicago, which didn’t look too different from what I knew (aside from a bit more greenery). But landing in Austin is when I really saw a different side of life. There no tall buildings near where my dad lived. He was in a small community, on the second floor of a townhouse. There was a balcony with an amazing view of nature spread out before me, with not a skyscraper or mall in sight.

About six months later, I was on my way to Penn State, an excited (and nervous) young freshman embarking on life away (far, far away) from home for the first time. I was completely torn up over leaving everyone I knew behind, and worried about how I would adjust to college life. That all changed once I landed up in State College. It felt like home. There was no greenery when I got there, as it was early January. But I did get to see snow for the first time in my life. The world that I had seen in so many Christmas movies and TV shows was now all around me. Like Austin, this was a place that was built horizontally, not vertically. There were fields and trees and wide open spaces to walk in. Even during the rush between classes, everything moved at a much slower pace than what I was used to. It was idyllic.

Granted, it was still a college town, so things could get a little rowdy on weekends, but drunken tomfoolery aside, it was a great place to be. Even better are the surrounding townships, all with a quaint charm of their own. Bellefonte, one of the neighboring towns, prides itself on its historic roots and is like a doorway to the past. On occasion, I took trips to neighboring cities and states, which involved traveling across long stretches of highway with rolling hills on one side and a river running through the other. State College itself, nicknamed Happy Valley, provided a majestic hilly view on the horizon no matter where you went.

Returning to Dubai from there was quite a shock. Chilly country breezes replaced by hot gusts of smog and sand, towers of steel and glass instead of farmland and greenery, and then there was the pace of life. I had forgotten just how fast people moved in Dubai. Everyone’s in a rush to go somewhere. There’s hardly ever time to stop and breathe. I remember having long, relaxed conversations about absolutely nothing with my friends in college as we sat on a porch overlooking a gorgeous hillside. All anyone can talk about here is work and money.

I’m hopeful that one day, I can find myself living in a smallish town again, living a simpler life. Until then, I’ll just have to try my best to walk in a world where everyone runs.

Artifacts

This assignment involved scanning through online history, such as old Facebook posts or blog drafts, to come up with a post. Basically, we had to use our past as a creative platform for something new, which is always fun. The thing is, I’m not the most ‘social’ guy online, and I’ve been on and off Facebook so many times that there are no old posts to look through (except in Facebook’s own database, I guess, where they’ll store that information for all eternity).

In today’s world, people are obsessed with documenting every mundane moment of their lives, creating a virtual shrine to themselves for others to gawk at. You might gaze reverently upon the pictures of someone’s lunch or be amazed as you see their smiling faces in front of some famous monument. It give you the opportunity to live vicariously through them, and creates a patchwork vision of their lives. When you’re stuck behind a desk all day, seeing an unending stream of vacation photos could make it seem like everyone else is having a party you’ll never be invited to.

Anyways, this post isn’t supposed to be a rant about social media (with which I’ve had a loooong love/hate relationship). Though it does make me think about legacies, and what we’re leaving behind. We’ve seen the election of the first African-American US president, advances in equal rights for homosexual couples, and serious discussions about gender inequality. Will all that be overshadowed by poorly worded cat pictures? Oh sure, the history books (or ebooks or holo-transmissions) will cover the major events, as they always do. But what image will we project as individuals? Will our grandchildren know us more for our contributions to society or for our super sweet achievements in online roleplaying games?

For me, it’ll definitely be the latter. My video games, action figures, comics and books will be the artifacts of my life. They’ll be like the treasures of the pharaohs. Maybe I’ll stash them away somewhere and design an elaborate treasure hunt for my descendants. They’ll probably think they’re going to uncover some sort of huge secret that might change the way they look at their family history, or even the world. They’ll think they’ve got some sort of Da Vinci Code on their hands. I wonder what it’ll feel like when they finally find it, and see that first Batman action figure scowling at them. It’s gotta sting when you find out that Grandpa’s just saying, “Gotcha, suckers!” from beyond the grave.

So…yeah. This post may have gotten away from me a bit. But I suppose it’s just another piece to add to the puzzle that is my online life. Maybe one day, someone will go through my archives to learn more about the stranger in this strange mind, and come across this post. I hope they read it, and I hope they react the same way I did when I re-read it myself:

“What?!”

A Life Outside The Pen

Yesterday’s prompt asks, what do you do when you’re not writing? How do you reset your internal typewriter?

A lot of times, when I’m not actively writing something, I’m thinking of what to write. Either I’m coming up with a story idea, or trying to flesh out a concept into a full-blown story. Sometimes, I’ll find myself stuck for words and spend some time thinking about how I want to portray my scene or my characters. And of course, the best way to get ideas (for fiction, at least) is to consume more fiction.

I’m not as voracious a reader as I once was, unfortunately, limited to about a half hour of reading a day so it doesn’t take over my schedule. I miss the days of my childhood, when I could just lounge with a book for hours and not have to worry about any other responsibilities. But I still enjoy reading a lot, and have a particular fondness for anthologies and short story collections. They offer a solid variety in bite-sized portions, and I find they have more value as I can always find at least a couple of stories that I like, whereas if a novel’s bad, that’s an entire book wasted.

More of my time nowadays is spent watching movies, playing video games (well, that’s another infrequent one), drawing and generating story ideas. If anything, drawing’s probably my favorite activity next to writing; at one time, I was much more of an artist than a writer. Well, I’m more of a cartoonist, really. Alright, a doodler. But I still enjoy it.

I’ve also got a fairly steady workout routine going, which keeps me active and provides a nice break from everything else. And when all other options are exhausted, there’s sleep. I’ll never say no to sleep. And now that I think of it, I could probably write a story or two based off weird dreams I’ve had.

But really, writing is my relaxation tool now. When there’s too much stress or worry to deal with, I can always step into another world and begin populating it, creating a history and a future for it.

Or I could sleep. Sleep is good.

Life over A Cuppa Joe

The latest assignment (which I’m three days behind on…oy..) is to write a post as if you’re catching up with a friend over coffee. I suppose it’s only appropriate that I’m having some coffee while writing this post.

So let’s say we met up after ages (or what seems like ages) in a favorite coffee shop. Oh, how nice it would be to meet in an old neighborhood cafe where silver-haired servers chirp in sing-song voices while taking your order and are always ready with a freshly brewed pot and a smile. Most likely though, we’d be catching up in a Starbucks or something. Which is fine.

If we were having coffee, my first priority would be the coffee itself, along with a muffin or a croissant. A slice of carrot cake, maybe. Or cheesecake, because I’ll never refuse cheesecake. I like my coffee black. Time was, I’d load up on cream and sugar, but nowadays I find that to be cloyingly sweet, so I stick with black. Though a latte or cappuccino isn’t out of the question. And if ’tis the season, some pumpkin spiced concoction. But I digress.

We’d talk of this and of that. Random happenings in our lives, major events (of which there have been few lately) and perhaps reminiscences of times past, when we were young and stupid.

I’d probably mention the various frustrations I’m facing with my job, which had seemed like something of a dream job when I’d started 5 months ago, but has proven to be mired in the mundanity of the real world. I might talk about what a drab work environment it is, and how work friends are pretty much impossible because there’s nobody I can relate to on any level. I might even go on to mention that the only people I like talking to nowadays can be found on the internet, chatting it up with me in my own living-room, and yet oceans away.

If I were to catch you up on my life at present, I’d talk about still struggling to accept that my twenties are behind me (and may have been partially wasted), hoping to one day find a job that doesn’t dissolve into dissatisfaction after a few months, looking for friendship in a world of concrete and steel, and on a somewhat fruitless quest for love (though I hate to bring up the mushy stuff if I can help it). Fiction isn’t merely escapism, but a true escape from the monochrome world I find myself in. I write tales far more interesting than the ones I live, and devour stories like a malnourished orphan. It makes my world better.

Well, that turned out to be a bummer of a coffee date. Maybe we should get something stronger than coffee next time.

But enough of my prattling.

What’s up with you?