Sunday, 19 May 2013
This week: four personal bests at the gym.
10 min run- up 1 speed
Lateral pulldown, palms facing face, hands shoulders-width apart: up 2 notches.
10 min old-style cross strainer- not sure what you'd call this machine. It works similarly to most cross trainers (i.e. like the one I warm up on), but it doesn't operate with the same kind of circular motion that my hands and feet are used to. Up 0.08 km.
I've come to the realisation that I was in much better shape before I started doing extra cardio in my gym sessions. When I moved out in 2010, getting my own place coincided with my previous local gym shutting down.
I joined OCL, and found the facilities were in much better condition that Bodymatters' were. There's something about smart gym equipment that makes you want to use it- to give certain machines a shot, and keep using them. That's why I found myself mixing a lot more cardio into my workout, and hence cutting down on weight training. This, coupled with problems with the new flat, my memory, social life and money- leading to me eating cheap, salt-heavy food- meant that despite all the working out I was doing, I was falling out of shape.
Since then, I've overcome pretty much all of these problems. My diet's in order, I'm sleeping better (sort of- okay, I've got the pills for it-), I've overcome problems with friends and I'm doing better at the gym, as these blog posts reiterate.
Yet I've not got back to the physique I once had. I've tried doing long cardio sessions to burn off fat, I've kept up with weights and I'm mixing cardio in alongside it all. This is probably because the cardio machines at OCL are much better than Bodymatters' were. So. What if I cut back on cardio, only using the cross trainer to warm up? What if I spent the rest of the sessions purely weight training? It makes sense that, now that I'm eating well like I did when I lived with my mum and dad, and now that I'm on protein shakes, that I should be able to tone up really quickly if I skip the cardio machines and focus on strength. Especially seeing as you can burnmore calories doing weight training than you can doing cardio.
I'm going to give this a shot for the next month. Time to get shredded!
Thursday, 16 May 2013
Next up in The Hairy Dieters cookbook is this Indian delicacy.
This was possibly the dish that required the most preparation out of all of the meals I’ve cooked. It comprises of 18 separate ingredients- most of them spices- and a good 12 hours of preparatory time. Forewarning- make sure your knives are sharp for this one. I didn’t.
That’s the first mistake I made, followed by not buying a garlic crusher. The next mistake was to not read through the instructions from beginning to end before starting the recipe. I didn’t realise exactly how long it would take to make. After making the marinade, I fridged it for 12 hours. The next morning at 8am I carried on making the dish (realising I didn’t have an appropriate baking rack either. The grill mesh had to do).
Once the steps had been taken, it wasn’t that difficult. I just followed the instructions. Ripping out the chicken’s spinal cord a la Predator took a bit of elbow grease, but essentially, the time and effort I spent preparing it was worth it. Just.
I took it to a Jacob’s join in work, having not actually tasted the dish at all. It went down a treat! I even got marriage proposals from the (somewhat older) ladies in work. It was hella spicy though. I’ve even had people asking me for the recipe! But of course, by the time I’d brought it in I’d forgotten what the recipe was called.
So. I’ve cooked for myself. I’ve cooked for my family. I’ve cooked for work. Plan for the next month: to cook for friends, and cook for a woman…
Monday, 13 May 2013
A glass triangular prism sits on the pavement outside the Armani store on Deansgate. It’s hardly noticeable during the day, but at night the light emanating from underneath it, and the door staff, isolated from colleagues at any other nearby bar, draw a lot of attention. To read the bar’s name, you’ve got to walk right up to the door staff, to check the pale white lettering printed in a slender font on the glass.
I went on Bank Holiday Sunday. In front of me, a group of twenty-something-year-old lads were being stopped by security.
I told the doorman I was going to meet a girl. He let me in, past the exasperated group and down the long, under-lit staircase to the bar area where the bar staff were mixing cocktails over Bunsen burners. I met my date near the DJ booth, where deep house pulsed from an immense touch-screen glass mixing station. It’s worth going to see that alone. (But of course, my date was better to look at.) The painted brick walls and iron ceiling offered good reverb, and looks a lot better than I’m making it sound. Before long we were smashed on “Love You Long Time” cocktails and the supplies from their (incredibly tall) back-bar.
The toilets, normally the downfall of many a “classy” bar, were on top form: clean, with soap and moisturiser dispensers and Dyson Airblade hand-dryers. On the way back to the bar, I noticed the walkway passes not only the restaurant’s dining room but the kitchen, and you can stop to watch the chefs frying up behind the darkened glass.
A rough guide for a night out: check this bar out, then head into Spinningfields for venues of the same class. But beforehand, just keep your group small, load up your wallet and dress to impress.
Sunday, 12 May 2013
Gym smashing from 6th May onwards:
10 min run: up 1 speed
Lateral pulldown, backs of hands facing face, elbows at right-angles: up 1 notch. Kind of like this, only I wasn't topless and my head doesn't look like a penis.
Wow. Quiet week. I've found an amazing bar and I've had a big cooking success, but they warrant blog posts of their own. Stay tuned.
Saturday, 11 May 2013
Pic courtesy Pascal P, Flickr
In Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo becomes the ring bearer to return the ring to its place of origin, Mount Doom, so he can destroy it. That is his dramatic need. How he gets there and completes the task is the story.
The character's need determines the creative choices he/she makes during the screenplay, and gaining clarity about that need allows you to be more complex, more dimensional, in your character portrayal.
Without conflict, there is no action. Without action, there is no character. Action is Character. What a person does is what he is, not what he says!
-Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, Syd Field
There are two subjects that I frequently write about on this blog: creative writing and self-improvement. They are two fairly distinct topics. I've also written quite a few posts about my life and the slightly weird situations I find myself in.
Occasionally, there's a crossover. I'll have an anecdote that bridges two of those. Take this one, for example: I am 15 years old, reading a copy of the Reservoir Dogs screenplay instead of revising for my GCSEs. I realise that this is what I want to do with my life: I want to tell stories for the cinema. I want to write. The only half-decent jobs I'd ever be applicable for, however, are in IT and that's what I've applied to do at college. I'll never get the grades to study media, which might- at a long-shot- lead to a career in screenwriting. Or that's what I think, until I find an intermediate course at a local college, a course that doesn't require any grades at all. This is it: my first step to becoming a screenwriter.
A year later, I've made it onto the advanced course. A couple of people from the media industry come to the college to give careers advice. One tells us that to stand out from the crowd, and to be hired by media managers, a degree can be really helpful.
Another year later, I've learned an introduction to a range of sectors within the media industry- the goings-on in the worlds of print media, design, video, sound recording and editing, live TV and radio. I've finished the intermediate level work and am half-way through the advanced course. I still want to be a screenwriter, but I've learned so much about how competitive each sector of the media is and how each area- be it graphics or marketing- are totally different lines of work. We have touched on screenwriting here and there, but I've struggled with the modules that relate to it- the video modules I've found challenging due to memory difficulties and learning to use the technical equipment, and with organising groups of people like actors and crew. I don't really know where my strengths are and Screenwriting has become a pipe dream.
It's the start of my final year at college. The course tutor tells us that if we want to go to university next year, we'll have to fill in our UCAS forms now. The idea of me actually being taken on by a university seems ridiculous. I got a very low merit grade in my intermediate media course, and 1 grade C in my GCSEs. I feel like I'm being kidded, but I don't have anything to lose. I fill all six options on my UCAS form. As we've been learning about various different media forms, I have no idea what to focus on and screenwriting has been pushed to the back of my mind. I apply for more general media courses at degree level; an HND in Media Production is right down at the bottom. I send it off and forget about it.
Whilst I'm hammering through reports, practical projects and evaluations, a letter comes in the post. It's an invitation for an interview at The University of Salford- my last choice. I attend the interview and it goes well- I surprise myself with what knowledge I've actually retained- but I'm intimidated by the prospect of me doing this at higher education level with the intention of doing it professionally. Here I am, waffling about 2-camera set-ups and interview techniques. It all sounds very convincing. I'm too dazed, due to hard-and-fast work, hampered by forgetting countless things, to stop and think about why I ever started on the intermediate course to begin with. Regardless, I gave the interview a shot.
Days later, I get accepted onto the course. I'm in disbelief. My next two years, at least, are planned out. I just hope they support me in whatever way I need.
One of the last college modules I complete is Freelance Journalism. The majority of this is written work, an area where I seem to be getting a lot of Distinctions. There's a flash of inspiration as I look through all of my grades from the last two years. Each module has four grades: Planning and research, Implementation, Evaluation and Outcome. Each grade is either a Pass, Merit or Distinction. My grades are mostly Merits, but the Distinctions are scattered around the work where writing was a major part. Four in Freelance Journalism. A lot more in Evaluations. A tutor tells me my writing has come on a long way.
There's a part of me that wants to “pull the handbrake on”- to say, “Wait a minute. I seem to be a dab hand with this here. I should be doing a writing course, not a technical one.” But as I've been turned down for every other course I've applied for, I assume that the place I've been given is the ONLY course at the ONLY university that would ever take me.
I'm prepared to bet that I'd have been wrong. Why didn't I get that movie-style flashback of me trying to read the Reservoir Dogs screenplay in school, and being filled with that urge- that NEED to tell stories and to put sentences together? Why didn't I look at these grades and realise that I was more likely to fulfil my original ambition than I was of having a chance of succeeding on this tech course and getting a job in that field?
Because I forgot all about my dramatic need.
I had pushed those harboured desires to write to the back of my brain, where they stayed until my 26th birthday. Then, whilst chowing down on jalapeno pizza, I was talking to a relative about blogging. She asked me if I'd considered sending it out to anywhere- local magazines or newspapers. I said I'd never thought of that, but there's no reason why I couldn't, I suppose. I'd been writing for fun for a couple of years, but at that moment in Albert's Shed in Castlefield, the penny dropped.
I was a writer. It was no wonder I'd not succeeded at anything else. The grades I'd got at school, college and uni were all average except those I got for the written work. The hopeless attempt I'd made to join the Armed Forces years after graduating had involved testing- I'd scored abysmally at the memory and numeracy sections, but very strong in the literacy section (and my electrical comprehension score was very high, bizarrely).
There was one other problem I have had- aside from applying to the wrong jobs and doing the wrong course. Throughout college, university and subsequent jobsearching, I'd forgotten what I wanted in the end. As a result of not having this “dramatic need” of my own, I didn't know how to behave. My whole personality was “wrong”- I was shy, depressed, directionless and frustrated. I wanted to develop myself and become more confident, but into what? What was I striving for? I wanted a girlfriend, but what else? Regardless of other people, what did I want from life?
I had no idea. Not until that birthday meal. I am a writer, first and foremost. I do reception work to pay the bills, and I'm grateful to be in a job in this climate, but integrally, I write. Since that conversation on my 26th, I've become much more confident– overall, with writing, and with talking to friends, family and colleagues. I've made decisions based on that need and I feel like I know myself a lot more. I stumbled across that opening quote more recently and it spoke volumes to me. It said, know what you want and you will know who you are. And knowledge, as we all know, is power. Power, even if only over yourself, is confidence.
Friday, 10 May 2013
Scribophile is a creative writing feedback site. You upload work. You offer reviews to others. They offer reviews to you. It's a format used by many sites, yet the majority I've dabbled in have been dire- lame reviews, inactive accounts, bad writing to begin with. I have been trying one site after another.
Scribophile is different. The writers are good at writing. They are fine reviewers. The system is fair and effective. Check out why.
When you sign up to the site, you can choose between Basic- a free account- or Premium, for $9 a month, allowing you to upload multiple pieces and with a guarantee of exposure to other writers on the site. I went for Basic.
Basic promises you the opportunity to upload 2 pieces of writing. This promise is fulfilled once you've dished out enough critiques to other writers.
After setting up an account, your next task is to review. As April was NaPoWriMo, I focussed on reviewing poetry. The poetry section was under “fiction”, which was a little confusing, but it appropriately filtered out the prose fiction and articles. I'll be referring to poems in this blog post as an example, but the same descriptions of the site could apply to fiction.
To pick out a piece to review, you can choose to search for newest writing, work with bonuses (more karma points, more on this later) or random writing (any format or genre). After this, you're shown a poem by another site member. When you decide to review this, you're offered 2 different forms through which to give feedback: a comment for general feedback (i.e. “I liked this”) or a critique for real feedback. At first, I wondered why anyone would bother with the former. We're using the site to improve our work and prepare it for publication, so who wants general nicey-nicey feedback?
It did occur to me, though, that sometimes critiquers might be starting out with writing and might not spot any errors in a piece of writing. We all need to find our feet somewhere, so this site might help those. Also, if a writer is particularly skilled, their poem or story might be too good for a lot of people to be critical about. So comments may work in these scenarios.
The site is versatile. When you start your critique, you're offered three different methods for giving feedback: Inline, Template or Freeform.
An Inline critique allows you to insert your own annotations into the text of the poem itself, to point out specific details. These appear highlighted to distinguish them from the original writing. This style is effective as you don't have to copy sections of the text to back up particular ideas or suggestions, and the reader doesn't have to wade back through their own text to check the specifics- the advice is placed right where it's best seen. I found this to be the easiest to write, and probably the most helpful to receive.
A Template review asks you to write suggestions in separate boxes that relate to plot, pacing, description, point of view, characters, dialogue, grammar and spelling and finally general comments. This is good for those starting out in the critiquing field. The prompts encourage you to check the work with a more detailed, investigative eye and indicate the kind of writing elements that a good critiquer should be aware of.
A Freeform review allows you to put your thoughts into a standard block of text. However, if you want to quote the original piece to draw attention to something, you may have trouble copying and pasting. I couldn't do this using Firefox's browser.
The more words you write in your review, the more “karma points” you receive. With enough points, you can post work and unlock critiques other writers have written for you.
After you've written a review, you can read other contributors' reviews of the same piece. These reviews come with “review” options themselves- you can click to mark them as “thorough”, “enlightening”, “encouraging” and “constructive”. There's also a “like” button and an opportunity to flag a “bad critique”. The amount of clicks you get on these reviews will increase your “reputation points”, indicating to other site members how much respect you've gained from the reviews you've given.
Before long, you'll be allowed to upload a piece of writing and your work will go into the Member Spotlight, which is basically the top section of the list of reviewable pieces. Reviewers will get full karma points for critiquing your work. You'll receive knowledgeable, helpful critiques quite quickly. It will leave the spotlight after receiving 3 long critiques. After uploading my first piece- something I've been sitting on for 2 years- I woke up with 18 notifications, a couple of reviews and LOADS of replies from The Writing Forum- a section for discussing the writing process, which I'd been contributing to.
Again, people in the Forum have good ideas, interesting questions and good discussion and debate. Reputation points are given and received in this section of the site too. I love the site's witty update notices. When you post in the discussions, the site will inform you to “hang in there” or will notify you that it is “reticulating splines” while it saves your message.
Also on the site is a Member Publication Showcase, a section for showing off published pieces of writing that had previously been critiqued on Scribophile. (You need to go Premium for this.) You'll also find tons of writing advice (from the Scribophile admins themselves and the best of the reviewers on the site) in the Writing Academy. This is a collection of free writing resources- advice on storytelling techniques, grammar and legal issues.
The only problem I had with the site related to responding to reviews. Other sites will let you comment on the reviews that you receive, so that the reviewer- and other site users- can engage in conversation under that specific review. On Urbis, a similar feedback site that stopped working a few years ago, all of this could be seen in the same place on the same screen. With Scribophile, you're asked to thank reviewers by going to their “scratchpad”- like a wall on Facebook, a place to leave messages for that person but are visible to all site users- to discuss the piece reviewed. I found this difficult as there's no instant hyperlink to the story / poem you're discussing.
Regardless, Scribophile seems like the site I've been searching for since Urbis' days came to a close. Join me on the site here. Let's help each other out.
Thursday, 9 May 2013
The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.
-Hunter S Thompson
A year ago I attempted to increase my endurance and burn some fat by walking on a treadmill for over an hour, whilst reading a book.
In retrospect I felt that I could have trained a little longer, and that I hadn’t pushed myself to see what happens when you go “all-out-” to keep reading until your legs seize up and the words go blurry in front of you.
In order of taking things “to the edge”, I figured I needed a book written by someone who knows exactly where that edge is: the good doctor and godfather of Gonzo, Hunter S Thompson.
I managed to read about two-thirds of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, walking at a stroll of 5kph.
Thompson’s stories of following the presidential candidates across the country, whipping up ridiculous scenarios (accusing TV station NBC of reporting that their own reporter Doug Kiker was found trying to unscrew his own “neck pipe” makes for an interesting anecdote) and finding himself involved in rumours that he may or may not have started himself (accusing presidential candidate Ed Muskie of taking speed, smack, downers and Ibogaine whilst implying he was trying to overcome some kind of speech impediment, for example) are hilarious. I’ve got to admit, though, my interest in 1970s politics isn’t so strong as to hold my attention- especially not whilst I’m trying to get fit.
I read for 2hrs 39, then toilet-stopped, then read again, stomping for a further 2hrs 56. Total time walked: 5hrs 35. I stopped when my legs- and my brain- had totally seized up. My brain healed quicker than my legs. They’re still killing 4 days on.
Conclusion: This was a silly idea. It wore me down, and I’ve been falling asleep at stupid times ever since.