Friday, June 12, 2015

Measuring Progress

     It can be hard for me to measure my writing progress. Some days it feels like all I did was write (and stare at a blank page…). And usually those days all I managed to do was start a few unfinished blog posts or newspaper articles. Other days I feel like every re-edit of a blog post I did only made it worse, but I had to publish something, so now it’s out there. Looking back over the five most recent posts I published, I still see room for improvement. I could definitely try using adverbs less, and I need to come up with more than one adjective. And I overuse pronouns. And I use “and” too much.

     So my writing isn’t perfect. It’s certainly not as perfect as I’d like it to be. But it is what it is. I just have to deal with that.

     Recently, I’ve been feeling that I haven’t been doing much writing at all. I’ve had considerable gaps in my posting schedule this past month, something I was really trying to avoid when I started my two new jobs. I know I have good excuses for that, but I know that I had time during the month of May when I could have been writing. And it's not just the blog I've been behind on. I haven't worked on my stories for weeks, and I have a writing class just around the corner I need to be ready for. These are all things I need to do (or maybe I should say ought to do), but sometimes I like to know how much I've already done.

     Measuring the actual progress I’ve been making in my writing, whether that’s learning new techniques, improving my existing skills, or producing more content, is a difficult task. The tangible evidence of my progress isn’t always consistent. Counting the number of posts I’ve written and started doesn’t really demonstrate how far I’ve come. There’s no way to really measure the number of things about writing I’ve learned either. But the sheer amount that I’ve written is something I can measure.

     And I’m not talking about the number of words or lines or posts or the pounds of paper I’d have if I printed all the writing I’ve ever done—we’d be looking at a lot of paper, though. I can actually get a pretty good idea of how much time is spend writing just by looking at my computer.

     I’m a computer writer. Sometimes I switch to a notebook for a while, but the vast majority of my writing is done on a computer and is saved on my laptop. As the main instrument used to record things, I do a fair amount of typing on it. Just how much I type with it, though, wasn’t clear to me until a few months ago when I started losing keys.

     It started with the “e” key which started to stick like crazy. I’d be typing along blissfully and suddenly find myself with a string of “eeeeeeeeeeee…” 

     I figured it didn’t matter, and kept typing with it as it was. I don't like having to repair my computer. If you don't fix it, it isn't broken, right?

     But then the plastic cover of the “e” key actually came off, exposing the little rubber button underneath.

     Thankfully, I could stick the plastic cover back on whenever it popped off, so I could keep typing. No problem—until I ended up sticking the plastic cover back on so many times the cover wore out and wouldn’t stay on.


     But there wasn’t a way to make it stay on without sending my computer in to Dell to get fixed, so I just left the cover off and kept on typing with the exposed rubber button. Again, I don't like to fix my computer. I adjusted to the change pretty quickly and stopped noticing the difference.

     And then the “i” key started sticking.

     Same story. The plastic cover came off, I would stick it back on until it wouldn’t stay, and then I just typed on the little rubber button.
     I was kind of expecting that at some point I’d lose all my keys, and actually had the idea that I could make them into pendants and wear them on a chain or a charm bracelet. But before that happened, I wore out the little rubber button on my “e” key. And that wasn’t something I could just stick back on. 

     This episode taught me a lot about how the keys on a keyboard actually work. You push on the plastic key, and it pushes on the rubber button underneath, and the rubber button pushes on a sensor which tells the computer that you typed that letter, and then the appropriate letter turns up on the screen. Without the plastic cover and rubber button, I had to hit that sensor myself in order to use the letter “e”.
      I didn’t think it would be a huge problem, since I’d gotten used to typing with the rubber buttons so quickly, but the sensor wouldn’t cooperate with that plan. I had to hit it really hard to get it to work, and when you consider the number of times the letter “e” is used in the English language, I was pounding on that sensor pretty often. It really slowed me down, so much that I couldn’t write well because I was constantly having to go back and add “e” into words. 

     And then, as if the keyboard wasn’t giving me enough problems, one of the hinges on the lid of the laptop broke. This made it impossible to close the lid without risking breaking the screen. I had to face the fact that I was going to have to put some money down to either repair or replace my laptop.
It takes something pretty drastic to make me desperate enough to fix a computer.
     I don’t usually like to make big purchases. Little ones are fine, but anything over $20 is something I have to consider, and the more zeroes there are behind the dollar sign, the more I have to think about it. As far as my computer was concerned, though, I didn’t have thinking time. I had blog posts to write, articles to write, stories to write, emails to write—I couldn’t be forever using one of my parents’ computers. Changes needed to be made, and quickly.

     So I bought a new computer. I figured it was time for an upgrade anyway, and I wanted to get something smaller than my old one, more adaptable, and more portable. My new laptop is all of that. And, thank goodness, it arrived only about two weeks from when I ordered it, so I didn't have to spend too long using the other computers in the house.
Old vs. new
     The simple fact that I could wear out the keys on my computer really surprises me, because I’ve never heard of that happening before. Eli has had his computer for absolute ages, and his keys are all still working. If my keys are falling off, that means something. It means I’ve been writing a lot recently. That’s progress.

     So there you have it, the story of my computers. If I were to come up with some kind of heavy, philosophical statement to conclude with, something for you to take away with you and chew on for the rest of the day, maybe it would be something like this:

Examine your computer. What does it say about you and your writing habits?

     Any keys wearing out?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

YMA Warriors 2nd performance

     Back in March, I wrote some posts about martial arts, something the Clan has been doing for going on two years now. One of those posts was about the martial arts demo team that some of the Clan is a part of, called YMA Warriors. YMA Warriors is a group of students who enjoy putting their own spin on martial arts by creating unique routines. Skinny, M, Jo, and I are (so far) the only Clan members in the team, but there are eight other regular members who bring our numbers up to twelve.

     YMA Warriors has only been an official team for about six months, but already we've had two performances. Our first was in March and was the subject of my YMA Warrior blog post. It was a great experience for everyone who was able to make it to the event, and so we were very happy to be invited to perform again for a school tournament Yennie Martial Arts was going to hold. The demo team was asked to put together roughly five minutes of performance to kick off the event.

     Just like last time, there was a bit of a scramble at the beginning where we tried to figure out the details of what we'd do. We planned to use completely new forms and music for this performance, so there was a lot of teaching and learning going on in the six weeks we had to get ready. Definitely the biggest difficultly of this performance was finding a time when the entire team could practice together—coordinating twelve schedules is nothing to sneeze at! As it turned out, we only got to practice with everyone on the day of the tournament, which was just this past weekend.

     And we still did great, which says a lot about how much we’ve learned since we started coming up with routines.

     Of course in any performance, no matter how well you plan, there are bound to be some unexpected problems. Last time it was the limited space we had to work with, but for this performance we had a whole gym. Space wasn't going to be an issue. It was our music that caused the problems.

     During practices, we had experienced issues with getting the iPod we used to play the music we had selected for our performance. Every now and then it would do things its own way, and start playing “Circle of Life” from Lion King. Not what we wanted, in other words. But we never got around to deleting all the other songs off the iPod so that wouldn’t happen, so guess what? When we hit play at the start of our tournament performance, we got “Circle of Life”. Played at top volume.

     The best laid plans. We should have known that would happen.

     Thankfully everyone was really nice about it, and we overcame well. It actually helped to start the performance off with a few laughs. Once we had fixed the music, the rest of the performance went off without a hitch. I would even say it was better than any of the practices we had done up until then.

     Luckily, I was able to get Eli to use my camera to videotape our performance, so here’s the footage of that.
     Now that we’ve had some practice performing and are starting to get a better idea of what we can do, the team is looking around for other places to show up and impress everybody with our crazy ninja skills. Already we’ve lined up two performances for the summer—I plan to get a camera set up for both events so I can record those performances as well. Until then, enjoy the video and share it around. We could use the free publicity, and I’m not afraid to shamelessly advertise for my own demo team.