A New Obsession

Once upon a time, I went to school. During each of my last 7 full years of school, I studied Spanish. By the time I graduated high school, I was able to hold a conversation in Spanish, write about most subjects in Spanish, and even think in Spanish. Some say that you need to think in a language to be fluent in it. I was not a fluent Spanish speaker, but I was getting there. And then I stopped.

For the next 15 years, I did little more with my Spanish than sing along to the opening song of Desperado. It’s a hell of an opening number, but it doesn’t exactly cover the entire language. So, what’s a gringo to do?

Well, in 2012, I lived in Costa Rica for a few months. I watched TV and movies in Spanish, shopped for groceries with labels in Spanish, and gave taxi directions in Spanish. I also tried reading El Hobbit, with some degree of success. All of that, along with some work with a dictionary and Google Translate, helped bring my Spanish vocabulary out of the recesses of my brain.

I got a lot better at the language, but after a few months, I moved on to Montreal, where I learned several French words. I didn’t exactly keep up with my Spanish. But in 2013, I moved to a small city in New Jersey that is about 85% Spanish-speaking. The trouble is that almost everyone who works in the neighborhood (i.e. folks with whom I interact on a regular basis) also speaks some English, and defaults to that when they see me.

I have managed to practice a little speaking, and I overhear lots of conversations that I can half-translate. All of the city-related mail comes in both languages, giving me another opportunity to practice and learn. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I started studying in an organized fashion.

I started using duolingo.com, a site that turns language learning into a game. I like games. I set a daily goal of 50 XP, which means doing 5 of their little modules. That’s their highest setting, 50 XP, which they refer to as “insane.” Maybe it is an insane daily goal. I don’t know. All I know is that I grinded out 1220 XP yesterday. So yeah, like I said in the title, it’s a new obsession.

I’m going to play some live poker today, and I’ll try to practice my Spanish while I do that. I’ve also downloaded some beisbol podcasts, so I can improve my ability to talk about sports in another language. That’s probably a good way to be able to engage strangers in conversation.

I’ll also keep listening to “Cancion del Mariachi,” because who doesn’t want to hit a guy in the face with a guitar every now and then?

Expectation and Disappoinment

I could have titled this post, “Dear Agent Carter, ‘What are you doing?’” That wouldn’t be addressed to Agent Carter herself. It would be addressed to Agent Carter, the TV show. More specifically, the writers of the show.

Agent Carter is a badass super spy in the vein of Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, or Melinda May. She’s like James Bond without the misogyny. Well, there’s plenty of that, too, but it belongs to her co-workers and the era. She’s a strong lead character played by an actress who can convincingly beat the crap out of her enemies.

Through the first four episodes, Agent Carter had become my favorite network TV show, despite my high hopes for Gotham and the surprising awesomeness of The Flash. The fifth episode marked the introduction of a pair of new villains and the beginning of a 180 in my feelings towards the show.

Agent Carter is an 8-episode mini-series that serves as an interlude between the two 11-episode half-seasons of Agents of SHIELD. What a brilliant idea! If you have something solid to work with, it’s hard to fuck things up in 8 episodes, right? Right?

Well, I just finished watching episode 7. While there’s no way I’ll fail to watch the 8th and final episode of the season, I don’t hesitate in giving the 7th episode a grade of “Fucking Terrible.” So what the fuck happened?

Two words: shitty villains.

Two more words: lazy writing.

The show is built upon the classic “villainous organization lurking in the shadows” trope. That’s standard spy fare. No problem. That can work. The absence of the big bad guys early on gives Agent Carter room to shine against the underlings she runs up against. But then they start to introduce some of the more important villains. And quite frankly, they don’t fail to disappoint.

What’s so bad about these villains? They’re so obvious. Yet somehow, no one in an espionage agency has even an inkling that anything’s going on. Maybe it’s not the fault of the villains. They’re just written that way. Contrived and lazy writing. It’s the bane of many a show. (Hello, Arrow. Goodbye, Blacklist.)

My disappointment comes from the fact that the first few episodes felt like they were written better. Sure, the other agents are vastly and gratuitously inferior to Agent Carter. It’s the old ploy of building a character up by tearing down everyone around them. But there’s no need for that, particularly when you’ve got such a strong lead.

Agent Carter, you deserve better than Agent Carter.

How a habit becomes not a habit

In November of 2013, I took 21 hot yoga classes. Before that month, I had taken a grand total of 2 hot yoga classes (not including hot vinyasa, which is an entirely different beast).

In traditional hot yoga, we do the same sequence of poses every single class. The same poses, over and over and over. Do this 5 times a week for 4 weeks, and you have something that looks like a habit.

Since November of 2013, I believe I have taken a grand total of 1 hot yoga class. So I built this habit, and then I almost completely stopped doing it. What the hell? Well…

I started that November with a goal of taking 30 classes in 30 days. I failed that challenge, and somehow I failed to lose weight, but I gained a lot from the practice anyway. I felt significant increases in strength, flexibility, and balance. Some of those gains have stuck with me, despite the complete abandonment of my hot yoga practice.

I paid for one month up front, and then discontinued my practice when the month was up. So I had two problems there. I established a short-term goal that was extreme, allowing me to fail my goal despite accomplishing a lot. Instead of reveling in the fact that I did 10 times as many classes in a month as I had done in the rest of my life, I felt a sense of defeat. I also felt a sense of completion, in that my month’s membership was up.

It’s worth asking myself, “How could I have built upon my accomplishments instead of giving up in defeat?” Easy. I could have done another 21 classes the next month.

So, here I am, in worse shape than I’ve ever been in before, wondering how best to reverse that trend? I could try to do 21 hot yoga classes in 30 days. Yeah. That’s a thing I could do. Instead, maybe I should do 30 regular yoga practices in 30 days, but make those practices something I can build upon, instead of something I can get crushed by.

It turns out, I started that project this morning. 7 minutes of yoga while listening to Peter Frampton’s version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It’s both satisfying and depressing how tough 7 minutes of yoga can be. Standing in mountain pose for 7 minutes might be slightly uncomfortable. Doing sun salutations for 7 minutes could be a great warmup or a strong workout, depending upon conditioning and intensity. Or sitting in chair pose for 7 minutes…yeah. That’s something else entirely.

I began this post mostly as an inquiry into my writing habit, which I have been playing around with lately. I had legitimate writing work today, editing a manuscript for a friend and writing copy for another project. But this blog almost didn’t get written. Why? Because I completed my month of daily posting and decided that posting daily might not be a worthwhile habit to continue. But it is. It may not mean that much to anyone who reads it, but writing and publishing a few words each day means something to me. And that’s reason enough. If anyone else finds some value here, well, life can be a positive sum game sometimes.

Gosh darn it, that’s a habit!

So, a couple of days ago, I decided to stop writing a daily entry for this blog. My plan was to keep writing daily entries, but to start writing them about baseball instead. Well, I wrote a post and a half about baseball.

Today, I decided not to publish anything. But here I am, writing a paragraph or two that I intend to post. I have no real motivation behind these words. I’m just stringing them along. But I’m not forcing myself to do it. I’m just not forcing myself not to do it.

So yeah, now I’m in the habit of posting something to this bloggy blog every day. Is that a good thing? I don’t know. Is it bad? No clue. It just is. Instead of searching for meaning in the establishment of this habit, I’ll just say that it makes me optimistic about forming other new habits. Perhaps more useful ones. Perhaps not.

A change of pace

For more than a month, I’ve been posting an entry to this page every day. It’s been a rambling path, indeed. I may continue to post here every day, but I may not. Instead, I’m transporting my commitment of a daily post over to my new baseball blog, through the wickets.

I’m hosting it on Blogger, so the URL will be through-the-wickets.blogspot.com, as throughthewickets.blahblahblah was already taken. I have posted a few baseball-related entries here on The Rambling Path of a Zen Madman, but the majority of my baseball writing has occurred on the Scout message boards. Over there, I’ve used throughthewickets as my the screen name, making almost 9,000 posts, and probably spilling over 100,000 words of thoughts.

I will not abandon writing about my rambling path, but I will shift my focus to a more focused focus. That new focus is baseball. Why? Because it’s easy, and people like to read about it. I’m confident that I can write something interesting every day, and that there is a group of people who will be interested in reading those daily thoughts on a more-or-less daily basis.

So off I go to through-the-wickets.blogspot.com, just before the stroke of midnight on this day of Pitchers and Catchers. Perhaps I will see you on the other side.

Not so much with the accomplishments

Welp. So much for my Day of Accomplishment. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow. Maybe I have too many different things on my docket. I need to focus on one at a time.

The thing about To Do Lists is that you can’t actually do them. You can’t do a list. You can do a thing. You can’t even do a project. You can perform an action. Usually, one at a time. And then you can do another action. So you can do several actions in sequence and complete a project, but that’s several doings.

I need a single doing. Right now, I’m going to do some sleep. When I wake up, I will try to do a single action. The best place to start is at the beginning. I learned that in a children’s book. One of those bits of wisdom well-forgotten.

So what should I do first? Hmm…

Oh, yes. Sleep! Good night. (Or should I say, “Good morning?”)

Accountability

For the past month, I’ve successfully blathered on on a daily basis. Yeah, I sort of missed one day by an hour or so. But across 32 days, I posted 35 bloggy blog entries. That’s 16 more posts in a month and a day than I made in all of 2014. So that’s pretty good, right?

But what’s the point?

I’ve recently talked about the habit I’ve developed. It’s a good one. Well, it’s a goodish one, anyway. (Note to self: go eat an apple.) By now, sitting down to bang out a few thoughts has become a daily habit. Clicking the publish button to share those thoughts with the world (read: 3 or 4 readers) has become a conjoined habit. So that’s nice.

But what was the original point?

Accountability. (You knew I’d get around to using that word here, right?) I wanted to write about my day in terms of what I accomplished and what I failed to accomplish. Well! I have designated tomorrow as a Day of Accomplishment. You’re probably reading this tomorrow, which makes today my Day of Accomplishment.

In the spirit of Accomplishment, I may post blogs even more frequently tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes. If you read this on February 19th, feel free to wish me a Happy Day of Accomplishment. Because that’s something people do, at least when they know someone is celebrating a Day of Accomplishment.

Bad Habits

I ate poorly today. Instead of waking up and eating an apple, as I’d planned, I ate cookies for breakfast. Later, I drank chocolate soy milk. Then I made pancakes with bananas and chocolate hazelnut spread. Yeah, that stuff all tasted really good. But by the end of it, I was just shoving it in my mouth instead of really savoring it. And the result was not a productive day.

Before my gastronomical misstep, I made the mistake of looking at facebook before getting to work on any of my one…two…three…four…maybe five writing projects that I needed to get done. There’s nothing worse than looking at facebook.

The upside of looking at facebook is seeing some happy news from a friend, some thought-provoking article, or a funny picture of cats. The downside is a bummer of a time sink. I wound up reading an article that one of my friends called “important,” and I found myself vehemently disagreeing with the piece. The whole damn thing was a straw man that I found the restraint not to burn in effigy, but I still let it ruin my day.

Fortunately, it is still night, so I can get some shit done before dawn. I can also eat an apple, and a salad.

An apple a day

I should go to the doctor sometime soon. I think I have sciatica. Looking that up on Web MD tells me that it could be any number of things, including a tumor. It’s impossible to think that without thinking, “It’s not a tumor,” in Arnold’s voice.

Anyway, I don’t think it’s a tumor, but I’m going to start eating an apple a day. That’s my new resolution. I will make that a habit. That’s my new diet. One apple a day, plus whatever else I want to eat.

So what the hell is the point of that? I’ve got some thoughts. More on this later.

A day without a post

Technically, I did not post an entry here on February 15th, 2015. Hey, that’s a pretty date. 2/15/2015. Writing dates American-style is pretty silly, but so is insisting on feet and pounds. European-style dates (e.g. 15/2/2015) make more logical sense, since days are the smallest units of measurement, years are the largest, and months come in between. Putting the year first and the day last makes even more sense, as the result is a number which can easily be sorted chronologically, e.g. 2015.02.15 would be sorted after 2014.11.11.

What was I talking about again? Oh, yes. A day without a post.

The idea that the date changes when the clock strikes midnight has always struck me as stupid. For me, the date changes either when I fall asleep, at dawn, or when I finish work. Midnight is an arbitrary thing, but sunrise is not. Just like days of the year make scientific and natural sense, days of the week are silly social constructions.

Anyway, going a 24-hour day without a post is a useful thing, sort of like breaking a diet. It gives me a chance for reflection, and an opportunity to redouble my efforts or take another tack.

I had been planning on doing this daily thing for a month, and then doing a new daily thing for the next month. But now I think I will continue with this one, though the posts may become shorter and shorter.

Writing something each day is cathartic. Getting something out there feels good. It’s a discipline. The discipline of writing and publishing. The real question to ask myself is what comes next? Stay tuned for the answer. I’m sure I’ll come up with something soon.