Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ninja Haiku Contest!

**The contest has ended** (view the winners)

Announcing The Wheel’s 1st Annual Haiku Contest!

This year’s theme: Ninjas.

Haiku are Japanese poetry. Ninjas are Japanese mercenaries. Yet ninjas are grossly under-represented in haiku while zombies (American), vampires (Transylvanian), and werewolves (in London) get immortalized in verse. It’s just not right.

Well, no more. It’s time for ninjas to get their day in the sun (whilst remaining in the shadows).

So, write your own ninja haiku in the comments for this blog post. Two lucky winners will receive a free dinner at the Japanese restaurant of their choice!

I will be selecting the best haiku in each of two categories:
  • Humorous/Creative
  • Traditional (i.e. eloquent, evocative, etc.)
The deadline to submit a haiku is Friday, May 7 at 5:00pm (Eastern Time). Please review the official rules below before entering.

Good luck!

Official Rules:
  1. To enter, post a ninja-related haiku in the comment section below. Include your name with each entry. If you don’t include your name, I’ll assume you’re a ninja and will run and hide rather consider your poem for a prize.
  2. Multiple submissions are allowed.
  3. Standard haiku rules apply. To qualify, each entry must be a three-line poem, the first line containing exactly 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables, and the third line 5 syllables. If you miscount, you bring shame upon yourself and every math teacher who ever taught you.
  4. Entries must be in English. (Translation: Using Japanese kanji will not help you win for best traditional haiku. Since I won’t be able to understand your entry, you will finish in dead last. Because a ninja will kill you.)
  5. The contest is open until Friday, May 7, 2010 at 5:00pm, Eastern Time. If you try to sneak an entry in after the deadline, I’ll assume you’re a ninja and that your entry is either poisoned or rigged to explode. Consequently, I will avoid your poem and you will not win.
  6. There is no rule 6.
  7. Prizes will be awarded in each of two categories: Humorous/Creative and Traditional.
    • Two (2) first place winners will receive: a free dinner at the Japanese restaurant of their choice, up to a value of... let’s say $25 or so. It is assumed that I will join you for this dinner. However, if you: a) don’t live anywhere near Connecticut, b) don’t actually know me, or c) can’t get within 500 yards of me due to that restraining order, this clause can be waived and we’ll work something out.
    • An undetermined number of Honorable Mentions will receive: bragging rights over everyone who doesn’t win. They may also receive something like chopsticks or origami or Beverly Hills Ninja on VHS, though I haven’t made up my mind about that yet.
    • All non-winners receive: dishonor, and are expected to commit ritual seppuku at their earliest convenience.
  8. I will act as sole judge, and select the winning haiku based on the aforementioned criteria, as well as other criteria that I make up as I go along. All decisions are final, and will not be changed under any circumstances unless bribery is involved.
  9. No people were harmed in the creation of this contest... yet.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jogging My Memory

I used to be a runner. No, not a runner for the mafia. And certainly never for reputed mob boss James Marcello. In fact, I’ve never heard of him.

Back in high school I ran five days a week for the cross-country and indoor track teams. I continued to run throughout college, though not as part of a team, and rarely more than once or twice a week. Since then, however, I’ve become increasingly sedentary.

In an attempt to break from this routine, a few days ago I went for my first run of the spring. It went pretty much as I’d expected:
  • During the 1st mile of my run, I had tightness in my chest as my lungs struggled to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide at such an unprecedented rate.
  • During the 2nd mile of my run, my lungs felt fine, but I was beset by stomach cramps and my calves began to burn.1
  • During the 3rd mile of my run, I walked.
If I haven’t done something in a while, I tend to forget just how horrible the experience is. Of course, now I remember exactly why I’d stopped running in the first place: Running is stupid. You’re tired for hours afterward, sore for days afterward, and end up with more money—er, clothes—in need of laundering. It’s just not worth it.

No pain, no gain? Screw that. Why should I be miserable running when I can exercise just as easily by doing fun things, like playing volleyball or tennis?2 Especially now that I’m in my 30s, it’s become quite clear that there are perhaps only four acceptable reasons, ever, to run:
  1. If you’re late, you’re late, for a very important date.
  2. In races with large payouts, for, with great money comes great fame and nookie.
  3. When playing sports. Real sports.3
  4. From a bear.4
Now that a few days have passed and my legs are no longer sore, I’m starting to think that I should stop lazing around the house and get outside. I can’t play tennis, though, since the courts are still wet from the rain. And I suppose I could do yardwork, except the second half of that word is work, which I don’t do on weekends.

Maybe I’ll go for a run.

1 In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have worn those pants made of magnifying glasses.
2 This is a rhetorical question. To answer it, you must speak only in rhetoric.
3 If a “sport” doesn’t allow you to interact directly with your opponent, it’s not really a sport. To make it a real sport, all you have to do is put the words “full-contact” in front of its name (e.g. full-contact bowling, full-contact Magic the Gathering).
4 Yeah, this may not be the method so-called “experts” recommend — they say you should stand still and make yourself look as large as possible, because the experts obviously think we’re all peacocks or giant blowfish — but trust me: you should run. Run as fast as you can, and let the expert stay behind, holding the pic-a-nic basket and puffing out his cheeks, to see what happens.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

To Be Discontinued...

With four and a half months remaining until our upcoming nuptials, Denise and I are a little behind with the wedding planning. We only chose a place for the reception two weeks ago. We haven’t selected a photographer, booked blocks of rooms at local hotels, or ordered the cake. Save-the-Date cards are designed, but not yet in the (e-)mail. It was with all this in mind that, when we found ourselves with a free evening this past Thursday, we headed mallward to open our first wedding registry.

Our first surprise was that the store didn’t have someone whose job it was to get us started. Weddings are big business, so we’d assumed they’d have some smiling young thing on hand to show us the way. But alas, now that we’re living in the future, everything is done by kiosk.

Nevertheless, setting up the registry was a breeze, and soon we were ready to begin what we’d been told was the most fun part of the registry process: the wielding of the scanner gun. I envisioned us roaming the store until we’d spotted our quarry, there! in the linens, then spinning out from behind a stack of patio chairs and PEW PEW PEW! the dust ruffle would be ours.

We began by flipping through dozens of dinnerware options in a binder beside the registry kiosk. When we settled on our favorite design, I whipped the scanner out of its holster,1 and pulled the trigger.


Beep? Where was the pew pew pew!? I looked down at the readout on the scanner. It said: “This item has been discontinued.”

Discontinued? Then why was it still in the binder? I tried scanning the other color options, with the same result. Not sold on any of the other designs in the binder, we wandered around looking at our other dinnerware options. We didn’t see anything we loved, and decided we’d come back to them later. Next up on our list: a new coffee maker. I scanned the one Denise liked.

BEEP! Discontinued.

So far, we weren’t enjoying the registration process. Was everything discontinued? Had the store filed for bankruptcy since we’d entered ten minutes earlier? Or had we just chosen a faulty scanner? Denise selected a similar coffee maker, and I tried scanning that one. No beep this time; instead, the item became the first one listed on the scanner’s readout.

Okay, so it wasn’t a faulty scanner; we’d just been unlucky with our first two choices. We kept going, adding another couple items to the registry, and then we came to a couple sets of martini glasses. I scanned the set that wasn’t ugly.

BEEP! Discontinued.

Then I tried the ugly ones, and it worked just fine. Aha! Finally I understood. They’d only discontinued the things we really wanted. The other stuff was safe to put on our registry. I removed the ugly glasses from our list, and we managed to complete our circuit of the store finding only a few more discontinued items. When we returned to the registry kiosk, we went once more through the dinnerware binder and selected our second favorite design, then returned the scanner and headed for home.

Wanting to find a replacements for a few of the discontinued items, we went online to continue our shopping the moment we got home. We added a few things we hadn’t seen in the store, and then Denise spotted a different set of martini glasses in the wedding registry catalog we’d brought home. They looked almost as nice as the discontinued set we’d initially tried for, so I typed in the product number, and… up popped a page displaying the other, uglier set. Of course. We searched more, but the nice glasses were nowhere to be found.

At this point, somewhat disheartened, we decided to give up and come back to the registry another day. Before logging off, the last thing we did was review our overall list. The listing for our second favorite dinnerware had no accompanying image, and no information about whether or not it was in stock. Curious, I clicked on the link, and what did we get? A page that simply said, “We are sorry, but this product is not available at this time.” Wonderful, just wonderful.

Well, at least it wasn’t discontinued.

1 Also known as my jacket pocket.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Once Upon a Workshop

Well, twelve weeks have passed, and my writing workshop at Toasted Cheese has officially come to a close. Over the past three months, what began as a robust group of fifteen writers dwindled to a mere five who consistently posted work every week.

And I wasn’t one of them.

I only submitted writing for 5 of the workshop’s 12 weeks. Nevertheless, I consider the experience to be a resounding success. Sure, you may look upon my poor completion rate (41.7%) and feel that it’s more in line with Shaq’s free throw percentage (42.2% in 2006-07) than with any modern criteria for success. But, as luck would have it, you’re not the one writing this blog post.

I gained far more from the workshop than that number shows. For instance, four stories in my portfolio only exist because they fulfilled specific criteria for our weekly assignments; I never would have dreamt them up otherwise. Another two I hadn’t expected to get to for years. The final tally:
  • one seriously absurd tale with an unexpected twist at the end;1
  • one absurdly serious tale with, unexpectedly, no twist at the end;2
  • two tales comprising only dialogue, which can be read within these very pages (Tale the First / Tale the Second);
  • one rewritten opening scene (from my first attempt at a novel); and
  • one brand new opening scene (for what might be my next attempt at a novel).
The other participants provided some great feedback on these pieces, but I feel I may have benefited even more from the critiques that I gave. Reading other peoples’ works-in-progress proved invaluable,3 because it gave me the chance to see which of their ideas worked and which didn’t, then figure out how I’d improve the latter. Many times, as I was suggesting a fix for some story, I recognized that stuff I had written outside the workshop had the very same flaw(s). Now, thanks to these exercises, I should be able to write with a much more critical and subjective eye, and notice any problem spots the moment I write them.4

What I gained most from this workshop, however, is confidence. I’d always believed I was a decent writer, and I knew from both emails and this blog that I could entertain friends and family. But I had no idea what sort of appeal my writing might have out in the real world. Yet all five pieces I posted for the workshop garnered praise from people who were not only writers but also complete strangers.

You know, maybe I have a chance with this writing thing after all.

1 As opposed to an expected twist; after all, I don’t write for Hollywood.
2 Of course, what I call “absurdly serious,” others may call “literary.” To each his own.
3 “Invaluable” means “really valuable,” just as “inflammable” means “really flammable” and “indignant” means “really dignant.”
4 Wow, I was so naïve back then, back before I wrote this footnote.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Fools These Mortals Be

This afternoon I walked into my manager’s office and told her that I was quitting.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about writing full-time,” I explained, “and I’ve decided to go for it. My last day is in two weeks.”

She had always been supportive of my dream to one day become a failed novelist, but wasn’t ready for that day to come quite so soon. She reeled back from the shock of my announcement.

“And since you’ve been such a great manager, I wanted you to have this,” I said, handing her a folded piece of paper.

She opened the paper and saw, as you probably expect by now, the words April Fools! written inside. Her shock inevitably turned to anger (“How could you do this to me?!”), followed by relief. We chatted for a few minutes about my writing, and then I returned to my desk.

Of course, I’m not sure who the fool was in this situation: her, for believing my charade so completely, or me, for not actually quitting. I mean, I like my job and all, but it takes up too much time. I’ll never be a failed novelist unless I finish my novel.

Hmm, maybe I’ll quit again tomorrow.