Thursday, 31 July 2008

Be still, my beating heart

No, really. When I went to the gym yesterday the machine I was on kept beeping and flashing at me: "SLOW DOWN TO REDUCE HEART RATE!"

And yes, you read right. I went to the gym yesterday. Woohoo! First time ever! (Unless you count the time a month ago when I went on the treadmill for two minutes, saw someone I knew, and ran for it.)

But my visit confirmed what I already feared: my heart is about to fall over and die. The speed I was doing was embarrassing, when everyone else was doing at least thrice my speed. I could and did go faster, but every time: "SLOW DOWN TO REDUCE HEART RATE!" (beep, beep, beep).

It was a great workout, though. I only did 45 minutes, but I felt great afterwards, and look forward to doing it again. I burned 265 calories — I don't know if that's good or bad, but I've now changed that goal to a more measurable "Burn 1000 calories a week", which I should be able to do easily. Hopefully, as time goes on, I'll be able to run to the bus-stop without stopping for air, or climb the two flights of stairs to work without panting.

I am worried about the state of my heart. I'm not doing this to lose weight or get great abs or anything (although hey, if I get nicer abs I won't complain); but to prevent my heart from falling over and dying too soon.

I used to tell people how little I exercised, and they'd look at me and say, "You don't need to exercise, you're so skinny!" That's silly — like appearance is the only reason to exercise. I am incredibly unfit, and I'm glad I can't see the state my heart is in. But I'd like to work to fix it before it's in serious trouble.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


I don't think I should be the one correcting the lecturer.

Sadly, it looks like my sub-editing class may be one of those ones where I have to. Our lecture today was on punctuation, and many of the examples given were taken straight out of Eats, shoots and leaves — examples I immediately recognised, having been reading the book for the past week.

However, not all of the examples were from Eats, shoots and leaves, and I had to correct my lecturer on one example she gave us about the correct use of an ellipsis... upon which she looked at the powerpoint in some confusion, admitted that I was right, and said she'd borrowed the example from somewhere. If you're giving a lecture on sub-editing, at least sub-edit the examples you filch off the net!

This class isn't shaping up encouragingly. We have no desks on which to write notes (when this was brought up, our lecturer said she hadn't expected us to take notes); and she seems quite frightened of us.

When asked if a particular use of punctuation was permissible, she hesitates, thinks it over, and answers either, "Well... maybe... yes, I guess you could do that" or "Well... maybe... I mean, no, not technically, but you could". Be firm! These students will go away with no clue as to what is actually allowable and what is really a maybe-rule; and this is a class training people to be journalists, after all.

Not me; I'm doing it purely for interest's sake, as I had an elective free at the end of my degree and it looked interesting; and the subject still seems interesting. But the teaching style... I guess I'll just rely on my other class to keep me sane. At least that one has a really good lecturer. And it's another writing paper. I love writing-papers!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Heartland 1000

The Heartland 1000 competition is a nation-wide short story competition, with a $1000 prize for the best short story of up to 1000 words. The closing date is 30 September 2008; you can enter unlimited stories.

Entries cost $10 each, and are judged by novelist William Taylor. You can email for further conditions and an entry form, but that's basically it: $1000, 1000 words, $10 fee, and closing 30 September.

Now I'm off to hunt through my Writing folder (which I still haven't backed up) for an 800-word story I wrote recently; and to hope feverishly that the file hasn't corrupted (as has happened with three other files so far, one of them beyond repair). I think I lost about 20 files, but hopefully nothing too important. As long as my recent writing is intact, I'm happy!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Trouble in paradise

I just got a letter to the editor about an article by yours truly (OK, my editor got it, but he forwarded it to me so I could read and reply).

In my "happy" feature article in CHAFF this week, I mentioned women's education as a good thing we have going for us in New Zealand, compared to "some fundamentalist Muslim countries" where they've only recently "started to let women attend tertiary study"; and where women have to obtain higher marks than men to get into college. This was based on knowledge from my dad teaching in Oman this year; however, one Muslim woman who read CHAFF was not impressed, and wrote to say as much.

I was quite shocked — mostly shocked that someone had actually read the article, even if it's someone that usually avoids CHAFF "due to its general swearing and unsavoury topics". CHAFF usually has very little swearing in it, by the way; having said that, this comment intrigued my editor and he's now planning to write a feature article next week on the F word. Good-oh.

But it's never nice to receive a letter attacking the two lines in my 1300-word article which were not positive, and I was a little shell-shocked.

I checked my facts tonight, rang up my dad and confirmed some details; he pointed me in the direction of a few official websites I could look at, and I found some articles on various Islamic websites which backed up everything this woman had criticised in my article.

So now I'm left feeling quite happy — sure, my article offended someone, but sooner or later you're bound to offend, and I don't think the article in question was offensively phrased; it just touched a sore spot. My article was attacked, and stood up to examination; that makes me feel good.

At least until next week, if the woman decides to reply to my reply....

Monday, 21 July 2008


So when I reinstalled Windows, apparently I deleted two folders: my "Unsorted" folder (no biggie) and my writing folder.

This is why I need a back-up on CD or DVD or email or somewhere! I have my NaNoWriMo novellas backed up on email, but apart from that... nada. My stories from 15 years ago, everything I've ever written for Chaff, stories for competitions, for writing courses, for fun, story ideas, poems, songs, everything... gone.

I can't believe I did that.

Thankfully, my wonderful boyfriend is now running a file recovery programme, which should find most files. But I can't believe how close I came to losing them all. I've been waiting till my "Unsorted" folder is sorted out to do a proper back-up: I think the time is past for waiting for that kind of thing. I'm going to do a proper back-up now.

Well, not now, because I'm tired, but definitely tomorrow. Or if I can't find a blank CD or DVD tomorrow, definitely the few days after that....

Six Pack

I withdrew from a paper today, having decided six papers were probably a bit much for my workload. I feel like I should feel bad for having withdrawn, but I don't — I just reassessed my commitments this semester (my job, two regular columns, friends, Dan and housework on top of study). I could do it, but it doesn't look as interesting as I'd hoped, and it's only an additional paper anyway — I don't need it to complete my degree.

So I just gifted myself two extra hours a week, and took away an exam! My only annoyance is that I've already bought the textbook, so will have to onsell it at a loss — but if I've cost myself some money with the textbook, at least I'm saving myself $500ish for withdrawing!

In bookish news, the Six Pack Three is coming up in just over a month (click here if you don't know what that is). Not only am I writing an article for CHAFF to promote it, but I talked to my editor today and he agreed to run a weekly competition until then, giving away a copy of the Six Pack Two each week as a sort of lead-up to raise awareness of the Six Pack.

That's not the exciting part, though. The exciting part is that, in mentioning it to Dee from NZ Book Month, I jokingly suggested she give me a sneak preview of the Six Pack Three so I could review it in advance for CHAFF... and she's considering it! Very few people know at the moment who any of the winners will be, much less who won the reader's choice story; and I love any opportunity to get a sneak preview.

The Six Pack is a fantastic idea, helping NZ writers, promoting NZ readers reading NZ writers, raising the profile of reading in New Zealand — I'm so proud to be able to contribute my mite to helping their cause. But a sneak preview! That suggestion made it all worthwhile already.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

#27: Windows

Wow. I mean, seriously, wow.

I just reinstalled Windows with my new, completely legal version that I got for Christmas, and it is so beautiful. Previously I was using Windows 2000; now I'm using XP, and while XP may seem old hat, I am lovin' my XP experience so far: the brights are brighter; the whites are whiter.

I now have a 100% legal OS with 100% legal software (not that I ever didn't, of course). Even my music is all legit, with good ol' DRM enforced.

My computer is now no longer overrun with Trojans and programmes I don't even remember installing, which completely refuse to uninstall. I also now have IE 7, which I've been craving since I first experienced the joys of tabbed browsing (I know Mozilla has tabs, but I just don't like Mozilla).

I was going to sort through my "Unsorted" folders first, but decided instead to seize the moment and "just do it". So, while Kylie is backpacking somewhere through Europe/Asia and Angela is winging her way to San Francisco, I seized the moment by reinstalling Windows.

In other news, I've been reading Eats, shoots and leaves lately; it's great to read a book by someone who must be even more irritating in person about punctuation than I am. It's also really interesting to read about the true function of semi-colons, which have always somewhat puzzled me.

Which reminds me, I'm doing a paper on sub-editing this semester and it looks fascinating. Although that could just be me. I remember the bemused stares of my classmates when I had to admit that my topic for the final essay in Advanced fiction writing was the function of punctuation in creative writing — which I thought was interesting.

My classmates didn't seem to agree.

Happy/Angry CHAFF: Issue 15

I've decided I like giving little previews of the upcoming week's CHAFF, so, again, we present articles this week by yours truly:
  1. This week in history (Pee Wee Reese, Peter Sellers and Black July)
  2. Horoscopes
  3. Feature: An angry rant on youth culture in New Zealand
  4. Feature: A happy tribute to youth culture in New Zealand

And that may seem like less than last week, but trust me: my angry rant is a 2160-word-long double-page feature article. It is not less work than last week. Especially, I suspect, to read.

Friday, 18 July 2008


I'm feeling really depressed right now.

I just wrote a really mean email to a friend — I felt I had dealt with enough crap from this friend, and wrote her an email to express my feelings.

Feeling depressed, I went to fix myself a snack, and fed my cats some cheese, which of course they love. As I watched them, I felt a bit happier; that's when I wondered if my own happiness is related to how nice I am.

I've always tried to be a nice person. Happiness probably depends on self-esteem to an extent: if you think you're pretty cool, you're likelier to be happy; if you think you suck, you're less likely to be happy. I guess I'm talking about being internally happy/unhappy with yourself, as opposed to being happy/unhappy because of something that's happened to you.

That's when I realised how much I do — the charities I sponsor, the time I spend helping CHAFF and promoting things like the Six Pack, basically running myself dry. I try to be as nice a person as I can to everyone, even people I don't like (except for telemarketers). But is this some weird subconscious way of making myself feel better about who I am?

My worst memory isn't anything that anyone else did to me — it was something I did, years ago, which ended up hurting a person I love. I feel horrible, hateful, whenever I remember it.

Should being mean to someone — in a non-angry, non-bitchy, truthful way — depress me?

I don't know.

Monday, 14 July 2008


I have two things I really want to do next year, both of which preclude the other. The first is the MA in Creative Writing at Vic, a full-time programme that looks really hard to get into and looks like amazing fun.

The second is a job I want, which I won't go into detail about since I don't know if the employers know that the person who currently has this job (we'll call them Sam) is planning to leave. But I want this job so much. It's quite a big job; I'd need to be good with time management and be organised and outgoing and lots of things I'm not. But it looks like such a fun job; it would go really well on my CV; I really do think by the end of the year I might be ready for it; and a large component of the job is writing.

I'll be up against some hefty opposition from other job applicants if I do go for the job: intelligent, thoughtful graduates who are probably older, wiser, more mature and more experienced than I am. It's frightening!

But I figure if I can spend this year just trying to get ready for the job interview, then at least I'm a step ahead of other graduates who won't hear about the vacancy till it's advertised. I'm not just getting ready for the interview, of course; I'm trying to get ready for the job itself. It's a really challenging and stressful job, but it just sounds so fun, a job I would really love (in between tearing my hair out).

But, oh, if I don't get into the MA (my application will take me months); and if I don't get this job; wow, that's a lot of time wasted! Plus I don't really have a back-up plan. I'd probably just get some crappy dead-end job and study for a regular MA in English (which I'll also apply for).

Oh, the stress! But they're such exciting plans — I'm glad I have so much time to prepare. In a way I can't wait... but in a way I'm so glad I have to!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Would you believe the seer?

There's an interesting discussion over at Nathan Bransford's blog where he asked readers: If a seer with 100% accuracy told you you didn't have the talent to be published, would you keep writing?

Most people avoided the question with answers like "Nothing is ever 100%" — which is stupid, because he already said it's 100%. Other people said the seer could never say no to them, because they're so awesome and talented (my paraphrase); "fated" to write. I don't believe in fate.

Most people said they wouldn't give up writing: that's it's "their life", that they "need" to write or would "explode" if they didn't. Wow. Not that I'd stop writing either — but I write because it's fun; because I love playing with words, seeing what I can build with them. Words have such power.

But if I had to stop writing, I would not explode. My life would not be over. I would need to find another creative outlet, and a new outlet for stress or emotion; and I'd write more for CHAFF. But that's it. Maybe that means I'm not much of a writer. But I don't think anyone should live so hard for one facet of their life — should need it — especially if that facet depends on being published. I'd rather live for Dan, family, friends.

I would have asked: Would you believe the seer? I'm amazed at how many people are sure that, inside them, a best-selling author is just waiting to be discovered. One commenter said they've had the same manuscript rejected 85 times, and are sending it off to agent #86, because "in my heart I know that I'm meant to write and be published". If I'd had 85 rejections, I wouldn't stop writing; but I'd retire that manuscript.

I admit may not have enough talent to "make" it, but maybe I need more confidence. I wonder: is it better to have unshakeable confidence in your own ability, or the humility to learn? The one can stop you learning; the other could make you give up. Can you have both? I don't know.

Monster CHAFF: Issue 14

Wow, I don't feel I've really written much for the upcoming CHAFF issue (Massey and CHAFF both start back Monday), but looking at the content I've written for Issue 14:
  1. This week in history — my (old) regular column
  2. Horoscopes — my new regular column
  3. Article on Writers Read
  4. Movie review — Hancock
  5. DVD reviewBecoming Jane

I don't think I'm doing so badly after all. I'm also working on a couple of feature articles for the following week, so you might start seeing a bit more of me in CHAFF.

I'm going to try to be more involved in CHAFF this semester. I worry about my chances, since I am doing 6 papers instead of the recommended 3-4; but I'm going to try and be organised (ha!) and do articles and assignments ahead of time.

At least one thing's for sure — this semester will be challenging.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

MA in Creative Writing

So apparently it is possible to study creative writing at a NZ university — I didn't think it was. Not that I would have majored in creative writing anyway; I'd like to keep my options more open.

However, at Vic you can get an MA in creative writing, so I'm thinking about that. I was planning to study English for my master's, but creative writing sounds much more fun. Unfortunately, it's limited to 20 students per year, and the intake is based solely on creative ability, so I'm extremely unlikely to qualify.

I still intend to apply, but my problem is now this: you need to write a novel-length manuscript in either fiction or non-fiction, and you need to have a novel-length idea when you apply. Judging my stories over the past year, I seem to be far better at writing non-fiction. But what on earth kind of novel-length non-fiction could I write? A biography? On whom? An academic thesis on the habits of butterflies or properties of steel? Or does it have to be creative non-fiction?

I'll find out a bit more about the criteria and expectations involved in the MA, but for now my dilemma is this: fiction or non-fiction?

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Ala Archa

I holidayed there! It's nice to see Kyrgyzstan represented (1:46).

In the latest happy news, I got my Massey grades back: two Bs and an A-. I'm so happy — I need a B grade average in English to get into post-grad, and that's now sussed.

And the second very happy topic: Dad is finally coming back from Oman on Sunday! That's fantastic. I'm so happy.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Good books

If you're like me in always wanting the best deals, every time you want a book you spend hours online, comparing Fishpond and Whitcoulls and The Nile and every other online bookstore to get the lowest price.

Then today, I found Good books, a website that sells both books and music. When I search for a book, it automatically lists the search results in terms of price; there are no delivery costs worldwide; and the books are very reasonably priced. In fact, I just searched for a book by a relatively unknown author; and not only is the exact book there, but it's $7 cheaper than any other price I've been able to find.

But the best part is that it's run by Oxfam, and that's why it's so cheap. All the resources (delivery, web-hosting etc) are donated; all the time and work is done by volunteers. And all of the profit goes towards Oxfam's works here and around the world. The only potential downside is delivery times: 7-14 working days.

But overall, with such good pricing and such an excellent cause, I actually feel a little guilty I haven't been shopping there already — I certainly will be from now on.

On a slightly relevant note, I've decided to start trying to listen to more NZ music and reading more NZ books. For some reason I've always been slightly contemptuous of both; but that's unpatriotic and unsupportive of local artists. And there are some really good NZ authors and bands around. I spent a happy half-hour in the NZ fiction section of Whitcoulls today, waiting for a friend, and now want at least four NZ-authored books for when I have money again.

Ahhh, I love that dream. "When I have money...."

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

July goals

OK, I didn't complete most of my monthly goals again, but I don't feel I did too badly. These are goals to aim for, not to beat myself up over. My main accomplishment in May was selling my motorbike and getting a job; my main accomplishment in June was undoubtedly entering the BNZ competition. But to my July goals:

Tasks to complete
#19: Use a SPBoW word in a CHAFF article.
#20: Use a Devil's Dictionary definition in a CHAFF article.
#21: Hand an assignment in three days early.
#34: Keep desk and floor tidy for a week!
#43: Go (indoor) rock-climbing.

Reading goals
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman; Eragon by Christopher Paolini; The alchemist by Paulo Coelho; Mrs Dalloway; Eats, shoots and leaves.

Writing goals
#5: Start on story for the SST competition.
#8: Send a story to Takahe.
#11: Write 10,000 words of The Snow Dragon.

Tasks to work towards
#17: Find Russian textbook.
#25: Sort through two "Unsorted" folders.
#33: Sort through a box of crap.
#62: Play chess.
#78: Go to gym six times. (1/6)

#82: Find plaque stuff! Utilise!