Time Sinks

…Being evidence that my blog can indeed consist of more than just Twitter updates.

It’s November, which is always a month full of time sinks for me.  I mean, everyone’s busy during November what with the holidays and Thanksgiving (well, everyone in America who celebrates Thanksgiving at least).   But for about 100,000 people around the world, November is also, of course, National Novel Writing Month, and the pressure of churning out 50,000 words in a single month can get to some people.  I passed the 50K mark yesterday, with 50,007 words total (according to the official NaNoWriMo word count verifier), so technically I’m done with that, even though the story itself is still incomplete.  It’s part two of the novel that I wrote last year, and I realize there’s at least one more part to come.  I’m really hoping, actually, that I can get this third part written in a very short span of time (maybe December through January), so that I can leave Deacon Dread and the Lord of Nightmares behind and get back to work on The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, which has been languishing since late October.  I have ideas for other novels I want to work on in future NaNoWriMo’s, too.

I also chose to be a Municipal Liaison for our area in NaNoWriMo this year, meaning that in addition to writing my own novel I was helping to plan events and gatherings to help other people in Sacramento who are participating get their own novels written as well.  I had a helper in this, which was great, but the point is that NaNoWriMo kept me even busier this November than it usually does.

There’s that whole Thanksgiving thing, too, and I love Thanksgiving.  But since we don’t host Thanksgiving at our house, and since everything I bake always ends up tasting like soap, no matter how closely I stick to the recipe, my role in planning Thanksgiving is calling my parents (if it’s a year at my parents’ house) and asking them what time we should arrive.  That’s pretty much it.  So while I love going to the family for Thanksgiving, it just isn’t that big a time sink for me.  More on Thanksgiving in general in a future entry.

Another big time sink for me this past month has been, I confess, Second Life.  I signed up for an account just before the start of November, just to see what it was like, and was kind of hooked right away.  I decided to create a female avatar for myself for several reasons.  First, I know that even though I enjoy writing about female protagonists, they tend to be pretty passive, which frankly irks me, so I thought that maybe having a female avatar in Second Life would be the closest thing I’d get to having a female me in First Life that I could experiment with (no, not like that, you morally turpitudinous leches!).  I don’t know how accurate the experience has been, though I’m assured that even stating pretty obviously in your profile that you’re married (sort of the Second Life version of wearing a wedding ring) and that you’re not interested in sex of any sort, cyber or otherwise, is no deterrence to the guys who will come up and say something like, "Hey baby, nice breasts, wanna get it on?"  Of course, their language is usually not quite so refined.

Second Life has surprised me, though.  The brand new residents and the ones who are mostly interested in sex and guns mostly hang out in the newbie areas, and I’ve learned to avoid those.  Once you get past those areas you can find some truly remarkable simulations that have been built up by very dedicated people.  I’ve found a recreation of the city of Dublin; a couple of really amazing garden sims (my favorite is the SL Botanical Gardens, which was built by some botanists who wanted to recreate as many real world plants in SL as they could); some impressive music venues; a sim called "October Country" that’s dedicated to Halloween and the works of Ray Bradbury and other horror writers (Lovecraft’s Cthulhu makes a regular appearance); a recreation of the Globe Theater from Shakespeare’s days; and tons more.

Another reason I chose to have a female avatar in Second Life was that I originally thought my chances of meeting people who weren’t interested in just sex and guns would be increased if I made it clear that I wasn’t as well, and my impression was that simply having a male avatar in Second Life was an implicit announcement that you were after such things, no matter how many times you said you weren’t.  I’ve since learned that this isn’t automatically true, but my avatar’s gender had already been assigned, and even though I could change it simply by clicking a radio button in my "Edit Appearance" screen, her name — Zoe Compton — isn’t very unisex.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to her.  Plus, there are a lot more ways to customize your avatar’s appearance and dress it up if it’s female than if it’s male; if your avatar is male, your choices are pretty much limited to looking like a soldier with lots of guns, or a beefed up muscle man, or a hip hop gangster, or a super powerful corporate executive.  And besides, I’m a straight, non-transgendered, non-transvestite guy who enjoys watching "What Not to Wear"; how else am I going to express that side of me that desperately needs to shop for nice clothes?

It should come as no surprise that there are a number of men that play women in Second Life.  A lot of these men are gay (though I don’t see why they don’t just play gay male avatars); a lot of them are transgendered individuals who have no medical options for various reasons in real life, so this is their only way to express it; a sizable number of them are in it for the lesbian sex scenes because they now have a little porn star that they can control themselves on the screen; and, believe it or not, there are quite a few like me who are just in it for the heck of it.

So Second Life really has been a time sink.  In fact, I was falling behind in NaNoWriMo because of Second Life until I discovered that there is a surprisingly large contingent of NaNoWriMo participants who also participate in Second Life.  Hanging out with them, exchanging encouragement and participating in word wars really helped push me, which is why I was able to actually reach 50,000 words.

In case you’re interested, I’ve set up an in-character blog for Zoe.  You can find at it Zoe in Second Life.  I’ve run each entry through the Gender Genie to try to make them sound more genuinely female than male, and I’ve done a pretty decent job of at least fooling that website, though sometimes I end up with sentence constructions and word choices that don’t really make a whole lot of sense and that definitely don’t sound like me.  I’ve gotten several favorable emails about the entry called "Second Life: Not Just About Detachable Penises".

Another big time sink has been my lungs.  I seem to be fighting a permanent upper respiratory infection, and while I don’t focus on my lungs to the point of exclusion even when I’m sucking down on my nebulizer for the fifth time in a day, it sure feels like I have been.  Right now I’m on horse pill antibiotics and more steroids than I’ve taken in years, which means that my biochemicals are all screwed up.  I have not, strangely, gotten that magical side effect from Prednisone where everything in the world sucks including you, but I’m definitely getting the voracious and insatiable appetite which gets very consuming when I sit down to eat, crowding out any thoughts of "Hey, I shouldn’t have this huge hamburger" until, unfortunately, after I’ve alr
eady eaten.

Some day I hope to get my lungs under control.  They told me I would grow out of my asthma.  They lied.  And my doctor and I were discussing airway remodeling last week, a process where a long term asthmatic develops so much scar tissue in their lungs that the airways actually get altered and moved around.  This can show up in X-rays as blotches or white areas around the lungs, particularly near the heart, and it has freaked out at least one emergency room doctor who thought I might have some horrible heart condition until I mentioned the airway remodeling to her.  Of course, the airway remodeling has also left little pockets in my lungs which don’t get a lot of airflow, but do get some, and thus prove wonderful incubators for some of these infections once they show up.  This is why a cold which gives you a sore throat and a cough for a couple of days turns into a Cecil B. DeMille production for me lasting for weeks at a time.  My doctor tells me that I’m doing as much as I can, using top of the line drugs, for my asthma and there isn’t much more we can do without getting into areas of treatment that would simply be too risky and that my insurance probably wouldn’t cover anyway.

And, finally, there’s work.  I still love my job, but I feel like I’m reaching the top end of my skill set.  We’ve spent two years customizing Moodle to work with our department’s business model (because we’re a University governed by traditions of bureaucracy that go back to roughly 1100 BC, changing the software is a lot less painful and complicated than changing our business model), and we recently decided to rebuild our site using a newer version of Moodle.  Unfortunately for me, the internals of Moodle have changed so much since we first started working with it that it’s like learning the product all over again and has proven much more difficult than I had first anticipated.  This is the first time since my first few months with this job that I’ve come across a challenge at work that has really made me question my programming abilities.  It’s a new feeling, and one that I don’t particularly enjoy.  I’ve always been able to hack my way through any challenge at work, and in pretty short order; but this one is just grinding me down.  I know that I will get through it and that I’ll succeed, there’s little doubt in my mind about that; unfortunately, I’m just not going to succeed as soon as I would like to.

So, anyway, that’s where I’ve been this month.  Writing, Second Life, lung joy, and work.  See, I do, indeed, do more than just post to Twitter.

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