Wednesday writing wire - Goruck Challenge edition

Eegads... I'd gotten in the habit of posting one of these things every week, and then at the end of October it all fell apart. Oh well... I'm gonna try and get back on the wagon here. 

What I'm reading

I finished A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin back in November. It's an account of the origin of the modern Middle East at the end of World War I, and how the seeds of strife were sown that fuel the turmoil that exists there today. Holy cats, I sure feel smarter, but hmm... smart enough to review this book? No way. (I'm no history buff--just a person who reads about things that happened, in an attempt to feel slightly less pig-ignorant.) In lieu of an actual review, here are a few observations. In 2014 we take for granted the idea of nationalism, that people should "of course" have their own countries and get to have a say in who their leaders are, but it wasn't like that 100 years ago. The British (and the French, and the Russians, and etc.) did things (ill-informed, culturally-blinkered, sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes not so much) in order to preserve their own empire and to further their own interests while believing that certain peoples weren't competent to govern themselves and so naturally they'd want the Brits (or the French, or the Russians, and so on) to do it for them. And in our 2014 eyes that makes them horrible, arrogant colonialists--which I'm not saying they weren't, but they were also acting according to the imperialist worldview that was part of their time, as all the world powers of that time acted. It doesn't make it "right", it makes it what happened.

Another observation: we tend to think that, for example, the President of the United States, knows every single detail of every single thing going on in the world and every action being taken in the name of the USA at all times, day or night, and omg, he should have KNOWN that the soda machine in the basement of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was out of Dr. Pepper, how could he possibly not know? But one person does not know all this--no one person can--and that's why a leader has other people working for him, including non-elected people, many of whom you've never heard of and will never hear of, and they do have authority to make decisions, and sometimes they end up making decisions that have giant repercussions. So for example you got Sir Mark Sykes, who was just some 30 year old dude with like, two years of political experience, going off and forging a secret treaty with France about how when Britain & France of course won the war, they would carve up all the territory, and who would get what. (Although the actual carving-up turned out somewhat differently.) OK, the real history buffs are now cringing, I'm sure--so I'll stop before I dig myself a bigger hole. Except to say, this book was indeed long--and sometimes the details became overwhelming--but it was definitely worth the read, and has whetted my appetite for more on the subject.

In the "I *am* reading science fiction, damn it!" department, I recently read A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. OMG. I can't believe I never read this book until now. It's sooooo good. I remember seeing this book on the shelves of the school library but never picked it up, probably because 14 year old me was flummoxed by the title. Like, that sounds dry and churchy. What's it got to do with science fiction? Yeah, only *everything*. The premise is that after society destroyed itself in a human-made apocalypse, and new societies emerged that disdained literacy, the Catholic church preserved the scientific and literary heritage of humanity by protecting its books, writings and relics. It was written more than 50 years ago, but feels as fresh as if it was written yesterday. It's dark, bleak, and tragic, showing the human race determined to repeat the same cycles of stupidity, hubris, and self-destruction over and over--but it's also satirical and downright funny, and somehow left me feeling strangely uplifted. Maybe that's because the characters are so engaging and live their lives with such resolve, and even optimism--so in a way, the story shows not just how *fucked* humanity is due to its own nature, but also how a part of its nature is in fact beautiful.

Anyway, highly recommended. Times a thousand. (You don't have to be religious to read it; I'm not. And don't be put off by the fact that there's a lot of Latin--you get a translation for the real important stuff and the rest is figure-out-able by context.)

What I'm writing

During November I got preoccupied with some other stuff I was doing, and my writing output dwindled to practically zilch. But since December started, I've been back on the ball with The Free City. Winter is always a challenge for me writing-wise. I do most of my writing at work during lunch; my workplace has some outdoor picnic tables including one that I call the Sekrit Picnic Table which makes an ideal writing spot where I won't be bothered. Which is great when it's nice out--but when it gets cold, I have to either go sit in my car (if it's warm enough to do that), or go out to eat, because the lunch room is not an option for getting a single word written. Anyway, I try to make up for it by doing longer writing sessions on the weekends, which so far has been working. 

What else I've been doing / What's inspiring me right now

Me and Barb at the start of the Miami all-female Goruck Challenge on November 14

Me and Barb at the start of the Miami all-female Goruck Challenge on November 14

I was meaning to write about this earlier, but... in mid-November I went to Miami to participate in a Goruck Challenge. This particular event was women-only, which made it special enough for me (and my friend from Green Bay WI) to fly all the way to Florida from Chicago. (There was actually several different events including a weightlifting meet & firearms training, but those were earlier in the week & I didn't get in on them.) Anyway, how to explain what a Goruck Challenge is? It's a small taste of Special Operations training. It lasts about twelve hours, it starts at night and ends the following morning, you carry a weighted rucksack which you almost never take off, each group carries an American flag, you do countless burpees and sit-ups and flutter kicks, you carry heavy objects and people, you crawl around in the sand, you go in the water with all your clothes on--over and over. (Despite being in Florida, 65 degrees with a stiff wind when you're wet feels damn cold!) You are given missions, such as move these 500 pound sandbags from point A to point B in 30 minutes... or, these ten people are "dead" so carry them from point A to point B in 30 minutes, and oh yeah the sandbags too. Heaven help you if it takes you 31 minutes... unless you like burpees. Your leader for the night is a Special Operations Cadre. They are extraordinary men and I find them rather terrifying and they sure know how to make you and your team miserable--but everything they do is done out of love... or at least the sincere desire that you learn something! Which is what makes this a unique experience. People sometimes ask if the Challenge is a race, and sometimes it gets incorrectly lumped in with the sport of obstacle course racing--but really what it is, is the opposite of a race. Because in a race you're trying to win by beating everybody else, but the Challenge is a team event where you succeed by working together so that your team succeeds. Teamwork and leadership--y'know, all the things I'm bad at. Sure, all the physical stuff is difficult and kinda hurts, but making the mental shift from "I" to "we" was definitely the hardest thing for me, a self-avowed angry, alienated loner. A hundred burpees with a weighted pack = hard. Flutter kicks with your head in the surf = harder. Investing your sense of success with the success of the group, stepping up instead of fading into the background, putting others first and yourself second = hardest. (I should mention that this was my second Challenge so I found the mental stuff way easier; during my first Challenge, I think we were about eleven hours and fifty-nine minutes into it before I started to feel it was really about "us" and not "me". But that's just me. YMMV.) But anyway, it was a blast. A hundred and thirty-six women showed up for this thing and they were all awesome. Strong, beautiful, positive attitudes, they were all amazing. Especially my buddy Barb from Green Bay! Also, the Cadre are not really *that* scary... when the painfest is over :)

Fun in the ocean at dawn! I'm #5 or #6 from the left... I think.  (photo by Chris Strasser)

Fun in the ocean at dawn! I'm #5 or #6 from the left... I think.  (photo by Chris Strasser)