Reading improves writing, just ask Mr. King.

Before I took my blog hiatus I had a lot of issues actually finishing books. I would start one, get part way through, run low on time, set it aside, and repeat. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the books — I just never felt like I had the time to devote to reading one. But after I started my blogging hiatus, and before I started NaNoWriMo, I finished four books. FOUR. I was really proud of myself, and it felt good. And even through NaNo, I made sure to keep reading. Partly because of one of the books I read: “On Writing” by Stephen King.

Mr. King pointed out that people can’t be good writers without reading, and that every time you read, you were studying the craft of writing. After reading that, something clicked. I figured if I couldn’t make time for reading, my writing wouldn’t ever improve. (Remember, I was trying to write my novel at this point.) Since then, I’ve made a point to make time to read nearly every day. And I want to continue, so I decided to integrate my reading into the blog, instead of adding something extra to my to-do list. So every month, I’ll go through and comment on all the books I read and listened to. (I listen to audio books at work a lot to pass the time… it’s great!)

So without further ado, here are the books I finished in January.

The bookstore had just gotten it in when I asked for it — they hadn’t even put it on the shelves yet!

“The Shining” by Stephen King. I got “Doctor Sleep” for Christmas, so I decided I needed to actually read “The Shining” before reading its sequel. And I’m very glad I did. I’ve only seen the movie once, and even though it was enjoyable it wasn’t as scary or memorable as I expected, given the cult following the movie seems to have. Since reading “On Writing”, I’ve been on a Stephen King kick, so I was excited to read one of his most famous works. And it didn’t disappoint. It was significantly different from the movie in several ways. The biggest and most important were the differences in Jack, Danny and Wendy Torrance. The characters are much deeper and more developed, and King makes sure the reader understands exactly why the human characters make their decisions. And in the book I would also count the hotel as a character itself. The ghosts and creepy phenomenons are clearly controlled by the hotel, which is a much more sinister character in the book, and not just a creepy setting. But to be clear, I’m not saying the movie was a bad adaptation. It is not. But there is so much depth to the book, it would be almost impossible to have translate it to the screen. King’s detail is incredible, his writing is easy to follow, and the plot it ingenious. I found myself understanding and feeling sorry for the Torrences more so than I did watching the movie. And I also found myself getting more spooked than I did while watching the movie. Overall, “The Shining” was riveting, entertaining and very enjoyable. (Also, for those who have seen the movie: it even ends differently! And Wendy is supposed to be a hot blonde…)

I didn’t see the face at first…

“Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King. I started “Doctor Sleep” almost immediately after finishing “The Shining” and finished it in less than a week. I read it every spare moment I had, and stayed up much later than I should have multiple times. So you know I thought it was good. “The Shining” touched on little Danny Torrence’s ability to see ghosts, know what his parents were thinking, and other crazy things. But they weren’t really the focus of the book. They were important, yes, but not as important as they are in “Doctor Sleep”, where the powers are actually the center of the novel. I also particularly enjoyed that “Doctor Sleep” tied up some loose ends left by its prequel (what happened to Danny and his mom?), and showed the effects of Danny’s childhood had on his life. On some levels, it’s easy to tell the two books were written years and years apart, but I think it added to the story. King isn’t the same author he was when he wrote “The Shining”, and it adds to the story. After all, Danny isn’t the same boy he was. Both lived many years in between the novels. But anyways, as a story “Doctor Sleep” is very different than “The Shining”, and I think I liked it more. It was dramatic, entertaining and scary, but not because of ghosts. Instead, King created new human-like monsters who murder little children. Scary, but not in the same way the Overlook Hotel was. A more real scary, in my opinion. I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to spoil it, but the little girl Danny helps, Abra, is spunky and likeable… even if she’s a little intense at times. And she’s even more powerful than Danny was as a kid, which is pretty incredible. Overall it was a quick read, fun and very good.

A very long audio book…

“A Clash of Kings” by George R. R. Martin. I started listening to the audiobook version on Audible back in… November? I don’t remember when I started, but I finally finished it in January. I had tried to read it on multiple occassions, but I would always end up setting it aside for something else… or nothing else. I just couldn’t get through it. Probably because I’m completely caught up with HBO’s “A Game of Thrones”, so I knew mostly what happened in the book. And I’m not really a huge fan of George R. R. Martin’s writing style. But the audiobook turned out to be manageable, and a good way to pass time at work. Unfortunately, I still got bored listening to it, which is why it took me so long to finish. I’d often choose to listen to MTG podcasts and streams instead. I finished it, though, and so far the next one is far more entertaining. Not that I didn’t like the story in “A Clash of Kings” … I really enjoy HBO’s adaptation, and think that, for the most part, it’s a good story. I just also think it was longer than it really needed to be, and that Martin adds a lot of things I really don’t care about. Who knows, though, maybe they’re important later. But right now I think all of his books are much longer than they really need to be.

So that’s it. Those are the books I finished in January. Only three, but that’s definitely better than September, when I think I barely finished one. I’m obviously on a Stephen King kick at the moment (I’m currently reading “The Green Mile”), but it’s only cause he’s great.

What did you read this month? Any suggestions for February?

All for now,
Bale

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A healthier life.

There are a bunch of stereotypes when it comes to nerds, and they’re not all positive. We’re some of the nicest, coolest people you could ever meet, but unfortunately that’s not necessarily what people first think of when someone is described as a ‘gamer’. What often comes to mind is an overweight man, sitting in front of a game console or computer, with a bunch of soda and junk food surrounding him as he takes on the next level. And the stereotype isn’t that much different for MTG players or for girls, either.

I don’t like this. But stereotypes exist for a reason, and because a lot of nerdy hobbies are sedentary in nature it makes sense that we may not be as active or healthy as the athletes of the world. That doesn’t mean we can’t be, though; obesity is almost entirely preventable. In a wonderful article, “The Health of Magic”, level three judge Riki Hyayshi addressed this issue. Obesity is a huge issue in today’s society (according to the World Health Organization 35% of adults aged 20 and over were overweight in 2008, and 11% were obese, and being obese or overweight kills more people than being underweight), but it’s a difficult topic to breach with people, and an even harder one to fix.

In his article, Hyayshi points out that MTG is very sedentary in nature. Players spend hours sitting around play testing for tournaments, playing in tournaments, reading articles, playing MTGO or watching streams, etc. And the same can be said for people who love video games, reading, playing board games and a myriad of other nerdy activities. Despite being invigorating for the mind, they’re often very lazy for our bodies. Plus, let’s face it: reading the end of a good book is way more fun than going to the gym. I’m definitely guilty of prioritizing the former above the latter. And it’s not just our hobbies that are influencing our health. I have a full-time job where I have to sit in front of a computer screen all day. Definitely sedentary. So there goes 40 hours of my week devoted to sitting around. What happens to the rest of the time? Well, I try to write every day… that’s sedentary. I go to FNM every week… that’s pretty sedentary. And I play MTG outside of FNM and read. A lot. Most of my hobbies nowadays are not very physical. But I still try to go to the gym. It’s not always easy, but I learned my lesson my freshman year of college.

I was very active growing up. I played outside a lot, played soccer for while, and I took ballet from age 5 through high school. In high school I was at my studio nearly every day, and I loved it. Unfortunately, when I went off to college that stopped. I didn’t have enough open credits to enroll in the ballet classes offered at my school, and I didn’t have the time, or money, to find a local studio to dance at. I tried to go to the gym, but after they closed the pool I stopped going. I hated running, and I felt ridiculous. So I just stopped. And by the time I went home for the summer I noticed that I’d gained a lot of weight. Going from doing hours of physical activity every day to almost none was horrible. That, combined with the unhealthy habits of a college student, wreaked havoc on my body. But luckily, I had some great inspiration to help me get back on track: my mom. After my twin sister and I left for college, she had more time on her hands than she’d had in ages, and she worked hard all year to get in shape. When I arrived home, she looked great. The best she’d looked for almost as long as I could remember, in fact. She also felt great. And I felt terrible.

So even though I had a full-time internship that summer, I invested myself in the effort to get back in shape. My mom got me a membership to her gym, and she encouraged me and went with me. It was hard, but I slowly started to gain more confidence while at the gym. I lifted weights and did both the elliptical machine and the treadmill. At home, I made sure to eat healthy — something I hardly had to worry about in high school — and I always packed a healthy lunch for work. And everything worked, I gradually lost most of the weight I’d gained. I didn’t lose all of it, but that was OK. I was healthier, stronger and happier. And when I went back to school I continued to try to fit in gym time as much as I could. It was never easy, but it always felt good.

That’s what I try to remind myself when I don’t want to go to the gym: it’s worth the time and the effort. Not just for my physical health, but my mental health, too. I’m always more confident and happier when I’ve been good at going to the gym. Unfortunately, working out is always the easiest thing to cross off of a busy to-do list. Life gets in the way a lot, but it’s important not to let it. (And as I edit this post months after I started it, I am very guilty of letting life, the holidays and everything in between get in my way.)

Even though I didn't go to the gym over the holidays, I did make some delicious (and fairly healthy) treats. I also made a lot of unhealthy treats... but it WAS the holidays.

Even though I didn’t go to the gym over the holidays, I did make some delicious (and fairly healthy) treats. 

Hyayshi and I share the opinion that we need to start promoting healthier lifestyles throughout the MTG and gamer communities. As I said above, nerds are some of the nicest, most caring and wonderful people in the world. The games we play enrich our lives, so why not make sure our lives last as long as possible? Of course, it’s hard to broach the topic with people without hurting their feelings or offending them, which is totally understandable. Nobody wants to hear they’re overweight, and often they already know it. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is take care of yourself. Promote a healthy lifestyle by living it. Going to a game night? Bring healthy snacks. Show the people around you what a positive change living a more active, healthier lifestyle can be. Share articles like Hyayshi’s for motivation. In the end, living a healthy lifestyle is up to the individual. But communities like MTG can encourage individuals through, as Hyayshi recommends, promoting a culture of fitness at home. Let’s shake those unhealthy stereotypes, and really take the time to treat our bodies well. After all, they’re what really get us through the marathon tournaments!

My plan to start living healthier is simple: get back into the routine of going to the gym three times a week, start cooking more meals at home, and pack healthy snacks for FNM. In an effort to try new meals, I am participating in Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking, which gives a category each week for you to find and prepare a meal from. I’m going to blog about the challenge in an effort to hold myself accountable, share the experience, and encourage others.after all, the only way to get better at cooking is to practice, and practicing helps make healthy habits.

So here’s to being healthy and breaking stereotypes in 2014!

All for now,
Bale

2014: A new year, a new start, a better NerdMaids

New Year's fireworks above Pikes Peak.

New Year’s fireworks above Pikes Peak.

Alright guys, I admit, that break was much longer than I initially intended it to be. It’s been a busy few months, though, and I’ve gotten a lot of things done, and even more ideas written down.

November was actually filled with writing: I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time, which was a fun and rewarding experience. I didn’t quite get to 50,000 words, but I got really close at 44,000. By the end I was worn out and writing crap (or what I remember thinking was crap, I haven’t actually gone back and reread it), which wasn’t what I wanted to do. I know, I know, the first draft of anything isn’t great… but I have standards people! I’m both excited and nervous to start reading the story I came up with, and hopefully editing it to something presentable.

December was my true break from writing. And with the holidays and a trip to my parents, it was really busy but rejuvenating. It was truly a break from real life, and it was wonderful.

January, so far, has been very eventful. Canceled flights, car accidents and an apartment flooding started of the year for me and Astro. But, I won’t go into that here. Everything is fine now, and we’re both happy to be getting back to normal.

That also means I’m very ready to start fresh and get back into the routine of writing. NaNo proved that I enjoy writing everyday and it really makes me happy. I think the pressure of publishing something three times a week was what was holding me back before. I’ve also been doing fantastic at FNM, so I don’t plan on continuing my FNM recaps every week, opting for more general MTG posts with a little self reflection because I think I was thinking more about the blog at FNM than my matches… not really that great.

So, my plan from here is to post twice a week: once about MTG or board games or whatever, and once about my 52 weeks of cooking challenge. (More on that later. It’s going to be awesome, though!) Then at the end of the month, in an effort to keep up my reading, I’m going to post about the books I’ve read that month. A total of nine posts a month, which seems more doable than 12. I’m not going to set a day of the week for the posts, I’m just going to write them naturally. And I even have a couple ready to go, like my initial plan said. I’ve stuck to my word on that point.

The biggest change will be the shifting emphasis from my FNM recaps, which were previously the backbone of the blog, to a more general blog about my passions, most of which are still very nerdy. I’m very excited for everything I will be writing, and I really hope you all will be there for the ride.

All for now,
Bale.