East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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More options for February

I am going on with my plan to spend February (also) learning a new skill – because I think it’s fun, and because should it work, I could start collecting new skills, one month after the other. After all, that was what I always was about ever since I was a kid: my mother used to tell me to spend my summer vacations “doing something useful”, and I learned conjuring (the stage magic kind), tarot-reading, playing the flute and some french, some Spanish, some Japanese.
I guess she was hoping I’d find small jobs or stuff like that, like she would do when s he was a teenager – but she was a teenager in the ’50s, I was a teenager in the ’80s: the whole part time jobs ecology had changed, and all I was able to find was a contract job as a scarecrow…
But I always loved learning new stuff.

So, I made a list a few days back (WordPress will probably link the post below), I got some feedback, and it looks like knitting, harmonica-playing and juggling are the three top contenders. Of the three, my brother is averse to the harmonica (“it will feel like we’re in some kind of prison”), and juggling is better done in the open, so knitting is really looking like my choice – or at least, that was the state of affairs until Humble Bundle launched their latest book bundle, that is huge and is called Start Something New.

And I was not kidding about the bundle being huge. Drop one buck, and you’ll get seven volumes – cookbooks, a knitting encyclopedia (aha!) a book about redesigning your life, a Texas Hold’em guidebook…

But you can go up to over 20 bucks, and land a staggering collection of 61 books, each one covering a different skill.

And so yes, I put down a few bucks – knowing the money will go to a charity – and now I’ve increased my options. Texas Hold’em looks interesting, but I could also devote the four weeks of February to Feng Shui or book-binding, or some kind of creative, artistic craft.

But no matter what, I have now one week to decide – and then I’ll have a week to get all the necessary equipment to start my adventure in February.

Ideas, suggestions, odds and ends are welcome – just use the comments.


Four weeks in February

As I mentioned, I’d love to spend the month of February learning a new skill. February will begin on a Monday, four clean weeks, 28 days in which I might be able to set aside the time needed to acquire a new competence. As a way to clean the rust off my brain, and also as an opportunity to enrich my life.

But what should I try and do?
Once again, I am open to suggestions, but in the meantime, let me write down a few simple rules, or a sort of wish list

  • I plan to learn something practical – there’s a lot of courses out there about the environment, and history, that look very interesting, but for this go I’d want something more hands-on
  • I need something I can manage to acquire in four weeks – and yes, one can get a smattering of a completely foreign language (say, Korean) in four weeks, but that’s not what I’m aiming for
  • I want to tackle something that will not cost me a lot of money to set up – I’ll use the occasional handbook, online free courses and video tutorials, and I’d like to keep things on the cheap as far as materials are concerned

And right now there’s five possible skills I might look into to chose from…

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Something new in four weeks, and dreams of gardens

Two ideas I picked up on the web today.
First, this morning a contact of mine asked his followers on Twitter about what useful skill they could learn in a month. Something that would be useful, or make them happy and take away their worries when they feel down. To me, such a skill would be cooking, or better, the ability to hold my own in the kitchen – not necessarily knowing a lot of recipes, but being handy with the tools of the trade. Nothing better than cooking a simple, good meal, when you feel down.

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First day of the new year

Last night I celebrated the end of 2020 by cutting my left thumb while I was chopping an onion – nothing major, thank goodness, but it led me to spend the last hours of the year reflecting on two important issues

  • first, it is important to always have a well stocked first aid kit at home, especially if the closest emergency ward is 25 KMs away
  • second, we often underestimate the usefulness of our off-hand’s thumb

Apart from this, one hour before the end (or the beginning), I also got a five-star review for my first Garr the Cunning novella, and a royalty payment notification for The House of the Gods, my dinosaur novel.
It was a good way to end 2020 and start 2021.
Well, apart from the plaster-wrapped thumb, that is.

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2020: the lost year

There’s this thing I’m reading on a lot of blogs, websites and social media profiles these days, about 2020 being a “lost year” – a blank page in our own personal history, a gray-ish limbo in which we floated for roughly ten months, doing nothing, waiting, wasting our time.
It’s like many are expecting the system to reset on January the 1st 2021, the slate wiped clean.
None of this ever happened.

The first thing I thought reading that line, the lost year, was

ah, it would have been good had it been so for my bank!

Because you know me, I am cheap – and this 2020 maybe was a lost year, but bills and payment notices kept coming regularly, and my mortgage did not go anywhere, or my expenses.
So yes, it is true – this was a year of forced idleness, sometimes, with jobs fizzing out and clients disappearing, but on the other hand the machine that needs to be fed with cash kept going as usual.

And yet, for all the strangeness, for me it was a good-ish year.
I watched friends lose family members to the illness or to its consequences, but my family was lucky, and we suffered no losses.
As I mentioned, jobs vanished and I was trapped in a job from hell with no end in sight – one that damaged my health much more severely than COVID. But I survived.

And I wrote – the year closing with 92 submissions and 28 confirmed sales, that is really good, and means I’ll be able to cover the regular expenses for a few months.
Months during which I’ll write more – because my New Year’s resolution is hitting 100 submissions in 2021, and at least 30 sales.
It can be done – I am writing a new story in this moment, something I need to submit in the first week of January.

Again on the positive side, I started a podcast with my friend Lucy, and we’re doing great – Paura & Delirio is growing steadily, and there are a few ideas we’re working on for 2021.
Not bad, for something we started as a way not to go crazy.

And to start off on a good note – or to end on a good note, depending on what side of the timeline you’re watching this – I’ve just stumbled unwittingly on a wonderful character that’s fallen in the public domain, and that would be a lot of fun to resurrect.
I’m checking out resources and things.
Who knows…?

So yes, it’s been a lost year to many, it’s been a lost year one way or another for each and every one of us, but we are still going.
Stay safe, and hold on.


“Going spaceship”

Today I did a massive supply run, and secured roughly 30 meals for two, including four “specials”, for Christmas and New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Thankfully I had a friend with me, because bringing it all back home would have been complicated.
Now that the pantry is full, we can lock ourselves up and “go spaceship” – we’ll be self-contained and self-sufficient for the next weeks, limiting our time outside to a quick walk once in a while to keep ourselves active, but mostly we’ll eat, sleep, read and write.

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Looking for adventure, or Return of the Raiders of the Lost Franchise

One of the (moderate and amply tolerable) down sides of co-hosting a podcast about horror is that sometimes you get to watch some pretty bad movies. Doing Paura & Delirio with my accomplice Lucy, we usually stick to movies we like, or at least we find interesting and worth a re-watch, but sometimes this comes with some less-than-welcome attachments (like when a pretty good movie suffered through an unnecessary remake). And after all, “horror” is such a wide and old genre, that you really get a huge variety of films, from straight-up ghost stories (that I like), to disturbing science fiction flicks (that I also like), to slashers and gorefests (that I like a lot less).

So, I was coming out of the viewing of a pretty boring and blood-drenched horror, and in need of a good palate cleanser, and I decided to look for a good adventure movie, possibly with some pulp-ish vibe. Is there anything new (or old but I missed it) that could help me spend a nice after-dinner and make me forget the dog I’ve just watched?

And it turns out that the label “adventure” is being attached, on IMDB and on streaming service catalogs, to a wide variety of stuff that… hmm…

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