Critical Mass Town Hall

Things have been pretty quiet since the summer — not a lot of activity, not a heck of a lot to report. But this is a habit I’ve gotta keep up, if for nothing else so that I’ll be in practice if/when this Japan thing pans out. Although admittedly, I’ll probably have much more to talk about then.

Our weekend more-or-less began at 12:45pm on Thursday. That was when we heard: “Anyone who can hear this, get your butts over the Danish Community Hall now!” That was the call for our “Town Hall Meeting”, a gathering of the Calgary office in one place. Once upon a time (before I started), we could actually congregate in one place in the office. Doesn’t happen anymore — we have to go across the street to the DCH so we can hear the speeches.

We hold these about every six months. It’s mostly so everyone can have an inkling of what’s going on. (We’ve got a lot of people spread across a lot of projects — there’s no way for everyone to know everything. That’s not to say, of course, that I don’t try.) All 250-odd people crammed into the Valhalla Hall for four hours of cheesy speeches, reviews on our projects, really dull organizational ponderings, and an auction.

Yes, an auction. Ted, one of our founders and the company Chairman (Chairperson, whatever!) and the other members of the senior management auctioned off a gourmet meal for 12 people. It’s a fundraiser (believe it or not) for charity. They wine and dine you, you fork out a lot of money, which when combined with money from Critical Mass (the company), goes towards sending underprivileged to camp in Westbank. (Ted’s got a thing for Westbank…) Many people got together in groups of 12 to try and bid for the prize. I say “try” because within only a minute or so, the price surpassed anything we grunts could afford — it was a battle between our CTO and our Director of Project Management. When the dust settled, Ted said the dinner was now for 24, and took both groups. All told, about $22,000 is going to kids. Not bad for five minutes’ work, eh?

The meeting over, we were instructed to attending a post-Town Hall reception at Ceili’s (it’s Gaelic, so you pronounce it “Cayley’s”) — a pub a couple blocks away. By 8pm, the only sober person was Chris. Everyone else was quite inebriated. Luckily for us, Ted had told us we didn’t have to come in at our regular time (8am) the following morning. This was good. Most people didn’t show up until 10am. A few didn’t straggle in until 2pm — they didn’t look so good.

Friday night, we met with up with Therese and Stuart (who were somewhat fresh from their trip to Vancouver — they must’ve really enjoyed themselves, we’ve heard much of their escapades; I’ve listened intently, and been able to picture exactly where they’ve been and how it looks — I have to admit that I still miss it) to see “Pay It Forward”, one of the better movies this year. Haley Joel Osmet (the kid) is one of these once-in-a-lifetime wunderkinds who either go onto huge success or burn out trying. I sincerely hope it’s more the former than the latter…

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of keeping an eye on my little cousin, Jen. Hmm… “Little” isn’t a good word. Let’s go with “younger”. Jen’s 16 years younger than me. She’s less than an inch shorter than me. Notice a problem with this? For some reason that I’ll never understand, the Western side of my family seems to have mutant children that grow to huge heights. Must be the water.

Deciding that I wasn’t too keen on having her trounce all over me on her N64 all evening, I suggested that I take her to a movie. At first, she wasn’t too keen, but when I suggested playing video games before the movie, she ran for her coat. The movie was “The Little Vampire”. It’s a cute little movie, though I wasn’t sure how Jen would respond to it. She’s at that “pre-teenager” stage where kid things are no longer cool, but I’m not comfortable with dragging her into most of the other movies currently out (although she’s seen “Meet The Parents” and loved it).

We played “Gauntlet” (the new version — Jen’s too young to remember the original) for two hours. Straight. We hurt afterwards…

Sunday started with dim sum. It’s almost a ritual for Chris and I — one more week, and we’ll have a set pattern that’ll be hard to break. However, we’ve run into one itty bitty problem with it — the line-up seems to be getting bigger every week. Dunno why — it was fine up until two weeks ago. We need to start going earlier. Stuart and Therese were a bit surprised at the line-up, too, and they’ve been to Silver Dragon far more often than Chris and I.

The best part about weekends is having no plans. So when Therese suggested we go “window shopping”, we eagerly piled into Stuart and Therese’s new Volkswagen Jetta (complete with possibly the best-sounding stereo I’ve ever heard in a car) and drove south to Chinook Mall. There, Chris proceeded to attempt to buy something from every store. Of course, that’s an exaggeration — he’s not *that* bad… Therese and I somehow managed to make it out of the mall unscathed, financially-speaking, that is. Chris won the award for most stuff, and for most unusual — a replica of the old vinyl airline bags of the ’60s. Why? Dunno. It’s a Chris thing…

Speaking of airlines, Chris and I will be returning to the wilds of Ontario for Christmas this year, on (or around) the 20th. Tickets have been booked and paid for, so there’s no holding us back. Unless somebody chains the plane to the ground, that is…

Writing Short Stories

Old hobbies die hard. Have keyboard, will write. Love four word sentences.

A lot of you … some of you … at least ONE of you asked why I didn’t send a log about Thanksgiving. No particular reason, I just didn’t write one. It wasn’t blasé by any means — Chris and I enjoyed two excellent turkey dinners courtesy of Therese and Stuart, and my Aunt and Uncle. Chris supplied the dessert at Stuart and Therese’s, a pumpkin mousse. (He felt the traditional pumpkin pie was too traditional.) We had pumpkin pie the following night.

Life in Calgary has been quietening down a bit. (Not that it’s been furiously active since my killer workload dissipated.) Lately, I’ve been keeping my pastimes to a Thoreauvian level: Working, eating, sleeping, watching TV, watching movies, reading, and writing. Sounds pretty spartan, I know, but like Thoreau said: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” It’s not like I’m dating or anything…

When I left university and started working full-time as a technical writer (cum Geoff-of-all-trades), I slowly stopped one of my favourite hobbies: writing. Not this kind of writing, which is very stream-of-consciousness matter-of-fact writing, but fiction (science, or otherwise). When I was in high school, I wrote a large number of short stories (partially because I was in a creative writing class), but also because of my friends — Chris, in particular.

Chris is a creative person, has been for as long as I’ve known him. He’s a very visual person, which is one of the reasons he’s drawn to the visual arts far more than I (I can barely draw a stick person). But in high school, he translated many of those visual ideas to paper. While the stories I wrote were maybe somewhat fantastical, Chris has a unique ability to write horrific stories that were reminiscent of Stephen King and Clive Barker. (Given the genre he typically read, that’s not all that surprising.) I used Chris as my benchmark to shoot for when trying to improve my writing.

When I hit university, I continued to write, though not nearly as frequently. When I was on my co-op terms at Digital Equipment, I had the ability to go home at night and write — my job didn’t dampen my creativeness. It wasn’t until I started working as a technical writer that things started to go sour, story-speaking.

I can’t believe to this day how much energy got sucked up when writing a technical document of some sort. So much that when I actually tried to sit down and write something vaguely interesting, I ended up writing more about the software package I was documenting. Not really a good creative streak, in my opinion. It wasn’t long before that entire creative streak was gone. It was a sad day when I stared at a blank screen in Word, unable to write a single word, unable to think a single creative thought.

That’s one of the reasons I started writing these. I don’t have to think much. (You can all stop laughing now.) But it allows me to get the need to write out of my system, otherwise I’d probably go crazy. (For the record, I also wrote these because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s losing friends due to lack of communication. I do think about all my friends (and family, obviously) and how you’ve affected my life. I may not ask you how you’re doing on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder.

About a month ago, I lay in bed trying to sleep while a wind tore through downtown Calgary. Normally, this is just a mildly annoying thing — the rattling of the windows just keeps you from falling asleep as quickly as you might normally. But that night, it rattled loose an old memory … part of a short story I’d written in university. I thought about it for a while, falling asleep wondering what it would be like to write it out again.

I don’t have any of the short stories I wrote in high school and university. They fell a horrible virtual death during a computer maintenance session in 1998. The only things that survived were the Observer’s Logs I’d written from a few years earlier. (Although I mourned the loss of the work, I was happy that my logs survived.) I had nothing to start on, except the memory of what I’d done.

For the next few days, the ideas I’d had for the story, including the comments my English 409 professor had given me, came trickling back like creek refilling during a spring thaw. Finally, dragged out my old Gateway Pentium 133 laptop (really only good now for using Microsoft Office) and started writing.

The more I wrote, the higher the temperature got. The melt continued, and the trickle became a strong stream. I actually had to go out and buy a small notepad and pen so I can jot down ideas. I carry it with me everywhere now, just in case. Every night for the past couple of weeks, I’ve sat down in front of my computer, and wrote. Not copious amounts (I need to drag myself away from the TV — it’s wrecking my concentration), but I’m up to about 30 pages of a novel.

Yes, I’m past the short story phase (at least for this particular tale). The (nearly) three years of writing Observer’s Log entries (in often disgusting detail, as several people have complained) have given me the ability to dwell on a particular scene or character and develop an aspect of the story. I don’t know how long this book will be — it’s writing itself at the moment — but hopefully I can find someone to publish it.

Anyone know of a good literary agent?