Down-time and stress

It’s funny what relaxes you.

There was a conversation on /r/AskScience about different body shapes – why some people only gain weight around the mid-section, while for others the weight is evenly distributed around the body.

I’m one of those people who only gain weight on my torso – a personal trainer at my gym once told me that it was the worst kind of body-type to have, because the closer your fat is to the heart, the higher your odds of a heart attack. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but it’s handy in inspiring me to attend the gym more often.

(also handy is Gym-Pact, a website that my friend Mike put me onto. Pledge how often you’re going to go to the gym and your credit card details, and it’ll charge you a pre-decided amount every time you fail to go. If you hit your target, you get money from people who didn’t. It’s a clever little site, and I’m planning on signing up later this week.)

My Dad has the same body-shape, and so I had always assumed it was genetic. The comments of the reddit thread I was reading, however, suggested that where you put on weight was determined by hormones, specifically those produced when one was stressed. The more stressed you are, the more the weight focuses around the middle.

Now I haven’t independently verified this, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is, for the first time in my life, I stopped and went “Hang on, am I stressed?”

Turns out that I am! It’s not something that normally bothers me, but having attention drawn to it like that was a bit of a downer. Since then I’ve been thinking about it, and realised that I don’t really remember the last time I wasn’t stressed.

Things seem to feed into one another – this week was meant to be a chilled week for me, but yesterday I spent alternating between a rush editing job that I picked up and a Melbourne International Comedy Festival application for We Should Know Better; today has been a bit better, but I’ve had morning appointments almost every day this week and don’t really have any breathing time until Sunday.

Since learning that I’ve stressed, I’ve been feeling it (which sucks) but I’ve also become more aware of what I do to deal with stress.

I’m not good at time off. I can’t imagine not being run off my feet – as soon as I have time off, I fill it with more things to do. So my method of relaxing is to do something productive.

Sometimes it’s sorting files on my hard-drive: I find this to be very soothing. Often it’s working on All-That-Is, which is a nice form of “creativity without deadlines” that I quite enjoy. Very occasionally it’s playing a computer game, but I rarely find a game that doesn’t make me feel like I’m wasting my time. (puzzle games, that’s the trick. It’s so satisfying, finishing a puzzle.)

Recently, and this brings me back to the start of this post, it’s been organising my Kindle library. I’ve downloaded (one could say “pirated”) a bunch of books that I own in physical form (eBook piracy is surprisingly challenging) and I’ve been adding covers, correcting meta-tag fields…you know, all the stuff that one does on their downtime.

It’s funny what relaxes you.

Kindle: The Update

So a while ago I spoke about getting a Kindle. Well, since then my birthday has come and gone, and a Kindle Paperwhite mysteriously arrived in the mail one day…and boy oh boy do I like it.

For the last six months, I’ve been heavily into the John Green-inspired “T-shirt and blazer” look, and the Paperwhite is the perfect size to fit into the interior pocket of all my blazers. So now everywhere I go, my Kindle comes with me.

Turns out that when you have every book you own in your pocket all the time, you start reading a lot more. And when you start reading a lot more, you start thinking about books a lot more, which results in more reading. Since I got it, I’ve read three or four books, which is (embarrassingly) more than the rest of the year put together.

If you have a Kindle, I strongly recommend checking out ManyBooks – they’ve put together a huge collection of public domain books in easy-to-download (and extremely presentable) formats. Gutenberg ain’t got nothin’ on ManyBooks. It took me a while to work out how to find the books I was after, but once I did, I downloaded well over 100.

I’ve also picked up a few of my favourites (Night Watch by TPrattz is, it turns out, so much better than I remember it. It’s a genuinely great book, and makes me want to start working on my fantasy world once more.) and have been plowing through those.

The only downside is that the interface makes it a bit awkward to organise my books – over the months I’ve been writing erotica, I’ve picked up a few, and every time I hand the Kindle to someone to have a look, it seems to resurface. I’m playing with calibre to try to fix this, but no luck so far.

In conclusion, if you read (or want to read more) pick up a Kindle! I can only speak for the Paperwhite, which I’m crazy about, but I’m sure the others are good too.


Going Digital

When I was a kid, I was a non-stop reader. As a young child, it was Enid Blyton – Mum had almost every book that Enid Blyton ever wrote (upwards of 800 books) and I’m sure that I’ve read all of them multiple times.

My other favourites were the Jennings books – not Paul Jennings, Australian children’s author (though I did get into him at a later date) but Anthony Buckeridge’s series about a boy’s boarding school, in which the impulsive main character’s surname was Jennings. (they’re still hilarious, ten years after I first read them and 60+ years since they were first written.)

As I grew older, I got heavily into Agatha Christie and a romance author called Mary Burchell (again, through my mother’s collections.) It was rare for me to exist without a book in my hands – I remember reading in class, in school assemblies, during plays…

One time my family were driving to Canberra (or somewhere equally fascinating) and I was sitting in the back seat reading. My Dad, unaware that I was preoccupied, was describing everything we passed. He’d been talking for at least half an hour before he realised that I hadn’t listened to a word he’d said, and I remember him getting mad at me for living in the world of fiction (and a book that I’d read a dozen times, at that) instead of learning about the real world.

The line between reality and fiction has always been a bit vague to me. I think that’s why I enjoy writing so much.

My reading choices have always been determined by author rather than by individual book – the most important thing for me is finding an writer whose “voice” that I like. Authors I discovered outside of my Mum’s collections include Ben Elton, Terry Pratchett (though it took me about 3 or 4 dips into the world of Discworld before I really started enjoying it) and the works of Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace.

Nowadays, however, I don’t read much. The last author I discovered was Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman books, and that was in late 2010, almost two years ago. I rarely get that urge to read, and for the last few months my bag has contained the latest Dave Gorman book (in which he travels the world playing various board and computer games against strangers) – it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of writing, I’ve just never felt inspired to pull it out and get past the second chapter.

Part of the reason for my declining interest in the written word is simply the expense and inconvenience of finding new books to read. When I find a tale that grips me, I don’t put the book down until I’m done, but that’s been happening less and less and that’s what brings me to the point of my post:

I’m considering going digital.

I publish eBooks for (one of my) livings these days, and so most of my time is spent on writer’s forums, talking about our target audience of Kindle-owners. Constant exposure to this kind of conversation takes its toll, and so I’m considering shelling out the sheckles and picking up an eBook-reader of my very own.

If I could carry every book I want with me, I’m sure I’d be tempted to read more – I’m still only on the third Spellman book, because I never picked up a copy of the fourth. If I had a bookstore in my pocket, I’d be much more likely to grab a copy.

I haven’t done the research of cost vs battery-life vs book-price etc, mainly because I can’t actually afford to buy one at the moment, but once I do I’m sure I’ll be grabbing a Kobo/Kindle/Google book-reader/whichever I determine is the best for me.

I have two issues with going digital:

  1. As anyone who has seen my DVD collection will know, I like owning stuff. You can lend it, you can browse your collection, they just look good on the shelves. My DVDs mostly fill this niche for me, so in terms of books it’s not a huge worry, but I think it warrants mentioning.
  2. Bruce Willis considers suing Apple for ownership of his iTunes collection. (although the story is completely unsourced, the issues it brings up are interesting)

Now, this may be resolved when I do a google search for my preferred eReader and discover that hey, I can own my collection after all, but I want to have a general discussion about the concept anyway and it’s my blog so fuck you.

I like my DVD collection because after giving the money to JB Hi-Fi (or my DVD-purchasing store of choice) then I can walk out of the store with the DVD and its mine to do what I like with. Technically there are limitations, but they’re yet to come into my house and take the DVDs away from me for format-shifting.

If Amazon goes bankrupt, or Apple loses all their money in a series of bad decisions, and my entire collection of books/songs/movies is stored on the cloud…what happens? The main appeal of the cloud is that I don’t have storage space for everything that I want to own.

To readers of the future, I may sound like a crazy man keeping his money under the mattress because he doesn’t want the gubermint to take it (or the banks to lose it) but here and now, it’s a valid concern.

Shamus Young, one of my favourite bloggers (blogs! That’s what I read instead of books these days…) refuses to buy anything that requires online activation, because he wants to play favourite games in twenty years time, when the servers that activate them have inevitably collapsed. He’s still playing games from the late 80s that he enjoyed, which would be impossible with many of today’s games.

I’m seriously considering giving up on CDs and using iTunes to buy all my music from now on. (especially since I got iTunes Match and an AppleTV.) CD cases are nasty and take up too much space.

Books aren’t nasty, but I miss reading, and being able to carry every book I own with me would be a nice way of getting back into it.

I buy a lot of DVDs  – partially because I want to work in that industry and like supporting it, and largely because I like having a physical library to reference. If I’m writing, I like being able to pull down season 1 of Just Shoot Me and put it on in the background, without having to wait half an hour for download time or to find a torrent that works.

When I got my AppleTV, a friend said that it wouldn’t be long before I started making the move to getting all my TV and movie needs through iTunes. I laughed at the time, but since then I’ve noticed that my second-favourite TV show, Breaking Bad, is available as-it-comes-out through an iTunes season pass. Thus far I’ve managed to avoid all spoilers, but it would be so easy to get the season pass and be kept completely up-to-date on the show as it’s released…

It’s a slippery slope.

(my favourite thing about iTunes Match, incidentally, is that it reads your physical CDs and adds them to the cloud for you, instead of trying to make me buy all my movies twice. If AppleTV did that for DVDs, I would pay serious cash for the service. Part of the appeal of the cloud is being able to watch stuff on my iPhone/iPad/Macbook, without having to download and convert each individual movie/show I want to watch)

Comments are open if you have opinions on all this jazz – I know my sister reads my blog, and I’m curious to hear what her thoughts on the world of Kindle are. The pro’s of staying physical include the knowledge that you own something, and that you can’t just be locked out of your entire library. Cons include the amount of space they take up and the risk of losing or breaking them. (I have several movies that I’ve bought three or more times.)

Fortunately I’m broke at the moment, so I can’t go out and make any immediate purchases anyway, but it’s interesting to think about.

Physical vs electronic? Am I foolishly resisting the trends (like those people who refuse to get a smartphone or Facebook) or am I being smart and waiting for the laws to settle before putting thousands of my currently non-existent dollars into a platform that could go under at any moment?

(and if you are here from the future, how crazy does this post read?)