Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

A complete and total Redshirt-O-Rama

Redshirts John Scalzi

Image: Tor Books

John Scalzi’s new novel, Redshirts, comes out next week. You can read my review of the book over at GeekDad, along with an interview in which Scalzi talks about science fiction tropes and humor in the genre. Both posts were a lot of fun to write.

May 29, 2012 Posted by | Books, geek, science fiction | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Weeks Fourteen and Fifteen

Holy mackerel, I have only a dozen runs left on the schedule, counting the 26.2-miler looming out there on June 17.

It’s been a decent couple weeks: Tuesday and Thursday morning runs have been five-milers, and it’s gotten a little bit lighter each time my brother and I go out. These are pretty relaxed loops, and we talk while we keep a pace of between about 8:30 and 8:50 per mile.

Wednesday the 16th I ran my last midweek eight-miler, and although I felt decent enough during the run, I clocked in at 1:09:15, or just over 8:30 per mile. I wasn’t trying for a pace record, but that 8:09 pace I did for eight miles in Week Ten really inspired me at the time, and I wanted to be closer to that mark.

On Saturday the 19th, we did a 12-mile route that felt particularly difficult after mile eight, but we ended up with an 8:23 pace, and I was pleased about that.

On Wednesday the 23rd, Adam and I had a five-mile pace run on the schedule. Two weeks prior, I had run a 40-minute five-mile for the first time ever, so I felt good about this one, and we really attacked it hard. Through three miles, we were still under an 8-minute pace (23:30), and we managed to knock even a few more seconds off our average over the final two, coming in with a final time of 38:47.

We used that achievement – and the fact that I felt pretty good afterward – to motivate us for Saturday’s 20-mile run – the longest on the schedule. Adam suggested we try to cover the first five miles in 40 minutes, then settle in and slow up for the remaining 15 miles.

I prepared well for Saturday’s run: Carbed up Friday night, got a good night’s sleep and my long-run breakfast of toast, a banana and a PowerBar.

When we left at 6:45, though, it was already pushing 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and I could tell I was in for a difficult run.

We did manage to hit the five-mile mark at an 8:06 pace, but it took a lot out of me, and I was already battling to stick to my walk-water-and-gel plan at 5, 10, and 15 miles.

I can’t re-slog it mentally, but it boils down to this: After the 15 mile break, I couldn’t get back up to speed. It was maddening. I mean, yes, my knees and ankles were sore, but heck, that’s what happens on a long run. It wasn’t the pain – it was that I just had no energy to get my speed back up at all.

I had to walk some more. And I was pissed off and frustrated about it. After about a quarter-mile, I managed to jog again, fuming inside.

I was hot and thirsty and irritated and after I’d finished off the last of my water, I had to walk again for a few tenths of a mile. Adam jogged back to me and poured some of his water into one of my bottles. With about 2.5 miles to go, I bore down and just said, “Let’s finish this thing,” and I finished with no more walking. Still, the whole thing really bugged me, and we finished in an ugly, ugly 3 hours and 14 minutes, something around 9:45 per mile.

Looking back, I think the heat was the real problem. I’ve never trained for a summer marathon before, and my running belt carries 20 ounces of water. I’d been doing a good job of rationing it and taking sips every mile or so to keep myself hydrated, and using a few ounces at a time to wash down the gels, but Saturday’s heat just left me wiped out, and my water supply wasn’t enough.

On race day, there will be water stations along the entire route, so I’m already planning to at least get a sip at every station, even if I don’t feel like I need it right at that moment. That way I conserve my own water for the miles in between, and hopefully don’t wind up a dehydrated mess like I did on Saturday.


May 28, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy birthday, Star Wars: You’re old enough to be president.

Star Wars came out thirty-five years ago today. I drew this not long after seeing it for the first time:

Look Sir, Droids!

Yesterday, I was on a brief but enjoyable segment recorded for NPR’s Morning Edition which was very cool and made me hyper most of the day.

That they mentioned my book about growing up as a Star Wars fan was not only neat, it was also incredibly fitting.  It was just over five years ago that I wrote an essay for Star Wars’ 30th birthday and pitched it to Renita Jablonski at WKSU. That radio piece – about not actually remembering the first time I saw Star Wars – aired five years ago today (and is still archived at WKSU), and that essay was the starting point which led to the writing of Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek.

Star Wars still comes up from time to time here on Cornfield Meet, of course, and seeing it as a six-year-old in 1977 absolutely set me on the path to loving science fiction and spaceships and shuttle launches and storytelling and so many other things that give me joy.

By some measures, 1977 was a long time ago. But not by all of them.

May 25, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Film, geek, science fiction | , , , | 1 Comment

NPR! Morning Edition! Star Wars! and ME?!

ZOMG, as the kids say these days: I was on Morning Edition today and they mentioned Collect All 21!

NPR Morning Edition Star Warstwww.

I got to hear this Morning Edition segment live, and the whole minute and thirty-eight seconds, I was just giddy. Steve Inskeep & Renee Montagne – talking Star Wars!

I also love that it sparked a hashtag game: #NPRStarWars.

And coming on the heels of a cool Joey Ramone segment? That’s all bonus points.

May 24, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction | , , , , | 3 Comments

Backyard, then and now

I’ve been fascinated for awhile now with “Looking Into the Past” pictures and manipulated photos, so I thought I’d give it a shot this afternoon.

I live across the street from the house where I grew up – my youngest brother and his family live there now – and my mom kept volumes and volumes of family photos, so the resources were close at hand.

Two things I learned: 1) The whole hold-the-picture-out-with-one-hand-and-shoot-with-the-other thing is difficult for me, but it didn’t occur to me until awhile later that I could also 2) take a new photo, scan the original, and put ’em together using the computer.

No big deal. At any rate, here’s the result of my hour’s worth of work (which included looking through the photo albums for a suitable test shot):

Ohio backyard

A few things:

  • Original photo is from the late 1970s or extremely early 1980s
  • Yes, this is a composite. I took almost the exact same photo twice. In one, the old picture was in focus, and the “real world” blurred. In the second, the reverse was true. The angles were close enough that I combined the in-focus portions.
  • What may be difficult to tell from this picture is the degree of change in the background. Although the trees at the top center of the photo might seem at first glance to line up with the treeline in the old photo, if you could see the horizon line, it’s pretty close to lining up. Those treetops you see above the edge of the old photo are actually the full-grown pines that are barely visible in the old picture. Not the mid-sized pines you see in the mid-ground, mind you – there are two rows of extremely young pine trees just beyond those, and it’s those two rows now standing sentinel at the field’s edge.

I had enough fun with this that I’ll try it again with other pictures.

May 20, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, Family history, Ohio | , , | 2 Comments

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Thirteen

In terms of total weekly miles, the running schedule has entered the taper phase, and for the first time in more than a month, I’m running regularly with my brother Adam again.

Last week’s schedule called for five-milers on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Adam and I did the Tuesday and Thursday runs pretty casually, and even while talking, we kept things well below 9 minutes per mile. I ran Wednesday’s loop in the evening by myself – I don’t remember why – and it was a really good pace run: I’m pretty sure it marked the first time I’ve ever run a 40-minute time on a five-mile course.

Saturday morning, Adam and I left for our 19-mile run just after 8:30 a.m. My third-longest run ever – behind only the 2009 Towpath Marathon and the 20-miler I did to train for it.

I didn’t fully carbo-load the night before, since I had driven to Columbus for a fantastic dinner, but I’d had a bowl of pasta when I got home at 11 p.m., so I wasn’t totally unprepared.

The first five miles went very smoothly – we were managing right around 8-and-a-half-minutes per mile when I took my first gel-and-one-minute-walk break. We happened to be near our brother Nick’s house, so he came out and joined us for a couple minutes as we passed.

Miles five through ten weren’t bad overall, although mile nine was much more uphill than we’d anticipated. Still, we were keeping pretty close to that 8:30-per-mile pace when I did my second gel-and-walk minute.

Miles eleven and twelve were decent, and I was feeling OK.

And then we hit the climb which kicked off the thirteenth mile, and that thing ate up all my reserves. I came down the other side just absolutely beat, and knowing I not only still had something like two miles until my next break, but four more after that. I had hit the “just-try-to-keep-moving” wall. Hard.

I wound up doing my gel-and-water break about a mile early, and even after that, it was all I could do just to stick to my plan and not stop jogging.

I closed my eyes a lot. I looked at the white line at the edge of the road a lot. I tried to look to the horizons and the treelines off to the left and right – anything to put my gaze anyplace except on the road ahead, which just. Kept. Going.

Mile Nineteen.

It kicked off with another climb of not quite a quarter-mile. At its base, I finished the last of my water.

Over the top, then, and with about 3/4 of a mile to go, I started to feel like I was going to puke. I was thisclose to pulling up short and walking when Adam slowed up and jogged back to me. “Mile nineteen,” he said, “Don’t stop now. Just focus on the breathing.”

I gave an angry grunt, gritted my teeth, and threw myself into the long strides again and drawing the deep in-through-the-nose, out-through-the-mouth kinds of breaths I turn to in moments of desperation to keep myself from throwing up.

My head cleared, my stomach settled, and the last half-mile eventually passed.

We finished in 2:58:09 – less than two minutes more than it had taken me to do 18 miles a couple weeks ago. The pace works out to about 9:21, and though that’s about a half-minute faster per mile than I ran my 18-miler, I still find myself wondering how the heck I’m going to come anywhere near the 9:01 pace I achieved in the Towpath Marathon.

Five weeks until race day.

May 15, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Absolutely worth the drive.

I took a half-day off work Friday, May 11, so I could drive to Columbus for dinner.

I had toyed around with the idea for a day or two, and was still waffling about it Thursday night, and then Jenn pointed out that if I went, and it was awkward and no fun, I’d forget about it soon enough, but if I didn’t go at all, I would undoubtedly wish I had.

Big surprise: My wife was totally right.

I’ve been a fan of Jay Lake‘s writing for a few years now, and while we exchanged a few emails around the time I was reading The Specific Gravity of Grief, I had never met him at a convention or spoken with him. And though I have thought it would be kind of cool to visit Portland for “JayCon, ” his annual open-invite birthday party, that hasn’t been a viable option of late. So when he announced on his blog that he’d be in Columbus for a brief business trip and would be at the Northstar Cafe at Easton for an open dinner, I figured, Why Not?

Hey, look, here’s me, having just  eaten dinner with Jay Lake:

Jay Lake, Columbus, OH

I’m really glad Jenn encouraged me to go: Two other guests, Kris and Scott, were also there, and the four of us spent about two hours just hanging out and sharing stories and talking about science fiction and writers and movies and even a little sports. (Jay shared a great perspective on appreciating a sporting event from a storytelling point of view: I know he credited someone else with pointing it out to him, but the gist of it was that unlike stories told through books, television or movies, the ending of a game remains undetermined and unknown until it actually unfolds, and the resulting tension and drama can hold great power.)

Good food too: I had a tasty turkey sandwich and a surprisingly unique rice salad, and then we all shared a gigantic, gooey, eyeball-vibratingly good chocolate-chocolate-chip cookie.

Everyone was easygoing and fun to be around, and I felt really comfortable from the moment I sat down.

The sun was just setting when I headed back north on the interstate, incredibly glad that I’d made the drive.

May 12, 2012 Posted by | Books, Food and Drink, geek, Ohio, Travel, writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

A fistful of pennies

OhmygoshOhmygosh, I cannot believe this still exists:

Easter Straker's Birthday Chair - Lima, Ohio

Photo: Allen County Museum

Honestly, it doesn’t match up to my memory, but then again, I’m pretty sure I was only three (maybe four) years old when mom took me to the local TV station in Lima, Ohio so I could climb into the Birthday Chair and stick my hand in the Penny Jar. I had seen other kids do this on TV – it was a locally-hosted kids’ show – and the fact that I was going to be ON TELEVISION just blew my preschool mind.

Of course, I didn’t actually get to see myself on TV, but I think I remember Dad telling me he had watched, and I tried to imagine what it had looked like on that black and white TV in our living room.

I remember only snapshots of the experience: Only the faintest memory of host Easter Straker, and over the years, the chair had morphed in my memory into something like one of those red and gold Santa thrones. I have a vague recollection of finding it odd that the studio was kind of a plain room with just this one corner decorated for the show. But I do remember reaching into that penny jar, and being disappointed that my fist couldn’t scoop up a jingling mini-pile of coins, Scrooge McDuck fashion.

My post about Giant John brought the memories to the surface again and inspired me to do a quick Google search for something like: Lima + Ohio  + TV + show  + birthday + chair, and I was just amazed when it returned that page from the Allen County Museum.

Better than a fistful of pennies.

May 8, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Family history, Television | , , , | 2 Comments

Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012, Week Twelve

After the missed steps and self-doubt of Week Eleven, I went into Week Twelve wondering how much damage I had done to my goal of running the full Canton Marathon at an 8:23 pace. Still, I knew focusing too intensely on that would likely only discourage me further, so I really made an effort to focus on the things I like about running on a schedule: the mental distraction and unlocking; the physical motion and the world around me; the effort and the breathing and just being out there.

My weekday runs took place after work, and it was unseasonably warm this week. Tuesday’s five-miler wasn’t bad, since I wasn’t pushing it, but on Wednesday, I was supposed to run another 8-miler at race pace, and even though I waited until 7 p.m., it was still above the 70-degree mark when I set out. The Garmin didn’t work at all, so I just checked the time when I left the house and figured I’d try to recall the pacing and feeling of the unexpectedly great eight-mile pace run (8:09 average!) I’d done in Week Ten.

This week, though, that ease of effort was nowhere to be found, and though I suspect that I managed to keep a decent pace through the first three, maybe four miles, by the second half of the run, the heat had taken its toll and I was just wiped out. I wound up with an 8:48 average, which was not really the way I wanted to peak for my pace runs. (From here on out, the pace runs get shorter.)

While a late night at work kept me from Thursday’s five-miler, I decided to try to make up for it by really going after Saturday morning’s 13.35 mile course.

I couldn’t have asked for a better morning: When I left the house at 7:45 a.m., it was right around 60 degrees and completely overcast, with a bit of a breeze. The cloud cover was low enough to be called hazy, but high enough not to be called fog. Just perfect for a long run.

I had memorized the points every 4.5 miles for my water-and-gel one-minute walking breaks – since, again, no Garmin. No way to know what my pace was at any given moment, of course, but I was feeling good after the first mile. A southbound wind pushed against me for the next couple miles, but when I reached the northernmost point of my run, I realized my energy level and lungs and legs were all in a decent zone, and I kept telling myself, “Run faster now, while you feel like you can,” and I deliberately picked up the pace until I hit my first break.

The middle 4.5 miles were probably even a little bit better, since they took me south and west, and the wind wasn’t a factor, and after my second walk-water-gel break, I put on a little eastbound burst in preparation for the three-miles-mostly-northbound stretch home.

I finished up somewhere around 1:56 for the entire course, which works out to about 8:40 per mile. I cut roughly three minutes from the last time I ran this loop on April 14, and I felt really good at the finish.

May 7, 2012 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant John

I’m pretty sure this is the first book I remember reading, or having read to me.

Giant John by Arnold Lobel

And yes, this is my actual copy, which I’m pretty sure I’ve had my entire life.

It goes back so far in memory that I have no specific recollections to connect to it – what it triggers in my brain are vague but encompassing sensations of times and places and the feeling of a particular era.

Giant John by Arnold Lobel  - castle

It’s the early 1970s, Lima, Ohio. My parents rent a house on North Main street, and we have a black-and-white Zenith TV in our front room, and a convertible VW bug in the driveway. The soundtrack of the time includes “Band on the Run” and “Billy Don’t Be A Hero.”

Though I’m sure both Mom and Dad read this book to me countless times, I still hear it in my grandma Joan’s voice. She has a slight Midwestern accent, and her librarian’s cadence and careful enunciation is mixed with a storytelling grandparent’s sweetness and tone of wonder that ends every sentence with the unasked question, “What do you think is going to happen next?”

I’ve written a lot about growing up in the 1980s, but over the past couple years, I’ve realized how much I absorbed from the early-to-mid 1970s, and how bits and pieces from those times are lodged in the back corners of my mind. I’ve been meaning to mine that territory a bit more, and Giant John has been there the whole time.

May 6, 2012 Posted by | 1970s, Books, Family history, Ohio | , , , , | 4 Comments


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