Fortifying Friday – Going Places

After finishing my work today, I headed west to pick up a dojo mate for an iaido seminar. There was a lot of chatting about a variety of things before dropping her in Peterborough. 

Peterborough has a strange spot near the Trent Severn Lock where your options are a tunnel or a bridge. The thing is that the tunnel and the bridge are shared with oncoming traffic. I opted to avoid the tunnel, not knowing that the only other option was the bridge. It was strange and it scared me. I had the illusion of choice. I guess I should’ve done the thing that scared me.

After doing her in Peterborough, I headed further west to Oshawa to a friend’s house and we got delicious pho. I’d been thinking about our pho plans all week. We got them to add veggies to it. I need to remember to ask for this in Ottawa. Also, I don’t know if my pho place has glutinous rice balls. 

After that, she bought books off me, so I’ve made my first two sales. I should remember to sign them for her before I go home.

We played this game called Quirkle with her mom. It was pretty fun. It’s like Scrabble but with shapes and colours. I won, but I bet it was beginner’s luck. They introduced me to One for the Money. Seems like a fun story. I’ll have to check the books out. I could use more humour in my life.

It’s been a long day of travel and socializing and  we have to be up early, so sweet dreams.



Magic the Gathering and Writing Novels: 5 Similarities and 5 Differences

mtgI had been meaning to go to the local game shop to play Magic the Gathering with real people for several months, but I was scared. I’m an introvert, I’m socially awkward, and I barely know the game. I was also worried they wouldn’t be friendly or they’d be the wrong kind of friendly as there are some horror stories online in both of those categories.

I really wanted to get better before my martial arts weekend away, though. We often play board games and such while having some drinks. Last year a small group was playing magic and a friend and I thought we should bring cards this year.

I also knew my deck was a mess.

So I went to the shop. The woman at the counter asked for my DCI. Upon seeing my blank deer-in-the-headlights look, she said not to worry and got me sorted and ready to play. I had also forgotten my 20-sided die and she helped me with that too.

I stood around awkwardly until I eventually sat at a table. Of Pokémon players, I later figured out. Someone took out a fancy playing mat and I wondered what the hell I was doing there and I was going to lose and be made fun of for sure.

Eventually, I found the magic players. There was a small group that night, just 3 of us, but that worked in my favour. The two guys were really nice and helped me play and fixed up my deck at the end. I went back Wednesday to play again and needed less help.

They gave me suggestions of things to add to my deck. One of the cards needed replacing and I got the exact card to replace it with out of the booster pack I got for playing. They also told me some things about deck building like wanting the deck to have a little less diversity so the way it plays is consistent. When I got home, I had had so much fun that it was hard to sleep!

I went through one of my other decks to make it better.

I realized something too. Building magic decks is not unlike writing a novel. Here’s why:

1. Pacing: In Magic, we want to be able to ideally play the right card at the right time based on what turn we are on. On turn one we want to play 1 mana and a maybe a creature that costs one mana if we are fortunate enough to draw those. In a novel, we want to ease into it. We want some action at the start, but just enough to pique the readers interest the keep them reading. As we go along, we introduce little things that make the reader ask why. Then we add a small problem. Then fixing that problem leads to another, slightly bigger problem. We hint at things, but don’t confirm until later, which gives the reader reason to keep reading.

2. Characters: Creatures are like your characters. We have creatures that start out small and become big later, by bumping them or killing them to bring bigger ones out later. With writing, it takes some time to get to know the characters and it can be a great plot device to kill off a character if their death moves the story along.

3. Fuel: Mana is the fuel necessary to do cool things. They aren’t exciting cards, for the most part. They are necessary to get the awesome things out onto the table. It’s likeness in writing would be the stuff in between the major plot points. Those bits in between the points of climax. A lot of it is just words that might not have a deeper meaning. But like some special land cards, some of those words may foreshadow the events to come.

4. Bumps: In Magic, bumps are buffs for the creatures. You might have a little 1/1 creature that you bump with a +2/+1 or something, for example. In writing, we might give something to our characters along their journey such as armour, a magical item, or perhaps an annoying sidekick that turns out useful.

5. Obstacles: In Magic, our opponents will do anything to stop us from completing our goal of killing them, just like the antagonist will thwart our hero’s attempts to complete the journey.

The major differences between the two are:

1. Dynamics: In magic, you plan all the pieces, but are left to chance when it comes to combat. There’s no guarantee you’ll get the cards you need when you need them. The story is different every time. With a novel, you plan the pieces, deviate as needed until the work becomes finished and static.

2. Chances: In Magic, you usually play best of three. You have three attempts to do things right. In novel writing, you have lots of chances while writing, but once it’s published it is the same story and you can’t do things like sideboard to reconfigure for different readers on-the-fly. What’s done is done.

3. Control: We can’t control the outcome of a magic game. Even control decks have weaknesses and one doesn’t know what kind of deck one will be up against. There are too many variables. With novel writing, we are in the driver’s seat. We get to decide if our hero needs to have his hand chopped off with a lightsaber because the journey requires him to suffer in order to realize his full potential.

4. Social: Magic is best played with 2 or more players. Novel writing is most commonly a solitary endeavor, though some writers get together to write in the same room as other writers, that would be more comparable to deck building in the same room. They may critique each other and offer suggestions, but the novelist must decide what is best for the book as only they can know their story intimately.

5. Language: Magic is a language all its own just like Music or French. Lifelink means a creature will basically steal life from the opponent and give it to its owner. Haste means a creature can attack right after being summoned instead of waiting a turn. In English, haste is a word with a negative connotation of not thinking before taking action, whereas in Magic it is often a good thing to be able to attack right away.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on Magic the Gathering and its similarities and differences to writing novels.


Wonder Wednesday: Ideas and Inventions

Image created using Bit Strips.

Image created using Bit Strips.

Do you ever wonder about how people come up with their ideas?

Some are quite obviously filling a need most intuitively understand. The Slap Chop (“You’re gonna love my nuts!”) provides a safe way to chop or dice things expeditiously. Onion Goggles, well who hasn’t felt the burn from cutting onions?

In one of Neil Gaiman’s books, American Gods, I swear he was describing a creature that eats a man from its genitalia. I’m sure the “man-eating vagina” is not an uncommon nightmare or trope.

Some of my writing ideas come from the weirdest places, such as just touching a book about origami. You’ll understand what that applies to when I get The Page & The Magician finished and published.

But what about games?

Some are simplistic. There are nearly one hundred forms of solitaire all from the same 52 card deck that can be found worldwide with no language barriers.

Hungry Hungry Hippos is a little out there with its marble-eating frenzy, but there are very few rules and nearly anyone can do it.

But then there are games like Magic the Gathering that are strategic and complex. The current version of the comprehensive ruleset is over 200 pages. This particular game is over 20 years old and some estimate the total count of unique cards to be between 12000 and 20000. Cards have been redesigned over the years to welcome diversity. The language around Magic has also been evolving to make it gender neutral. I wonder if its original designer(s) had any idea it would become so expansive. I also wonder what the earliest versions looked like. Imagine play testing it. For the newbie player, such as myself, learning the game feels an insurmountable task, but I’ve been directed to a great starting resource called Level One: The Full Course.

Mostly, I think ideas come from some sort of need. Sometimes, rather than a physical or convenience need, it is more of a rational need to understand something about this fascinating world we share with so many others. Games are a fun way to learn new skills like strategic thinking, which Magic certainly requires. Improving my ability to think strategically is on my performance objectives for this year, mostly because I thought it would be a good skill to boost. I figured I’d only learn so much from whatever training work provides though and I’ve always wanted to improve my Magic skills.

Maybe I’ll design a game someday.


Weird Weekend

I visited my hometown for the Easter long weekend. There wasn’t much down time in my schedule.

On Friday I chilled with some buddies from highschool. There were some new people there and one had a take on homosexuality that I really didn’t appreciate. The person is under the mistaken impression that it’s caused by over-nurturing children and somehow oblivious to all recent scientific studies in this area.
The board game we played, Shadows over Camelot, was fun. It’s a collaborative one with quests. We successfully completed the quest for the holy grail because we’re awesome.

On Saturday, I got 2 new summer tires and ran into an old friend from elementary school. It was nice seeing him and catching up.
After the 1.5 hours of tire stuff, I got ready for a party in Chisolm, Ontario. It was the most country place I’ve been to and while it was nice seeing some friends, I don’t think I need to go there ever again. I had such a weird evening that I got inspiration for a horror story involving cannibalism. People probably thought I was somewhat antisocial or weird since I wasn’t talking a lot. The story going on in my head was rather distracting.
Eventually, I made it out of the country and back to my parents in time for a visit with a long time family friend who’s pretty much a brother to me.

Sunday brought a slower pace. I had lunch with a friend and chatted about various things. I’m happy things are going well for her.
After that I made brownies and helped my mom with supper. I had time for some reading and my bro came over. Dinner was tasty.

Monday rolled around and I drive back to Ottawa. That night I played some Oblivion.

So the Easter weekend was a mixed bag for me, but overall enjoyable.


What’s up?

In the passed couple of days I’ve:

– edited chapter 2 of The Page & The Magician and sent the entire novel for review by a writing group friend.
– attended the monthly Ottawa Independent Writers meeting where a couple of people read some of their work.
– went to the Ottawa Geek Market, where a friend taught me how to play Carcassonne. Beginner’s luck resulted in me taking the win. I dressed up as a Steampunk girl Ranma 1/2.
– tried a new pho place called Thi Fusion. It was tasty and cheap ($9 for a decent sized bowl). The decor is also pretty nice.
– played guitar. I played with CD tracks today from my one book and that was a lot of fun. Maybe someday I’ll be able to play along with music from the bands I love.
– worked on learning French though I’m not sure how much is sinking in.
– continued work on my roller derby short story.
– read more of The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper. I’m loving the story.
– went to martial arts class, which left my arms feeling like rubbery jello. I also had to have a nap after it.
– bought more advanced guitar books. I’m hopeful the level 2 class runs in April on the Saturday.

My arms still feel like rubbery jello and typing is getting difficult.

I think popcorn and some TV or a movie is in order.


The 2014 Sei Do Kai Spring Jodo and Iaido Seminar

How can you tell you have been at a weekend-long martial arts seminar? You might have bandaids or tape on your big toes and heels (perhaps the balls of your feet too); your feet likely burn in the shower; and you could really use a neck and shoulder massage. I made it through the first two days without taping anything and I am proud of that.

This weekend, I attended The 2014 Sei Do Kai Spring Jodo and Iaido Seminar. I was on the fence about attending the seminar for personal reasons. In the end, I decided I was going and I was going to have a good time.

Sometimes I get anxious when meeting new people as I am a bit introverted and I often stress about my word choice and accidentally upsetting someone because I used the wrong words… I also get anxious about food since I often have to plan ahead to ensure I will be able to eat, though I think that is improving.

The trip there was interesting. I learned more about my sensei via his taste in music… The conversation was not terrible either.

When we arrived on Friday, I realized I probably over-packed because I had to haul my wheeled suitcase up three flights of stairs. I should get a smaller one, but I did not want to spend the money. After getting settled in my room, I went with a dojo mate to what became the party suite for the weekend. There always needs to be one of those. I felt bad for anyone assigned to that suite that hoped to get sleep.

There were a bunch of fun people in the party suite, as you might expect. One of the guys was recovering from a heart attack and the others had made him a special shirt that basically said no fun allowed and he frequently cursed them for it. I learned I had some renown already because of my tiny stature. I had to bring out my Tozando Toryumon Zero 2.00 Shaku sword as people were curious about it since they had never seen one so small. Impressively small… I suppose that is my thing? I was teased about my sword a couple of times, but it is just as capable of stabbing as everyone else’s, and several people said it is a very nice sword so 😛

My dojo and another headed to The Shakespeare Arms for some tasty food. I really enjoyed the wings. Then it was back to the party room where I had to again explain that I do not drink alcohol anymore, but it was not necessary for me to be drunk to dress up as a unicorn… Add Cards Against Humanity and a bunch of drunk people, and you have a fun night even if some of the question cards and answer card combinations were awkward for me. I joined the game late and had three black cards by the time it was won.

On Saturday, I got to the dojo early and helped with set up. This was mainly placing chairs for the senseis at the front of the dojo and chairs for the vending tables. I got my free t-shirt for registering earlier than 3-4 days ahead and a notebook.


Everyone bowed as the sensei entered the room and class began. It took quite some time to organize everyone into ranks and position properly to allow ample practice space for each person. Better established lines on the floor may help this in the future.

Class was structured differently than I was used to, but I think the sink or swim atmosphere was good for me. We ran through all the kata multiple times. There was a fan above my head, so I often could not hear the name of the kata and had to mimic what everyone else did. Next time, I think they should have a microphone for the sensei, but sound equipment rentals can get expensive. There may be cheaper ways to amplify their voices.

There were challenging moments, particularly when the sensei had us hold awkward positions at the end of a motion with our sword expected to stay in the air. They would come around and correct our footwork and sword use by physically moving us into the correct position. With more than 100 people there, we had to hold uncomfortable positions for long moments. One starts to learn to adjust one’s body position slightly to withstand this torture fairly quickly. At one point, I swear I felt my right arm muscle tear and then the pain went away. I think as I pushed through the pain, I became numb.

I was annoyed when a dojo friend suggested that Iaido does not make me sweat because I am not working hard enough. I do not sweat when I do Iaido, because my lower body takes at least seven hours of intensive cardio in the form of roller derby each week. Three of those hours are right before Iaido class. I never got to the point where I could not walk this weekend, though the seated kata became very difficult on Monday and I focused on standing instead. I even did the stairs and walking more often than most people because I had to come back to the dorms to get my lunch from the fridge. My shoulders and neck, however, were very sore from swinging my sword.

Saturday evening was the auction. There were a lot of neat things, but there was only one item I wanted and I won it. It was a heart-shaped necklace from Éclat de Brilliance. I have several of their pieces as I love the work they do. I am hoping to get a custom piece from them in July as a birthday gift to myself. I could not resist the blue in the necklace as it is my favourite colour.

After the auction, it was back to the party room, or rather the room next to the party room. After two requests, I had to don my unicorn costume once again. The unicorn costume lead to one of the senior senseis calling me unicorn girl and painting my name in katakana on rice paper. It literally comes out to “Rei An”. Maybe I’ll make that part of a pen name someday. And of course there were the inappropriate jokes surrounding the horn on my head. Not that I am ever inappropriate, right? 😉

Drunk martial artists can be interesting, especially when they start demoing techniques in tiny hallways. I was sent to spy on what was going on. I tried to be subtle, but a unicorn costume and stealth do not really go together. It looked to me like a lot of thrusting, but I am sure there was deeper meaning behind it that I am not at a level to grasp yet in my training.

For Sunday class I actually remembered the kata and could almost associate them to their numbers. I started to feel silly for not signing up for grading prior to the seminar, but I previously could not do them without being guided through most of the steps by my sensei much less know exactly where to stop my cuts. As we went through the kata, I kept hearing his voice in my head on many of the finer details for my level. Aside from not knowing the kata, I have not had much time to breathe since Easter. I have travelled quite a few weekends between family visits, and a roller derby tournament. I have also had other things like Comiccon and writing seminars. Add a full-time job and some dates and I really felt like I needed to just soak things in and not worry about my rank. I will grade in Toronto in December assuming I can pull the funds together to go.

Sunday was the bbq/potluck and movie/poker night. I helped get things set up for the movie and then I watched people play poker. Eventually, I got tired and headed to bed. As I was climbing the three flights again, I heard raucous laughter coming from the party suite and decided I wanted in on the fun. Who needs sleep to swing swords around anyway? I expect something similar happened with my sensei as well as he ended up there after losing his chips. We played President or better known as “A-hole”. I shared playing with a new friend for one round, and I got President in the next round and then we switched games. Next was Tsuro, which was a neat puzzle game. Then we played several rounds of The Resistance. I hear it can be played with a regular deck of cards. More about resistance can be found here. I finally got to sleep around 2 a.m.

On Monday, I was somewhat sad that the seminar was coming to an end. I had so much fun getting in touch with my art this weekend. Monday was my favourite day because I got to practice with a friend from my dojo with occasional suggestions from Green Sensei. My friend corrected my noto, helped me improve my cuts, encouraged me to slow the katas down, and taught me that position (especially hips) is key to proper waza. His comparisons to things like elbows helped put things into a context I could grasp and work with. I liked when he tried to compare things to roller derby, though it was evident to me that he does not know much about roller derby. The effort was sweet and I appreciated it. Thanks again for the help, dojo friend.

I am still having trouble with saya-biki and hakama-biki. I especially have trouble with my hakama during Nihon-Me Ushiro and Sanbon-Me Uke Nagashi. It is important to improve on this as “dying” because I am standing on my own pants is lame and who knows when the zombie apocalypse may be upon us!

Some general things I learned:

  1. It becomes waza with mindfulness and heart. Always try to think of what your opponent is doing and feel your opponent.
  2. It is okay for beginners to focus on form alone, so do not stress if you cannot fully visualize everything yet.
  3. Breathing is important! Hold breath on draw and breathe out on cut (through nose).
  4. Think of hydraulics when performing Noto. Breathe in to prepare core for a cut. Breathe out as you strike or lower yourself.
  5. Before cutting, raise your left hand above your head and push straight up with both hands like you are pushing the ceiling/sky.
  6. Cut as if you are scraping the ceiling with the tip of your sword and like you are pushing the wall as you bring the sword down.
  7. Try to stay low throughout (do not bob) as it gives you power.
  8. Get the hips to the right spot and the feet *should* follow.
  9. When gripping the sword, you need to get the hand bone on top. This is an easy thing to practice while watching TV with your sword or another object that you need to grip like a hammer.
  10. Do everything slower. You have time to position yourself and look to see your opponent before he attacks you. Getting into the right position is vital to killing him before he kills you.

By the end of the first day, my brain felt overwhelmed from all of the information that the senseis provided. I was somewhat surprised to learn people had travelled from different parts of the world for the seminar as I am used to practicing with a small group. At the end of the second day, it was not so overwhelming. At the end of the third, despite my body feeling broken, I wished there was more class. This weekend, I fell in love with my martial art and I am excited to continue learning about it and the sets beyond Setei.