Drop Dead Cold and the Decline of Craigslist

We drove six hours yesterday to get back home after Christmas. It’s cold here, -25C without windchill. Maybe it was the long day in the car, or maybe the fact that the furnace was running all night, but I didn’t sleep well. In the middle of the night I woke up inspired, with thoughts of video projects running through my head.

I haven’t made a video for a couple of years, which is strange considering how passionate I was about filmmaking not long ago. I guess I stopped while I was writing my novel and then–I don’t know–I wasn’t inspired at all. The camera sat there, the lenses, the lights, the microphone, but I had no desire to play with them … so different than a few years ago when a little video gear would fill me with curiosity and motivation.

But in the middle of the night, as the furnace fired and the heating pipes creaked, I got a taste of my old inspiration. I had a few ideas for projects I could tackle, one of which was something modest–a one-man band production–about the decline of Craigstlist.

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Me shooting a corporate gig a few years ago. The photo was taken by their receptionist.

Craigslist was my way into the video world. I found all of my cast and crew for my first short films on Craigslist. I also found other creative projects to help out with, and good jobs.

Back in 2010 when I started getting into video there were actually quite a few good jobs posted each week in Craigslist. Where have they all gone?

Kijiji has definitely taken some of Craigslist’s “business”, which is unfortunate and surprising. I much prefer Craigslist myself–for one thing it is not monetized. As far as video jobs go, though, I don’t think the activity has moved to Craigslist. I’m not actually sure where it is gone, which is one of the things I would hope to discover with my mini-doc. Wherever it has gone it certainly seems to me like a community has been lost, and it has definitely affected my own video “career”. I’m just not hearing about (and therefore not getting involved in) as many projects as I used to.

I find it a little sad–what has disappeared, and what it has been replaced with. Now the video section of Craigslist is relatively dead. What is there is often international spam or ads for the local porn scene. (I do think that porn may have had something to do with the death of the video section. Just an hypothesis.)

What do you think? What happened to Craigslist? Has it suffered the same fate where you live, or does it still play a big role in bringing people together in your community? Let me know in the comment section. If I get this project off the ground, maybe I’ll get in touch to hear more about your take on Craigslist.

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Drop Dead Cold and the Decline of Craigslist

A Book in the Hand is Worth … A Blog Post

My novel has been “out” for over a month. We had two launches–one at the college where I teach and one at the Blue Met Literary Festival. Small presses don’t have much of a budget for marketing so there have been no steps taken to thrust the book into the spotlight–either by subtle or bold methods. I don’t even think my press sends out review copies. So the book’s reputation is going to have be propelled by word-of-mouth/finger/thumbs.

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There have been no published reviews yet, but I have received kind notes from a few professors who work at my college, as well as a writer friend who is halfway through the book.

I’m not sure I’m particularly eager to have the novel reviewed. I guess it depends on the review–not whether the review is glowing or critical–but whether it is superficial or serious. Thoughtful reactions to art give the art some identity. At the moment the books is floating–like a newcomer arriving at a party, wondering what role it will play in the gathering.

My own feelings about the novel are probably fairly typical: they vacillate. Some days I think it is a poor effort and that the time I spent on it was wasted; other days I’m satisfied that I hit the mark that I was aiming for; ocassionally I read a few pages and think, “If someone else wrote this I would be impressed and wish that I could write like this.” (I know this last sentiment is a little vain, but I can assure you that I experience it very rarely.)

It’s a concise, third-person novel about a family living in present-day Montreal. The focus is mostly on the main character, Will, a project manager at a plastics company who receives a poor performance evaluation at the beginning of the story. He spends the rest of the novel coping with the challenges of fatherhood while attempting to redeem himself in the eyes of his boss. Along the way there are temptations and conflicts.

After one of the readings I gave, an audience member, who happened to be a poet, said that there was something mystical in the scene I’d read. I was glad to hear this reaction. I’m not sure “mystical” would be the word that I would use, but I think I know what he was referring to. I mention this because, to me, the story is about more than career challenges in the twenty-first century. It’s also about, or it’s supposed to be, courage, forgiveness, salvation, beauty, self-awareness and empathy–to invoke a few hefty themes.

I tried to create beautiful, honest music with a few, simple, quiet instruments. I hope there are a least a few pages in this short novel on which I was half-successful.

The novel should be available through the usual online mega-retailers, or you could go straight to the publisher’s website.

If you’d like to stay tuned for writing-related news from me, you can of course read this blog, or you can follow me on Facebook or Goodreads.

A Book in the Hand is Worth … A Blog Post

On Flashbacks

There’s a movie in which Chevy Chase plays a wannabe writer. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the entire movie, but there is a scene at the beginning that I will always remember. Chase’s character has given his wife his novel to read. When he asks her what she thinks, she starts to cry and says that it is terrible. She says something like, “In the first five pages there are three flashbacks, two flash forwards and I think there’s even a flash sideways.” Ouch.

I imagine that most writers can sympathize with this scene insofar as handling time can be tricky and we all get ourselves into trouble sometimes. Hopefully, we tidy up the narrative before publication, though.

How tidy should the narrative be, though, in a novel? My own novel currently relies on flashbacks (for lack of a better word). It’s hard for me to keep track of them at this stage of writing, when I still haven’t settled on what exactly my story is, and I have been very tempted lately to restructure the novel to avoid the flashbacks. I would just start it in the past and tell everything in chronological order. That would keep it simpler for me and the reader.

But there are arguments against this approach. First of all, there may be important backstory that doesn’t really fit into the dramatic structure. A character’s childhood is important, but every hero’s story doesn’t have to begin at birth (or before). Sometimes it is better to focus on the main action and use a flashback to fill in a detail as needed.

At first this argument struck me as the most important, but I actually think there is an even better defence of flashbacks. At any moment we are influenced and propelled by something that happened before. Our pasts are alive within us. When a character walks around in this moment, she is also carrying the past inside of her. Backstory is always present and the past and present speak to one another. This I think is why using flashbacks (and again there is no doubt a better term) seems to suit my novel. My character has in some ways re-started his life but his old life hasn’t left him. The challenges that he faces in this phase of his life are heightened because of the significance of his past.

The flashback, looked at in this way, is I suppose related to stream of consciousness. The novel, way more than the film, can capture inner life. One way to evoke this inner life is through stream of consciousness; another is by using clearly demarcated flashbacks. Flashbacks are a little more methodical, but overall, they have the effect of charging the narrative with the significance of the past.

Or so I am hoping, though I am doing my best to avoid flashing sideways.

On Flashbacks

Why I Care about China

If you were to tell someone that in the future the world would be ruled by a totalitarian state in which there would be no democracy and in which human rights lawyers would be tortured, artists placed under house arrest and the internet heavily censored, they would rightly be heartbroken and horrified. The fact is that a significant portion of the human race lives in such conditions right now.

The population of China is 1.4 billion, which means that one fifth of all humans live in a totalitarian state, without freedom of speech, where human rights lawyers are tortured, artists live under house arrest, and the internet is heavily censored. I find this incredibly disturbing for multiple reasons and so I do what I can–my one tiny little part–to help shine a light on the reality of human rights in China, with the distant but firm hope that some day in the future Chinese people will live in a democracy.

When the media publishes an article about China’s poor human rights record, a strange reaction from Chinese diplomats and anonymous internet commentators soon follows. For the most part the gist of their comments is “mind your own business”, which is a feeble response, one that to me confirms the pervasiveness of the ideology that fuels totalitarianism. “Mind your own business” is to me an admission of culpability, and it leaves me more convinced that it is important to be aware of and engage with all forms of totalitarianism, both in China, and elsewhere.

The other common response to oppression by the Chinese state is that China is so powerful that we’d better be careful of upsetting its leaders. This is the cowardly, the-emperor-has-no-clothes-syndrome. Some of the cruelest, most repressive and destructive acts of humanity have been allowed to take place because onlookers feared reprisal. There is no logic to the argument that says, “Just leave them alone or you will suffer”, when they are already causing people to suffer and will continue to do so if unchecked.

China’s control of the internet and their strange response to references to their human rights abuses shows that they are afraid of the truth. The truth is only threatening to those who have something to hide and to those who want to hold on to positions of power at all costs, even if it oppresses and harms other people.

Education (not indoctrination) is the antidote to totalitarianism. The literacy rate in China is rising quickly. Of course, “literacy” signifies only a very basic level of education, but it is promising sign. As eduction continues to improve and become more widespread in China, attitudes and practices will change. In the meantime it is important that bystanders–neighbours, fellow humans–not allow ourselves to be lied to and not to lend moral support to an oppressive state, either explicitly or by endorsing the normalcy of oppression through an approving silence. We can do our tiny part for humanity simply by being aware of the situation, remembering and keeping the truth out in the open.

Why I Care about China

Quick tip: repairing a road tubeless tire

See Below for an update.

When a tubeless tire is punctured it will ideally be sealed up quickly by the sealant poured into the tire when it is installed, but what if, for some reason, the sealant doesn’t work? Is the tire garbage or can it be salvaged?

I bought a set of Schwalbe Pro One tires for my road bike about a month ago. On my very first ride I got a puncture in the front tire. It was a tiny puncture (I couldn’t see it with my naked eyes) and it seemed to seal up pretty quickly. Some white stuff (sealant) flew out of the tire for two seconds and then it was fine. I only lost about 20 pounds of pressure and was able to ride home without adding air. Everything seemed great. This was my first puncture on my first pair of tubeless tires and, while I wasn’t too impressed that I got a puncture after 20km, I was very impressed with the way it had fixed itself.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of the story. The next time I went for a ride white sealant shot out of the tire from time to time. It seemed as if the sealant was clogging up the hole, but then, perhaps due to the stretching of the tire it would become loose, air would escape, and more sealant would have to seal the hole.

Obviously, this was not a situation that I wanted to live with. I hadn’t got stuck out on the road, but it was bound to happen. I also didn’t want to be starting races and having to abandon because the hole had re-opened.

I really like the Schwalbe Pro Ones otherwise. They seem to roll well and they are easy to install tubeless. I can do it with a regular, manual floor pump and mostly bare hands: just a little tweek from the tire lever on the first install was needed. So, I like them and they are also expensive, so I didn’t wanted to have to throw a new one away without trying to save it.

The first thing I tried was uninstalling the tire, dumping out the little remaining sealant, drying the inside of the tire and placing a sticker patch over the inside of the hole. Those patches are made to stick on the outside (convex-shape) rubber tubes, not the inside (concave shape) of tires, which are also textured and rather slippery, almost like linen, so I wasn’t sure how well the sticker would stay on.

I re-installed the tire and tested it out. It seemed good for a few rides, but eventually it started leaking again. I had pumped up the tire pretty hard for a race and then put my bike in the back of a hot van. My guess is that the tire pressure built up and was too much for whatever was blocking the tiny hole. On the way to the race, we heard pssssssss. I rotated the tire so that the hole was at the bottom, where it would get covered in sealant, and the leak did stop for a moment, but when I rotated it more, the pssss started again. As soon as we arrived at the race, I pulled apart the tire, dumped out the sealant and installed a tube. It worked fine for the race, and I suppose I could live with it, but why buy a tubeless tire and then run it with tubes.

My second attempt to fix the tire was slightly more complicated, but still pretty simple. I marked the hole with chalk, took out the tube, dumped out the sealant, wiped the inside of the tire dry, washed around the hole, and wiped it dry again. I have a tube that I’ve been saving as a back-up. I got a puncture in it last year and sealed the puncture with a stick-on patch, but I haven’t actually re-used it, so I sacrificed it. I cut a 1″x1.5″ piece out of it, rounded off the corners, scuffed up the outside to it with one of those little scuffers you get with a patch kit, smeared rubber cement all over it, and then stuck the outside of the homemade tube-patch to the inside of the Schwalbe tire, right where I had marked the hole.

One side of the tire’s bead was still on the rim, so a balled up a dry rag and pushed it into the tire and then sat the wheel upright so that the weight was right on the patch. The rag, I hoped, would push against the patch and make it bond well. Then I left it overnight to dry really well.

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The glued-on home-made patch.

Today I added new sealant (just a little more than 2 tablespoons), thumbed the tire into place and pumped it up. I let it sit for an hour, just to see what happened, and it appeared to be fine. I’m now back from a one hour ride and am happy to report that the tire seems perfect so far. If it doesn’t lose air overnight, I’ll race on it this weekend. I’ll report back if I have any problems with it in the future. I’m pretty hopeful that it’ll be okay from now on. I’d really like to avoid replacing a new $80 tire.

Update:

I’ve now put about 400km on this tire and it has worked just as well as the unpunctured rear tire, in other words, perfectly.

 

Quick tip: repairing a road tubeless tire

The Races Thus Far

Saturday was my third bike race of the season and it went reasonably well.

But let me begin by reporting (briefly) on the first two races.

Race One was a road race on a flat course. There were something like a hundred and ten guys in my category, Masters 2 (for 40-49 year-olds). I got thirty-third or so. There was a break-away of six, I think. Thirty seconds back was the main group, including me. Going into the final turn, which was really two quick turns, I was about sixtieth. Then I made my move, the same move I’d been making for a few laps. I took the inside line over some bumpy asphalt and accelerated up the overpass, passing quite a few guys, then turned through the final half of the final corner and started to push hard to hold the advantage that I’d gained, which I more or less did.

After the race, I kept telling myself that I had more in the tank and I regretted not trying to get to the front sooner. I told A., my teammate, that we should have chased down the breakaway, but he said we wouldn’t have caught them. I think it was worth a try, though. I mean, I was happy with thirty-third because I hadn’t been dropped in my first M2 race (last year I raced M3, because I’m getting younger every year), but maybe it’s worth tiring yourself out, chasing after the breakaway. You risk getting so tired that you later get dropped, but what have you given up? A thirty-third? It’s probably better (I mean more fun) to die out there in the wind.

Race Two was a gravel grinder, known as the Rasputitsa, in Vermont. It’s a hilly course consisting of gravel, mud, snow and a lap of a cyclocross course. Last year I got something like one-fifty out of five hundred. This year I got eighty-second out of seven-hundred. So, improvement.

Gravel races are pretty different from road races. All categories start together in a gravel race. In fact, you don’t even know who’s in your class. Because of the variety of riders and I think, too, because of the gravel surface, which forces you to watch your line, the race is less about sticking with one peloton. Riders are spread out for miles, each one racing the clock as much as one another. From time-to-time you work together and draft, but often you are passing or being passed by stronger or weaker riders. Because “getting dropped” is not fatal the way it is in road racing, pacing (budgeting your energy) is important. In road racing, in contrast, you would never let the peloton get away from you in order to save your own energy for later in the race, because once the peloton is gone, you will never see them again. The peloton is a rowboat with forty rowers, while you are a lone canoeist.

Anyhow, race two was good, and fun. I went with a neighbour who is getting into racing so I had some company, which was nice.

Finally, to Race Three, a road race, by far the hilliest road race I’ve done. There wasn’t quite as much climbing as the Rasputitsa, but it was close. Also, the Rasputitsa had long climbs; Race Three, which was northwest of Quebec, had numerous medium-length climbs. It was also the longest road race I’ve done: a hundred and eight kilometers. I’m not too confident in my climbing abilities, so I really had no idea how I would do. My mission was just to hang on. In endurance events, I’m usually pretty good at pacing myself. Road racing goes against my nature. There is no pacing. If you have to kill yourself on the first hill to stay with the peloton, do it, because once you’re dropped, you’re a solo canoeist. Your race becomes a ride.

The first climb was a few meters after the start line and I had to work hard to stay with the group. Riders slid past me and soon I was last place and hanging on for my life. Once over the top of the climb everyone eased up and I latched back on and recovered. Five kilometers up the road we hit the next climb and the process was repeated. I almost got dropped but not quite. And on it went.

Sometimes I looked back, hoping to find someone who was slower than me, but I never did. Was no one else suffering more than me? Why wasn’t anyone getting dropped? (I compassionately wondered.) Eventually, I was too tired to turn my head, and too disappointed by what I didn’t see, so I stopped looking and only hoped.

One of my teammates, A., dropped out because of a problem with his brakes. He didn’t like the idea of going downhill at seventy kilometers an hour with shuddering brakes. My other teammate was up ahead, jostling in the middle of the peloton. After the third lap (of five) I lost sight of him. Had he joined a breakaway? On the way to the race we had debated about who was the better climber. I said he was better, and he said I was better. I guess I was right.

Or was I? The lead car was still with us. Wouldn’t it have followed a breakaway? Maybe there was no breakaway, in which case, where was my teammate K.? Had he been dropped? How had I missed it? I would have had to pass him, but I hadn’t noticed, even though, I was still at the back of the pack.

I was pretty sure a few people had been dropped, but I wasn’t sure. Was the group smaller now? Sometimes I thought it was. Other times it seemed like there were still a lot of us. How many riders had started? A. said that there were fifty on the sign-in sheet but that others were showing up without having pre-registered. How many were there now on lap four? I tried to count. One, two, never mind. I put my head down and pedaled.

My legs were going. I wasn’t out of breath or energy (I had been eating throughout the race). But the muscles just above my knee were spent. At the beginning of lap four, at the first hill, I had been dropped, along with a few other guys. But we’d caught back on. At the fifth and final lap, though, the first climb was too much for my legs. I had to shift down. Looking at the road as I fought the pedals I saw wheels move past me quickly. In a matter of seconds I was alone with one other rider and the peloton was cruising away. We were like two men who had been thrown overboard.

We worked together to chase. He said they would slow down, but they didn’t, not enough, and we eventually eased up. Now, finally, it was a matter of pacing. We would at least get to the finish and place ahead of the guys (how many?) who had been dropped earlier and had abandoned.

I was surprised to see two guys coming up behind us. Apparently, they had been dropped too. We had been dropped at the top half of the hill and they had been dropped at the bottom. But they’d caught us. Now four of us worked together. Soon we caught a fifth guy. He had held on one more climb than us, but then he had been dropped, and now he was moving like a weary canoeist. He swerved onto the back of our paceline and we all pushed toward the finish line, which we crossed, ten kilometers later, as a group, the second group, five minutes after the peloton.

Final result: something like thirty-eight out of something like sixty. There were only one or two other finishers after us. All the other guys who had been dropped abandoned (including my teammate K., who pulled out after lap three).

Next weekend (that is, in three days) there is another tough race, longer (120km) and with much more climbing, and I’m still feeling tired from Race Three, so I’m not sure how it’s going to go, but there’s only one way to find out. At least the sun is supposed to be shining. That’ll be a first for this season.

The Races Thus Far

Rubber to Paper

My novel will be launched in a couple of weeks and I still haven’t entirely committed to a new project. Last summer I wrote about eighty pages of a new novel, but this past semester and a half I’ve been too busy to work on it. That kind of time away from a project is, for me at least, deadly. I’m having a hard time imagining myself picking up the thread in a few weeks when school is finished. I find myself getting more excited about fresh ideas instead, perhaps even a nonfiction project. One crazy idea that I’ve been mulling over for a couple of weeks is to take a year to drive around North America following the bicycle racing season and then write a book about it. It’s the kind of book I’d enjoy reading, I think. It might start something like this:

The car is loaded. My wife and kids come out of the house to say goodbye. I’m about to commence my year as a full-time non-professional middle-aged bicycle racer. I will race my way from Montreal to New England, down the east coast, over to Colorado, then Nevada, California, up the west coast, dipping back through the midwest, then wending my way back up to Canada and across Ontario to Montreal. I will race on asphalt, gravel, dirt and sand. I will train between races in some of the most popular cycling areas. I’ll sleep in hotels and campgrounds and perhaps, if I’m lucky, on a few couches. I’ll try to become a stronger cyclist, learn everything I can about racing and life, and have as many adventures as possible.

I feel selfish and sad as I hug my wife, daughter and son goodbye. But they’ve told me repeatedly that I should do this trip. We’ll talk a lot, and if everything goes according to plan, I may be able to fly home around Christmas time.

Something like that, maybe. But I wouldn’t head off for a year and leave the family. I’d need to keep my home base here and just drive to the races as they came up. Perhaps in the winter I would go down south for a month or more. The family could join me at Christmas and maybe March break … in Florida or California, during the cyclocross season. Hm … Now I just need to find a publisher that will give me a nice advance so I can afford to take a year off work.

Oh, well, it’s nice to think about.

Rubber to Paper