Archive for November, 2012


Do you have a hobby?

As a writer, I spend most of my writing time with my butt in a chair in front of a computer–like now–tapping black keys to make letters and numbers appear on a white screen.  I do some writing on a yellow pad of paper too, but that’s usually a much smaller part of my writing time and it usually involves working up the backstory to whatever I’m working on.  I spend an even smaller amount of time in just thinking about what I want to write–no paper, no computer, no keyboard, no nuthin’.   Just working out in my head what I want to put down on the com screen.  All of that work is essential to writing a good story, though.

But I can’t keep all that up all the time, though I’ve heard that some writers do.  I’ve heard of writers who sit in front of a computer twelve or more hours a day, either because they love to write that much or because they have to to pay the bills.  But even if I had to write full-time to pay the bills, I couldn’t sit in one chair for that much time every day.  Let’s get real; there’s more to writing than the writing process.

I need a diversion.  I need to relax from the anxiety of writing.  Writing brings with it its own tensions–the necessity for research to make the writing accurate, the necessity to meet a daily word-count goal, the necessity for revisions to smooth it out and make it readable and remove the obvious errors such as data dumps, unrealistic dialogue, poor comma choice, etc., etc.  Tension ain’t good for a long time.

I help reduce the tension by taking part in a hobby.  My hobbies tend to be more physical than mental, and I leave the writing behind as I go off and do something else.  I’ve been a model railroader for a long time, ever since I got a Lionel O-27 train set for Christmas God-knows-how-many years ago.  Now I model in HO scale, where the models are smaller and easier to work with in a small apartment.  I also like to travel and take pictures of the places I go.  I’ve been into photography for a long time too.  Sometimes I’ll go off on a trip with the Sierra Club to visit some out-of-the-way location to either see the sights (usually a wilderness site) or do some environmentally friendly work such as building trails or removing trash.  Granted, all these hobbies require a certain amount of mental concentration to perform correctly, especially learning how to operate one of the new digital cameras that can do so much more than my old film cameras, but they take my mind off writing for a while and I feel better about getting back to the computer afterward.

I think the most important thing is that hobbies change the direction of thinking.  Hobbies can be as mentally challenging as writing (or any other 9 to 5 job), but the important thing, for me anyway, is that a hobby allows me to do something different.

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Lonelier and lonelier…

Life just got lonelier in our Galaxy.

According to a new study in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (yes, I know, nobody reads that) the chances of complex alien life developing on other planets in our galaxy just got more unlikely.  It appears that an asteroid belt like the one we have in our solar system was essential for allowing life to develop on our Earth a couple billion years ago and for allowing life to flourish to the point where we humans have become the dominant species.  Moral: if you don’t have an asteroid belt, you don’t get complex life.

Over the years that astronomers have been listing the things that a solar system has to have in order for life to develop and flourish, more and more factors have been added to the list.  A planet has to have water on its surface and be just the right distance from its sun so the water can exist as a liquid.  It can’t be too hot or cold.  It has to have carbon-compounds to make the organic building blocks of life.  It can’t be slammed by asteroids too frequently or the nascent life will be wiped out.  It can’t be hit too infrequently either.  Astronomers are adding new factors all the time and a relatively new wrinkle is that a solar system has to have a large Jupiter-sized planet to keep the asteroids in line, yet early in a solar system’s life the planet has to be hit with enough outside material to bring the carbon compounds and the water that will nurture living forms.  It has to be pelted just enough–not too much, not too little.

It’s a complex scenario, and it’s getting more and more complex all the time.  Now we find out that asteroid belts appear to be rare in other solar systems.  This is preliminary data, mind you, and it could change as we learn more about other solar systems, but finding solar systems similar to ours which have all the factors going for them that our solar system has is increasingly unlikely.  What this means overall is that planets like Earth are getting even more rare in this galaxy.  Earth is odd, unusual, uncommon.  Notice I did not say unique.  The possibility of other “Earths” is still there, but that possibility is getting less and less.

I’ve said this before: we may be alone in this galaxy, or at least in the part of the galaxy we can see and examine with telescopes.  The attempts to find alien life such as listening for signals from outer space and sending probes to Mars and the moons of Jupiter to find microbial life are important, but don’t be surprised if they fail.  We may be alone.  Get used to it.

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