Monday, April 14, 2014

The Best Advice Ever (and how it helped me learn to swim)

Naturally, the best advice I ever received came from a sprightly, white-haired old lady. She was my grandmother and I lived with her in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for quite a while when I first came to America. It's her birthday this week, she'd be 105 (hey, she made it to 96, which ain't bad).

This was in the mid 1990s. I'd been a newspaper reporter in the UK, and was freelancing for local papers in the Chapel Hill area. But I wasn't happy - the stories I was being assigned were fluff and the pay was pathetic. I was 27 years old and wanting more.

I was thinking seriously about law school, but discovered very quickly I needed a U.S. bachelor's degree for that (my English journalism diploma wasn't enough). So I went to meet with admin people at UNC, to see how many hours of credit they'd give me for my professional qualification and the three years experience working at a newspaper.

They said: "Out of 120 hours needed to graduate, we'll credit you with seven hours."

Seven.

So I went home and, as we did most days, I made tea while Granny made cinnamon toast. She could tell I was disgruntled (because I told her) and she asked what was wrong.

I explained: "Well, I'm 27 years old and I want to get my law degree. But to do that, I'd have to do three years of undergrad, taking an overload of classes, and then there's three years more of law school after that."

"Okay," she said. "And what's bothering you?"

"To do all that, it'll take me six years. Six years! I'll be 33 by the time I'm done."

"I see." A little smile appeared on her face. "Tell me, how old will you be in six years if you don't do all that?"

It was a light-bulb moment for me. I could be 33 with a law degree and my bachelor's, or I could just be 33. Brilliant.

But what does it have to do with swimming? Well, this is me at the beginning of the year, doing a lap.


video

Okay, not quite doing one.

The thing is, I've always been active, my whole life. Even now I play on two competitive soccer teams, play squash at least once a week, and lift weights. But I've always been a horrible swimmer. Maybe I'm too big, too lazy, too... something. I don't know. For whatever reason, I could swim one length (not lap) of the pool before spluttering and gasping for breath, holding onto the edge like it was my only salvation. Which it pretty much was.

I didn't like that. It didn't suit the image I had of myself - as someone who is generally active and reasonably good at sports. I also didn't like that terrifying feeling of running out of air, a feeling I got every time I swam more than about ten yards.

So I took lessons. Signed up for swimming lessons at the age of forty-noneofyourbusiness. I wanted to make sure my technique was decent (it wasn't, but now is) and then after that I just swam. Twice a week. It started with the successful completion of one lap (not length!). Then I managed to sew two laps together without pausing. Then three...

That was in January.

Today I swam a mile. A mile. Such a thing was a pipe dream to me six months ago. Even four months ago. But I did it because I kept plugging away, adding lap after lap. And I've reached the point where I can swim a mile because I knew, back in January, that even though it was a pipe dream, it was a possibility. I knew that in four, six, or nine months I'd be able to swim without that terrifying feeling of suffocation.

The bottom line is that back in January, I told myself I could be forty-noneofyourbusiness and be able to swim a mile, or I could just be forty-noneofyourbusiness.

Thank you, Granny.



Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hooligangsters and Me

I got word last week that my work here at the DA's office may slowly come to a halt in about a year. A new position has opened up with the city of Austin and they've asked me to consider it. I've already agreed to sit down with some of the city's council members to hammer out the details, but the job relates to the new soccer stadium that will be built here.

The Austin Chronicle covered the story a few days ago: All Aboard the Soccer Train! Major League Soccer and urban rail take Austin by storm.  

In a nut shell: "the construction of a new soccer stadium in the middle of the Colorado River – a project which will also provide the missing link in a new urban rail line serving the entire Central Texas area. The train will cross the river between Congress Avenue and I-35, stopping mid-river at a new, landfill-constructed and designed 'Fantasy Island.'"

My new job? Well, it suits me perfectly because it combines my legal knowledge, my criminal law experience, and my knowledge and love of soccer. The job doesn't have a formal title yet but basically I'll be taking lead on ensuring the minimum of hoologanism before, during, and after the games.

It's kind of a quasi-lega, quasi-law enforcement, quasi-looking cool job, so here's a pic of me in what they've asked me to wear:

The need for someone to do this job is based on a significant fear is that outside groups will use the rail system and soccer matches to bring crime into the city -- drugs and prostitution mainly. There's also a concern that the gangs from south of the border will end up waging turf wars here against the established Bloods and Crips. Fighting on the terraces is bad enough when it's over soccer, but we simply can't have hooligangsters roaming the streets of Austin and causing trouble for innocent citizens.

One initial thought, and I welcome feedback, is that we should try and make the game itself a force against evil. I'm not sure how, but one possibility might be to make the goals a little larger (others are already proposing this, like here and here). I know, it sounds weird even when I write it, but it seems to me that if more goals are scored then the game is more interesting, and maybe the people who are in the stands to make trouble will actually become enthralled with the Beautiful Game.

The other thought rolling around in my head is to require everyone going to a game to bring a child. It's a clever idea, I think, because this will result in less violence (who wants to start a fight in front of a kid?!) but has side benefits: (1) more income for the stadium because it's two tickets instead of one; (2) ice cream vendors as well as beer vendors can make a buck; (3) more kids will get into soccer and in ten years maybe the U.S. national team will suck less. Probably other benefits, too, but I just had the idea so they're not coming to me just yet.

The last thought I'll share is about cheerleaders. A foreign concept for soccer, right? Well, in case you forgot what they are, here's one:


Wait, now I forgot my idea.

Anyway, I'll keep you updated. I won't give up my novel-writing, never fear, and maybe I'll even get a few ideas from the new position.

"Hooli-Czar." How's that for a job title?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good-bye Charlie, hello David.

After roughly two years riding in Charlie Sector, it's time for a move. I went with the sector I live in, known as David. In the map below, Charlie is the pink patch on the east side of Austin. David is in yellow, the south west part of the city.
I rode with Mario on Thursday, an officer new to APD but who'd been a cop in the mid-west for a few years. Super nice chap, we had a good time though it was a pretty quiet night. At one point I took a pic of an incoming call, which I thought might be interesting to readers. As you'll see, it's not about catching speeders and chasing bad guys.
Yep, someone wanted an officer to come out and shoot a cat caught in a fence. It wasn't our district so we didn't get a chance to respond, and my night ended before I could find out what happened. But it gives you an idea of the variety of calls they get. Actually, I think I'll do this in the future, take snaps of the holding calls. Hopefully no more cats in pain...









Thursday, March 6, 2014

Honesty in court

In court recently, a teenage boy sat quietly while his probation officer, people from CPS and other social services spoke to the judge about him. The lad was having a hard time in school, subjects not holding his interest, no clue what he wants to do with his life, a few behavioral problems.

Eventually, the judge got around to asking the young man about his hopes and plans, his goals and dreams.

"What in school are you most interested in, Brian?"

Pause, wry smile. "Honestly. Girls."

Love the honesty, I hope it bodes well for him.

(Brian is not his real name, of course. His real name is Mike.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cats out of bags, and inclom... inclom...

In sad news, this will be my last in the "disarming reviews" series for a while.

First, I don't actually have many bad reviews to choose from (I know, tempting fate, right?!), and second, I'd hate to give the impression that I do have a bunch of bad reviews. As if.

But this one is high on the adorable stakes, very high.



In case you're wondering, this little lady has expressed a desire to be a vet, an airline pilot, and an actress. Working on the third, right now, obviously.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Me and J.K. in a literary storm

I had a hard time coming up with a title for this post, and you can see what I picked. Not because it's an awesome title but because it made me smile. I picture tweed-jacketed authors tutting extra loudly, indignantly overfilling their pipes. And no one outside the book world caring much...

But this little storm involves me (a little bit) and JK Rowling who has, oh, twenty three billionty fans. Including my kids.

Here's what happened. An English author wrote an editorial for the Huffington Post suggesting that J.K. Rowling shouldn't publish more books, because doing so ruins everything else for the rest of us. Her article was not well received. (A lot of the backlash is described on the BBC web site here.)

Read it here for yourself.

And this is where I came in. I wrote my second ever HuffPo article, which was published last night, as a rebuttal. It's in the form of a letter to J.K. Rowling, urging her not to quit the writing gig. You know, because she listens to my advice on a regular basis. In the editorial, I argue that Rowling makes like easier for other writers, not harder.

You can read my reply here.

I feel a little sorry for the author of the first piece, Lynn Shepherd. I'm sure she didn't expect the trashing she's received, and I'm also pretty sure she's a nice person who wouldn't really want any author to stop writing. I expect, too, she's learned that if you write an editorial for an international news service, you better have some solid evidence or reasoning behind your work. The writing game is tough, and this little episode demonstrates quite well that the best way to the top isn't by climbing all over your fellow writers.

Especially the ones who live in castles.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oh, BookPeople... you make me laugh


This is why I love BookPeople. It's a cancellation notice for an author event. Click and enjoy.