Yup. My time on WordPress started back in 2009 with a word count tracking post for the first draft of Fratricide. Now, after concatenating several blogs and writing for over a decade, the post about finally finishing Fratricide, on a blog called The 563rd Attempt, is post 563. You cannot make this shit up.
Author: Aaron Marks
So I haven’t quite finished the Fratricide rewrite. But I’m on the second to last scene, where Scott leaves Pittsburgh amidst everything being a mess. And to finish this scene right, I need to tell the story of when I left Pittsburgh. Amidst everything being a mess.
One of the reasons I wrote the first draft of Fratricide, back in June of 2009, was as a way to process college, especially as it seemed I couldn’t leave quite yet. One of the reasons I chose to rewrite it, besides the fact that I didn’t know what else to write (I’d solve that eventually), was that I had even more thoughts about my time in Pittsburgh and what was, to be perfectly blunt, my ‘fuckboy era’, which started in my senior year of college but persisted past graduation, past my time drafting Fratricide, and in some ways all the way until I left Pittsburgh. There was an aftershock, so to speak, in 2011 while I was in Boston, but it was nothing compared to 2010.
Fratricide is about fraternities, I suppose, but it’s about friendships in college and about how those commingle with sex. It’s about figuring out what you take with you from that stage of your life and what you leave behind. It is about, simply, the things I screwed up when I was 22. When I was 22, there were two relationships I could have nurtured, that could have been really good. They didn’t happen. Then there was the relationship I did have, from roughly October of 2010 to February of 2011. And I don’t really know what I was thinking.
Anyways. In these last scenes of the story, Scott is grappling with leaving Pittsburgh. Scott, being a fictional character, is going to be blessed with the opportunity to reflect in a much less strange way than I did. Scott has, just like me, been faced with the fact that choosing not to become attached doesn’t really work that way, and you’re going to hurt people, no matter how much you think it makes sense as you plan to leave and “live your life”, in whatever way an over-planning, under-experienced 22 year old actually can. The reason Scott’s final departure will be less weird than mine is best encapsulated by a quote from Mark Twain. “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
I am not a perfect person, and in early 2011, I cheated on my then girlfriend. At first I thought my judgment was clouded because I had been drinking that night; the truth was a lot worse. I confessed, we had a fight, and then I realized what the intent of my choice was. During that fight, more than anything else, I wanted her to dump me. At a certain point I realized that’s what I was waiting for. It didn’t happen. And I didn’t quite take the hint. I was too much of a coward to break up with her. I had no idea how badly I wanted to do that at that point; keep in mind I had never cheated on a partner before and I never have since.
Anyways. The relationship limped along. I got offered a job up in Massachusetts, and I took it. My parents helped to arrange for me to come home; I’d live with them until I could find an apartment. It was a pretty quick turnaround; I had about two weeks to pack up everything and move about 600 miles. My Mom rented a cargo van (I didn’t own that much, luckily) and came out to Pittsburgh to help me move. The day of the move, my then girlfriend came and helped us pack up as well. Here’s where it gets surreal.
One of my roommate’s friends was sleeping on the couch, as sometimes occurred. She had slept in pretty late, and was still on the couch as we started to move my furniture out of the apartment. She got up and pushed the blanket off of her head, and lo and behold it was the girl I had slept with maybe three weeks prior. She appraised the situation instantly, and said nothing. My Mom was very friendly, though, and knowing nothing about what had transpired, proceeded to have a nice conversation with her. My then girlfriend suspected nothing. I thought my head was going to explode.
My Mom and I drove back to Boston, which was the time I had to unpack what was going on and the fact that I was well and truly entering the next stage of my life, moreso than when I finished undergrad. There was a lot going through my head; this part I feel like I do reflect in the story (or will, the reflective scene isn’t yet finished). Still, there are fewer things better than a ten hour drive to unpack some stuff. When I got home my then girlfriend and I had a phone call to discuss what a long-distance relationship would look like; I broke up with her before that phone call ended.
I am still human; I don’t intend to imply I don’t make mistakes in my relationships any more. That said, it’s very hard for me to look back on my time from 2009 to early 2011 and think any thought other than “what the fuck were you thinking”. I was not a good partner and I was not making good decisions…there are people from that time in my life who I’m honestly surprised are still friends with me. Someone I’m still close to asked me out and I…brushed her off? I regret that more than the cheating, honestly.
But yet. BUT YET. I made all those decisions. Yes, I was 22 and dumb, but I made all of those decisions. And in some way, that’s why I wanted to write Fratricide. Scott is supposed to be me, and be me at 22. And while the story isn’t biographical in any appreciable way, Scott was still an emotional bonehead. And I’m weirdly proud of being able to capture that. The story that spawned from my bonehead era (and my fuckboy era) has to have a protagonist who’s a bonehead (and a fuckboy).
NaNoWriMo is complete
Final word count: 51,678
This is actually the first time I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo. To be fair it’s only the third time I’ve earnestly attempted it, but even so I’m basking in the accomplishment a little tonight. 50,000 words in a month is no mean feat, even when you’re a writer.
Now the reason I went over is because I had to finish my story. I actually thought it might be longer, but nearly 52k isn’t that far off of my estimate. And you know what? I don’t think it’s a hot garbage first draft either, though I’m sure it’s rough as hell. That said, I’m going to try and edit, get it together into something cohesive. But that is going to take time.
I’m going to take a couple of days off from writing, but I think I’m going to return to my novel in progress, Fratricide, next week. I’ve had ideas bubbling up for that story, and I’m so close to actually finishing it. I am embarrassed, honestly, that I started the rewrite in 2016 and I’m likely to finish it nearly seven years later. That said, I’m going to finish it, and that counts for a whole lot more than my rate of speed.
Here’s to finishing things. I haven’t finished many projects in the last few years, so finishing this one feels damn good and I’m not afraid to say that.
NaNo Week 3: Whoa, we’re halfway there
I made it past 25,000 words, and I did it on the middle day, no less. I have continued to impress myself with my pace and my consistency, things which have been trouble for my writing forever. I don’t think this means I’m going to keep writing 1500 words or so a day after NaNo (though I might keep up the pace for this project depending on how much it needs to cross the finish line), but I do think I should return to writing every day. It’s a muscle, and I think I spent too long letting it atrophy. My instincts were right: I needed a project with some sort of external validation to push me back into this, and NaNoWriMo is the perfect combination of aggressive but ultimately achievable.
Let’s finish this before spending too much time looking forward. 15 days and roughly 24,650 words to go.
NaNo Week 2: Actually Still on track
I have not chosen to waste my momentum on writing blog posts here, and I’m not sorry about that. That said, it’s a relatively good time to check in. Today’s word count goal is 13,334, so technically I’m 72 words behind. Still, overall I’ve cranked out eight days of pretty consistent writing, and still have lots of runway for this story. I’m very happy with how this is going, and am feeling pretty confident that I can keep it up at least until the end of November. Will this story be done by then? Who knows. But I think it will be over 50,000 words.
NaNo Day 2: Still getting into the rhythm
This evening was a bit more of a drag, with more distractions. Still, over 1600 is at least mostly on pace, and I’m still ahead of 3334 thanks to yesterday. Just going to keep stringing days together, and hope my pantsing leads to something readable at the end. So far so good, but it’s early days.
Actually doing NaNoWriMo this year
The title kind of says it all. It’s been years and years, but this year I’m doing it and haven’t managed to talk myself out of it. Ironically, my decision to do NaNo this year was in part because I decided not to do another event, NaGaDeMon (or National Game Design Month). I was going to, but the game I was planning to hack decided to Kickstart a new edition, and do it in November. The wind was completely knocked out of my sails, but I realized I’ve had a story idea kicking around. I’ve also, despite kicking at it for six years now, still not finished my Fratricide rewrite…I’m not touching that for NaNo, but I am hoping that pantsing through a questionable story idea that’s basically self-insert fanfic IN SPAAAAACE will help clear out the cobwebs and get me to finish that damn book.
Anyways: Words/Total: 2109/2109
I got past the blank page, so that’s a thing. I’m also technically ahead of schedule but we’ll see how long that lasts. Anyways, I have something to focus on for November, and hopefully it’s going to keep going well.
My Fantasy Bike Fleet
I currently own five bicycles. While some of the haughtiest Velominati may scoff at my relatively low number, the fact is that living in a condo outside of Boston makes five bicycles a high number to maintain and (more importantly) store. Now, I am a fairly well-rounded cyclist, there are a number of things I do on two wheels and a real quiver-killer for my cycling doesn’t exist. That said, after some long and hard thinking, I’ve figured out a way to get the number down to four, and also (perhaps more importantly) never want for another bike again.
The balance here comes with thinking about what I do with my bikes, what I want to do, and what I’m likely to actually do. As an example, I think my foray back into mountain biking has taught me that I’m not super interested in super technical or gnarly trails. I want to be able to go off-road, maybe do some single-track if it comes up, but building up a bike specifically for bombing through the woods, especially one that can’t carry anything and doesn’t hang at all on the road, was a mistake.
On the other hand, I love building bikes. I built the mountain bike last year, my Motobecane a few years before that, and my Univega this year. All those experiences were great for my desire to tinker. I also made a significant mistake tying that desire to tinker to my personal bikes. The first iteration of the Univega was a lot of fun, and I think the second iteration will be fun as well…but it’s really hard to figure out why I need this bike or what it gets me that my other bikes don’t already.
This dream fleet would give me an opportunity to build up 1-2 more bikes, but the idea would be to stop after that. These four bikes would satisfy my needs and desires for commuting, urban transit, the occasional bouts of spandex clad road riding, and also touring. And that last one is an important hinge: My partner and I have planned a weeklong bike tour later this year on our Surlys. If that tour goes well, and I want to ride more long-distance rides, it’s going to provide a significant indicator as to whether or not I should pursue this fantasy bike fleet for real.Continue reading
I built a bike
Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve rambled about bikes on here. My Bianchi got put out to pasture towards the end of 2019; I donated it and replaced it with a salmon Surly Straggler which was doing great at commute duty until the pandemic started. I purchased my Ribble earlier that year; I don’t talk about it much but it’s my first carbon fiber bike, my first dedicated road bike, and a wonderful companion on (seasonally appropriate) long rides. My single speed Motobecane saw yet another transformation; after I destroyed the Sugino cranks I put on it by not tightening them enough and had a much cheaper set of Retrospec cranks start clicking ominously after only a couple months, I swore off square-taper cranks entirely. The bike now has a sweet (and significantly more expensive) SRAM S300 crank, which I paired with a White Industries freehub. The bike has never been better, but, due to the pandemic and the limited utility of a single-speed, I’ve ridden the new configuration exactly once.
I have been trying to ride, though here in winter it’s been difficult. The Surly is overwhelmingly my bike of choice; it’s the most comfy bike I have and because I’ve put a rack on it I can do ridiculous things like ride to the liquor store or bring a picnic. Both the Ribble and the single speed have less to recommend them in winter, though I was able to do a few 30+ mile rides on the Ribble earlier in the year which were pretty great. Without the commute or any reason to go into the city, though, my bikes have laid fallow, save for the few times I’ve gotten out on the Surly just for me. As much as I love riding, roads around my apartment are a real pain, and it’s hard to convince myself to throw a bike in the back of my car to go ride on more different roads, where city traffic is replaced by suburban morons. Naturally, I dealt with this problem in the most roundabout, expensive, and wholly unnecessary way possible.
I built another bike.
Seeing as I own three drop-bar road bikes, and seeing that the closest to an off-road capable bike doesn’t fit in my car (the Surly has both racks and fenders, making it impossible to lay the fork down flat), the clear solution to my biking problems was to obtain a mountain bike. The wrinkle here was that, due to the pandemic bike boom, “obtaining a bike” was/is remarkably difficult. So instead, I built one myself.
Before we go on I feel the need to say that I saved no money doing this. All in all my costs to build this bike were around $2000, and you can get a bike with similarly specced big parts for less, assuming you’re willing to go on a waiting list. The reason you can’t save money building a bike has more to do with volume discounts for parts, though when you look at the parts I chose you may see that certain parts of the bikes are specced *way* better than you’d get on a $2000 bike from Trek or Specialized…or even Surly or Canyon. The question is, then, if those choices were cost-effective. I’ll answer that question with another (rhetorical) question: Do you know how much more I spent on this bike to get parts that were orange?
Anyways. I started with a Brand-X HT-01 frame. I had actually gone through several attempts to grab a frame, first trying to buy a Soma Riff frame that was not actually in stock…so not in stock that Paypal cancelled my payment authorization. Then I bought an old Specialized Stumpjumper frame, only to find that I couldn’t get the bottom bracket out no matter how hard I tried, and that trying harder would require buying tools worth a multiple of the price I paid for the frame. Then I bought the HT-01. The HT-01 is cheap cheap cheap, costing me less than $150 brand new. It’s an older design; I passed over it initially because it had quick-release hub spacing in the back and relatively constrained tire clearance, but after doing the research I did for the much older Stumpjumper design I realized these weren’t big deals for the intended purpose of the bike. I then grabbed a RockShox Recon fork, and accidentally bought the 29” fork instead of the 27.5”. Being enterprising, impatient, and seeing an opportunity, the bike became a mullet build right there, because that would be faster than RMAing the fork (not to mention that the size I actually tried to buy was extremely sold out). Turns out, a mullet build was a good idea: the frame gets slackened up by the larger front, and since I wasn’t buying matched wheels I wasn’t limited by the frame constraints in the back on both wheels. As I learned, mountain bikers don’t usually bother matching the widths of their front and rear tires and wheels anyway. The rest of the parts came through a combination of research and penny-pinching; I ended up with a 35mm handlebar clamp simply because the bar plus the stem cost the least, and I used the well-regarded (though a bit faddish) MicroShift Advent X drivetrain because it was the cheapest way to get the gear range I wanted.
The assembly taught me a lot. I pressed in a headset for the first time, using good drifts on a cheap threaded rod setup and a fair dose of self-inflicted anxiety. I tuned a rear derailleur, fixing one problem I created myself by installing the cassette incorrectly. I set up tubeless tires for the second time, and it was a lot easier going than the first. And now, after honestly way less assembly labor than I thought, I have a perfectly cromulent hardtail mountain bike. I still need to hook up the dropper post (I ran out of cable ends, of all things), but next weekend I’m going to take the bike out to my old high school stomping grounds and put it through its paces.
So I built a bike. What’s next? After successfully dealing with a headset and installing a crown race, I’m looking at my other bikes and their forks. The Surly is probably out in that regard, though I thought about it…the impact of fork weight savings is heavily diminished when I’m running a rack and a fender, not to mention that the steel fork already on there is much more durable than carbon for both carrying loads and just general city abuse. The single-speed, though…that’s interesting. I’ve started researching carbon forks for that bike, looking to put it on a two step weight loss program. The other element would be new wheels, but once I’ve done that work (not to mention the existing drivetrain overhaul) I start having Ship of Theseus questions around that bike. The frame works fine but it’s not ‘great’, so if I’m already replacing everything, why not just start a completely new bike? I don’t know the answer to that, exactly. But, once I feel like I’m actually using my city bike again, it might be time for some new parts.
Wheels as an upgrade is one that could make sense for a lot of my bikes. I’ve definitely contemplated new wheels for the Surly as well as the Motobecane, and the Ribble too could benefit from some sexy aero in that department. The real problem? Wheels are expensive, and right now when I’m simply not riding as much, it’s not an expense I feel like making. That will probably change as the weather gets warmer and road biking is more on the table, but for now I’m leaving it to the side.
For right now, for this moment, I have a new bike. There’s a few last things to be done. After that, I’m going into the woods.