Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Beanbags are the Answer: Treadmill Desk

This is my first official “treadmill desk” post. I’m walking as I write this. I still haven’t quite got the brain/body connection going, though. My typing isn’t quite up to par, and I caught myself trying to write “I’m writing as I walk this.” But I’ll get it with practice.

The first treadmill desk-er I met was Arthur Slade. That was less than a year ago; I’ve been thinking about it and working my way up to it ever since. Take a look at Arthur Slade’s treadmill desk here. I haven’t got a fancy helmet like his, though.

I like the idea of walking while I write. I’d been standing at my desk for a few months now (I elevated the keyboard and monitor with pop cans), and it felt pretty natural. I fidgeted a lot, though, and would get a sore back if I stayed in one position too long.

For me, part of the appeal is the energy aspect of it. I want to keep my blood (and hopefully the ideas) flowing, and avoid that mid-afternoon slow-brain period. Walking slowly isn’t a lot of exercise, but it beats sitting in one place. I’m not sure how many calories I’ll burn this way, but I hope it will help me stay at my desk, and stay alert, longer.

My treadmill is a Horizon CT 5.1 It was on sale at Canadian Tire last week. It’s quiet and stable and I have enough room that I don’t need to worry too much about where I put my feet (useful for us clumsy types). It also folds up when I’m not using it — it’s not exactly compact, but at least I can run a vaccuum under it that way. I built the “desk” to work with the treadmill.

My monitor sits on a wall shelf. Since I couldn’t find quite the size shelf I needed, I built it. Same with the keyboard tray. They’re both cut from the same sheet of birch plywood, and I used glue-on wood edging to finish them. My shelf clips came from Solutions.

The keyboard try sits on two large beanbags, also homemade (filled with dried yellow peas, in case anyone’s curious). I had originally planned to stuff them into the cup holders and set the tray on them there, but that covered all the treadmill controls. The handrails were too far back, but with the beanbags tied to the spot where the handrails meet the console, it seems to work. I can reach the treadmill controls and see the monitor just fine, and everything is at the right height.

Eventually, I’ll use velcro to fix the keyboard tray to the beanbags, but I want to wait a while and make sure that this is the way I’m going to keep things. And, of course, my sit-down desk is still intact (with my laptop), because I know there will be times when I want to work that way. I still use paper for a lot of my editing.

It’s only day one, but so far, so good. I’m going to go write a chapter or three now; I feel like my characters should be walking somewhere slowly, on a journey of sorts. Gee, where did that idea come from?

Scott Cannata’s Run Across Canada

Have you heard about Scott Cannata yet? Not a lot of people have. The only reason I did is that he’s a local boy. He went to my daughter’s school, years ago.

He’s running across Canada to raise money for cancer. A marathon a day. Sound familiar? Terry Fox is one of his heroes.

Scott’s not a cancer survivor, but his mother is. She was diagnosed when he was around twelve, I think, and it affected him deeply. I guess if I were to stretch for a writing tie-in, that would be it. Character motivation and drastic action. I’d rather keep this about Scott, though.

The kids from my daughter’s school are heading out to see him today. I’m going, too. Because he’s not Terry Fox, and he’s not getting a lot of press (Terry Fox didn’t either, at first), but it’s a brave thing he’s doing.

Cancer has hit my family pretty hard. It sideswiped my life a few years back, too. My daughter was two when I got my first diagnosis, and about a year and a half later, I was battling lymphoma, sarcoma and thyroid cancer all at the same time. I understand wanting to do something, to act out against it. Against any outside force that sweeps in and changes things without your permission.

I wasn’t even through chemo yet, and still had weeks of radiation ahead, when I started training to walk a half marathon through Team in Training. Sensible? No. On my first training walk, I nearly passed out when I bent over to tie my shoelace. Satisfying? Yes. I needed to show my body who was boss.

It was probably the world’s slowest half marathon (accompanied by my lovely sister-in-law, who was extremely pregnant at the time), but on a rainy day in Ottawa, Nancy and I did it. Cheered on by family and friends, stopping at every port-a-potty along the way.

Scott Cannata is doing something a lot bigger than a turtle-paced half marathon. He’s taking on Terry Fox’s dream. That’s one heck of a legend to have looming over you. I’m probably doing him a disservice by bringing up Terry, but I think the comparisons are inevitable. Still, Scott deserves some recognition in his own right. How many twenty-somethings would give up such a large chunk of their life for a cause? He’s a runner, he’s healthy, I think he has a good shot at making it all the way; I just wish more people were paying attention.

He’s supposed to be coming through Whitby at around 11:00 or so today. I’ve made a donation, and I’m going out to see him. If you’re local and see this, or if you live west of here along his route, please keep an eye on his website to see when he’s coming through your community!

Next post will be writing-related, I promise.

Standing Up

I’m trying something new this month. Following in the footsteps of Arthur Slade and many other writers, I’ve decided that Bum In Chair is no longer the way to go. I’m standing up to work.

There are supposed to be lots of health and energy benefits to this. It’s a bit soon for me to tell, but so far, I report no ill effects (at least, not once I caved in and started wearing shoes). I like standing up to work, when I think about it. Most of the time, and it’s only been a couple of days, I don’t even notice. Not once I get going, at least.

I didn’t want to make a big investment, and the jury is still out as to whether a treadmill desk is even practical for my office (although it would be really cool), but I used a couple of abandoned bookshelves and some cases of pop to bring my monitor and keyboard up to the right heights. I didn’t want to look at pop cans for the next few months, hence the wrapping paper.

And why, you ask, does a writer have spare bookshelves hanging around? I know, I know, it’s wrong. But here’s the thing. We had this cat. He was a wonderful cat, but he was nervous (he’d been bullied as a kitten, we think. These childhood traumas are difficult to overcome). And his nervousness came out in unfortunate ways. Like spray.

Too much information, you say? Yes, well. That happens on blogs.

Anyhow, this one bookcase bore the brunt of it. We loved him enough to deal with the constant clean-up, but I’m afraid there was no saving the bookcase. Still, the top shelves were fine.

But I digress. If you don’t happen to have a spare bookshelves lying around, I’m sure you can work something out with a lumber store.

The top of the monitor, apparently, should be about level with your eyes. A good typing height is when your arms are somewhere past ninety degrees. I dunno. Two layers of mini pop cans plus a couple of Jane Austen novels feels about right for me, and I’m five foot six. Not my favourite Jane Austen novels, obviously. Those ones, I need regular access to.

And there you have it. A homemade standing desk. It’s not very original, I’m afraid. You can find examples of this sort of thing all over the web. I like to think of the wrapping paper as my own personal touch, though.

Is it working? So far, so good. I like it. If you want to try it yourself, though, I recommend wearing a good pair of shoes. And buying a brand of pop that you won’t be tempted to drink.

Just for fun: my first attempt was with Lego. I couldn’t find enough of the really big-sized Lego, and it didn’t feel stable enough. But it sure was colourful.

Open Letter to my MP

I live in Whitby, Conservative stronghold and home to our current Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty. He’s our MP. And I figure, whatever the outcome of the election Federally, he’s pretty safe.

But I don’t know who I’m voting for yet. Because the issue that had me worried before the election has kind of vanished, and nobody’s talking about it. Let’s face it, copyright law isn’t exactly interesting. Not the sexy sort of issue that makes headlines.

But after the election, it’ll be back. So here’s the main body of the letter that I just wrote to Mr. Flaherty.

And I promise: I will not make a habit of getting political on this blog. But this one’s for the children’s writers among us.

* * *

My letter is about a bill that I expect will resurface in one form or another after the election. Bill C-32.

I’ve been a resident of Whitby for nearly all of my life… and I have the wonderful fortune to be in the early stages of a career doing what I love.

I write books for children. My third was just published, and I have two more books under contract for publication in Spring 2012. I have several other manuscripts in the works, including a juvenile historical novel set in Whitby in the 1880s.

In particular, I write books for reluctant readers and for the hi-low (high interest, low vocabulary) market. These are books for children who are not reading at grade level. For example, a boy in sixth grade might be reading at a third grade level. These books give him an opportunity to read stories written with his age group in mind, but written at a reading level that he can access. The idea is to provide an enjoyable reading experience, which will hopefully encourage him to read more in the future.

Needless to say, one of the places that my books find a home is in school libraries.

There was a clause in Bill C-32 that established “educational use” as one of the legitimate cases where a work could be copied without penalty. I believe that “private study” was another. For myself and for other creators of books, art and other media for children, this represents a real threat.

I’m not Margaret Atwood or Kenneth Oppel. I’m not J.K. Rowling. I will not, in all likelihood, rise to fortune through writing. I make approximately 8% of the cover price on each book sold, and a share of that goes to my agent. My books are priced in the neighbourhood of $10-$13, which means I make around a dollar each time one is sold.

I doubt that anyone who writes books for children is in it for the money. I do this because I love it and because I think it matters. But I cannot afford to give my books away, either. My understanding of Bill C-32 was that a school, or even a school board, could buy one copy of my book and then photocopy it (or, in this age of technology, scan it and make electronic copies) for use throughout the school system. Or, if we take this example to an extreme, that one copy of the book could be copied once and shared electronically through Canada’s education systems.

Can you see how a prospective reimbursement of one dollar for the many hours of researching, writing and rewriting a book, not to mention the time spent learning the craft of writing, would be detrimental to any writer’s career?

I feel optimistic about my writing. I am doing well. By this time next year, I’ll have published five books, and I have several other manuscripts close to a submission-ready state. I am building a career in baby steps. I have even had the good fortune to receive a grant from the Ontario Arts’ Council, for which I am extremely grateful.

But in truth, I’d rather earn my money by selling books than have it come from grants. I’m old-fashioned that way. The grant helps me get started, and as I said, I’m extremely grateful. But Canada needs to move toward an economy in which artists and creative types can support themselves. Bill C-32 was in direct opposition to that.

There is value in having new material, written by Canadians, in the school system. Kids want to read about characters that reflect them and their values. A body of literature set in the 1980s, before cell phones and computers changed the world, will lose immediacy. Yes, there are core values and classic works of literature that should never be forgotten, but for some children, the easiest stories to connect with are contemporary ones. By making it possible for writers to continue to write, you ensure that readers, and the teachers who work so hard and care so deeply about literacy, have the materials they need for a positive learning experience.

When the time comes to reconsider Copyright legislation, my sincere hope is that you will keep in mind that you are balancing the needs of many people. And I hope that you will keep in mind, Mr. Flaherty, that some of those people are creators.