pedanther: (Default)
1. A pretty slim fiction log, this month. In particular, I think this may be the first month since I started that I had no completed books to list. It's been kind of a stressful month, and the books I have on the go are mostly ones I'm reading more out of a sense of obligation than because I'm actively enjoying them, so they didn't work as a way to escape from stress. (Apart from the Discworld novel, obviously, but I'm reading that one on a schedule with a reading group, and it happens that we ended the month with one section to go.)

Although the first section of the fiction log doesn't tell the whole story, because I did read one novel-length work this month: Triptych, a Star Wars fanwork set after The Force Awakens. (This not-telling-the-whole-story is precisely why I started including novel-length fanworks in the log, of course.) It was an effective stress escape while it lasted, and comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion (although not, I think, one that will turn out to bear much resemblance to whatever the films end up doing).

2. One of the sources of stress has been that for the past year I have been president of the brass band, a situation I have completely failed to mention here because it doesn't reflect any actual achievement on my part except being the slowest to dodge. Everybody agrees that the president is an important position that needs to be filled, but nobody in the band wants to be the person who actually fills it. I didn't want to do it even before I was pushed into it, and now that I've actually given it a go and found myself unsuited to it, I really don't want to do it. There were times -- plural -- when I was finding it so stressful that I had to talk myself down from dramatically announcing my resignation not only from the presidency but also from the band and flouncing out of the rehearsal hall, never to return. We had the AGM recently, and I managed to dodge better this time, so hopefully things will be less stressful from now on.

3. This month has also been crunch time for the annual performing arts festival, which started last weekend. We're sticking with last year's arrangement where all the singers are on one weekend and all the instrumental performances are on a second weekend, with separate adjudicators for each. The vocal weekend went really well, with the adjudicator also running a couple of good workshops. There was less going on in the experienced solo sections than usual because a couple of people who usually enter those have left town since last year. Maybe this is a sign that next year I need to act on my perennial threat to enter the solo sections myself.

4. Another thing we're getting into crunch time for is the next Rep Club production I'm involved in. I mentioned that there's an improv group going again, and we have a couple of performances coming up. What's making it interesting is that in addition to the usual sort of improv scene games, where a couple of people go on stage and improvise a single scene, we're going to be featuring a long-form improv, which will run for multiple scenes, include all the actors, and hopefully end up with some kind of comprehensible storyline pulling the whole thing together.

5. Toastmasters annual Table Topics and Humorous Speech Contests. Entered the Table Topics contest, won, advanced to Area finals, didn't win. Probably just as well; not sure if I'm going to be free for the Division finals.

Anyway, I'm thinking about letting go of Toastmasters entirely. I've advanced to a level where a person really needs to invest time and energy to keep getting something out of it -- or rather, I advanced to that level about two years ago and haven't progressed since. And the thing is, I don't think I have the time and enery to spare: I'm using it on other things that matter more to me, like the Rep Club. The last year or so, it's seemed like I've had something else on every night there's been a Toastmasters meeting, and the couple of meetings I've been to I've been very aware that I'm rusty and not making up for lost time, let alone advancing. So I think it might be time for me to acknowledge that Toastmasters has been a valuable part of my life that I've gained a lot from, but isn't something I need to keep holding on to.
pedanther: (Default)
1. Our production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee opened this week. Everyone seems to be enjoying it so far. (Including us; not that we weren't enjoying it anyway, but it helps to be reminded how funny some of the bits are that had faded through over-familiarity.)

2. This weekend was the area final of the Toastmasters International Speech Contest and Evaluation Contest. I represented my club in the Evaluation Contest, and came second -- which came as a nice surprise, because I was pretty sure there were at least two other competitors who'd done better than me. My friend who represented the club in the International Speech Contest, with a speech about dealing with negative self-talk, was even more surprised to come first (but I wasn't, because it was clearly the best speech in the contest -- though I may be biased).

3. Now that rehearsals for Spelling Bee are over, I'll be able to start going to gaming group meetings again; I'm looking forward to it. Usually I just show up and see who's got a game that needs players, but this time I'm planning to suggest a few games of my own: Forbidden Island, which my brother gave me for Christmas, and Ingenious, which I gave myself for Christmas after getting hooked on the app version.

4. I've played a bit more Mass Effect since I last posted, and now know Garrus, Wrex, and Tali as more than just faces on Tumblr posts. I also, being me, managed to put my foot in my mouth with all three of them during their respective tell-me-about-your-backstory conversations. (No, that's not quite true; I did fumble things with Wrex and Garrus, but when I hacked off Tali I knew exactly what I was doing. Attempts to justify genocide make me prickly; who'd've guessed?)

5. Movie-wise, I have been to see Rogue One (I teared up at the end, in the good-heartwarming way not the bad-distressing way) and Moana (lots of fun).
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Theatre News (subclass Acting in the):

As you may have guessed from the fiction log, the Rep Club's next big production will be the musical Oliver!. I've been in a bunch of musicals for the same director over the last decade or so, so I had what turned out to be the shortest audition I've ever done - didn't need to monologue, didn't need to sing, didn't need to dance, just needed to answer one question. I was a bit disappointed about the singing, since I'd put quite a bit of effort into my audition piece, but in the circumstances I think I'll survive.

The one question was: "Do you feel up to taking on the role of Fagin?"

2. Toastmasters News:

I entered both the Evaluation contest and the International Speech contest this year. The International Speech contest is the feeder contest for the World Championship of Public Speaking, and I've never entered it before. I only entered it this year because I gave a project speech last year which several people spontaneously told me was good enough for the contest, and because being a contestant meant I was exempt from being made to help organise it.

I won both contests at the club level, but at the area level I was beaten by the respective entrants from the college students' club. In a way, that was a relief, because it means I don't have to worry about finding time out of Oliver! rehearsals to attend the division and district contests. Let alone how inconvenient it would have been to qualify for the World Championship - not that I think that would have happened; the speech wasn't that good.

4. Theatre News (subclass Going to the):

I went to Perth to see The Lion King with my sister before it closed, because I've heard so much about how it's staged and who knows if it'll ever come this way again. There were bits that didn't quite work, but it was an impressive experience and on the whole I'm glad I went. Some of the puppets were astonishing. (Also astonishing, in a different way: the antipodean actor playing Timon's attempt at a New Jersey accent, which drifted as far south as Texas at one point.)

One side-note on the trip: It was the first time I'd been on the train since my international jetsetting Christmas holiday. Until I spent all that time on aeroplanes, I'd never really appreciated how much legroom you get on the train.

4. TV News:

The third season of Sherlock has aired here - actually, it aired last year, but then it was on against Foyle's War; this time it wasn't, and I had to decide whether I actually wanted to watch it. After carefully considering everything I'd heard about the third season and the Christmas special, I decided I didn't.

Also, the third season of Agents of SHIELD has started airing here; I watched a few episodes, then realised I wasn't actually all that interested, and stopped.

In happier TV news, the revived Danger Mouse started airing here this week, and I'm enjoying it immensely.

5. Theatre News (subclass Movie):

When I went to see The Force Awakens for the second time, it was preceded by a long trailer for the upcoming Batman/Superman movie. It kind of left me feeling like I'd seen the whole movie, and pretty much confirmed that I have no interest in actually seeing the whole movie.

Which leads me to a second side-note about my recent train trip: At one point, when I wasn't feeling motivated to do anything more brain-intensive, I watched the in-flight (if that's the word) movie, which was The Man From UNCLE. I have no idea how well it serves as an adaptation of the TV series, which I've never seen (yes, it's a shocking lacuna), but at one point I found myself thinking that Henry Cavill would probably do pretty well if he were cast as Superman, before remembering that he had been.
pedanther: (cheerful)
Annual Toastmasters Humorous Speech and Table Topics Contest. Entered Table Topics. Didn't win. The usual.

(Started well - the topic question included a perfect set-up for a good joke to kick off with - but didn't develop my points well and sort of trailed off at the end. Started thinking of ways I could have done better as soon as I sat down, which is also usual.)

On one level, don't mind that I didn't win, since I already know I'm not going to be able to make it to the second round of the contest next week, so I'd have had to withdraw anyway.
pedanther: (cheerful)
It's been a busy few weeks in Toastmasters.

At the beginning of the month was the District Convention, which was held here for the first time, and was consequently the first Toastmasters District Convention I've been to. (This district covers a large geographical area and the Convention is usually in a city a long way from here. This is not always the case, because a district's boundaries are set to enclose a given number of clubs, so if they're densely packed it might be quite small in geographical extent, with multiple districts within a single city or even, so somebody told me at breakfast on the first day, within a single building.)

The convention includes speeches and workshops, four competitions, and a business meeting where the key organising people of the district can get together and decide whatever needs deciding face to face (and which, like most convention business meetings, goes for hours and is avoided by most people if they don't actually have to attend). Three of the competitions - for Humorous Speech, Table Topics (impromptu speech), and Evaluation - conclude at the district level; the winner of the fourth, the International Speech contest, goes on to compete in the World Championship of Public Speaking at the Toastmasters International Convention.

The main guest speaker at our convention was Ryan Avery, who won the World Championship in 2012 with this speech. He's the youngest person ever to win the World Championship, and what's really impressive is that he did it on his first attempt, after he'd been in Toastmasters for less than a year. One of his sessions at the Convention was about having big goals and the kind of work and focus needed to achieve them. He also did one on what he'd learned about how to structure a powerful and effective speech, and a more general one on the value of good communication. I took a lot of notes.

Since then, and partly aided by encouragement and advice received from Ryan during the convention, I've finally achieved Competent Communicator, the first level of accomplishment above beginner. This involves completing ten speech projects, each with a different emphasis: one where the goal is to polish one's body language, one where the goal is to become comfortable with visual aids, and so on. The amount of time it takes to work through all ten speeches varies from person to person, of course (and can depend on how often their club meets and things like that), but generally it's assumed a person will get one done every couple of months if not more often... after the first few, I've averaged something like one a year, taking seven and a half years in total.

The problem for me isn't making the speeches; a lot of people come to Toastmasters to tackle nervousness about getting up in front of an audience, but after all the time I've spent on the stage that was never my trouble. And even writing the speeches isn't so much a problem, and usually goes pretty smoothly one I get started. It's finding the starting point that always holds me up: finding something to talk about. Of course, the world's full of things to talk about, but it always seems very short of things about which I can convince myself I have something to say that people will be interested in hearing.

The next level of accomplishment involves ten more speech projects, or rather two sets of five; with the basic groundwork done, at this level one chooses from more specialised projects, in areas like Storytelling or Technical Presentations or Giving Interviews, depending on what will be useful for the life one leads (or aspires to). I'm contemplating the Storytelling set, which starts easy with a project that's just "retell a folk tale you already know well" and then gets into projects that involve finding stories in one's own life; it seems like that might help me tackle the problem of coming up with things to say.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Our season of short plays has opened and closed, with positive responses from the people who came to see it. We got a good write-up in the local paper, both in the sense that the reviewer liked it and in the sense that everyone's names were spelled right and it didn't give away too many of the good surprises. (If I'd been directing one of the other plays, I'd have been annoyed about some of the moments chosen for the accompanying photo spread, but fortunately my own play was immune to being spoiled in that manner.) The reviewer said that of the three plays the one I directed was his favourite, which I'm inclined to attribute to the quality of the script, and showed the best acting, which I'm prepared to take some credit for.

After it was over, I spent about a week not stirring from home except to go to work and band practice, and I'm not letting myself get roped into any more theatrical productions until June.

2. We've had the second round of the Toastmasters speech evaluation contest, with winners from three club contests competing against each other. This year, for the first time, I was competing as a winner of a club contest. I didn't win the area contest, but I'm not too bothered; just getting there was an achievement, and anyway I wouldn't have been able to make it to the third round, the division contest, this weekend, so I wouldn't have advanced any further regardless. The winner of the division contest will go on to compete in the final round at the District Convention in early June. (Which I'm on the organising committee for, and that's another reason I'm not committing to any more theatre before then.)

3. The final season of Foyle's War aired here recently - at least, they say it's the final season, but they've said that before. More than once. The war that the title theoretically refers to ended two final seasons ago, not that I'm complaining. (At least it hasn't become one of those wartime series where the war drags on longer than it did in reality so they can fit more seasons in; that trick only works if the series is set vaguely "during the war", and Foyle's War has always been tied to specific historical events, which is one of the things I like about it.) I'm actually really glad we got this final season, because it leaves us in a much better place than the last final season did; not entirely happy, but considerably more hopeful.

4. One of the things I like about reading fanfic is that it can offer new ways of looking at things that one might not have thought of before.

For instance, I recently read a Doctor Who fic that starts with a fresh look at "The End of Time", Ten's regeneration reluctance, and the extended companion farewell tour, through the lens of "The Time of the Doctor":

He doesn't want to go.

Coward, the Master called him, and maybe it's true, because he's terrified. Imagine him, of all people, frightened of change. But it's different this time. Twelve regenerations to a Time Lord, and the last one may have been non-standard, but it counts, and so does the one he tries to tell himself wasn't really him. He can feel the evidence inside him, irrefutable: some vital part of him busy using itself up.

Twelve regenerations, and he's just shoved the only people capable of giving him more back into their time lock. So this is the last time he'll ever experience this, and he's not going to go gentle. No, this last time, Death is going to have a fight on its hands.

He knows what he wants to do with the time he has left, and he has to do it now, because there's no telling how much time he'll have left, after. And no telling what kind of man he'll become.

So he visits them, one by one: the people he's loved, the people he's failed to do right by.

The fic is And at the End, a Garden by AstroGirl, and the rest of it is good too.

5. Video link of the month: John Oliver presents: Infrastructure: The Movie

"You cannot tell me that you are not interested in this, because every summer people flock to see our infrastructure threatened by terrorists or aliens, but we should care just as much when it's under threat from the inevitable passage of time. The problem is, no one has made a blockbuster movie about the importance of routine maintenance and repair. Or they hadn't - until now..."

(If you want to skip straight to the hypothetical action movie, that begins at 17:10. The preamble is worth sitting through if you have the time, though.)
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. This weekend is the final weekend before the season of short plays opens. Today was the tech rehearsal, where we nailed down the lighting and sound effects. There's something about seeing the play properly lit for the first time that makes it seem real in a way it didn't before.

Or maybe it's just relief; there were times when I wasn't sure the lighting was going to come together. As it was, we ended up throwing out one of my ideas because it just plain wasn't going to work. (Fortunately, it was a bonus subtlety, not a key detail, and I wasn't all that attached to it.)

Actually, during the first run through the lighting cues, there was a second idea that wasn't going to work, so I threw it out too, and we moved on. Then, some time later, after we'd gone on to other things, the lighting guy wandered past and asked a question about it, and then a few minutes later he wandered past again and said, "How about if we...?" And we tried it, and it wasn't what I'd imagined, but it did the job even better than what I'd imagined would have done if it had worked. One of the things I love about working in theatre is the collaborative aspect, especially when it means somebody comes up with a better idea than I did.

2. This week, Mark Oshiro reached a new high-water-mark in unpreparedness at Mark Reads. One of the things that makes it so entertaining when Mark is working his way through a new novel is that not only does he not know what's coming in the sense that he's never read the novel before, but he also doesn't have the kind of mind that retains and assembles clues to predict future plot twists. The plot twists always take him by surprise.

But he's surpassed himself this time. He's currently reading Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!, which has a plot revolving around a detective on the trail of a sinister conspiracy led by a shadowy anonymous figure. He didn't pick up on any of the hints that might lead a genre-savvy reader to guess the villain's identity in advance, but that's normal for Mark. He didn't put it together after reading the scene in which the detective figures it out, which is okay because it's not spelled out for the reader in that scene. But then he went on and read the scene in which the detective goes and confronts the villain and he still doesn't know who the villain is.

3. Last week was the local round of the annual Toastmasters speech evaluation contest, which I always enter, even though I never win, because it's valuable practice and a good way to sharpen a useful skill set.

This year I won.

4. Two weeks ago, I finished reading The Lost Prince, one of the lesser-known works by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. It was... kind of weird, for a number of reasons, and something of a disappointment after the two novels aforementioned. It hasn't aged well on things like classism and sexism, and I'm not inclined to give it a pass on anything like "of its time" grounds because it was written after The Secret Garden, so we know the author could pass the Bechdel test and write working-class characters as actual human beings if she wanted to. (It should perhaps be noted, to be complete, that some of the upper-class characters in The Lost Prince don't quite convince as real people, either; class essentialism cuts both ways. I was amused and not entirely surprised to subsequently discover that a significant proportion of the Lost Prince fic on AO3 is crackfic in which the Lost Prince's bloodline literally isn't entirely human.)

5. Three weeks ago, I signed up for HabitRPG, which aims to make getting stuff done more interesting by supplying a RPG-themed context: strengthen a good habit or tick off something on your to-do list, and your character gains XP and loot; strengthen a bad habit, and your character loses health points. It probably says something about my habits that most of my loot has been going toward armour and health potions to stave off the effects of my bad habits, but I have been seeing some improvement, and noticing moments when I've gained the necessary willpower get something done or avoid a bad habit by remembering what will happen to fictional-me if I don't. One area where I feel I've made definite improvement is in the area of getting to bed at a reasonable time; even when I fail to get to bed by the self-imposed deadline that would win me loot, it's usually not by much, and I don't do the noodling-around-on-the-internet-until-ridiculous-o'clock thing nearly as often. It's having a knock-on effect on how easily I get out of bed in the morning, too.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. We've entered the final week of rehearsals for The Duchess of Coolgardie. We still haven't had a full run-through without anything going wrong, or a full run-through with all of the sound and lighting cues in, but on the whole I think it's coming together quite well.

2. Once Duchess is over it will be time to start rehearsals for the annual Christmas show, which I've already been talked into signing on for. I will be playing a stuffy British colonel leading an expedition into Darkest Africa, which means the moustache is probably going to be sticking around a while longer. (Though I've been toying with the idea of shaving this moustache off and growing another one, as a symbolic point of distinction between the two characters.)

3. Another Toastmasters event I had to miss because of Duchess rehearsals was the area final of the Humorous Speech and Table Topics Contests. That was a milestone because the areas have recently been rearranged due to the new clubs starting here. It used to be that we were the only club within a 500km radius, and shared our "area" with three clubs in another city 600km away, which meant a long commute for the area final more years than not. Now we're in an area consisting of three local clubs and one distant club, and the situation is reversed.

4. Here's one reason I don't enjoy clothing shopping: last time I did it, I tried on a dozen items of clothing to find one pair of trousers that fit. (And a few more things that I bought anyway, even though they didn't quite fit, so that I could feel like I'd accomplished something, and now will have to suffer through wearing.) And I'm often unsure, when something doesn't quite fit, whether it's slightly too big, or slightly too small, or just plain the wrong shape for me. Maybe I'd be able to get the hang of it with practice. But it's difficult getting the practice when I don't enjoy clothing shopping.

5. Marvel Comics recently announced that it will soon be publishing an ongoing comic headlined by Squirrel Girl, one of their lesser-known characters who's most famous as the subject of a running joke about how she keeps running up against villains who theoretically outmatch her and emerging victorious. My favourite reaction to the news was from someone on Tumblr who pointed out that there's no reason to doubt the viability of an ongoing series about a character in a funny-looking rodent outfit who can defeat every opponent no matter how powerful... since it's worked pretty well for Batman so far.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Rehearsals for The Duchess of Coolgardie continue. We're at the point now where we've learned our parts enough to relax into them somewhat and explore the possibilities for enriching them, instead of getting stuck on worrying about whether we'll have our lines down in time for opening. Last weekend we had some workshops with a couple of professional theatre people our director knows, which inspired some of the cast to lift their game (including, let's be real, me). There will be another set of workshops this weekend, which will hopefully have a similarly improving effect.

2. The other local community theatre group's production of The Wizard of Oz opened today, and I went to the opening night. I enjoyed it a lot, and although it had some of the weak points one usually gets when community theatre attempts big-budget spectacle - particularly since they were basing it on the movie rather than a version designed for live theatre - there were some moments that were genuinely magical. (On which note, they got major points from me for the way they handled the bit where the ruby slippers disappear off the Wicked Witch's feet and appear on Dorothy's.)

3. The annual performing arts festival has been and gone. I was on the organising committee again this year, and acted as MC for most of it, although I had to skip out for part of one afternoon to go to a Duchess rehearsal. Annoyingly, the part I missed was the part with all the character vocal sections, which is always one of the highlights for me. There was plenty else to enjoy in the parts I was present for, though. It ended on a high, with the final session of the final day featuring various vocal ensembles doing impressive harmony work.

Weirdly, I had the old show-about-to-open nightmare a few days after the performing arts festival was over. Didn't bother me much, I know it too well by now, but the timing was odd.

4. Another thing that's been and gone is the annual Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest and Table Topics Contest. I usually take part in the Table Topics contest, but this year it was another victim of being scheduled against a Duchess rehearsal.

5. I did go to see Guardians of the Galaxy before the local run finished. I enjoyed it overall, but there was room for improvement in several areas: most blatantly, a number of skeevy jokes that I think it could have done perfectly well without.
pedanther: (cheerful)
Did another project speech at today's Toastmasters meeting. Only a year after the last one, which counts as good going for me; I've been procrastinating wildly on these.

It got an entirely positive reaction, somewhat to my surprise, because my attention had been directed to its shortcomings - none of which were remarked on by anyone at the meeting. I still think it needed at least one more serious revision pass to really shine (and to meet the project objectives), but in retrospect, I'm willing to admit that it was a pretty good speech.

As a nice bonus, it was evaluated by one of the club's star evaluators, who won the club's Evaluation Contest late last year, went on to do well at the Area Contest, and will soon be representing our Area at the Division Contest. (The winner of our club's International Speech Contest, which is run in parallel with the Evaluation Contest, has also made it up to representing the Area at the Division Contest. He remarked this evening that he's kind of looking forward to putting his contest speech behind him and returning to the good old days of being able to talk about something different every meeting.)

Other Toastmasters news: Members of our club recently arranged and ran the first meetings for not one but two new local clubs. (One is based at the local institution of tertiary education, with a mainly student membership; the other is a Gourmet club, which meets monthly and includes a meal at each meeting.) If they both take off, we'll have enough local clubs to qualify for our own Area, instead of having to share an Area with a couple of clubs 600 kilometres away.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. I attended a concert headlined by John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew, whereof I have now seen Schumann's "I Was Only Nineteen" performed live by a line-up including the man himself and at least one of the people who backed him on the original single thirty years ago.

2. I had the opportunity to introduce a group of my brass band colleagues to the game Werewolf. Several professed themselves uncertain at first, but they enjoyed the game once they got the hang of it, and at least a couple have expressed an interest in playing again sometime if suitable circumstances present themselves.

3. The Rep Club's big musical for next year will be The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; auditions were held this month so we can get a head start on learning the songs before rehearsals start in earnest after the Christmas/New Year break.

4. I took part in a quiz night with a group of friends, and upheld the proud family tradition of coming in second place at quiz nights. We like to think that we were the moral victors, because the team that beat us took advantage of a scheme by which large donations to the cause that the quiz night was raising funds for would be rewarded with extra points. (On the other hand, we were technically over the specified team size, though two of the team-members were only there to socialise and provide moral support, and proudly announced at the end that they hadn't answered a single question between them.)

5. Yesterday was the Toastmasters club's annual International Speech Contest and Evaluation Contest. I entered the evaluation contest, as usual, and this year came third, my best result to date; I even managed to present my evaluation in the proper structure, with a conclusion and everything. This year, I was also co-organizer and emcee of the International Speech Contest, which meant that for me the very best part of the whole event was waking up the next morning and realizing that for the first time in several days I didn't have any rushing-around-preparing to do.
pedanther: (cheerful)
It's been a Toastmasters-heavy few weeks, actually.

The usual schedule is that we have two meetings a month, or one meeting every two weeks, which is not always the same thing; in some months the weekday in question occurs five times, and then we have to decide whether we're going to have a third meeting that month.

July was just such a month, and we decided to have the third meeting, with the result that the last meeting of July was followed only a week later by the first meeting of August. And then that was rapidly followed by one of the two annual contest days.

I was the rostered MC for the last meeting in July, which I wrote about last time.

I ended up being the MC for the first meeting in August as well, because the rostered person had to cancel at short notice and I was the most available person to fill in. Weirdly, it was much less stressful, despite having only an hour to prepare. Having all the procedures and things fresh from last week helped a great deal, of course. (And perhaps having only an hour to prepare was as much a help as a hindrance; there was no time to panic, and there was the thought that if the organisation hadn't been done properly before the thing came into my hands, it couldn't be my fault this time.)

The meeting itself went quite well, although it was a bit odd in its own way. I've mentioned before a meeting where a lot of people were away and the members were almost outnumbered by the guests; at this meeting, though I didn't count, I'm pretty sure the guests actually did outnumber the members present. (There have been some outreach efforts going on, so we had a bunch of people showing up to see what Toastmasters was like, and they happened to do it at what would otherwise have been a small, quiet meeting. I have hopes that some of them will come back in a few weeks to see what a fully-stocked meeting looks like.)

As you may recall, Toastmaster contests come in pairs, and yesterday it was the Humorous Speech (5-7 minutes, prepared in advance) and the Table Topics (1-2 minutes, ex tempore). As usual, I entered the Table Topics contest and failed to place, but did better than last year. This year my strengths were body language and use of stage space, as well as finding an idiosyncratic twist on the topic; my major weakness, as usual, was failure to develop the speech with supporting details and just sort of trailing off at the end instead of finding a solid conclusion. I feel I should acknowledge the contest organizer, who set a topic question that included two or three sentences of scene-setting; the time it took to announce (and, in accordance with the rules, it was announced twice through in its entirety) was extremely valuable thinking time.

The Humorous Speech contest was also memorable. There were two competitors, one of whom had stepped up less than 24 hours before the contest started. She's also one of our newer members, so what with one thing and the other she was feeling quite nervous before the contest. And then she won. (The other speech was more polished, but less laugh-out-loud funny.)

In the end, I think everybody had a good time, which is arguably the important thing.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Another February, another Toastmasters speech evaluation contest, another creditable but not dazzling performance from me that didn't result in a place on the podium. (Which is probably just as well this year, as I think the next round of the contest is likely to clash with other stuff I have on.) Also probably just as well is that the evaluation rules explicitly forbid commenting on whether you agree with what the speaker says (the point being to improve the speaker's skills in how it is said), because this year I seriously disagreed with the conclusion of the speech we were set to evaluate. I have a speaking slot coming up next meeting; I'm seriously considering revisting the topic.

2. The first episode of Elementary aired here recently. It seems like a fairly entertaining example of the American quirky-detective show, and it's nice to see a female character get a major role in one of these things. The bee-keeping scene was a nice shout-out to the grand-daddy of the genre, I thought.

3. Mr Darwin's Incredible Shrinking World is turning out to be a good book for killing time in waiting rooms and so on, but not the kind of book that's an entertaining read in itself. It's a survey of the technological and cultural changes that began or entered new phases in 1859, the year Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species; the coverage is (perhaps necessarily) broad, but not very deep.

4. Continuing through this Murray Leinster omnibus. Continuing to find Leinster's delusion that "because she was a woman" is a necessary or useful explanation annoyingly infecting stories that might otherwise have been pretty good. The latest victim is "Anthropological Note", in which a female anthopologist studies a matriarchal alien tribe -- a subject which, as the man who once wrote in all apparent seriousness that "there is no profession in which a really competent man tries to understand women", he might have thought better of attempting. Once again, though, it's the narrator more than the actual story that's the problem: I have a feeling that if someone had red-pencilled all the places where an explanation is given a prefix like "Being a woman" or a suffix like "in a typically female way", the substance of the story would not have been materially altered. ...Well, you'd still have some of the unpleasant features of the matriarchy, but at least you wouldn't have to put up with any of them being explicitly described as "definitely female".

Actually, the story does have another annoying flaw, again in the narration. The denouement depends on a rather neat coincidence, which Leinster apparently didn't trust his readers to buy unaided; his solution is to add a rather heavy-handed lampshade-hanging in the form of regularly reminding the reader that the denouement is going to depend on a remarkable coincidence, which might be regarded as a sign of the tribe's deity taking a hand in matters, if you believe in such things as tribal deities, ho ho ho. I reckon I can see a better way of handling it, but it does require modern subtle-incluing technology, which Leinster may not have had in his tool kit, and also that the author regard our lady anthropologist as an actual human being, which also appears to be a tool Leinster was lacking.

5. On a more cheerful note, I really liked Croc and Bird, a charming little picture book that begins with two eggs hatching together on a river bank, and the hatchlings deciding, in the absence of any grown-ups around to tell them otherwise, that they're brothers. And then it's about how they grow up together, and teach each other the things each knows instinctively (Bird teaches Croc to sing; Croc teaches Bird to hunt water buffalo), and about what happens when they meet other crocodiles and other birds and discover that their understanding of the world is not the commonly accepted one.

(I was hanging out in the junior corner of the library with my niece when I discovered it, but I shamelessly admit I read it for myself. My niece is still at the age where the coloured blocks are more interesting than the books.)
pedanther: (Default)
1. If I had known how much Jago (which was marketed as a standalone horror novel) tied in to Kim Newman's other works, I'd have read it years ago.

2. Apparently, this is now a Thing: Wholock, in which people edit together screencaps (or, if they're feeling ambitious, video clips) to create Doctor Who-Sherlock crossover stories. For technical proficiency, my favourite is still the first one I ever saw, A Study in Time, but for story-being-told, my favourite is Why me?.

3. This weekend, I competed in the area final of the Toastmasters evaluation contest. (As noted in a previous post, I didn't win in the previous round, but the person who did bowed out due to unavailability.) I didn't win in this round either, but I enjoyed attending the contest. There were some very good speeches.

4. Also, I caught up with my brother and sister, who I don't get to see often enough. That was nice.

5. I have written fic for the prompts I got in the iPod Shuffle meme. I'll do a proper post for that later, when I've got time to do a proper post.
pedanther: (Default)
It's Toastmasters contest season again. This week was the local round of the International Speech Contest (prepared speech on a serious or inspirational topic of international interest) and the Evaluation Contest (in which a prepared speech is given and then each of the competitors gives a brief assessment of its strengths and of the locations of room for improvement).

I entered the Evaluation Contest, again, and didn't win, again. I think I'm doing all right on the assessment part, but I'm losing points on smoothness of presentation. This is not too surprising, as preparing a presentation on short notice is one of the skills I joined Toastmasters to practice and improve.
pedanther: (Default)
Today was the last meeting of the year for our local Toastmasters club. The theme was inevitably Christmassy.

I gave a speech on the unexpected difficulty of finding somebody with a 25th of December birthday. (Jesus wasn't really born on Christmas Day. Isaac Newton was, but due to calendar reform his birthday is now in January. Humphrey Bogart's official bio said he was born on Christmas Day, but we all know about 1940s movie star bios. Sissy Spacek - whoops, out of time. Happy holidays, everyone!)

While we're on the subject, I see that once again I've been behind on reporting Toastmasters events. Read more... )
pedanther: (Default)
I've been neglecting to mention that we've been having part two of the annual Toastmasters competition season, the International Speech Contest (prepared speech on a serious or inspirational topic of international interest) and the Evaluation Contest (in which a prepared speech is given and then each of the competitors gives a brief assessment of its strengths and of the locations of room for improvement).

Like last year, I entered the local round of the Evaluation Contest and didn't win. This year, however, I was carried through to the area competition anyway, because the person who did win was unable to continue. I didn't win at the area contest either, but I did manage a creditable performance, which was the most I'd been hoping for. And, as with last year, I feel that I have learned and grown from participating, which is the important thing.

Meanwhile, in the International Speech Contest, our local representative did win at the area level, and continued on to the division competition, which was held during the weekend just past. The report just in is that she did very well, but somebody else did better.
pedanther: (Default)
I didn't mention it when it happened, but the final performance of Cabaret has been and gone.

Gone, too, is the beard -- I decided I needed an appropriate ceremony to mark the end of the production, so when I changed out of my costume for the last time, I shaved the beard off. Reactions were mixed: some people took a few minutes to notice the beard was gone, and some people took a few minutes to figure out who this beardless stranger was that was suddenly about the place. (I don't blame them. There were times, for the next few days, when I looked in the mirror and wasn't sure I recognised me.)

I got to keep the coat, though.


Another thing that's been and gone without me mentioning it is the first half of the annual Toastmasters speech contest. That is, as you may recall, the Table Topic (1-2 minute extempore speech on a given topic) and the Humorous Speech (5-7 minutes, prepared in advance) competitions.

As always, I entered the Table Topic competition, on the grounds that the only way to get better at extempore speaking is to keep trying. I came second out of a field of two, but the important thing is that I bettered my own performance from last year. I had to keep padding the first half of the speech until I could think of something to say for the second half, but I did actually manage it, unlike last year, when the second half of the speech didn't come to me until five minutes after I sat down.


Coincidentally, this post makes an interesting matching set with the last "Things I forgot to mention when they happened" post I did.
pedanther: (Default)
Last Thursday was the local round of the Toastmasters international speech contest, with two divisions: impromptu speech of 1-2 minutes, and prepared humorous speech of 5-7 minutes.

I entered the impromptu speech contest, as I always do, and finished up somewhere near the bottom[1], as I always do. I managed to start strong, with a good original premise in response to the prompt question, then as soon as it came to developing the premise in detail my mind went blank and spent most of a minute thrashing about until the time light came on and I could draw things to a close. Five minutes after I sat down, the details I'd been thrashing around for finally showed up.

Next year, I figure, I'll do it all again; the way I look at it, I'm not going to get any better if I don't keep trying.

[1] Toastmasters competition policy is to leave the lower placings vague, so that nobody gets burdened with the discouragement of officially coming last. If there are five or more contestants, only the top three places are announced; for four contestants, only the top two; for three, only the winner. I have have yet to see what happens if there are only two contestants.


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September 2017



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