Friday, February 29, 2008


A tough lesson to learn.

A room darkened by a blanket pinned over the window, dozens of the Doppler-effects of moving cars traveling the space between my ears, a bright computer screen: this is my "zone." The repose of the room's mess lends geography to the wasteland of my imagination.

"A chapter," he says. "Somewhere from 1000 to 3000 words," he says. Our will and wildness must take us the rest of the way.

Today is leap day. This makes it feel special to me. Why do we have leap years? You may know the partial response to that, but maybe not the full one:

From The Straight Dope:
The leap year is a contrivance so that the calendar year (usually 365 days) doesn't get too far away from the solar (astronomical) year. You say: huh? Well, the astronomical year – the time it takes the earth to go exactly once around the sun – is not precisely 365 days. The ancients estimated it as 365¼ days. That wasn't bad as calculations go; it's actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds.

Now, you may think that crummy little fraction (almost 6 hours or 1/4 of a day) doesn't matter much. But every four years, the calendar would lose a full day against the seasonal year. Christmas (Dec. 25) would start to come a little earlier each year. After about 20 years it would come before the winter solstice; after 200 years or so, Christmas would come in the autumn (since the seasons are tied to the astronomical year, because they depend on the earth's slant relative to the sun) . . . and then in summer . . . and . . .

To prevent this drift between the calendar year and the astronomical (seasonal) year, we add one extra day every four years. Thus, over the four year period, we have 1461 days, not 1460, for an average of 365.25 days per year. That pretty much makes it come out right.

This innovation was imposed in the year 709 AUC (ab urbe condita, after the founding of the city), when Julius Caesar regulated the calendar. Nowadays, we refer to it as 45 BC. The Nicaean Council in 325 AD adopted that calendar for Christendom.

But it still wasn't precisely right. As noted above, the astronomical year isn't 365 days 6 hours (365.25 days), it's 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes and 46 seconds (365.2422 days). So as the calendar went along with its jolly add-a-day-every-four-years pattern, it gained about 11 minutes 14 seconds every year. After every 128 years, that was a full day. Note it's going the other direction – Christmas would fall LATER in the season each year.

This anomaly was corrected by Pope Gregory in March 1582. By that time, the calendar year was 10 days off the seasonal year. ( The real concern was not Christmas, but Easter, which had to occur near the vernal equinox and according to the lunar cycle, but that's another story.) They made two corrections. The first was that they just dropped ten days. The day after October 5, 1582 became October 15, 1582. (Some countries adopted this change later, in some cases centuries later.) This restored the equinox to its rightful place. The second change was to reform the calendar to prevent slippage in the future; and we use that same calendar system today, called the Gregorian.

(Footnote: The Russian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar. Christmas comes out about January 7 in their calendar. About every century, the Orthodox Christmas slips one more day against the solar calendar. Currently there's a 13 day lag that by 2100 will become a 14 day lag.)

How does the Gregorian system work? We still have a leap year every four years, to accommodate the almost 6 hour difference that was known in Julius Caesar's time. The Gregorian correction is that every hundred years, we make it NOT a leap year. Thus, 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not leap years, even though they would have been in the normal four year cycle. Thus, every 100 years, there are 24 leap years, not 25. So that lets the calendar year average 365.24 days each year.

Does that do it? Sadly, no. There are still those extra seconds – the astronomical year is 365.2422 days. So every 400 years, we DON'T NOT add the extra day (double negative intended). So 1700, 1800, 1900 were NOT leap years, but 2000 was.

If you've followed the math, that gets us very close. Over a 400 year period the calendar will contain an average of 365.2425 days per year.

Every 4,000 years (the first will be the year 4000, then 8000, etc.) we make the century years NOT leap years again. And that gives us an average of 365.24225 days per year over a 4.000 year period. Still not exact, but the calendar year won't vary by more than a day from its current place in the seasonal (astronomical) year in two hundred centuries – close enough for practical purposes.

So the rule is:

Every year divisible by 4 is a leap year (adds an extra day to February),
EXCEPT the last year of each century, such as 1900, which is NOT a leap year . . .
EXCEPT when the number of the century is a multiple of 4, such as 2000, which IS a leap year . . .
EXCEPT the year 4000 and its later multiples (8000, 12000, etc) which are NOT leap years.

So, we had a special leap day back in 2000, and we didn't even know it. When will the next century year be that is a multiple of four? I wont live that long, that's for sure.

The crux of this blog entry, and back to the picture at the beginning, is that I have needed an extra day this year. Because a lot of the work I have chosen to do has demanded creative brain work (writing for Choyce, sewing, some aspects of journalism, letter writing to people far away)... and a lot of this "work" I have not learnt how to force. I have not settled into a routine, nor developed the discipline (like Paul) to be creative consistently and forcefully, to be productive even when the "zone" is not working.

So what has the extra day meant this leap year:

Last night, another night spent trying to scare-off 3D visions of zippers and pockets and seam allowances... trying to find sleep. Waking up slow to
another morning of sitting in the dark, trying to focus thought, pursue flighty inspiration.

But I can't do it alone. The headwork is all me trying to find places in my brain that contain the knowledge so I can do things alone... but I can't. "You need feedback"...

The internet is a double edged sword is these situations. Yes, I can surf around, find pictures of the steps people take to construct bags with liners and patch pockets... but two hours later, I have sewn nothing. I can look up features of geography and be absorbed by Wikipedia articles about history, looking for good descriptive details, but click click click and I am reading about Robespierre, who has absolutely nothing to do with a South American city in 1998. I can start journalism research on the internet, but will I really benefit from reading an article about the MMR vaccine and it's implementation in the UK? No. I will not write about that. I am wasting time.

So, feedback: from other people. Not the internet equivalent. I have asked my dad about details that will help me create a character. I have decided to focus on advice Anne gave me yesterday about the pocket, instead of trying to understand every aspect of the construction. I will let Paul read my chapter this time before I give it to Lesley Choyce. Hey, maybe even the prologue. Who knows.

And if there are any typos or mistakes in this here blog-post, please let me know.


Mom said...

Boy the Pope Gregory was awfully smart.

katie said...

it's not "it's", it's "its" before "implementation".

But words came halting forth, wanting Invention's stay,
Invention, Nature's child, fled step-dame Study's blows,
And others' feet still seemed but strangers in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite--
"Fool," said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write."

I've probably shown you this before, but I like it a lot. It's by Sidney. I wouldn't recommend that approach with the zipper, though. I'd stick to advice for that one. And feedback IS good.

Timothy or Lillian said...

Pro 19:20,Pro 19:21
Good thoughts on feedback.
Love you B
Your Mum and I are speaking at a youth conference this weekend.. a whole day on Saturday- 4 workshops and keynote speakers.

Timothy or Lillian said...

you must be blogging for 2 ya.Mom