Nice phrases

These are some phrases that have passed my way that have struck me, for whatever reason.

  • constructive novelty

  • serious fun (a phrase used by one of Liz’s professors)

  • productively idle/idly productive (haven’t decided which I like better)

  • effortless effort


I have a mild idea what some of them mean. “Serious fun” is my favorite.

Personal Inventories and Piggy Banks

Whilst reading through some collections of old David Allen essays I’ve culled from his newsletter, I ran across one intriguing nugget that went something like this: Every now and then, take a top-to-bottom inventory of your assets, your processes, your systems. Everything from the shirts in your drawer to the way you pay your bills and so on.

As I moved through my routines, I evaluated what traveled through my hands. I got rid of some old clothes, piled up all the magazines in my closets into one big pile (I remember that big pile when I’m tempted to buy a new magazine).

And of all things, I re-evaluated my need for my battery-powered automatically sorting loose-change bank. I’ve had banks like this in one form or another for nearly 10 years; it made it awfully fun to save my spare change. I got the coin wrappers from the bank and happily rolled my pennies, dime, nickels, and quarters until I had about $20 or so. Then I’d put them in a little ziploc, take them to bank, and exchange them for folding money.

That’s usually when the process got troubled: if I didn’t make it to the bank that day, I was left hauling around a little bag of heavy change everywhere. Then, when I joined the credit union, I discovered that they wanted my account number written on every roll before they’d cash them. And sometimes going by the bank (a bank different from my credit union) that would cash them without any quibbles meant disrupting my workday schedule so I could get to the bank before it closed. (And bring them inside please! No coin rolls allowed in the drive-through lanes.)

But what else to do?

Well, after several years of walking past that green Coinstar machine at the Harris Teeter, I decided to try it. It wasn’t without its problems: so many people have used it that the buttons don’t respond so niftily and so I kept trying different ways of pressing them to get them to take, and Coinstar takes about 8 cents on the dollar or something like that for its trouble.

But you know what? It works. Since I go to HT every Sunday morning to do the weekly grocery shopping, I wasn’t travelling out of my way. The receipt that’s dispensed can be exchanged for cash at the register or (what I discovered on my last trip) I can put it toward my grocery bill. Talk about convenience–no more wrestling coins into wrappers, driving to the bank, waiting in line. It’s worth whatever minimal charge Coinstar takes to make that little nothing routine run much more smoothly.

The coin bank was donated last week along with the clothes. Now I have a nice-sized jelly jar that holds my loose change and I’m enjoying a lot more space on the top of my bureau. Such a tiny thing, but it feels good to get something right.

In case you needed another reason to join the ACLU

The Transportation Security Administration maintains “no-fly lists” of people whose names match those of suspected terrorists. As this article reports, the now officially brain-dead TSA maintains lists that include babies under 2 years old.

As someone with a very common name, I’m sensitive to these issues. Especially since I recently had to fight a stubborn and stupid background check company that got my records mixed up with those of a convicted criminal.

Well-known people like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and David Nelson, who starred in the sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” also have been stopped at airports because their names match those on the lists.

The insidious thing about the TSA is that it’s a black box: what’s the criteria for putting names on the list? It’s important to know that your name never comes off that list; more information is added that supposedly lets you board a plane, but to the best of my knowledge, your name is never taken off the list.

I remember reading recently about a critic of this government’s also-brain-dead executive branch who found his name on a no-fly list, which effectively grounded him. Retaliation? Who can say? The TSA is not telling how it compiles or maintains its lists.

This safety paranoia has got to go. Gore Vidal has often said that governments need enemies to keep them in power and to keep the military-industrial complex well-funded–what better enemy for this modern age than one you can’t see? During the Watergate hearings, Sam Ervin said, with disbelief, about Richard Nixon, “He’s afraid of freedom.” I would say, this country’s administration (and its loyal, unquestioning bureaucratic drones) is also afraid of freedom.

Here’s a quote from Stephen Fry’s novel Making History, one of the few passages that struck me as admirable in that lamentably bad book.

If there is a word to describe our age, it must be Security, or to put it another way, Insecurity. From the neurotic insecurity of Freud, by the way of the insecurities of the Kaiser, the Fuhrer, Eisenhower, and Stalin, right up to the terrors of the citizens of the modern world –
THEY ARE OUT THERE
The enemy. They will break into your car, burgle your house, molest your children, consign you to hellfire, murder you for drug money, force you to face Mecca, infect your blood, outlaw your sexual preferences, erode your pension, pollute your beaches, censor your thoughts, steal your ideas, poison your air, threaten your values, use foul language on your television, destroy your security. Keep them away! Lock them out! Hide them from sight! Bury them!

And no, the irony is not lost on me that I do not fear “them,” as much as I fear my government’s actions toward innocent people. As the saying goes, who watches the watchmen?

(Link to the article courtesy of Core Dump.)

The Dalai Lama Shower

I saw the following originally in Thirty Thousand Days, the newsletter for The To Do Institute. Given that we’re in one of our periodic droughts (down 5.5. inches from normal), it seemed a good time to post this. I don’t have the original article (which I think appeared in one of the Dalai Lama’s books), but I’ve adapted his process for my ablutions.

  1. Turn on the shower and rinse. Turn off water.
  2. Soap your body.
  3. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.
  4. Shampoo.
  5. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.
  6. Shave. Quickly rinse the razor as needed under the faucet.
  7. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.

(originally posted in 2005-08-14, updated for micro.blog)

Doomsday Algorithm

I’ve loved this little trick for years: the Doomsday Algorithm, a creation of Dr. John Conway, he who gave us the game of Life.

The Doomsday algorithm gives you the day of the week for any date, based on the last day of February.

Lots of great links at the bottom of the page, too.

(originally posted 2005-07-14, updated for micro.blog)

Checklist for fiction writing

Back in the days of iron men and wooden computers, I was a denizen of Compuserve.

I remember in the Compuserve Writers Forum a gadfly named Alex Keegan who ran a private writers group called Boot Camp. They had developed something called The Grid that they used to critique every story the members submitted; the pet name for those critiquing were “critters”.

A post retrieved from the Internet Archivegives some idea of how critiques used the grid to basically weight how each component of the story. A 2013 post on Keegan’s siteshows how he intends the Grid to be applied. (See also, his post on why he believes his grid is a better way to critique.)

Far as I can tell, here’s Keegan’s grid:

  • Opening
  • Character
  • Dialogue & Voice
  • Plot & Structure
  • Theme
  • Seduction (Show-Tell, Author Intrusion, 'Carry', Dramatic Flow, Fictive Dream)
  • Language
  • Pace & Pacing
  • Ending
  • Bonus

It inspired me to write down the following list of things I’d like to remind myself of or check myself against when critiquing my stories:

  • character
  • setting
  • dialogue
  • tone
  • interest
  • conflict
  • advancement of plot
  • sensual hooks
  • energy
  • transitions
  • narrative
  • pace
  • backstory

(originally posted 2006-06-30, updated for micro.blog)

"Those were softer days"

I read to Liz before she goes to bed, and lately, we’ve settled on memoirs. The first was a joyous treat, Milking the Moon.

Tonight, we just finished Barbara Holland’s When All The World Was Young.

These quotes are from the end of the book, where at 18, after being turned out of her family’s house and dwelling in deep depression, she gets a job at Hecht’s department store in Washington, DC, and her life takes a sharp turn to happiness. The time is the early 1950s.

It was an era of lavish employment. Since then, the Personnel Department, with its echo of “personal,” has been replaced by Human Resources, with its echo of iron ore, petroleum, and other profit potentials, but those were softer days…

She describes how companies in that era kept on incompetent employees, provided free access to a doctor, and other perks.

Cynics might say that this corporate kindliness was designed to forestall the unions–which it did–but kindness is kindness and I lapped it up like a stray cat. Starting out in this generous atmosphere shaped my whole working life as a lark: jobs should be fun and bosses gentle, if not this one, then the next; plenty more where this one came from. Nobody nowadays expects to have fun at work. They want to get rich instead, but I could see from the start that the two were probably incompatible; too much pay would mean taking the work seriously. Believing it was important. The less money I needed to make, the more elbow room I’d have for fun. I held firm to this resolve through good times and bum times…

…Virginia Woolf, speaking from a different world, said what we needed, what women needed, was “a room of one’s own” and a modest allowance so we wouldn’t be distracted by money worries. But under what guarantee? What happens when our benefactor whimsically cancels the lease on our room and cuts off our funds? No, Mrs. Woolf. A job, Mrs. Woolf.

(originally posted 2005-05-28, updated for micro.blog)

Quote - Alain de Botton

From Essays in Love

It is hard to imagine Christianity having achieved such success without a martyr at its head. If Jesus had simply led a quiet life in Galilee, making commodes and dining tables and at the end of his life published a slim volume titled My Philosophy of Life before dying of a heart attack, he would not have acquired the status he did.

Arnold Bennett quotes

Quotes from Journal Of Things New and Old by Arnold Bennett (about 1923)

All political parties in all countries disappear sooner or later, except the Conservative, and the Conservative is immortal because it is never for long divided against itself. How many times in Britain has the Liberal Party split? The first and most powerful instinct of Tories is self-preservation. They do not really want anything but the status quo.


The best part of a holiday is that daily habits and rituals are broken.


When a good novel falls away at the end or near the end, it’s because the writer simply ran out of power. He miscalculated his creative strength. Nobody can pour a quart out of a pint pot.

[Man, was that ever true in the case of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass. The middle part of the book was strong and powerful. The coda in the Emerald City was anti-climactic and sodden by comparison. And I could tell King was trying to goose it along, trying to make the characters frightened and anxious. But it only made me annoyed. The book’s real story had been told and this last bit was simply the connective tissue to get them moving back along the Path of the Beam.]


[Attending the performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko lifted his spirits regarding his in-progress novel.]

A novel in process of creation has to be lifted up … [maybe] again and again. The large mood for it has to be recaptured again and again, to work its miracle there is nothing so efficacious as the sight or hearing of a great work of art – any art. Many times have I gone into the National Gallery, or to a fine concert … to recover the right mood.

An artist engaged in a work ought never to read or see or hear second-class stuff. If he does, he realizes the resemblances between his work and the second-class; and is discouraged. Whereas if he sticks to first-class stuff, he realizes the resemblances between his work and it, and is enheartened thereby.


It is well not to chatter too much about what one is doing, and not to betray a too-pained sadness at the spectacle of a whole world deliberately wasting so many hours out of every day, and therefore not really living. It will be found, ultimately, that in taking care of one’s self, one has quite all one can do.


Can you deny that when you have something definite to look forward to at eventide, something that is to employ all your energy, the thought of that something gives a glow and a more intense vitality to the whole day?

(originally posted 2005-05-22, updated for micro.blog)

Moleskine harvesting

I recently finished off one of my little squared Moleskine buddies. I don’t number the pages, but I do date every entry. This book was with me from about 30-Mar-04 to 21-April-05. Plenty of pauses for no-entries, but it was with me during significant times.

There are entries on the letter Cara sent me that knocked me off-kilter, our trip to Toronto, drawings, details on job interviews, quotes, notes on my NaNoWriMo novel, my mother-in-law’s final illness and death, various journal entries, booknotes, Liz’s health crisis from earlier this year, my ongoing job-search efforts, and various lists, plans, and muslings (a new word I just invented blending “musings” and “noodling,” with elements of “doodling” not to be denied).

After I’m done with a journal, I write up a date-based index on the last few blank pages, with brief indications of what I wrote about that day. Post-Its hold the overflow when I run out of pages. It’s a terribly linear way of recording my life and thoughts, I suppose, but I like the juxtaposition of a visual journal entry next to my wailing about “will I ever find a job?” next to my mini-comic ideas.

So the next few blog entries will be me dumping various entries I deem blogworthy from my recently retired Moleskine.