Back in the Nanowrimo game

Well, sort of. I wrote earlier about retiring from the field when I found the story I was working on uncongenial. But I couldn’t get some of the images out of my mind, and I had certain key moments in the long life of the main character appear in front of me as I went about my other chores.

I had also promised myself the New Yorker DVD set if I successfully completed nanowrimo. While I always intended to buy the set anyway, I can’t forget that carrot I dangled in front of myself. I felt I needed to put in at least a good-faith effort in order to justify buying the DVDs.

So I went back to my file and basically started the story over again for at least the third time. It’s interesting to me how the story started as a sprawling, dozens-of-characters murder mystery, to a more constrained, cozier setting, starting with two characters but in the last few writing sessions, settling on the main character, a 96-year-old woman on her deathbed remembering key events of her life.

I don’t believe I’ll make the 50K word count by Nov. 30, though. I’m at about 23,700 right now and can’t do much more than 2000 words in a sitting. The week I took off left me way behind, and I went to bed early last night. So I’d need to push out about 3000+ words a day to make the goal. Hm. Well, maybe if I intersperse writing sessions with leaf-raking on my days off Friday and Saturday, maybe I’ll get up to the mid-30s by the 28th.

Retiring from the Nanowrimo field

I was looking forward to it this year, but hit the sand early and never recovered. I started out as I had done last year, with an image, a situation, and then started to run with it. But the material didn’t form under my fingers as naturally as last year. I finally switched from a male, first-person narrator to a female, third-person narrator, and that helped a bit. I got several days of writing out of that.

I also adopted the Jeanette Winterson/Diana Gabaldon method of composing scenes out of sequence, thinking that if I could get the juicy scenes out first, then that would give my mind time to generate the connective tissue.

Well, it’s a good idea, and I should try it sometime. But tonight I sat at the keyboard and the ideas just didn’t come. I think the past that one of the main characters, a 96-year-old rural woman, on her deathbed, has lots of sadness and compromise in store for her, and I plain don’t want to go there. I don’t want to put her through it. There’s also the niggling feeling that I’ve read this kind of story before, that I’m just going through the plotting motions, and the sense of discovery I had last year isn’t there.

There have been pleasant surprises along the way, and I’ve rediscovered the truth that 50% of the material I generate will come out of the writing and I don’t need to do much in the way of planning. I did hit on some interesting connections in some of my daily writing, and some haunting (I think) images that I will want to come back to.

But as for making the 50,000-word count by Nov. 30 – nope. I’m bowing out. Nanowrimo should be fun, for me, and I don’t need the extra pressure of generating plot and words for a story that I am resisting. I reserve the right to continue to play with the story through the rest of the month (and beyond), however, and may break through whatever I’m resisting. But not today.

The Revenge of the Novelist

From the NY Times obit of John Fowles.

As much as it frustrated some of his readers, Mr. Fowles always believed he had done the right thing by leaving the endings of his most celebrated novels open-ended. But he was not above bending his own rules when the occasion called for it.

He once told an interviewer that he had received a sweet letter from a cancer patient in New York who wanted very much to believe that Nicholas, the protagonist of “The Magus,” was reunited with his girlfriend at the end of the book - a point Mr. Fowles had deliberately left ambiguous. “Yes, of course they were,” Mr. Fowles replied.

By chance, he had received a letter the same day from an irate reader taking issue with the ending of “The Magus.” “Why can’t you say what you mean, and for God’s sake, what happened in the end?” the reader asked. Mr. Fowles said he found the letter “horrid” but had the last laugh, supplying an alternative ending to punish the correspondent: “They never saw each other again.”

"Due to..."

From Melvyn Bragg’s latest In Our Time newsletter:

Monica Grady’s other mission seems to be to stop her students saying “due to” when they ought to say “owing to” or “because of”. She pointed out that in the case of libraries, babies and rent you can use “due to”, everything else is “owing to” or “because of”.

NaNoWriMo: The Adventure Begins

Yes, I’m one of the hairpins doing the NaNoWriMo challenge, though I will only use lowercase letters from here on out because those intercapitalizations drive me nuts.

Last year, I signed up on October 31st, just for a lark. I wasn’t working, nothing was going on, and I thought it would help me pass the time. I emailed my friend Sue in California, also a writer, and said this looked like fun, I may try out. Well, she signed up too. I got the No Plot, No Problem book, read through it, and plucked out a situation I’d written down in my notebook years ago but had never done anything with. I didn’t know where it might go, but thought I’d give it a try.

It had a magical, fantasy type atmosphere, and I read a couple of Lon Milo DuQuette’s books that helped feed my imagination during the process.

I wound up creating enough situations and piling up enough detail that I eventually “won” with about 51,000 words. Sue actually crossed the finish line first and called to tell me. This inspired me to sit down, finish mine, and upload it to the site (which I did before her). We were both abuzz for the rest of the year, comparing notes on the experience, and patting each other (and ourselves) on the back for taking on a crazy project (crazier in her case, as she’s a freelancer and mother of two little girls) and actually succeeding at it.

The lessons I learned and things I noticed:

  • I’d been rather glum and mopey for most of the year, with good reason. I didn’t feel that way during Nanowrimo month. (Sue noticed the same thing.)

  • I started out with only a situation–no plot, no characters, no themes. As I wrote, plots, characters, and themes emerged.

  • When I had a strong situation, the scene almost wrote itself.

  • When I could see the images in my head very strongly, the scene worked out pretty well.

  • When I had nothing, it was work to squeeze out the word quota.

This year, I also pulled a situation out of my notebook, what I had long thought of as a murder-mystery idea, even though I have no idea how to write a mystery story. The situation stands on its own as very melodramatic and maybe ludicrous, but it’s stayed with me for some reason, so I’m using it as my prompt to get the story started.

As it happens, tonight’s writing went OK (but I found myself checking the word count every 5 minutes towards the end–was it this hard last year?). I’m already finding that it’s going to contain lots of personal history and thoughts about my family, and the place of the outsider in the family. I didn’t actually get to the prompt scene. I started the novel after the funeral service; the narrator will be flashbacking to the prompt scene, and I’ll see then how plausible it feels.

But even if it doesn’t, who cares. It’s Nanowrimo month! I have license to be creative! I can splat things down just to see what happens! I don’t have to go back and edit or delete! God Bless Us Every One!!

10+ year old files

During the New PC Blues upgrade process, I ran across a 5.25” floppy disk Liz had used to store files related to a musicology paper she wrote back in 1989 – well before I came on the scene.

Why we hadn’t done anything with this diskette before, I don’t know. But what to do with it now? Our last two PCs had only 3.5” drives, and the current one has no floppy drives at all. Who needs the things, with USB flash drives?

Unfortunately, Liz didn’t have any other copies of this paper and wanted to keep them. What to do?

Few friends or co-workers had a 5.25” drive, even in a closet, let alone installed in a working system. Fortunately, Michelle’s boyfriend was visiting his father in Fayetteville who, amazingly enough, had a 5.25” drive on one of his computers. Michelle assured me that 5.25” diskettes were tougher than the 3.5” disks and that the files were probably still readable.

Her boyfriend copied off the files, zipped them, and emailed them to me. Easy as pie.

Next: Let’s try opening them in Word, surely there’s a converter … Ah, but no. Most of the text comes in, but the formatting codes interfere with too much of it to make the file easily readable. Then Liz remembered that maybe it was Wordstar for DOS instead of WordPerfect that she’d used for the paper.

I fiddled with downloading Word 2000 converters but instead invoked the Google oracle. Up popped several Wordstar sites, including several utilities to convert old WS files. The one I picked converts Wordstar files to formatted HTML. It runs from a DOS window and uses the command-line to specify the source and destination filenames.

Voila – it worked. The HTML files come up with the original formatting preserved and all the text in place. The text can now be easily copied into Word files or wherever they will sit for the next 10+ years.

Links: Writing tips for academic papers


I compiled the following quickie list of paper-writing tips for a co-worker who is taking online classes and has been away from paper-writing for a while. The whole process seemed difficult for her, so these links cover a broad range of items. Some of the links to academic papers at the end of this list may have good clues, especially with selecting thesis statements. I’ve not vetted all these, but they’re a start. The little comments for each are reproduced from my original email to her that contained these links.



A good book I recommend is this:
Amazon.com: Books: Thinking on Paper

–Just read the first half (the second half is all about the Latin names for types of logical arguments). it sets forth a very good simple process for building a piece of writing from the ground up so that it isn’t as painful as you think.

Writing tips compiled by Mike Shea
–Here’s the PDF version

Poynter Online - The Writing Tools
–Just scan the list and read whatever article is of interest. His focus is on journalism so his approach might conflict with academic writing. but the writing tips are good and solid. You’ll be able to devise some simple rules to help you in your actual writing.

43 Folders: Hack your way out of writer’s block
–Entertaining list of bullet points and good comments. but lookit the next link too.

Google Groups : 43 Folders
–Advice on paper writing from a grad student

TOC About Writing
–I’m also interested in fiction writing and this page has mainly tips for that side of the house.

50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work
–A great page of tips to bust procrastination.

Study Guides and Strategies
–Scroll down to the writing sections, but good general advice to students.

Google Search: tips academic writing papers
–The search i used to dig up some of the links in this mail.

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch
–This is for when you’re writing for an in-class test, but some good advice.

Thesis Statements: What are They?
-This might be more practical for your needs right now. BE SURE to click on the Related Links in the right sidebar. You might get good ideas there.

Academic Writing Handouts – Dennis G. Jerz
–The top page from which the previous two links were drawn.

Sally Slacker Writes a Paper (Dennis G. Jerz, Seton Hill University)
–I haven’t read all this but I like the title!

Tips for Writing Academic Essays and Term Papers in Philosophy at Erratic Impact
–Good numbered tips after the intro.

Writing Help
–Ton o’ links. Don’t know how many of them are still good.

Academic Center :: Writing Tips
–More basic tips on academic writing. After you’ve read about 10 of these kinds of pages, you’ll notice they start repeating themselves.

Checklist
–A pretty good checklist to use after you’ve written a draft.

True Work

I had this on my office wall many many years ago, and can’t find the source again. But I think I remember it word-for-word:

True Work is that which occupies the mind and the heart, as well as the hands. It has a beginning and an ending. It is the overcoming of difficulties one thinks important for the sake of results one thinks valuable.

Jacques Barzun

Phrases and misspellings to expunge forever

Mike Shea has a nice list of phrases to be avoided (as well as writing rules from Orwell and Struck & White) here. Among my pet peeves on his list are “on steriods,” “think outside the box,” and “talk offline.” (But I have no idea what “goat rope” refers to.)

Herewith, a few of my additions, culled from everyday readings of stuff on the Web:

  • (anything) from hell Even Matt Groening is tired of this one

  • may or may not Just say may!

  • impact as a verb

  • loose for lose Why is this the most common misspelling I see nowadays? Lazy typing?

  • alot for a lot But this lamentable misspelling has been around for years

  • peak or peek when the writer means pique

  • pour when the writer means pore As in “I poured over the pages” – what did you pour – milk?

  • “ping so-and-so,” when the speaker means “contact” or “call”

  • “Well,…” at the beginning of a sentence Way overused by journalists and columnists for the last several years

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 Archive gives 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)

"Making commodes and dining tables"

From Essays in Love by Alain de Botton:

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.

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

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.

Stoicism

I was just listening to a BBC Radio4 discussion on Stoicism and thinking how that and the Tao te Ching seem to be my natural philosophies. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Constructive Living, but that’s also close to my heart. (Here’s another good place to learn about CL.) I wish I could remember their precepts in the heat of the moment, but it’s when you’re under the gun that you become teachable, or that seems to be my case anyway.

Does Stoicism mean you become a passionless robot? I don’t know enough to say. But I think it is useful to channel those passions, to turn that random energy into more useful paths so that you’re not damaged by it. And that probably standing a bit back from yourself, and seeing yourself as others see you, may be a very useful self-management strategy.

I was beside myself yesterday at work, pushing to get a project out the door and realizing that there simply wasn’t enough time, that you can’t pour a quart into a pint pot. I left to get something to eat, came back to the office, sat, and cleaned up what I could. I sent out emails that I think were measured and judicious. And I was counting on the rest I’d get this weekend to give me perspective and new ideas by Monday morning.

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot

This post has been making the rounds of late, but it’s especially interesting to me now as 1) I’m taking a writing class focused on plotting and 2) I read a lot of those Doc Savage pulps in junior high. (Anyone remember the movie with Ron Ely as Doc? Raise your hands.) (I saw it twice.)

See also * A post on Word Hunter has more background on where these rules came from and other writers’ plotting structures. The Scrivener link is dead.

(originally posted in 2005-05-06, updated for micro.blog)

The Limits of Reading

Anthony Lane, in an excellent appraisal of PG Wodehouse in The New Yorker (April 19 & 26, 2004 - not online), includes this quote from Marcel Proust:

Reading becomes dangerous when instead of waking us to the personal life of the spirit, it tends to substitute itself for it, when truth no longer appears to us as an ideal we can realize only through the intimate progress of our thought and the effort of our heart, but as a material thing, deposited between the leaves of books like honey ready-made by others, and which we have only to take the trouble of reaching for on the shelves of the libraries and then savoring passively in perfect repose of body and mind.

Lane, who loves Wodehouse in precisely measured doses, draws a good dividing line between artists of the first and second ranks (there are further ranks, of course). An artist of the first rank creates a world with clear and real correspondences to our world–“who returns us with a vengeance to our own travails.” I think of Chekhov’s stories of peasant and middle-class life, which, though they occur in a place and time so different from ours as to seem another world, resonate with the life I see around me every day.

An artist of the second rank, such as Wodehouse, Doyle, Tolkien, instead create a “complete alternative world, fully furnished and ready for occupation.” The worlds of Sherlock Holmes, Hobbits, and Bertram Wilberforce Wooster (and dare I say, “Star Trek”?) offer cozy cubbies to curl into, and there is real pleasure in that. I never want to give up those worlds.

Without denying Wodehouse’s mastery, Lane uses Proust’s quote to turn his essay to what happens when we stay too long in those worlds, as Wodehouse did and as Lane’s Uncle Eric did. Lane describes in his article how his Uncle Eric had two complete Wodehouse collections, one for upstairs, one for downstairs, all heavily annotated by himself in pencil. When he needed to look up a reference, I guess he needed to do it immediately. Uncle Eric never married and though he led a busy life, it ended rather narrowly, as a bit of a genteel hermit, without many friends apart from distant family.

A few quotes from Lane’s piece:

…When you fall afoul of the real world, your exploration of the unreal will grow ever more quizzical and devout. Comedy is still our least bestial way of admonishing the wreckage of our lives–no animal has ever laughed–but too much comedy, or nothing but comedy, has a subtle, feline habit of pushing our lives so far away from us that they cease, as if in a dream, to be our responsibility…The journey that is charted in Uncle Eric’s Wodehouse collection, in the self-persuading chatter of his annotations, is a journey away from the great things–from the predations of love and war–into the wavelike soothings of the small.

…Like many of us, [Uncle Eric] wanted the good life, or, failing that, the quiet life, and he found that it was most readily available between hard covers….There are times when the quest for good, or the belief that the good and quiet life are all that matters, can shrivel into a minor kind of evil–when the desire to be innocent, unfoxed by the dust and dirt of relationahips, and unscraped by the presence of people very different from ourselves, can dwindle into the loneliness of the bigot. We have to give a damn.

The Warden and Barchester Towers

After listening to Trollope’s Autobiography via Audible.com, I got a Bantam paperback edition from Nice Price Books (local used-book store) and searched on the web for any secondary reading. I ran across the Trollope-l mailing list and this site, which is an entryway to many writings, factoids, and discussions on Trollope’s novels.

And I found what I was looking for here, which archives various threads from the Trollope-l mailing list regarding specifically these two novels. (They’re usually included together as a single book.) Lots of folks on this list who loo-o-oove Trollope and have a deep level of knowledge about that period of English history. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions to Mr. Harding and Dr. Grantley and some of the scenes that just don’t come off (such as the party at Harding’s home).

After the ups and downs of the last few months, it’s good to settle into a book that has a rather stately pace and isn’t huffing and puffing for effect or cheap thrills. Not to say it isn’t melodramatic. But there’s a charm to it that’s undeniable. The last novel I read before this was Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, which was so good it kind of ruined me for novel-reading for a week or two, as I was reluctant to let that world go. I’ve only been affected a few times like that — Lee Smith’s Oral History was another book that scoured out my insides and left me ruined for about two weeks, before I felt I could pick up another novel.

Monthly splurge list

I copied this tip from some money-management page online:

Impulse purchases are always the things that trip up our budgets and cause us to overspend. You may not be able to avoid impulse purchases all the time, but you can limit them by rewarding yourself each month with something that you really want. Decide on something that you really want each month. When the impulse hits you to spend, ask yourself do I want this impulse item more than I want my designated reward. If the answer is no, set aside that money for your monthly reward. The reward should be something that you consider a real luxury or frivolous item. While it does not need to be expensive, it should be somewhat whimsical so that you feel that you have indeed rewarded yourself.

After having this squib in my Yahoo Notepad for a couple of years, I think, I finally figured out how to implement it. In my Clie’s Memopad “Lists” category, I have a memo titled (ta-da) “Splurges.”

In this memo, I list each month’s name. Then, under each month, I list one or two splurge items I’m interested in. But, I also use this list to record my impulse buys and splurges I make throughout the month. I was quietly shocked at how many little items I bought for myself in February; none of them individually expensive, but taken en masse, most disquieting. I think when I’m busy, I have less time to shop and spend.

In any case, when I look at this list during my GTD weekly review, or when I’m hit with the urge to treat myself to something, I am naturally moved to consider my spending habits.

New Vocabulary

Some of the words Liz and I have invented because there was a need:

  • “flustrated” - of course, a portmanteau word combining flustered and frustrated. A needful word I use in the kitchen when nothing seems to be going right, pots are boiling over, the smoke alarm is going off, and I grow flustrated and babbling with every passing second.
  • “irrationale” - a perfectly reasonable explanation for doing something stupid. Example: “My irrationale for eating the cookies was that I was celebrating my weight loss goals.”
  • “non sequiturd” - when I make a Zippy the Pinhead reply to something Liz says, but that is particularly stupid or sarcastic or obnoxious, to boot.