Monday, May 31, 2010

Weekend stuff

Quite a productive long weekend.

1. Reading stuff:

5/29/10 Library Haul

My first act of the weekend on Saturday morning was to run to the library and obtain a goodly stack-o'-books. I forgot to add Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones to the photo pile...oops. But it came home with me, too.

Finished one of the Ralph McInerny mysteries pretty much instantly, skimmed through and read parts of Writing Down the Bones, and just started The Bonesetter's Daughter. It's my first experience with Amy Tan, but I've heard good things. We'll see.

2. Walking stuff:

Summer may have officially started, but lately we've had anything but here in Western Washington: it has been cold and rainy and generally not altogether pleasant. Sunday afternoon the rain slowed to a drizzle, so I grabbed the dog and we went for a nice long jaunt on the trail. It was well worth being out in the damp. There are still spring flowers everywhere, birds were singing, everything smells fresh and green. The streams and rivers running near the trail were all running high, the churning water something to see - and to hear! Fast running water is frightening and enlivening all at once.

Somewhere off in the distance, someone was taking advantage of the damp to do some burning of brush. You could just barely smell the smoke. I had a sudden intense craving for roasted marshmallows - not the carefully toasted golden brown sort, but the charred, wood-smoky variety you can only get around a campfire. When I was little, as one of a big family we typically only got a few marshmallows apiece, to make it fair. To prolong things, I used to burn the outside, peel it off and eat it slowly, burn the next layer and peel that off - until there was nothing left but the gooey middle on the stick. Good times....

We (the dog and I, returning to the present) came back a little footsore and tired, but refreshed. Long walks are good for body, mind and soul.

3. Writing stuff:

I finally finished doing all the scanning and OCR work on the first 100 pages of my '09 NaNoWriMo project, which was all typed on the Olympia SG-1. It only took me six months to buckle down and get it done. For those curious about the technical details, I used the basic / older version of Omnipage that came with my Canon LiDE 90 scanner a few years ago. It does an admirable job, for the most part. My one quibble with it is that it does funky stuff to the font size and other formatting, so I end up copying into the word processor as plain text and doing all formatting there. It takes a little while, but it's easier than fighting Omnipage, and still far quicker than retyping everything. I pretty much have the rough draft of that story finished, except for the second-to-the-last chapter. I'm back to that stage where I have it in a single humongous unwieldy document, and once again I'm seriously frustrated by this stage: I keep losing track of where I put things and what I've edited or not or how I really intended to order this bit and that. And I'm once again wishing I had a nice logical editing program. I've downloaded Liquid Story Binder several times over the years, but it's complex and (to me, anyway) very unintuitive. I've also played with yWriter, but it strikes me as the writing software equivalent to Linux: something for those who enjoy tinkering as well as just writing. I don't want to tinker. I just want something that works. And it has too many options for me. I know you don't have to use them, but they're there, waiting for you, asking for input - all the spaces for character information, point of view, items, other busyness. I also don't like (really, really don't like) that I can't see individual scenes within chapters unless that chapter is in focus. There's no total tree view of everything, except a slightly clunky storyboard. I appreciate the thought behind it, but despite quite a bit of time spent with it, I can't warm up to it.

And then I made the mistake of watching some of the video tutorials for Scrivener. I was practically tearing up at some points - it's so perfectly suited to the way I work and what I want to do: a simple layout where you can divide up your writing into workable chunks, connect them with "index cards" you can shuffle around, add notes and research and pictures that are easily viewable but don't print on the manuscript, and all of it with simple drag-and-drop reorganization available. Oh, and the ability to take snapshots before you start chopping up a scene to rewrite. Brilliant! And that's just scratching the surface. Every feature that was mentioned made sense to me. It's a dream come true. Where have you been all my life, Scrivener?

But of course, there's a catch. It only runs on Mac! Grrrr!

My main computer at this point is an over four-year-old hand-me-down desktop PC, and I'm thinking of selling the netbook - so maybe I can start working on justifying a new system this summer. Or a used system. Buying used electronics kinda scares me, but there are lots of used Macs on Craigslist and such. We'll see. Must...have...Scrivener.

Meanwhile, I started back into producing *more* writing that I'll ultimately need to transcribe and organize. At least they're just short stories. Those don't make me frantic as I try to edit in a standard word processor. I've been primarily writing by hand lately (again), in bagasse composition books with either my Lamy 2000 EF with Noodler's Aircorp Blue-Black ink, or my beat-up Parker 51 with Noodler's Navy ink. I'm drawn to rather conservative ink colors in my old age. They don't draw my attention away from what I'm writing, and they're easy on the eyes over long writing sessions. Both of these also have a waterproof component: important for me, with my tendency to knock beverages over or drip condensation on my work.

4. One more bit of stuff:

Apropos of nothing, here's Halvah attempting camouflage on the new couch where she's really not supposed to be. Not bad, is she? "No, really, I'm just a little round sofa cushion. Nothing to see here!"

Halvah attempting camouflage

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A luddite repents

Well...sort of.

I wonder sometimes if mine is the last generation to cling to the physical, to struggle with the reality of digital possessions. We stand on the brink; we more than any other generation have seen the old physical-media world give way before the bits and bytes and virtual spaces of the new - and may sometimes feel we don't fully belong to either one. We're just old enough to remember when LPs were something you could buy new in the store rather than a quirky anachronism, but we're young enough to remember how cool and exciting it was when first CDs and then MP3s arrived on the scene. We were the first to embrace digital formats for music and movies, but still struggle with all the changes that have taken place in our lifetimes.

This year, my younger brother used his tax return to really dive head first into modernity. Until a few months ago, they were still on dial-up, using a PC that was already somewhat long in the tooth when it was given to them four or five years ago. Now they have DSL, a laptop with HDMI out, and a basic LCD TV. When I last visited, the little gals were watching a streamed version of "Follow that Bird," and the topic of conversation for the adults turned to how media of the future might be bought and sold and stored.

I was a little taken aback and made thoughtful by the fact that digital copies were seen as more secure and enduring than the older, physical mediums. And they do have a point. I can back up my whole music collections in multiple locations, on-site and off, with no degradation. The digital copies will never get scratched or burnt or have apple juice spilled in their innards. They won't fade, crack, warp or tear. There is something to that, though I struggle with the concept of ownership of something I can't touch, can't stack on a shelf to look at or spread out on the table. I feel funny saying, "I own that album," or "I have that book," when I have no physical proof, no way to put my hand on what I possess. And while the digital is, in truth, more readily accessibly from anywhere and at any time - no worries about whether I left my notebook at home today or that CD in the car player - it still feels insubstantial, something that could be taken from my at any moment. I'm reminded of a short story I read as a teenager. (And if this rings any bells for you, let me know - I've been struggling to find it ever since!) It portrayed a future world where everyone lived essentially inside a huge machine, everyone in separate capsules, all interaction taking place through the machine, all physical needs, all entertainment desires provided for by The Machine...until the day it breaks down, and everything is lost, and no one can escape. What happens if one day we lose access to our computers and all stored on them? What happens to our books, music, movies, correspondence, if it solely exists outside the physical realm?

I suspect the younger generation doesn't feel this same lack of faith in the digital, the virtual. Perhaps I'm of the last generation that will. And in the past six months or so, I've been reminded that the solid and real can't always be depended on either. Good friends of mine lost their home and all their belongings in a house fire. It makes you think. I have several near-full novels that are strictly in paper form, and while I was of course aware that catastrophes do happen, I still was more inclined to think, "Well, at least I have hard copy, so it's not like it's going to be accidentally deleted..."

Where am I going with all this? I guess my first point is that both digital and analog have their strengths, and we shouldn't embrace just one or the other. And my second point is that I have a very hard time embracing something I can't fully grasp. I wonder if this will ever change, or if we will always feel a wistful nostalgia for the tools of past ages, things that could be held and touched and which made a real mark on the physical world. It's a hard thing to let go of.

Edit: Is it irony that I wrote the above in the notebook I'm always forgetting at home, and only then transcribed it for posting?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday random excerpt (from NaNo '09)

"And as for you," she shrilled into Zach's face, "Don't quit your day job!" She turned, a five-foot two-inch whirlwind in pink faux fur boots and a puffy white jacket, and stormed out the door, slamming it behind her so hard that Zach's diploma and a framed Jaco Pastorius LP came crashing to the ground, shattering the diploma's glass. For a moment, Zach and Jake just stood there, blinking, looking at the destruction. They turned to one another in shock. Then the corner of Jake's mouth crept up into a smirk and Zach broke down into peals of helpless laughter. He dropped onto the shabby sofa and slouched back.

"Man, you sure know how to pick 'em."

Jake slid down on the other end of the couch and stretched his lanky legs in front of him. He grinned, shaking his head. "Now how could I have predicted *that*? You saw her Craigslist ad - young female vocalist, experienced in blues and jazz genres, looking for other musicians for jamming, eventual gigging.' All spelled right and capitalized and punctuated and everything. How was I supposed to know she was psycho?"

"Obviously grammar isn't everything."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Untitled, or "I Hate Mood Swings"

Can the well-padded soul produce poetry?
ponderous plodding,
pedantic petulancy,

A starved spirit
spare and pinched,
weak with longing for the unobtainable:
this serves far better.
And if there is pain--
ah, better still.

Soul in torment,
pricked and suffering,
alone in fear and darkness,
squinting, hands cupped,
reaching for a single glint
which may be but a fist
rubbed in tired eyes.

Or that joy so acute
'tis as much pain as pleasure,
too much for human soul to bear,
draining, emptying even as it fills
until one may wish never to have known
such sweetness.

Is it all worth it, the aching,
the endless need,
the pain within ecstasy,
ecstasy within pain,
the never resting spirit?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Perhaps a placid permanance
is its own reward.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Write Race

So...ever have the feeling you accidentally ticked the whole world off, but you have no clue what you did? That's been me lately...hence I babble too much, which likely only makes matters worse.

And after this weekend, when I felt like the undiscovered-but-kinda-OK writer at the cusp of wonderful things, I'm embarrassed I sent anything off at all, and once again wish I could just stop *wanting* to write, since I'm not nearly as good as a whole LOT of far more deserving folks who are also trying to get published.

But I'magonna post this anyhow...written *before* I hit the downward slope again.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday random excerpt

That day was pretty typical, the day we met. Typical for me, anyway. We’d just been let out for morning recess – the older kids on their side of the yard and we on ours. As usual, I started a ruckus. One of the littlest kids had taken out a candy bar, so I ran up, yanked it away and pushed him down. Then I ran off, and turned back to taunt him with my mouth full of chocolate. All seems pretty stupid, looking back. And a pretty rotten thing for me to do. Like I said, I was a rotten brat. And I knew the teacher who was supposed to be watching us wasn’t there and figured I could get away with it.

What I hadn’t realized, though, is that the little kid I was bullying happened to be the baby brother of the biggest guy in school. Don’t recall the guy’s name now, but I couldn’t forget his face. Or his fists, for that matter. He was a big hairy brute of a guy – one of those guys that had to start shaving before they were out of grade school – and built like a gorilla: thick-necked and broad-shouldered with long arms and fists like nine-pound hammers. He caught sight of me picking on his kid brother and rules or no rules he came charging over the fence between the yards like an enraged bull. Before I could run or duck out of the way – I was quick; it was my only defense considering what a puny runt I was – he had me flat on my back on the ground and those hammer-fists of his were coming down and coming down. I’d had the snot whupped out of me before, but I think that was the first time I actually had my life flash before me. For once I was actually sorry there wasn’t a teacher on watch. And being as how we were on the little kid side of the fence, no one else did anything but watch and snivel.

I don’t know how long the guy would have kept on. Until he busted my head in, I figure, and though I’ve got a good healthy skull, his fists were healthier. Luckily Alan risked getting in trouble himself, jumped the fence, and pulled the guy off me before he knocked the ever-loving tar out of me. Like everyone else, the big guy respected Alan – everyone did, even people who didn’t like him – so he grudgingly went back to where he belonged, glaring back over his shoulder as he climbed the fence.

Alan helped me up. I had a black eye and bloodied nose, which wasn’t so terrible considering, but I must have looked pretty bad. He said, “You OK, kid?” And I spit on his shoe. That’s the kind of ungrateful wretch I was – I spit on his shoe. He’d shown to everyone that I’d gotten myself into a mess I couldn’t get out of. He’d embarrassed me; that’s how I saw it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Well, I did it.

I submitted a short story. I'm not going to say which, and I'm not going to say where, but when that first rejection comes back, I'm gonna frame it. ;-)

I'm all shaky. Gee whiz.... It's only taken me fifteen years or so to get up the nerve.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two moods

Back to writing a lot of random poems. Here are a couple, from different ends of the spectrum.

In the writing of your hand
I can see you
and no one else.
In these few strokes,
raised in back where my fingers touch:
here is your voice alone,
your touch
a mind.
Lumpy, bumpy, crooked letters,
drunken-tilted and too wide;
so familiar,
so comfortably imperfect.

"Can we have spaghetti for dinner?
I love you."

Absent, you remain near.
And shaking my head, I smile--
and take the hamburger from the fridge.

She arrived
like rain out of a clear blue sky:
strangely sweet and lovely;
made him lift his eyes in wonder.

He had thought it too late for such solace,
too late
in the long and dusty day that was his life;
but she reached out
touched his hand
touched his heart
gently kissed that withered cheek
bringing freshness, and cool clarity--
and out of dry dust,
life springs anew.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday random excerpt (from NaNo '09)

It wasn't that he'd never been in love. He knew all about being in love, in the heady, over-wrought, nervous sense so often meant by the term. He was always in love; hardly a week had gone by in his life when he wasn’t in love, since the time in first grade when Christine Rock--she of the long gold hair and long white eyelashes--had smiled at him and given him a Reese’s peanut butter cup one morning on the bus. For two weeks he had followed her, longing for her presence with an intensity of feeling hitherto unknown to him. He imagined castles in the air with her as queen; he composed brilliant speeches he was afraid to deliver; he planned to save every penny of his allowance to buy her the beautiful things she deserved; he admired her from afar when separated from her by the width of the classroom--her desk being in the front row, so that all he could see of her was her shining crown of golden curls.

Then came the day when she finally turned on him, and placing chubby hands on her little hips, she said, "I don't have any more candy, you know!"

He was appalled that she should suspect him of such caddish motives (at the time, of course, his thoughts were phrased in simpler terms: "She thinks I'm a jerk. I'm not a jerk!”), and in an instant, the feelings he had nurtured for her were gone beyond recall, leaving nothing behind but a bewildering emptiness. It was a bitter, bitter end.

It did not, however, prevent him from falling for the next girl to speak a kind word to him or present a pretty face. Hundreds of them there had been over the years, in all shapes and sizes, young and old, good and bad, beautiful and homely, the kind and the cruel. It seemed he was always either in the throes of that first white-hot obsession--anxious, distracted, more miserable than uplifted--or he was in the confusing, aching state of need left behind when the thing ended. And it always ended, usually in one of two ways: either he came at it far too hard and fast and frightened or angered the girl herself into telling him off, or he built her up in his own mind as he had little Christine Rock until she became a model of perfection, a glorious vision--and when the girl herself broke through, his obsession shattered upon the hard reality.

Meanwhile love--real love, sure and fast love of the sort that was more conviction and covenant than sheer emotion--had always eluded him. Or perhaps he had eluded it. Looking back, sometimes he now wondered if love had waited at many corners along the way, only to be thwarted by his own shallowness. Perhaps he had always pulled himself back from the brink of any real commitment, before love could truly develop, out of fear or selfishness or apathy. How many times had he dismissed someone for some petty fault: untidiness, a single instance of tardiness, an interest not shared? Had this doomed him to a life lived alone? Or was he truly incapable of what others called love--were these excuses his subconsciousness used, a way of saving him from himself? He hardly knew. He only knew that the endless cycles of tormented desire and hollow loss left him soul-sick, heart-exhausted; he was tired of it all--so tired. He wanted off the roller-coaster. To hell with those who claimed it was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all--more than anything, he wanted to merely value people for who they were, to live on an even keel, to like without desiring anything more. For a few months he had almost managed it, and then she had walked out that door and collided with him, and he was once again lost, once more adrift, once more in the grip of the waves, the swing of the sea. He had no hope that things would be different this time around; he was well beyond hoping for the future now. He would hurt her or she would hurt him, and he would lose her even as a friend. He rubbed his eyes wearily, mourning that friendship lost before it could really begin, right at a moment when it seemed both of them could use a friend; and he fell asleep there where he lay.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

I miss you, Mom.

And...umm...make that a grandmother five times over. I had all the faces in mind, but I miscounted them. ;-)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Glimpse Insight (partial pencast)

I have a tendency to backslide where some aspects of writing are concerned--or, to put it more positively, to come back to the tried and true. For example, no matter how far or how long I stray, for hand-writing fiction, I pretty much always come back to the humble composition book with its just-right in between A5 and A4 size, its durable stitched binding and wide ruling. The pages are large enough not to feel claustrophobic, small enough that I fill 'em quickly, there's just enough of a margin for notes and comments, and I actually *like* the fact that the pages don't move around. I get paranoid about losing things. For work, I've pretty much gone Circa all the way, but for fictiony things...I'm back to my beloved cheapie composition books.

And for thoughts on the go, I've slowly wandered back from the world of index cards. Oh, index cards still have a part to play: they get used for lists and to-dos, for phone numbers and addresses, for quick reminders. I carry them with me at all times. But the brain dump notebook has quietly reinserted itself into my life.


My current notebook for such purposes is one o' those pretentious mini Moleskines. Yes, they are outrageously expensive, and I'm not sure what I'll replace it with once the little stash I have is gone. But I like 'em. The current one has ridden in coat pockets and purses, bike panniers and backpacks. It gets man-handled, dropped, spilled on, and otherwise abused, and it holds up well. It's full of all *sorts* of thoughts--everything from notes on stories-in-progress to descriptions of odd things I've run into along the way to fragments of future poems to summaries of stories-to-be-written to dreams to...well, you get the idea. Some ideas will likely remain forever sealed within its pages; some will blossom into full stories or conversations or poems or blog posts or smart-alecky remarks on Facebook. It's all good.



I only have some thirty-odd pages left in this current notebook. Spent some time today looking through it--rather a walk down my own literary memory lane, since it has story notes going back over four years. However, it's such a mishmash, it looks like the ramblings of a sick mind.... So of course I'm revealing some of it. Just for kicks. Good luck reading my speed handwriting!