Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday Musing: Overburdened, self-inflicted

This morning when I go to work, one of my tasks will be to complete my timesheet for the pay period that just ended. It's going to show a lot of extra time. This past week was a seven-day work week, which included a ten-hour day in the middle of it. So, I've been a little crispy around the edges lately.

I'm also contributing to my own burnout: on top of what was a 60+ hour work week, on Saturday night, after helping to put on a first-time, minor event, I rushed home, changed, and then my wife and I dashed out so we could volunteer for a local charity pouring beer at a concert. I may have written about this last summer: my organization was the charity at one such concert which meant organizing 60-70 volunteers. It's a heck of a lot of fun (and a good fundraiser: my organiztion made over two grand in approximately five hours), but it's exhausting. And then there's the MOOC, the Massive Open Online Course offered through the University of Iowa, which just started yesterday (slots still available, I believe). I did my required readings and discussion participation for the first unit already, and now have to write something.

Ah, writing. Yeah, about that. This week has been unbelievably bad for writing. After getting off to a rousing start on the revisions for my WiP, which included two 3000+ word days in late June and a massive 5600-word day on July 4 (here's to holidays!), this week has been a disaster. In the last five days, I've amassed a whopping total of 347 words, and those 347 came hard and grudgingly. My goal of having this one out on submission by the end of the summer is slipping away.

When we write our stories, the obstacles we force our heroes to overcome can be external or internal. External: my job is really busy this week--I have to work seven days and a night, so I have little time and I'm really, really tired at the end of the day. Internal: I can't say no, thus I overextend myself and leave myself more exhausted with less time to do things I want (or need) to do for myself. Like writing. And I end up crispy around the edges.

Other random thoughts for the week that was and is to be:

Best news all week was the rescue of the boys and their coach from that cave in Thailand. Outstanding work by the rescuers, and very sad to lose one of them in the rescue effort.

I'm not a big soccer guy, but congratulations to France on their World Cup victory.


I read the indictment. I'm really curious about the identities of a) "a candidate for US Congress"; b) "a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news"; c) "a reporter"; d) a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump." I suspect more indictments are coming.

That's all I got; what's going on with you all?

 

Monday, July 9, 2018

A question on change

Yesterday, while towing a  trailer of canoes down the road to an invasive species removal event, I found myself listening to the program, Out of Bounds on NPR. On this particular show they were interviewing poet Michael Jennings, and talking with hm about his recently released chapbook, Summoning the Outlaws. Now, I missed a good part of the interview, spending a sizable chunk of time getting out of the truck to make sure the hitch was line up properly with the trailer, then getting the trailer hitched up, then walking around the trailer to make sure all the lights and turn signals worked, and triple-checking that half a dozen canoes weren't going to go flying off the back of the trailer while I'm trundling down the road (it's my worst nightmare; hasn't happened yet, knock wood).

Once everything was squared away and secure, I got to listen to the rest of the interview, which was pretty interesting. I'm not what you might call a big fan of poetry, but the poems Jennings read on air were good, and it's always interesting to listen to writers of any kind talk about their process. One question in particular caught my fancy.

How did writing this book change you?

As often happens when I listen to these sort of programs, I let my imagination run away a little. I wasn't listening to Michael Jennings whilst hauling a canoe trailer through the heart of the county on a Sunday morning; no, I was the one being asked the question after the publication of my latest, greatest book. How did writing this book change me?

First off, fantasy me did not answer that, as a newly-minted best seller, I was jetting around the world in my private jet and rubbing shoulders with all the biggest celebrities and bending the ears of heads of state--my fantasies don't typically run that way. It's enough to be published and to get interviewed on a radio show for me! Besides, that wasn't what the question was aiming at; it was more to the point of how writing the book changed Jennings'(my) world view.

For me, a book (and yeah, I know it's not technically a book until it's published, but I've still got one foot in fantasyland here, okay?) typically starts when something catches my attention. That something triggers a question, most typically one that starts with "What if...?" The possible answer to that question fires off all kinds of things in my brain and a story emerges, slowly (very slowly) but surely. At least in the case of this book, what caught my attention were the views of a certain billionaire presidential candidate and a certain sort-of in control political party. Seeing what was happening, listening to what was being said worked on my brain, and this story started to develop. In terms of the question being asked, it's not so much that I wrote this book, therefore I changed as much as it's I changed, therefore I wrote this book.

Now, in fairness, I think it's also true that writing this not-yet-a-book has changed me as well. At this point in time, I haven't been able to quantify any changes that have occurred as a result of writing this particular project. I suspect it will vary from project to project. Fortunately, fantasy interviewer was appropriately appreciative of my response and didn't press the point. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to hear what Michael Jennings said; I was too busy responding in my head (and keeping one eye on the mirror to make sure my trailer--and all my canoes--were still there).

What about you? Does writing change you, or do you change, then write? And, while we're at it, am I the only one who does fantasy interviews in my head?
 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Reading List, 2018 (Part II)

Hard to believe we're into July already, isn't it? Seems like just yesterday I was sitting here at my computer, likely with a blanket draped over my shoulders and posting Part I of this series. This morning I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt and it's comfortable, after the hottest night of the year so far.

Before getting into the list, I'll add that I've (finally) gotten around to actual rewrites on my latest project, the one that landed at about 138,000 words. I'm about 14,000 words/50 pages in right now, struggling with how to shorten the beginning without losing too much of importance. This is the job the phrase "Kill your darlings" was meant for.

One other note: on Saturday, I led a canoe trip for what turned out to be around 30 people (we had a veritable Spanish Armada out there) on what was until yesterday the hottest day of the year. Let me tell you, there is no feeling on this earth quite like sticking your feet over the sides of your canoe and into cool water on a hot day. It is heaven. On to the list!

All Our Wrong Todays (2017), Elan Mastai. After thirty pages with no dialogue I was almost ready to toss this one aside. I'm glad I stuck with it. Time travel by a screw-up, which screws things up.

Tool of War (2017), Paolo Bacigalup. I much preferred by The Windup Girl and The Water Knife. Entertaining and fast-paced, but not quite my thing.

The Heart Goes Last (2015), Margaret Atwood. Atwood's a great writer, and she explores some creepy directions society could go. Unfortunately, this one gets muddier the longer it goes.

Oops: Tales of a Sexpert (2018), Vivian Peters. This may be the most important book I've read this year. Long-time educator for Planned Parenthood relays her experiences working with teens in rural America. It's often funny, but not funny at all, if you know what I mean.

American War (2017), Omar El Akkad. Quote from the book, which seemed particularly appropriate given our times: "Nativism being a pyramid scheme, I found myself contemptuous of the refugees' presence in a city already overburdened. At the foot of the docks, we yelled at them to go home, even though we knew home to be a pestilence field. We carried signs calling them terrorists and criminals and we vandalized the homes that would take them in. It made me feel good to do it, it made me feel rooted; their unbelonging was proof of my belonging."

Flight Behavior (2012), Barbara Kingsolver. How is it I've never read Barbara Kingsolver before?

A Hologram for the King (2012), Dave Eggers. A man finds himself in an absurd situation in Saudi Arabia.

Summerlong (2015), Dean Bakopoulos. Don and Claire Lowry's marriage becomes a slow-motion car wreck. That description does not do this book justice.

Catskill (2001), John R. Hayes. This is easily the worst book I've read in a long time. Why did I read all of it? I hate to leave things unfinished.

Commonwealth (2016), Ann Patchett. A tale of a blended family (and not always well-blended, at that) that unfolds over fifty years. Very well done.

Ten books read this quarter, not bad! I suppose this is what happens a) once hockey season and and, b) when I was trying to avoid working on my own writing.

What about you? What have you been reading? Anything from on this list?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Oh, that jacket

First, let's get something straight: I don't follow fashion. I don't care what the stars wear. And on the occasions when I happen to see snippets from the runways at Fashion Week, my reaction is usually along the lines of, "Who in their right mind would wear that?" (the answer, of course, is pretty much "Nobody except the models at Fashion Week.")

And then Melania Trump wore that jacket. Well, this one:



In case you haven't been paying attention, it says on the back "I really don't care, do you?" and she did not write it herself, it is a designer jacket, and sales are likely to shoot through the roof.

This jacket would raise eyebrows if the First Lady wore it while strolling around the White House grounds on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It would raise eyebrows if she casually draped it over the back of her chair while sipping tea in the Rose Garden. In those settings, itwould raise eyebrows and draw jokes like the one Trevor Noah of The Daily Show made: "It is kind of sweet she made a jacket out of her and Donald's wedding vows." But she didn't wear it in those situations; she wore it while boarding Air Force One last week to travel to Texas, where she visited a detention center for children separated from their families for illegally crossing the border.

Now, it's good that Melania Trump visited these centers. More of our politicians should go and see what the President's "Zero Tolerance" for illegal border crossings has wrought. Maybe then they would do something substantial instead of just sniping back and forth across the aisle. And maybe Melania saw and heard things there beyond what was released in the highly-staged photo opp, something that she would take back to Washington, something that would enable her to push her husband into doing something thoughtful, something humane, something not written by Stephen Miller. I applaud her for making the trip, and for apparently wielding some sort of influence in the President's order of last week that reversed his policy.

But that jacket.

To her credit, the First Lady did not wear the jacket when she got off Air Force One in Texas, and she did not wear it when she toured the detention center, but she did wear it when she got off Air Force One on her return to Washington. Why did she select it? Maybe she just likes the way it looks (if you remove the awful lettering, it's actually a pretty sharp looking jacket). Maybe it was just the right weight for dealing with over-enthusiastic airplane air conditioning. Maybe it was her way of saying the trip was just for show, or was her way of trolling her husband, or her way of trolling the news media, as the President insists.

We will likely never know what she meant when she selected that jacket, but it is (Dare we say it? We do, we do) feckless of her, her staff, and Fox and Friends to insist it doesn't mean anything. Words matter, people. Image matters. And when you're the First Lady of the United States, you have to pay close attention not just to what you say, but what you wear and the images you project, because even if it doesn't mean anything to you, it means something to someone else.

Unless you just really don't care.





Monday, June 18, 2018

A Facebook challenge comes to the blog!

Some time in late April, I did something I don't normally do: I accepted a challenge. Every day for ten days, I was supposed to list a record album that I still listen to. I had been seeing this happening for a week or two, and found it interesting to see what people I knew were listening to.

As I said, I don't normally do this stuff, but I did this one and it turned out to be kind of fun. So, for today, here is my list of ten albums that I still listen to. The format is Album title, artist, (year released). The list is presented in no real order.

The Beatles, The Beatles (1968). Better known as The White Album, this does go first because it represents my real entry into rock-and-roll. For the most part, I'd been listening to whatever was on the AM radio station my mother listened to. Hearing this at a friend's house in 7th grade or so got me into The Beatles--and rock music--big time.

Quadrophenia, The Who (1973). On Facebook, I listed Tommy in this slot, but on further review, while my friends and I listened to Tommy a huge amount, I actually listen to this much more often now. And the story--about a teenage boy searching for his identity against the backdrop of gang violence is the 60s--is a bit more relatable that Tommy.

London Calling, The Clash (1979). Fun fact: the song "The Right Profile" once helped me answer a Trivial Pursuit question, much to the amazement and disgust of all in attendance. That's Montgomery Clift, honey!

Anthem of the Sun, Grateful Dead (1968). "We mixed it for the hallucinations."--Jerry Garcia. Yeah, no shit. The band allegedly made the producer quit when Bob Weir stated he wanted "the sound of thick air."

American Beauty, Grateful Dead (1970). It's amazing how far this band developed in two years. There's a warmth and presence on this album that this band would never achieve in the studio again. "Box of Rain" may be my favorite song of all time.

Flood, They Might Be Giants (1990). The only band I can think of that has the audacity to reference Jason and the Argonauts, the Longines Symphonette, AND manage to work in the phrase "filibuster vigilantly" in a song...about a nightlight. These guys are all kind of fun, and they're still making quirky records like this.

The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, Traveling Wilburys (1988). The Osmonds. The King Family. The Jacksons. The Von Trapps. No list of great musical families is complete without the Wilburys. Listening to this album just makes me feel good, they sounded like they had a lot of fun making this. It's too bad only two of the brothers are left.

Bringing Down the Horse, The Wallflowers (1996). Lucky Wilbury's son fronts a band and shows he's got what it takes. Some great songs on this one, and still good listening today.


Astro Lounge, Smash Mouth (1999). I don't care if John Oliver said "All Star" is a "terrible stupid song," I like it. And this whole album is still fun to listen to.

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd (1973). I was never into Pink Floyd back in the day, and while I'm not exactly "into" them now, this is one hell of an album. There's a reason it was on Billboard's charts every week for 15 years. Heavy stuff, yes, but great music.

Abbey Road, The Beatles (1969). Side two of this album may well be perfection.

It's probably telling that the newest album here is just short of 20 years old. The truth is, while I hear plenty of new songs I like, I don't really buy albums anymore. And when I do hear new songs on the radio, it's hard for me to remember who the artist is or what the name of the song is!

What about you? Are there any albums from "back in the day" that you still listen to? This particular Facebook challenge turned out to be fun, and it was surprising to see what turned up on other people's lists.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

When I started this blog all the way back in...holy crap, 2011? Really? Anyway, when I started this blog back in 2011, it seemed like you couldn't swing a dead cat around without running into a blogfest, a bloghop, or some kind of "award." Liebsters. First lines. Sad songs. First loves. Remember these things? Someone out there would start them, maybe create a nifty little badge, crib together some rules and start tagging people, and it would spread across the blogosphere like ink on a paper towel.

The rules on the "awards" usually followed some variation of the pattern: answer a bunch of questions about yourself and/or your writing project, tag a bunch of people, visit and comment on their posts. For bloghops, you would sign up at someone's blog, and on the appointed day, you would write about a specific topic and jump around commenting on as many posts as you could. These things could be fun (or they could be pressure-packed), they could be ways to meet new people with interesting things to say, they could be ways to get more followers.

Where have they gone?

I can't remember the last time I saw a bloghop aside from the Insecure Writers' Support Group. Likewise, the last time I think I saw anyone who had been Liebstered, it was at least two or three years ago.

When I started this blog back in (shudder) 2011, the blog was already being declared dead on a regular basis. All the cool kids were on Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Instagram. Platforms that I either don't know or don't like. But for a couple of years, anyway, the awards and hops and fests rolled on. I didn't always particpate--I'm not a joiner of stuff like this in general--but sometimes I did, and sometimes it was fun, and it was always interesting to see how people responded to the challenges posed in them. Is the lack of contests and hops and awards indicative of a dying world, or a more mature one that no longer needs these things?

In Stephen King's Dark Tower series, Roland the Gunslinger often noted that "The world had moved on." It conjures up an image of a place and people who are left behind, that time stopped carrying them forward. That is what it feels a little like, living in blog land these days, like one of those old western mining towns where the well ran dry and the mine collapsed and all but a few hearty souls lit out for the coast. Or maybe it's just this little corner of the world. This morning, I took a look at my reading list. Even after some recent pruning, I've got 52 blogs on my reading list. Of those, only 19 are active, and 9 of those are industry insiders. Where have all the writers gone?

Aside from the flight to Facebook and the like, one thing has happened is that bloggers seem to be collected at places like Writer Unboxed, Pub(lishing) Crawl and the like. Here, they get to post once a month or so, and while most of them have their own websites with a tab for their own blog, most seem to do their blogging either at these collectives or in guest posts for other collectives (often, coincidentally, when they have a new book coming out). 

I am curious about the people who no longer blog. Many of them left on a final post that said, in essence, "I'm taking a break, I expect to be back." My respons was usually, "Enjoy, we'll be here when you come back." I suppose that's part of why these people are still on my reading list: many of them felt like friends in the short time we read each other, and it would be sad to come back and find none of the old gang around, right? Leave no blogger behind!

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Bee and the Barr

Late last night, I gave in to an itch and rubbed my eye. I knew it was a mistake, but the eye had started itching madly right around the time Last Week Tonight started. Twice during the program I dribbled a little cool water into the corner of my eye, but it did no good: the itch remained. And though I knew the itch was the result of an allergy (I had cut the grass earlier in the day, and it was raining, and it's spring/summer), and though I knew exactly what was going to happen if I gave in, I stuck my finger in behind my glasses and rubbed.
Ahhh, such sweet relief! There is nothing quite so satisfying as scratching as scratching an itch. It's so...so...so. It's just so.

Here's the problem with this sort of itch, though: while it feels positively orgasmic while you're scratching it, it doesn't solve anything. As soon as I pulled my finger out from behind my glasses, three things happened: 1) the itch returned, as bad and insistent as before; 2) it now felt like a lash or something was stuck beneath my eyelid, even though I didn't have to check in the mirror to know this wasn't true, and 3) the phlegm factory in my head went into full-scale production mode, churning out mucus like Soviet factories cranked out tanks in World War II. I ended up taking Benadryl, and while it did the job, taking Benadryl at midnight means waking from a bizarre dream at 5:44 with no recollection of the alarm having gone off and a tongue that feels about as moist as the Mojave Desert. My head is clear of phlegm, but my brain is rather sluggish, which might explain this post.

The sad thing? All of this was predictable. I've been here before. It never ends well. Experience tells me there are certain types of eye itches that I must absolutely leave alone, and last night's was one of those. I knew it, and I reaped the consequences. But it felt so good!

Last week, Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee both scratched some particular eye itch, Barr in her Twitter feed, Bee on her show, Full Frontal. (If you've been living under a rock, Barr's tweet was a racist shot at a former Obama administration official, while Bee dropped a C-Bomb on Ivanka Trump) Barr was fired from her show before the day was out. Bee is still employed, though she has lost a couple of big advertisers. She is supposedly going to address this on this week's show. At this point, I'm guessing she'll keep her job, since the network (TBS) joined her in falling on the sword. Unless there's enough of a backlash.

What was Roseanne thinking when she fired off her 2 a.m. Tweet? What was Bee thinking when she dropped the C-bomb on air? I can't say for sure, but I imagine it was a lot like me with my eye itch: it felt really good until the entirely predictable--and avoidable--reaction.