Monday, October 29, 2018

A note

This morning, I quick wrote a post about writing. At the close of it, I wanted to acknowledge the terrible events of the last week (pipe bombs, synagogue shooting), but I did not wish to relegate them to a footnote to a post about something as trivial as writing. At the same time, I really just don't know how to express my anger and frustration with what is happening to this country. I honestly fear for the future of this country more than ever, when we have politicians whose first impulse to the news of pipe bombs is to raise the specter of 'false flag operations,' or to immediately insist (yet again), that guns have nothing to do with a shooting in a synagogue, or that words don't matter. Words matter. They matter a lot. The President, the Vice President, and the lackeys in Congress are either flat-out lying when they say they don't, or are too stupid to see the connection between what they say and what people do. Either way, it's clear they are not people who should be running this country. My heart goes out to the people who lost family and friends in Pittsburgh, and I hope we can get through this time without worse.


Monday, October 22, 2018

The dreaming brain

Once, many years ago, I woke from a dream about....I don't remember what. What I do remember about the dream is that someone or something was tapping. On a door, maybe. On a floor. I don't remember who it was doing the tapping, or what they were tapping on, only that they were tapping. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. No particular rhythm to it that I recall.

I woke up. It was morning, the sun was shining, and though the dream was over, the tapping continued. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Tap tap. Stumbling out of bed, I went to the window and discovered the source of the noise: a woodpecker was outside, digging at the wood around the window frame in its search for bugs.

It always amazes me how outside stimuli can work their way into dreams. I've never been entirely certain how dreams work (and I've never been particularly interested in looking it up for some reason): do they unfold in your brain over a longish period of time, i.e., over several minutes, so that what feels like a long dream really is a long dream? Or are they more like flashes of lightning, something that is in reality a fraction of a second long, only it feels like a long time? If it's the latter, then was that woodpecker working on the window before I started dreaming, and was the dream built to accommodate this noise? Or, if the dreams take place over a long period of time, did my brain just decide to take this new sound and throw it in, like a cook might grab some spice off the rack to throw into an already boiling stew? Maybe I'll look into it, because it is pretty interesting, how it all works.

At about four this morning, I woke up from a dream that, again, I don't remember at all. The only thing I do remember is there was a muffled thump or bang that was literally right on the boundary line of dream and awake. I lay there under covers, still half asleep, trying to decide if that noise had been in my head or outside of it. The noise was not repeated. The house was as quiet as a house usually is at 4 a.m. I debated briefly whether I should get up and take a pass through the house to make sure no one was roaming the house, or that the roof hadn't fallen in, or the expansion tank hadn't blown on our furnace again (though I was awake for that one a couple of years ago, and it was LOUD, let me tell you; this was a totally different kind of noise). After a brief inner debate, I was able to go back to sleep.

It wasn't always that way, though. For several years, it was common for me to wake up in the middle of the night, or to be drifting off to sleep and snap awake, and just feel compelled to check the house for...I don't know what. Something. Someone. There was never any rhyme or reason to it. No dream or nightmare, sometimes, I wasn't even asleep. I'd just get this feeling, a super-creeped out feeling, that I needed to do a walk around. And even when I knew logically there was no reason to get out of my warm, comfortable bed, I would not be able to rest until I got up and checked every room in the house, sometimes even going into the basement. Never once did I find anything amiss.

I wonder if those super-paranoid, check every room in the house moments were related somehow to child protection instincts. My children are both grown, and though the Magpie lives with us full-time, and the Catbird part-time (we'll see what happens in May when she graduates), I have not had one of those 'gotta check the house' moments in years, maybe not even since they were in middle school.

The mind does some really interesting things, doesn't it?

Monday, October 15, 2018

The end draws ever closer

When I left off my manuscript yesterday evening, I was on page 365, just shy of 110,000 words. On the pages I printed out to help me with my revision, I'm on page 386, exactly 40 pages from THE END. There are two pages or so out of those last forty that have already been incorporated into an earlier part of the revised manuscript, so I'm really more like 38 pages from the end.

This is the tough part, though. Yesterday, I only squeaked out 900 words or so, some of which was the result of backing up ten or so pages and futzing around a little. I thought said futzing would cut words, but it might have actually added. So be it. The end result was that yesterday was a little like treading water. My main character stands at the final inflection point of the story, the point where she makes her final major decision and goes from down and out to triumphant.

There are, I think, two reasons for my treading water. The first is losing the rhythm. Because I've been obsessively tracking this, I know that from Sunday through Wednesday last week, I cranked out 11,600 words, an average of nearly 3,000 per day. I was in the groove. On Thursday, however, it all came apart. We had a board of directors meeting that night. It lasted four hours. Ugh. On Friday, my wife and I went to our Audubon Society's charter dinner (my wife is co-president of the chapter). We stopped out for a drink after and didn't get home until after 10. On Saturday, I worked in the morning, watched the Bruins rout the Red Wings in the afternoon--and just didn't feel up for writing that night. While I recognize that the so-called Writing Rule "Write every day" is not for everyone, I know I'm better when I do.

The other thing that slowed me down, however, is because of that inflection point I mentioned above. This is the last such point in the story, and arguably the most important: this is the point where everything really comes together. The character must now stand on the foundation I've built for her through the course of the story, and that foundation has to be rock solid, or there will be no future readers for this manuscript aside from a couple of more betas and some agents who ultimately pass. It's scary stuff, and what makes it scarier is this: any changes I make to this point could potentially reverberate back through the entire story, sending me on a search-and-destroy mission throughout the manuscript. It's almost like being a time traveler setting out to find some evil-doer (or someone who is well-meaning but doesn't understand you don't mess with time!) who grabbed a time machine and fucked around in the past.

Writing with the story ahead of you is easy. Keeping the continuity during the rewrite stage? That's a lot harder. How do you do it?


I've had Pete Yorn on here once before. Here he is with Scarlett Johansson (yes, that Scarlett Johansson, how many do you think there are?). I think their voices work well together, don't you?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Reading List, 2018, Part III

Technically, the end of the quarter was last week, but I chose to delay this post based on events in the world. Here are the list of books for the third quarter (July 1-September 30).

Wolf Season (2017), Helen Benedict. Not bad. Local(ish) setting was familiar.

The Outsider (2018), Stephen King. I love Stephen King. I like long books. But this felt way too long.

The Marrow Thieves (2017), Cherie Dimaline. I like when Young Adult novels don't feel like Young Adult novels.  This is one of them.

Catch-22 (1955), Joseph Heller. Re-read, but it's been so long since I've read it, it felt new. Feels like we're living in Yossarian's world right now, only not as funny.

Exit West (2017), Mohsin Hamid. Lovely and poignant tale of a refugee couple escaping their war-torn country though magical doors that send other places in this world.

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America (2018), Alissa Quart. We have problems in this country.

Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change (2018), Mary Beth Pfeiffer. We have problems in this world.

The list was short this quarter. The last two books slowed me down quite a bit. Plus, I've been writing/revising a lot, which slows down my reading. Plus, hockey season started, which will slow me down even more. I'm a bit surprised at how new my list was for this quarter. Though I've been making an effort to read current, all of the books save Catch-22 were published within the last two years. Not bad!

Other news:

* Passed the 100,000 word point on my WiP this weekend while cranking through just about 7000 words Friday (took the day off) through Sunday. That includes a thoroughly non-productive Saturday (less than 500 words), where I sat staring at the screen and the printed pages I was working off of and just couldn't figure out how my main character was supposed to make a particular transition. I think I got it! It looks like, when I'm finished, I will have managed to cut nearly 30 pages from the previous draft.

* Is it you, or me? For some time, I uses to get e-mail notifications when most people left a comment on this blog (with one or two exceptions). Not anymore, and not for some time. As far as I can tell, my settings haven't changed, but no more notifications. Anyone else see this happening?

* Congratulations to the lovable scamps at Delta House for the achievement of Brother Bart. Now they have a Supreme Court Justice to go along with Senator Blutarsky.

* Hockey season is on! The Bruins got shellacked in their season opener, but righted the ship the next night. I'm hoping they can pile up points against weak teams like Buffalo, Ottawa and Edmonton while they work out the kinks on the season.

* John Oliver did a piece on the Brazilian elections last night on Last Week Tonight. Can anyone tell me why the world is shifting so much in favor of hatred and intolerance? Let's hope it doesn't take another world war to put a stop to it.

That's it for me, what's new with you?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Another year, another post like this

I may have told you this story before. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, I'm not sure what it is about this time of year that seems to bring this sort of thing out. Last year around now, I was writing about Harvey Weinstein. The year before that, Donald Trump and locker room talk. Maybe it's something in the change of seasons that brings this all about, I don't know. At any rate, the stuff going on now serves to remind me of this.

For nearly the entire decade of the nineties, I worked for the Central Park Conservancy, a great organization that works with the City of New York to manage and protect and promote that fantastic greensward in the heart of New York City. For all of those years, I commuted to work, a journey that involved a minimum 40-minute train ride and two subway lines, but it was a good job with a good organization in a great location, and I've always liked trains so I tolerated it for quite a while.

Two of the years I worked in Central Park, we lived in southern Connecticut. Metro North took me all the way down to Grand Central. From there, I had to take the Lexington Avenue subway back uptown to 103rd Street (my office was just outside the Park at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue). It seemed a bit of a waste, going all the way down to Grand Central just to have to come back up, and the Lexington Avenue line at that point sucked, to put it honestly, so I looked for--and found--an alternative: get off Metro North at 125th Street and walk 21 blocks to my office. And so I did.

I don't remember how I got to and from the station, to be honest. I think I got off at 125th Street, cut over to Madison, and went all the way down Madison to 104th, and vice versa, but I honestly couldn't tell you after all this time. When I walked (and in the winter, I did not do the walk if it was dark), I walked with purpose, fast but not running. I kept my head up and my eyes moving, but also tried not to attract attention. It was a little unnerving. Mine was pretty much the only white face on the street there, and the route took me through just about every kind of neighborhood: bustling commercial sections, upscale homes, bombed-out crack houses (it was the nineties, after all). It seemed quite possible that I could get mugged for money to fuel someone's crack habit, or mugged--even killed--simply for being the wrong race in the wrong neighborhood. Not once, however, did it ever enter my mind that I might be dragged off into an alley or wrecked building and sexually assaulted.

The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh that surfaced last month have once again served to highlight the vastly different worlds men and women live in. When do men worry about being sexually assaulted? Never. For men of my generation, it's a "Dueling Banjos" reference when we go camping or find ourselves in some backwoods area. Maybe younger men joke about pawn shops and the Gimp. But that's what it is for men: a joke, something to laugh about. When do women worry about being sexually assaulted? All the time? Half the time? From the stories that have once again been shared in the wake of the Kavanaugh accusations, they'd certainly be forgiven for worrying about it all the time. It happens too damn often, and that's got to change.