Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TROUT Again!

Funny I should run into this today, after yesterday's musing about Brautigan et al. Could be one to hunt down.

Image: Wikipedia, of course

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"... and ALWAYS for something completely different"

It was about 1983 when Mark and I became best friends. I use his real name because enough time separates us, and the name was common enough around here then, that it's as anonymous as calling him any other name.

Fifteen to his fourteen, I was in high school, but he was the cool one. I came over one time, he turned on the party light he'd built and calibrated to respond to his stereo, and he plunged my brain into something incomprehensible.

It was the original radio recordings of Hitchhiker's Guide.

I had no understanding of what was coming out of his speakers, there was no reference point by which I could make sense of the chorus of Cyrius Cybernetics voices buzzing out their little piece of the universe being built out of sound effects and voice acting. It all made no sense to me, and as is still to some degree my wont, that which was unfamiliar made me resistant, because I hated the confusion.

It probably took half an hour at least for me to even get that there was a story being told.

For me, back then, "writing" meant books - I was scarcely aware that the fare on our TV set (we used to call them "TV sets" - now ask me about hifi) involved composing scripts - and books came in few genres. Lots of nonfiction, for which I hadn't yet gotten the hang of caring. 19th century lit of various stripes, owned by us but belonging to nobody in particular. Mom's romantic novels. Dad's joke books; nothing else he might read could possibly have interested me.

So I "got" Bennet Cerf and even Art Buchwald, and novels by Poe and the like. But comedic science fiction? In radio format? I only understood radio drama as something that had gone the way of the dodo shortly after Baby Snooks cut her teeth.

Douglas Adams bent my brain.


Then I got to college and read Richard Brautigan. It is more than my eloquence can even attempt, explaining this lit, but Trout Fishing in America meant a lot to me once. Thirty years on, I'm not sure my geriatric behind could make head nor tail of it anymore.


Then I discovered Donald Harington. The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks, only one of the Stay Moronian novels he penned, layered in ways even by then I couldn't intellectually cope with. Historical fiction? Yes. Picaresque? Yes. Folk tales? Yes. Family epic? Yes. Fantasy? Yes. All of, and so much more than, the above.

And it was Harington who put it best: we must write neckties.

Write things that are impractical and colorful. Write neckties.


Recently, I have picked up my late and beloved Aunt L's copy of The Known World.  I was fortunate to meet Edward Jones at a conference years ago, and yet somehow in the vagaries of the TBR pile, this has never quite hit the top at a time when I ended up finishing it. This week is different.

The novel is a quilt; not merely featuring a wide cast, but it is in itself a wide cast of a large net. There is factual history to be found here, and some detail so vivid it feels like documentation, or memory, or The Sight. Scenes are discussed as if by a storyteller - BY a storyteller, of course - but the "there-ness" is complete, the characters breathe and move in life not because of our intimacy with their imagined thoughts, but because they are viewed with respect - both literal and in the perspective sense - to their humanity. Human action, nuance by nuance. And so the omniscient document becomes the novel, and draws us into the curious world of freed men who owned slaves, in American history.

Having not so long ago finished reading Gigi Amateau's Come August, Come Freedom, there is a resonance, though her style is more what my brain would have called "traditional" as I grappled with all of the experimental and unexpected and creative work mentioned.


My own work is "traditional" in the extreme, of course. I don't color outside the lines; it took me too long to learn how to stay *in* them. But the obvious truism to (neck)tie up this post is this: without listening to, reading, learning from those who don't need the lines at all, I would not be able to color at all.

Work (the Paid Kind)

The only use spam comments have is to remind me of the occasional old post I don't hate rediscovering. Today's special was this one. I remember that day, but my memory is unlike what is said in the post. Funny how brains work.

Yet again, though, it gets me thinking about my current gig. For a long time, I still thought of this as my "new" job - and yet, in a career blessed with so many reorgs and layoffs, it is by a huge margin the position I have held for the longest time in my history.

For decades, I never kept a single job for more than two years. By and large, this speaks to the nature of the economy since I began participating in it; and only a few of my job changes came at my own hands, as promotions of sorts. When I was with a certain large securities firm no longer as-such in existence, my tenure was over five years, but I held four jobs in that time: and every change was upwardly mobile, and every change was at my own instigation. But mostly, I am a product of the ever-"evolving" (growth-and-shareholder-obsessed) economic times I came of age in.

So realizing recently that I've been with my team, my "new" company, for three and a half years has been curious.

It doesn't feel like a long time, compared to the most important jobs I hold in my memory. It also REALLY doesn't feel like I've reached (or distantly passed) an endpoint, which I have felt even in jobs I have loved in the past. Two years and I become afraid. Two years, and I see change whether I want to or not. My last job, which I was proud to hold and did not want to leave, lasted two and a half, and I was giddy with fear just because of my own presumed expiration dating ... slightly before I realized that the changes around me gave me reason to be giddy with fear because I recognized what was going on. I left. And almost immediately, the cliff I'd been perched upon crumbled. I was safe, but it was heartbreaking.

And I am still safe.

The things I have accomplished in this position, with this company, pretty easily surpass anything I have been able to manage before.

When I began to look afield, after a couple internal interviews with said previous employer, I reached out to someone I knew from HR there, who had left. And ended up with the company she went to.

She had recommended me to my now-team, specifically my now-executive, knowing that I was a seasoned admin and he was unseasoned with having one, and that I would be able not only to step into required competencies, but also to form the work I'd do and essentially train my team to have an admin at all. The unwritten side of this was that she knew I'd be able to create my own work.

The way this has played out is that I have created my own terms.

My team don't have me doing PowerPoints to speak of, I rarely write memos that aren't my own idea, and apart from monitoring expenses for compliance and speaking to my direct boss's availability, I don't do a lot of the things most people THINK secretaries spend our lives on.

When I first started, one of the managers under my boss's care jumped in with both feet. He had me working on a lot of things, but one key one remains a core part of my work - albeit now in a very different way.

Both Feet left our company years ago, and in his absence, I picked up a great deal in his area. It took a long time to fill his position, so by the time we did so, I was uppity in the extreme in this department. So the new guy came into a situation with a secretary already managing up. And he seems to have been willing to leave me to it. With the result that that administrative tedium I picked up way back when is now an area in which I have streamlined, assertively managed, and brought into an entirely new proportion.

I've saved my company a crap-ton of money, on my own initiative, cemented best practices, insert-your-least-favorite-corporate-speak here. Because I cared, and because nobody else was doing this work, and because nobody told me not to.

I lived right up to what that HR person expected of me, and then some.


So re-reading that old post was interesting, in the context of my continued realization that I seem to be in a job well on its way to Methuselah status as far as my CV goes. I see in it a bit of the same sinking-my-teeth-in/getting-it-done-ery that has served me here, and even some of the amusement I felt at losing a job I so desperately hated (but which I took a long time to realize I did).

I still call that the worst April Fool's Day joke ever - not least as they jumped the gun by a day on the punchline.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


In the past month, comments here have dried up entirely. It doesn't seem to me the content has changed, so I muse about the possibility that summer has led to less traffic.

Unfortunately, it is hard to tell. My traffic stats have for the best part of a year now shown massive bot traffic, from the U.S. It used to be when my "viewership" was up, I'd see Russia all over my posts. Anymore, though, it's domestic traffic, curiously enough all Mac. I'd indulge vanity and think I had a geek stalker but the levels indicate bot, not human.

There are still days Russia dominates the fake traffic around here, and we've always got Asia. But the major point here is that my actual readership appears to be gone.

And just when things have been getting so exciting with the WIP, too.

The point of THIS wallowingly self-indulgent post is this: what content is worth commenting on? Right now, is it better just to leave the blog fallow, wait out vacation season, and not worry that nobody's around much anymore? Or are all of you lurking and yawning ... ?

I have an idea for a good post. But it's possible I may be wasting my time.

(And yes, I know I need to shill this place on Twitter for stats' sake; it does work. BUT it does not ever result in comments.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nothing Old is New Again

Some readers (and Reiders) are aware, I put away my first novel about two years ago. Not easy, at the time - and I am still grateful for those of you who were SO very supportive and sensitive and generous - but it has been the right thing to do. The possibility of a final revision and self publishing still exists, but my focus is decidedly fixed on the WIP, and that feels healthy and very good indeed.

Not long ago, someone online who is aware of The Ax and the Vase expressed interest in reading it. I sent it their way with thanks for the attention, and turned back to the WIP. It's not the first time this has happened, and the very first reader I ever had was very kind indeed.

This time, my reader began to offer questions and some feedback. It presented for me a terrible temptation, and I turned to my old first pages and found myself a rather cruel reader. The thing is dross, there are some pretty words, but I began to feel "OF COURSE THIS DRECK NEVER GOT PUBLISHED" and felt the urge, a rather strong urge, to tear into it again.

Happy endings: the moment was lust, passing and intemperate. I was drunk with self-critique and old dreams. But only drunk. I did hate what I read, enough to wish I hadn't sent it out to the second reader ... but his feedback has hushed, and my interest has quashed. Fortunately, without a hangover. I didn't drink deeply enough. (I didn't read deeply enough; it was that bad, really.)

The WIP is my One True Love, and I will not stray. Indeed, I didn't actually edit anything while I was under the influence, strong as the influence seemed in the moment.

It's a funny thing, a book's corpse - or its ghost. Very much like a bitter ex: there may be some allure, but in the end, most often, you look at the face of once-beloved, and think ... "What did I see in them?" Or a lost love: you remember, but the feeling is distant, like novocaine. Not quite real.

The Ax and the Vase is no longer entirely real for me, and that is both bizarre and necessary. As a writer, there's only so much energy, only so much focus - and monogamy is important for the way many of us need to work. Even pantsers (still not my favorite term, but it does  have its utility) probably tend more often than not to concentrate on one project, even if not in one area.

It occurs to me how often I referred to the WIP, after I discovered the subject and knew it would be my second novel - but before I had finished with Ax - as the thing I had on the backburner.

Ax isn't even on the backburner now. I know, too, what I want my third novel to be; but I am not contemplating it, and the research will be entirely new and separate; no cross-pollination anymore. There is nothing going on in my writing world right now but the WIP. Two long-comatose shorts exist, and now and then I peer at them momentarily. But neither one pulls focus, and neither has really grown in the period I've been working on the WIP.

It is, in its quiet way, gratifying to know how cleanly I've let go of Ax. Not killed it, nor forgotten it. Only the expedient: put it away. Self-publish? Or even some new route? Maybe someday.

But the interest, the intent, and the intensity: are all on the WIP. Invigorating!


I'm going to lead y'all into the next post coming up this afternoon, with a look at writing across gender, a vintage essay from The Atlantic. Early in my going with The Ax and the Vase, I put a great deal of what Mr. X and I call "mindtime" into the fact that I was a woman writing first-person from the perspective of a male character. Never mind that I was also attempting to occupy a world gone now for fifteen centuries; the concern was always gender-based, not world-building. So this essay renews some curious questions for me, and I hope someone will comment here on their experience, mine, the points made at TA, or any other thoughts ...

We're totally living in a time of giants.

Fun with science-nerding - NPR has two really cool pieces this week! One, on the development of GIGANTISM in whales ("It's the baleen stupid!" Okay, and population/migration feeding patterns.). Next: on the development of the human spine. Neat.

More from the animal kingdom (and The Atlantic) - a kinda-gross/macabrely comical moment with a flamingo that teaches us about their ability to balance on one leg. One more intriguing point: "explaining how the birds stand on one leg doesn’t tell us why they do." Too true. (Bonus points for the wonderful photo graphic even I could have created. Hey, but it's clear and gets the point across. "THIS IS THE KNEE." Hee.)

I have not written a real fashion post in far too long, but here is a great look at the revolution of Business Casual and dress through the twentieth century. For twenty years now, I've all but had to apologize (to other women) for being a woman who still wears pantyhose; today, I wore heels and a knee-length skirt, a soft knit blouse, and vintage rhinestones to work. I also "go to the office" about 95% of the time.

Fair warning on the plethora of excellent links above - and beyond - this blog might be simultaneously maddening and addictive. Also worth the clickage. This may be just me ...

One of these days, I'll have to look at the flip side of the casual revolution, and post about the daytime-ization of what once were exclusively evening and/or formal items - satin and rhinestones or precious gems, hemlines once reserve for weddings or for bars ... codes of clothing old and new. And the increased manufacture of cheaper, ersatz reformulations of these things.

Most of us are aware of Marie Curie's research in radium, but I for one was surprised to learn how, in part, it was funded - the part of the story so few of us find romantic. The story of the American women who funded her acquisition of the rare, expensive, element. Makes me proud to be an American woman (who also supports science).

Bat talk! No, this is not a new American talk show.; though it would undoubtedly be an improvement on most. No, this is a look into the linguistic patterns of Egyptian bats. And it seems they have a lot of things to say about where each of them sleeps. "SHOVE OFF!" being chief among those things. I wonder whether American bats just despair of how Kardashian-obsessed the local humans are.

... and then there's the science I am more skeptical to read. Hmm.

The thing about any popular science - even Smithsonian magazine - is, when I see claims that revise "common knowledge" by orders of magnitude, I am instantly skeptical. Indeed, when I saw the "news" about human occupation in North America circa 130,000 years ago (originally in a MUCH less respected news outlet), I took the "it must be this" conclusions of the scientific team as quoted with a very great deal of salt, and moved on without linking it here. Seeing this in a venue for which I have more esteem doesn't entirely change that. There's nothing at SA that contradicts the statements I saw and originally dismissed as facile, and respect for the outlet doesn't redeem paucity of evidence. Indeed, at least SA shows more detail, and healthy questioning of the conclusions. Barring reliable dating or ANY hint of middens, fires, architecture - or *human remains* for that matter, even within a few thousand years of the extraordinary dates claimed here - it all feels like so much faith-based archaeology does: kind of interesting, maybe fodder for a story, but not hard science. And not persuasive. The fact SA indulged the provocative headline is actually kind of bothersome. (Special note: stay away from the comments, they are dispiritingly racist and foolish.)

What do you think? About any or all of these links?

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Casey Karp's blog is a new favorite, not just for his talents in wordlery, but also because he brings the learn-y stuff. This week, take a look at some of Amazon's REALLY chilling new problems. One, the new world in gig-economy logistics, and two, the Authors Guild article he links from that post, about how a new algorithm may cost the publishing industry - and authors. The final sentence here is pretty frightening.

I enjoy Jeff Sypeck's unique outlook; here is an interesting area of cultural context leading up to the American Civil War. Excellent quote from Mark Twain on this. Looking at what we consume as relating to what we enact.

"Rubber ducky, I love you - and the writing you help me do!" Maggie Maxwell has a great strategy, apparently used by IT programmers. I've never heard of talking to the duck, but it does make a kind of sense. (Though, personally? I tend to use actual coworkers or other writers or readers, depending on my issues ... Writing buddies really DO make great ducks. Heh.)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Another Five Years

Right at the moment I was thinking of one scale of time, I was missing out on multiple others. This year, I managed to forget not only TEO's birthday, but Gossamer's (May Day) and Penny's (my April Fool).

Last night, I saw something I have never seen before. Goss has closed his eyes in the *presence* of Penelope before, of course. But last night, as I got up from the laptop and TV to go upstairs and go to bed, I saw Gossamer closing his eyes AT Penelope.

For those non catters among us: a cat's closing its eyes "at" another living thing is a specific communication. It means "I trust you", and is a profound cue to its relationships. Cats aren't famous for handing out their trust lightly. So to see Goss gazing clearly and fixedly on Penny (who was on the couch and oblivious), and repeatedly almost-closing his eyes at her was a revelation to me. I wished it were possible for Pen to understand. But she didn't even see it. She was as unaware of Gossie in that moment as she was of current events in Southeast Asia.

Which is a shame. But I saw something wonderful.

Between the two of them, he tends to be the aggressor when they scuffle, and their scuffles - while not worrisome - don't feel like play. It's not because he doesn't mean to play, it's because Pen doesn't understand him as playing. The two of them speak completely different languages. Shoot, Pen and I speak completely different languages.

I have wished, since the two of them were kidlets, that they would ever become snuggle buddies. But I realized not long ago that Penny actually doesn't know how to snuggle. (Well ... not REALLY.) When she wants to be near me, she can't sit still. She demands pettin's, or just needs to wiggle. She's actually very physically awkward with affection, has been all her life. On the occasion she is allowed on the couch or on the bed, she can lie down, but rarely is she touching me. When I try to cozy up with her, she gets actively confused - and by actively, I mean that the physical contact, no matter how relaxed my demeanor, drives her to activity, even anxiety. She can't sit still and just snuggle. She cannot even seem to conceive of it. So approaches to snuggling confuse her and set her off.

Now, Gossamer: he is a nestler from way back. He likes body heat, and he likes stillness. Sure, he loves a good pettin', but he can settle in for a good sit without being attended to, and often prefers that over any form of movement. Petting itself tends to end in lying still and snoozing.

So obviously, the lack of snuggle-ation between these two has never been antipathetic, it's just that one party is incapable of it. They have their moments. And since I realized Pen doesn't know how to snuggle, I've tried to work her towards at least understanding snoozy physical contact. When she's been allowed on the bed of late, I put my feet against her back and just say the word, "Snuggle." Once or twice, I've been able to achieve non-petting contact when she's been on the couch, and said the word, "Snuggle."

Communicating. I'm slow, but I learn.

Happy fifth birthdays to my Poobahs, yellow and grey. They are my ongoing adventure, most of the laughs in my life, and constant blessings.

I still aspire to be good enough for either one of 'em.

Monday, May 8, 2017


Strangely, considering how much I lean on them for content around here, it's been a while since I did a Collection post. Let's make up for that, shall we?

This post from Casey Karp is a funny bit of truism - on procrastinators, writers, and the facts of documentation. He has a nimble way with a word, go read his blog for this, or many other things!

Who watched Feud, the recent "anthology series" (we used to call these miniseries, kids) about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford? One of the things that captivated me was its production design. From the brilliant cutout-animation of the credits to the airless, sky-less sets - even the outdoors feels indoors in this film - there is a set-bound feel, for such a sprawling piece, covering decades and many cities. The returns to a single home for each star (Crawford had many over the years, but writing historical fiction does involve elision and compilation), the visitation of one windowless and symmetrically-posed restaurant booth, the sets within the sets. It's all among the most amazing visual arts pieces I've ever seen done in a movie or show; there is a realism to the details, but an overwhelming, airless enclosure about the whole.

Many of my friends and family know, I've barely ever been able to tolerate Susan Sarandon at all, but of COURSE she was almost literally born to the role of Davis, and she probably edges out Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford here. Vocally, neither of them puts in a full-time job of sounding much like the original stars, but Sarandon does provide several moments looking and sounding like Davis which are spine-tinglingly eerie. Lange never even attempts the flinty twang of Crawford, which is a shame given that Crawford's voice is so much a part of her persona for those of us who've really spent any time watching her performances, but she doesn't fail as utterly as Faye Dunaway did with her voice. The smoker's modulation she does use is at least entirely appropriate to Crawford's aesthetic, and makes sense as a character choice.

Okay, enough of that. How about the history of the American grin - and the import/export problems with it? Very cool piece by The Atlantic; nicely detailed, but not a long read.

(D)ata showed that flight delays got worse as more people based purchases mostly on price. Airlines didn’t have to compete at being good—they had to compete only at being cheap.

Who doesn't love a good victim-blaming? I don't! In "the evolution of how we do things" news: aaaaahhhhh, airlines. Turns out it's all our own fault we're miserable with air travel. There is a complex web of implications here; not all of it bad, and some of the worst of it perfectly persuasive. Personally, I'm creeped out and concerned about The Uber-ization of Everything, but the wider implications could be interesting, should they actually play out. Hmmm. Lots of hmmm.

Ten high-quality products manufactured in the United States - I had no idea ANY shoes were manufactured domestically any more, and will keep New Balance in mind for my next pair of sneakers. Which may be sooner now, just because I know this.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Murder, I Wrote

I used the tag GREAT writing on this post, because sometimes writing *feels* great ... and you can just about believe your own work might be so, when that happens. Last week's momentum reached a bit of an apex in The Murder Scene ... wherein one of the main characters finds herself about to be burned alive, without touching the fires slowly cooking her life away. And it's as harrowing as it sounds.

Most writers know, reading our work out loud is important, and as I am ruled by rhythms (and a former theater major), I like doing this. It's hard to stifle the desire to read to anyone who makes the mistake of speaking with me on the phone, or coming over, and sometimes I fail. Such as Friday night, when I read the murder scene to my brother.

We both came away kind of shaking our heads. I realized that one key descriptor calls up the very birth scene which opens the novel (and the life of the woman about to meet her end). I wrote that birth scene maybe a decade ago; it was one of those backburner moments during research and side work on this WIP, while I was writing The Ax and the Vase, and I've never wanted to change it (yeah, you're not supposed to edit before you've even finished writing - for me, that "rule" is like typing; I self-correct as I go, you can't ask me not to do that, it is my way of doing things). My brother even approved of that callout; and I trust him as a critic. He's never been shy to criticize me! Heh.

But, yeah. Right now, it is all I can do not to post this scene here, and on my cube wall, maybe a couple billboards, and everywhere in the world.

This is what writing can feel like. It's been a long time since I attained this sense of accomplishment, and the way it followed on (Heaven help me) a THEME showing up uninvited - a theme which will work to create tension ... I mean, wow.

Yes, exquisite phrasing, is it not? "I mean, wow." Me writer. Me college gradual. Look, this is a blog, I'm allowed to save some of my best for the work meant for sale, right?

Few of us are at our most eloquent when things get truly exciting, but the excitement is real.