Saturday, January 29, 2005


So, if all's going well, you should be able to access footnotes by clicking the footnote reference links. This should make a little box appear on your screen, which should contain the text of the footnote. It works on my screen, and it works on my girlfriend's screen, and I'm hoping it works on your screen. So if it doesn't, let me know.(1) I even went back and placed all the footnotes from the couple old posts that use them into the boxes. Yeah! Check me out! It's almost like I know what I'm doing! (2)

Links - Street Smarts, the Dresden Dolls, and Overhyping the Blog Revolution

So I hear that, aside from rumors, there's also lots of these things called "links" on the Internets. And that blogs are like the greatest storehouse of links on the Internet, and that to blog is to link, and to link is to blog, and yes.

MB Matthews: Street Smarts

Just found this the other day. I'm interested in the city around me, so. "Since 1987, I've taught high school in the inner-city public schools of Cleveland, Ohio. The Cleveland Municipal School District is a system fraught with the challenges inherent to a large district and an impoverished city. I am publishing this journal in response to those who are quick to criticize 'those lazy, greedy, teachers'."

The Dresden Dolls Diary

I've been liking to think of myself lately as sort of a pusher. A pusher of music. I find something I like, I try to make other people like it, too. It's not a full time job or even a steady hobby, but I like that connection made, when I find something new, and make someone else find it, and they like it, and there's a shower of sparkling lights and we advance to the next level to battle the boss so we can get the key to get into the castle. So I think it's kind of funny that, of all the albums I've tried to push onto other people recently, the album I've had the most luck with was released by a band who I know for a fact is not for everybody. They're called The Dresden Dolls and they dress up like dolls. They play a style of music called "brechtian punk cabaret", and they perform songs about hermaphrodites and being too broken to love. And robotic prostitution. And, seriously, everybody I've played the album for, has immediately fallen in love with them, forever. (And if they came to Cleveland again they'd certainly have a lot of people there who weren't there the time before.) Amanda Palmer, the female half of the rock-love couple who are the band, she updates this diary fairly often, I think. Tales of the road and tales of artistic treachery. Fun stuff.

"Blog Overkill: The danger of hyping a good thing into the ground" by Jack Shafer

Everybody else on the planet links to this article by Jack Shafer, so I will too. There's lots of responses to the story at the bottom of the story, many of which I agree with and many of which I disagree with. There's comments that agree whole-heartedly with the article and comments that thoughtfully consider the points of the article and then there's comments that pretty much call the author a lying doodie head. Which is funny: there's something funny about fighting the elitism of the establishment with the elitism of the non-establishment. My--admittedly only somewhat well-thought-out--thought on the subject? Screw replacing the old establishment--everything in blog-ville is pure as snow today but once you knock the old king off his throne the corruption's just going to find its way into the newbie sect soon enough anyways. I suspect the true heart of blog-as-news-device lies in commentary and open, free discussion. Isn't that good enough?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

On writing fiction rather than car repair manuals or TV Guide summaries

In the however many years I've been taking writing seriously, I've tackled both fiction and poetry. I've written a decent amount of fiction, and a decent amount of poetry. I've written some good fiction and some good poetry. I've written some bad of each, too. These days, I write fiction pretty much exclusively, for a pretty simple reason: I feel better at it. It was a fairly conscious choice (1) and the funny thing is I'm not sure if it was a cop-out. (2)

When I say I feel better at it, it's that I feel like I can more often get to the point where I feel like I've produced something worthwhile, something solid and good and worth having it be read by others. Statistically speaking, this would be tough to prove. I did write some poems I was quite proud of--actually, I've probably written more good poems than good pieces of fiction. (3) But I guess I've also written more bad poems than bad pieces of fiction--and more bad poems than good poems, too.

Writing poetry and writing fiction are two different challenges and it doesn't much surprise me that we don't have more accomplished fictionists/poets out there than we do. (4) For me, writing poetry was always about casting a really wide net and hoping something got caught. (5) It's easier to ditch a poem that isn't working than it is to ditch a story (or a novel) that isn't working. Once a poem gets near that point where it's all going to click into place, okay, then, it's tougher to lose the emotional and intellectual blah-de-blah that ties and binds you to it and makes you need to see it complete but getting to that point requires a pretty hefty emotional investment from the get-go, one which more often than not I wasn't willing to, or didn't feel strong enough to, put in. (6)

Fiction, on the other hand: fiction pretty much demands that investment up-front. When you're going to write a handful of thousand words as opposed to a handful of words, and when you know that a lot of things are going to happen along the way that might make things work better than you see them working from the start--though you of course get that hunch from the start that things might work out as well as you hope they will--I think it might be easier to get sucked into the process of writing the fiction without as much concern for where it's going to go in the end, than it is to get sucked into the writing of the poem. If a poem doesn't work in a couple lines, it's easier to feel like revision isn't going to make any of it work any better, so scrap it and move on to the next big bright idea. If a fiction isn't working in the first paragraph, you're probably on the right track, because the way the process works, you know that by the time you write the last paragraph, you're going to know better how to make the first paragraph actually work to serve the story. (Or, at least, you're going to know better what to replace that dreadful, cautious first step with.) Writing fiction seems more about finding out where the whole thing's going; poetry, there needs to be a little bit more firmly set, up front, to get to that point. (7)

So somewhere along the line I pretty much stopped writing poetry and devoted myself to fiction and now, some time later, a funny thing's happening: it's starting to feel like fiction's acting the way poetry did. Wide net, less return. This could be for many reasons, which I won't go into here, though I'll note that some are probably "good" reasons and some are probably "bad" reasons and I'm not sure which are the correct or appropriate ones right now, so. (8) But what all of this means is that, on a night like tonight, when I take a piece of fiction I've been working on and I feel like I've "finished" it--or found the appropriate point at which to artfully abandon it--the feeling is exquisite. And I'm not sure why that feeling exists or where it comes from--why was this piece worth pursuing through to a felt end rather than some other scrap of text on my laptop, what makes this piece feel like it's complete whereas other abandoned pieces feel like they could spin on and on into infinity with no end in sight--but I'm glad for it. Especially now, with my recent commitments towards actually trying to send pieces out to places that might possibly put them into print and place them in front of the eyes of people who could potentially become adoring, loving fans. It's a good feeling, and it makes it feel like it's worth doing this, and so, and so, and so. (9)


(1) Though when I made that choice exactly I couldn't say.

(2) I guess it depends on the reasoning behind the choice. If the reasoning was that I wanted to go with the genre that I felt like I could accomplish the most in, and to accomplish the most I should go where I feel the most confident, then no, no cop-out. If the reasoning was that I abhor a challenge and that I like the idea of being a writer but I don't want to stress myself out about it too much, so I should go with what comes more naturally to me, then yes, cop-out. The reasoning never got much more involved though than "I feel better at it so I'll do that and not the other," though, so I'm pretty much up in the air on the question. Of course this all raises questions about why write anyways, but that's probably a whole 'nother footnote.

(3) Never mind the fact that one of the pieces of fiction which I feel is "good" is an entire novel and that the longest poem I ever wrote was maybe a couple pages at most. Never mind that for now. Because maybe it's all just ultimately about the fact that there's potential money in fiction, not so much in poetry. Who knows.

(4) Right now only Stephen Dobyns comes to mind, whose fiction I've read little to none of and whose poems often read like short stories broken up into lines. Damn fine poems I'll say but maybe he illustrates the point.

(5) Nevermind, of course, that I did most of my poetry in college, when I was melodramatic and hormone-drenched. Well, okay, more melodramatic than I am now, at least. Hormones...point taken.

(6) Consider any "you"s or whatever to mean "me". I'm not dictating the way things are. I'm just working out the way things might be, in my case. Maybe. Or not.

(7) A couple notes here. First, again, this is all "me" not "you". No offense taken I hope. Second, I'll admit right out that I'm more impatient when it comes to revising a poem than revising a story, probably for the exact reasons noted above. I know nothing works right out of the door, but, it was always easier to toss a poem. Less investment, etc. So I know real poets probably revised the hell out of their poems way more than I ever did my own, even to my own so-called good poems, but, hey, I was young. Younger. Younger than I am now. Third I think, there's a point here about the words in poetry all counting more than the words in fiction, which is utter bullshit as far as I'm concerned. Words in poems don't "count" any much more so than words in fiction do--they're no more important to the work in either case. Which is to say that in either case all words are utterly crucial to the work. The piece, what have you. Especially now in our Internet-driven ADD culture when they're always a diaper to change or a movie from NetFlix on the end table or a vaccuum to go buy on You don't get extra words in fiction to just throw around; if so I could toss some Esperanto in at the end of every paragraph and it wouldn't matter because not all the words matter. The words are all crucial in each style--but, for different reasons. Which I won't go into because I'm done venting on this topic. Sorry. Newly-discovered pet peeve.

(8) For more on this you can probably see an earlier post on the relatively low amount of "finished" fiction to the high amount of time I've felt like I've spent working on fiction, which said post I'm not going to re-read right now to find out if there is interesting, insightful information contained within, but if you do and you find said connections to be worth examining, please chime in and let me know, because that would be cool.

(9) Oh, and there's another reason for writing fiction rather than poetry, and that's because I've been reading fiction far longer than poetry, and I've liked a lot more fiction than poetry, and so. Actually this is probably the most important or most influential reason behind my decision and just because it took writing this entire essay to reach the point where I could remember or realize that fact should not lead one to misconstrue this piece as a piece of fiction. Or as a piece of crap. Unless it is, then, be my guest.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

On answers and memory

I thought it might seem a little crazy, writing letters to my imaginary friends and all, but dammit if Jude didn't pipe up and scream an answer at me in the car the other morning. Carli's aloof but I wouldn't expect much else from her. So I'm writing up the ending of Jude's story now, and the story's not going to be a great one necessarily but I certainly like it. It's short and offbeat. Maybe quirky but I think maybe it says something worth saying. Paints a picture worth looking at. We'll see.

I got that idea from the book I'm reading now, Past Forgetting by Jill Robinson, which I'm about a third of the way through. It's not bad. She writes about the epilepsy attack that got her into an accident in a pool that caused some pretty nasty damage to her brain's memory banks. The book fills a lust for memoirs that made itself known to me a couple years back that I haven't sated in quite a while, though it's not terribly inspiring or gripping so far. The book focuses on the aftermath of the accident, her working her way through coping and such, and it's written from a first person present tense sort of perspective, and it's written in a way that I think is meant to capture the experience of going through the ordeal itself, all of which is simultaneously quite compelling and somewhat off-putting. It's compelling in the sense that there is a plot--you can see the narrator of the book get "better" and you wonder how far that recovery's going to go. It's a bit off-putting because it can feel (understandably) scatterbrained. It invites questions of narrative structure and composition while also inviting questions of authorial method and such, all of which is more than I care to dig into right now, I think.

What I like are some of the oddly beautiful moments, like the bit quoted in the entry down this page. Jill was a writer before the accident and as the book's been picking up steam (a thin mist of steam but steam) the plot's been driving towards her recovery as a writer as much as her recovery as a person, so you get oddball writerly moments like the one from the quote. Or moments such as:
So my memory may not be so much pulling up an image fixed by a program as rummaging through antique markets with Judith and recreating images, rooms, scenes from long-gone decades. This makes memory more like the act of an artist or storyteller, something to be drawn up. I don't have to remember things or situations so much as to be able to do the act, to find the creative trails.
Which is a fascinating idea. And way way inviting of more capital-q Questions about narrative/intention and such. But, I'm only a third of the way through the book and not ready for that yet, so.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

On Jude

Dear Jude,

I don't think you like your name, but I named you after Jude Law, who was pretty cool in the movie A.I. You never saw it--not your kind of movie, movies not your kind of activity--but he played a sexbot, and he was pretty much programmed to be happy. And to please the ladies. Ladies dig him. Actually, I think ladies dig Jude Law in general. So believe me when I say I wasn't trying to make you feel like a total wuss when I gave you your name. It's not my fault you've gone off and made a mess of your life.

Well, what life you've had, which, last count, was about 2500 words worth of life.

Anyways, funny story about you. I didn't know you existed right away. You kind of hid then jumped out at me when I wasn't expecting it. The way the story goes, I was bored and frustrated with everything I'm working on, the new novel seems like too much to tackle right now, the old short story seems too depressingly close to completion yet too lacking in something firm to make it real. I stared at the screen for a minute or two, the snow falling and the wind blowing outside--we really are having a hell of a winter here, which is something you'd appreciate. I guess winter got the best of me because I went ahead and opened an empty file and complained about it for two paragraphs, throwing down some angst-ridden metaphors about vampires and burials, just trying to get something out of my head. (My head's felt cluttered lately. Too much going on all at once. Or not enough going on at all. Not sure which.)

I didn't think much of it until I hit the third paragraph and I realized it wasn't really me talking, but you. Well, it was me talking, but it turns out, you were saying the exact same things as me. Word for word. And then around the third paragraph, there you were, and you took over. You did a bad thing last week, you said, and I knew what it was and I knew where you were and I know how you'd get there. And I let you tell your story over the next two nights. Quick and dirty, I thought. This works, I thought. It seemed like a good idea, like the right idea: what I needed to do, I thought, was just tell a story, a simple small story without much to it, but the kind of story someone would still read and get something from. Not an unambitious story but a basic story. A story. An easy one. One I could send out for publication in a week's time. (Unlike you, I haven't lost my sense of desire to go forward from here. You, you just gave up on life once it was ready to start. Me, I'm not there yet. Sorry.)

It all seemed so easy, but now, now. I don't know what to do with you. I don't know what you want next. You've done your bad thing. (Which isn't all that bad, though if you knew about the anger you left behind you, you might not have done it. Or you might have done it to other parking lots as well. I dunno.) You've shown us your drunk dad, you've shown us the dead neighbor (well, we didn't see her, but we've seen enough), you've shown us the neighbor's daughter (who, sorry, you never had a chance with her). You've shown us your boss and you've shown us the societal detritus that exists on a putt-putt course during the sweatiest months of summer. Truth is, we've seen a lot, through you, in the little time we've had to make your acquaintance. Now all that's really left for you to do is put the snow plow back behind your boss's car lot, give him a ride to the bar, and fall asleep in your drink while your boss tries to get laid. (He's got no chance, either.)

That's all that's left and dammit if now I'm not stuck.

I can't finish your story and I don't know why. Might be the head clutter, the disarray my writing's felt like it's been in lately. Might be something else.

Might be that you've got something else you've kept hidden from me, something else I really need to know about, something I need to stick into your story to make it really sing. Because maybe it's not as simple as I thought it was going to be. (Truth is, when are the stories, the worthwhile ones, ever as simple as that? When doesn't a story become more engrossing or difficult at the end than it felt like it would be from the beginning? When do stories take just one week to write, when they could take a month, or a year? Yeah, okay, so it kind of fell together with the bugs story, but whatever. Ignore that rule-proving exception for now.) Maybe, waiting to be buried within your little world, your little world which really does have an awful lot going on inside it I have to say, there's something else, some terrible complication that makes you and your simple concerns and your alcoholism and your missing mother and your fading father and your crap jobs and your lack of love for life rise above itself towards something else, something unique, special, wonderful, amazing, terrifying, engrossing. Maybe there's something I'm leaving out that will make you adjectival.

But damned right now if I know what this is.

So, Jude, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to send this letter out and I'm going to wait a while, wait for you to answer. I might forget about you for a little bit, a few days, a month, I don't know how long, but I might have to ignore your existence for the time being, while I'm waiting for you to formulate a response. Because although I've described you as Holden Caulfield growing up to be one of David Foster Wallace's hideous men--perhaps not the most flattering description of an individual ever--I'm proud of your story, where it is right now at least, and I think it deserves a shot, a shot at being what it really wants to or ultimately could be. I think you, Jude, deserve the chance to explain your side of the story, to stop pussyfooting around and to show me what I need to and should see, however difficult or complicating or self-damning it might be. Whatever it is, I should see it, so I can do justice to your story. Whatever your story is.

But a word of advice. You really should answer, and while it might take a while, it shouldn't take too long. Because every day I spend not thinking about you or every day I spend forgetting about you, it's another day you grow a little more sedimentary. Forgetting about you is a way of letting you fossilize yourself. Letting you become just another damned ghost in the hard drive boneyard.

And while you might be a drunk, I don't think you're ready to quit. Not just yet.

Awaiting your response,

On Carli

It's four in the morning. I'm sitting on the edge of the sofa in my workroom. No, you can't call Jeremy and go into tough subjects. Such as bar mitzvahs.

I can't find any characters around, no one I know. I set up a scene. They wander in and stand there in Dacron suits, hands lip at their sides, people uninvited to a party they don't want to go to.

I ball up pages. Throw them across the room. I can call that man who copies instruments, objects, or is it genes? He's from Fullbright--or Oxford? Look it up. What's a passing connection becomes a research project. Yes, here he is--John Halloran. He inserts real things into a computer and reproduces them.

I call Jeremy.

"It's four in the morning there, Mom. What are you doing up?"

"I can't write. I think the doctors knew it wouldn't work."

"Don't you remember what Grandfather told his writers? I think I've told you." He probably tolds me and thinks I'm pretending I've forgotten so I get a chance to call him. That's fine. "I know I've told my writers and it works." Like Lynn Nesbit's, Jeremy's voice changes when he talks about writing. The tone mellows and the beat slows way down. "Just write your characters a letter, Mom, and they will answer." Pause. I can tell he's looking at something else. "Is that all?"

"Yes, that's great."

And he's gone, and I forgot what I really wanted to say.

-- from Past Forgetting by Jill Robinson
Dear Carli,

To the best of my knowledge, you've never pulled a Margaret--you've never asked if I was here. And while it seems a bit pretentious to refer to myself as your God, well. I've created you and into you've poured every ounce of normality and conflict and resolution I could find a way to pour into a single female character. For my own pleasure I've refused to listen to that dictate that damns so many male writers, male writers being people who write female characters who they'd like to date, and how that's trouble. Truth is, I dig interesting girls, and I've tried to make you interesting, as well. Totally normal yet normally interesting. (The fact that you wear glasses sometimes is, and I swear this is true, mere coincidence.)

You never really think much about me these days. You stopped going to church when your parents died, which is pretty understandable, but it's also not like you had some kind of huge break with religion, either. You and religion just drifted apart when you realized you didn't have much in common anymore. No mutual grounds upon which the two of you could stand and chat. And by the way, I would like to apologize about your parents, and they way they died, or at least, the way that I think, right now, that they will die, when I get to that part of the text. It hasn't actually happened yet, not for real--you, your parents, your life, everything that happens to you, it's all so tenuous right now. Anything can change, still, I think. Except for your parents. You loved them, I know that, even though you had to get away from them, because you had to find yourself just as much as I had to find you. And you never got to say goodbye to them, you never get to say all the things to them that you wanted to say, when they were around, when you were too busy with your own life, your own self-discovery (as unconscious as it might be), when you were too busy assuming the immortality of everyone around you to believe you'd really need to say the things that were most on your mind. And maybe you'd wish that could have changed, maybe you wish for even a second now and then that your history could have been different. But it can't be. I've thought about it a lot. Your parents, they're going to die, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. And you won't be there for it. And I guess it might be easier if you'd get mad at your creator, but, you don't. You just fade away from God. Or let God fade away from you.

I guess maybe that's something we have in common, you and I. That whole self-discovery thing. That whole assumption of the immediate immortality of those who we care about most. I dunno. I dunno.

But there's plenty we don't have in common, plenty that separates you from me, plenty that makes you interesting to me in a way that differs from the way the rest of the characters in your story--your sister, your ex, your ex's friend, your ex's fiancee--interest me. You, you're not one for getting outside of your head. Okay, and maybe I don't much get outside of my head, either, but I guess it's my job to do so, and I do try. I mean, you wouldn't be here if I wasn't interested in figuring out how you, how someone like you, thinks. What makes you tick, Carli? You'd never ask this about anyone else. It's what made you and James so different. I'm still not sure what he saw in you, and I don't know why you even gave him the time of day. It's part of your history I haven't quite figured out, though I know it's there, and I've got to write it out at some point.

Actually, there's really, really a lot about you, a lot that, you know, if you'd not mind, I'd like to know about you. Because you're something other, something not me, and it kind of scares me a little bit, to know that you're my responsibility, or something like that. Like, what's up with the whole blindness to other peoples' thoughts thing? I mean, it's a little weird to me. I get obsessed with my own mind, which okay is fine, but I'm also interested in the other, and you're just. Just not. I find that strange and intriguing. How could you date James for as long as you did, all the couple months it was, and not once wonder about him? Here you are, this corporate figure climbing the ladder (and that glass ceiling, I'd apologize, but I can't, and I think you'll see why), and here's James, this painter, of art, not walls, who you met in a bar or in some strange circumstance I haven't figured out yet, and. You two, you're so polar opposite. Yet you dated him. Not for selfish reasons, as far as I can tell. And yet not for selfless reasons, either. It's like you did it because you felt you were supposed to. But, what was really going through your mind when you were with him? Why him?

And why the corporate life? Again, I have to apologize, I've put you in an office with no clear mission and no direct purpose right now. I mean at least with Tim, he was in an office until I figured out it made more sense for him to be in a library. You, though, I know it makes sense for you to be in an office, though doing what, to what ends, I haven't figured that out yet. I know you're where you need to be though the details need to be filled in, just yet. But what are you doing, other than accepting papers into your in box, pushing them out the out box? Do you care? I suspect you don't. I suspect you'd be happy in any corporate environment, where you get work to do and you dress nice, and your coworkers don't bother you with their personal details all that much. I can't leave it at that, of course, because the people who will read your story, they'll need to know more about your world, as little as you might care about it, so they'll understand who you are and where you're coming from so much better. And is that weird? Someone as so completely non-exhibitionist as you being the subject of strangers' scrutiny? I try not to think about that too much for fear it will keep me up at night, wondering.

Carli, you've got burden, and that's your word, not mine. You've got a sister to take care of. (She's stronger than you give her credit for, of course, but there's only so much I guess you can be expected to know. When she was getting old enough to know such things about herself, you were busy running as far away as you could. Nobody would blame you for that, but.) On this, I'd like only to say, that I'd like you to get over the hump of thinking of yourself as unfairly burdened, just for a while. Just long enough to show me what's on the other side of that. Are you hiding something, there? Are you actually deeply scared of responsibility? Scared of losing someone else? Denying what life's taught you, so far? What else is there to that? Help me out.

I'm sorry if these letters don't make much sense. I guess I'm figuring you out at the same time as I'm figuring out how to figure you out. All a means of figuring myself out, too, I guess. Because really, I'm no God. I create, I destroy, but in the end, its you who has to react to it. And that's what's most interesting in this story.

More later, if you'll listen.

- Darby

Thursday, January 13, 2005

On alien farts and sex appeal

I don't like the word "blog". Actually, I detest the word. I'm sorry, but "blog" just isn't sexy enough for what we're doing here. Here we are, forging a publishing revolution on par with the invention of the printing press, bringing push-button publication to the masses, allowing every Joe Shmoe on the street to play armchair President, and we go off and give our tool, our mode, our way of being the name of the sound of an alien's fart. Even then, the word's not even sexy enough to describe the gastrointestinal distress of an otherworldly being. I'm sure you can imagine the word in use in polite KliXtHi'an conversation:
Alien 1: Aww Qu'xth'rp, did you just blog?

Alien 2: *sheepish tentacle waver*

Alien 3: GHT'plo&k! That word, it stinks!
See, the tool, it's got to sound hot. Like: I love to write on my ThinkPad laptop. And I tell you this: whoever came up with these terms, they knew what they were doing. See, laptop, that's a sexy word. It's got a sort of hip-hop street rhythmic sensuality to it, internal rhyme, juxtaposing vowel vocalizations. Mmm. Sexy. And my laptop, made by IBM, is a ThinkPad. Again: ThinkPad. Sexy. It's got style, it's got attitude, it's got rhythm. It's got thought right there inside it! I love thought! Thought makes me happy! Put them together: my ThinkPad laptop. We've just merged the mind and the crotch into one luscious object of writing bliss! My ThinkPad laptop: Brains! Body! It's everything I look for in a woman! But it's in a computer! Sign! Me! Up!

So I say we do away with the term blog. I'm open to suggestion on replacement terms. I've come up with a few to get discussion started:
  • Sex. Let's just call it sex. There's plenty of words that have multiple meanings, and I don't see why sex shouldn't get another meaning added on to it. Everyone loves sex appeal, and once the blogging revolution is linked directly to sex, nobody will be able to doubt its sexiness. Example useage: "Did you check out that sex I told you about last night?" "I totally sexed that link." "Hey, you need to check out my sex, go to, then sign up for an account at so you can sex my sex with your sex." "Push-button sexing for the masses."
  • Ok, I had some other ideas, but I think it's obvious that none of them will be nearly as perfect as sex. Obviously.

On my own writing, or lack of

Writing projects I am ostensibly working on right now:

  • A currently untitled long novel about five main characters grappling with history: their own personal histories, the intimate histories of their various relationships, and the overall scheme of public and/or global history. Takes some inspiration from two characters originally roughly created during NaNoWriMo 2003, idea fleshed out during 2004 during a many-months long burst of writing (300,000 words of “zero draft” quality).

  • A long short story, “Welcome to Planet Fabulous,” that started out in 2003 under a very different title focusing on a 30-something stuck-in-childhood female pedophile; in the current incarnation, last worked on in October 2004, she’s now a college aged girl with college aged girl problems, but interesting problems, I hope. (Though actually she is a 30-something happy-to-be-grown-up female who can’t quite shake the feeling that something went wrong, somewhere along the line, and she tends to think about some stuff that happened in college, though never too deeply, not as deeply as the story lets on.) Common themes between incarnations: distance between herself and her parents, distance between herself and her past, character’s desire (vague or firm) to fix something (in potentially the wrong ways).

  • A short short story, currently untitled, about an alcoholic living in Cleveland during the winter who drives a snow plow who does a quote-unquote very bad thing. Loosely related to “There Were Lightning Bugs,” see below. Main character, I’ve come to think, is who Holden Caulfield would be if he grew up to become one of David Foster Wallace’s hideous men. Only very recently begun, only really lacking an ending for it to be considered a finished draft. Surprised me by showing a possible connection to the Bugs story, which reminded me of an idea I had shortly after writing the Bugs story, about the writing of a sequence of stories, all loosely connected to each other, with moments from the various stories illuminating aspects of the other stories in the cycle, all of the stories which could be ultimately, eventually packaged together as The Dildo Cycle. Might be a bit too ambitious to contemplate right now, though.

Writing projects I have completed in the last four years:

  • One short story, “There Were Lightning Bugs,” about a late-20s-something going-nowhere male thinking back to childhood, when his sister had a pet rock and his bored parents were still alive. The pet rock was named Dildo, and it died; later in life, the main character’s sister went to jail for computer hacking-related crimes. Vague focus on a theme of the existence or lack of imagination in the two main characters, the brother and the sister. Has been rejected by five publications, but I won’t start worrying until there’s 30 rejection letters on my desk. Maybe even more—I’m very proud of this story, in that it does exactly what I believe it needs to do, and I did it just right. Is now loosely related to short story mentioned above.

  • One novel, Curl, about a 20-something guy, his psychic mother, his genius scientist father, his neurotic ex-girlfriend, his dangerous and damaging best friend, and a female stranger with very red hair, and how they deal with the main character’s father’s morality-gone-AWOL,-maybe? unknowable scientific creation/mistake, a mysterious, unmutable cloud of smoke that has popped into existence right outside Ashtabula, Ohio. Slightly fantastic centerpiece, but, attempts to tackle themes of science and romance, game theory and national enemies, complex personal relationships and love and loss. Originally drafted during NaNoWriMo 2001, final copy completed just prior to NaNoWriMo 2003. Proposal letter has been rejected by four agents. Won’t start worrying until there’s a lot more rejection letters than that on my desk.

Amount of real actual work I’ve managed to complete tonight:
  • Yeah, how about nothing.

That’s it. That’s what I’ve been doing with my life. A handful of as-of-yet not abandoned projects, a pair of completed projects with a smattering of rejection letters between them. It doesn’t feel like all that much, even when I remind myself that half of the last four years were devoted to a single novel (during which time, somehow, the completed short story was also written), and that some amount of time before the first novel began, I was still putzing around with poetry, before I decided (wisely, I think) to abandon it in favor of prose. Not to mention the constant existence of both a full-time job and a sometimes distracting personal life. All of that taken into account, this should seem like a not so bad amount of material to have produced by this point.

And yet.

There’s some truths you have to learn for yourself, along the way. Truths I’ve learned about myself along the way include:

  • I’m very bad at sending things out, seeking publication. It’s taken some conscious effort in the last half year to get better at this, and while I wouldn’t pronounce myself cured, I’d say that yes, I have gotten better. This has required the development of systems that involve devotion of a single night a week to the preparation of mailing materials (and acceptance of the accompanying loss of writing time this entails) and consumption of cookies and/or donuts and/or chicken. Fear of rejection, conveniently, has never been the factor that’s prevented me from sending materials out. These days, I cherish rejection, because it means that yes, I did, in fact, send something out, and it means I can call myself a real writer, not a hobbyist. I might not do the little dance of joy when I see the envelopes with my address written in my handwriting on them when I open up my mailbox on my way home from work, but they’re still nice to see, and they’re nice reminders of what’s been done and what will be done again. No, the major initial factor preventing me from sending stuff out was sheer laziness. (I’m selectively lazy. Write a novel? Sure. Write an address on an envelope? Get bent.) Now, I guess, the factor’s becoming a lack of material worth sending out.
  • Writing one novel doesn’t mean writing novels becomes easier. Nope. I’m looking at the stack of paper on my kitchen table right now, a stack of pages with 300,000 words worth of rough ideas printed across them, and I’m thinking of the file on my laptop with a prologue now contained within it, a prologue that bears little to no resemblance to much of anything contained within the stack of pages, and I’m thinking of the other file on my laptop that has about a single page’s worth of Chapter One saved within it, the ideas and events of which I never imagined would have to happen when I was originally writing the 300,000 words, the ideas and events of which I didn’t really latch on to until I was almost done freshly reading through those words for the first time, and I’m thinking, “You’ve got to be shitting me,” because, really, you’ve got to be shitting me. I recognize that my methods are somewhat work intensive, and I’m okay with that, because I work how I’m comfortable working, but, my god, man, this ought to be so much easier now, with one completed novel under my belt. But nope. Writing novels doesn’t get easier with practice. It just gets more challenging, I suspect.

  • I really do work better in coffee shops, I think. I was writing in coffee shops until a month or two ago, when I decided to try working at home, in an effort to save a little time and to save the five bucks a pop each trip to the coffee shop inevitably wound up costing me, damned tip jars, damned nice-guy genes. I have gotten some work done at home; I wrote the entire prologue for this second novel right where I’m sitting now. And to avoid working on that novel I did start writing this draft of this story about this guy who drives the snowplow. But the last few days have been pretty skittish. While I’m not ready to call it quits on the writing from home thing just yet, because I think there’s been other factors at play other than the distraction of not being in a distracting place, I’m starting to wonder.

  • Starting a project is next to impossible. But once something is started, once a few lines are down with no intention of calling them perfect, spitting stuff out becomes easy. I mean, yeah, okay: I recognize that spitting out 300,000 words worth of stuff—even though that stuff is actually zero-draft quality—in under a year is probably grounds for hospitalization on the basis of insanity. But I work well that way. I can spit and spit and spit until time runs out. Once stuff is spat out, revising it is hard but not next to impossible at first, then pretty easy once I get going, though not necessarily as easy as the spitting process. Revising often involves totally re-writing, though I still think of it as revising, perversely. Once I get into sentence-level stuff, moving sentences and/or words around, I tend to over-do it, and lose much of, though not all of, my forward momentum, getting mired in the mundane. So there’s hurdles with starting, and there’s hurdles with revising. Finishing, on the other hand, is sort of a hurdle right in front of a brick wall. You can jump it, but you’re just going to hurt yourself. I’m not sure what the deal is here but I seem to have the most trouble with finishing things. Which is why I’m way proud of the novel and the (one) short story. Because they’re done. Or abandoned in a state that I feel happy with them, at least. No art ever being finished, yadda yadda.

  • Bullet points make writerly introspection sexy.


So. So, I’m sorry. What was the question?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Concept journals. Briefly considered. Soon forgotten.

I've been doing online writing for about three and a half years now, on and off, most of that time being devoted to a LiveJournal, some of that time being devoted to a Blogger blog. The LiveJournal's been good to me, but lately I've been thinking of either moving on or diverting my attention elsewhere. I think this is partially due to the fact that I recently hit a small landmark when I posted my 1000th post. 1000 posts to a single online journal. That's a lot, I think. I mean, I haven't done any statistical studies of journals or anything, so I can't prove that that's a lot. It sure feels like a lot. Considering that those 1000 posts took me about two and a half years to do, that averages out to something like one point something posts per day.[*] That's over a post each day! For over two years! And sure some of those posts are good[**], but, really, wow, that's an awful lot of me saying "I wrote today" and/or "I just drank some coffee" and/or "Wow breathing in oxygen is totally awesome the way it makes you live".[***]

Another reason I've been thinking I need to move on, is that I'm tired of the Internet. I find the Internet exhausting. It's not just that I spend so much time on it, but that the content of it is just exhausting. Right now, I can get just about anything I want or need, information-wise. All I have to do is open a new tab in my browser, put some words like "italian art" or "refrigeration mechanics" or "anime fiends who dress up as huge-breasted anthrokitties" and I'll have at least some information on the topic of my choice. I have access to samples of just about any type of music I might feel like listening to but won't, the opinions of easily 48 billion people who I can't keep up with, a million recipies for romantic dinners I'll never get up the energy to cook, and more news than I could ever expect Dan Rather to read to me even if he were granted immortal super powers and the television equivalent of
academic tenure.
[*4] So I guess you could say that, when I say I'd like to move on, what I really mean is, I'd like to yank the DSL cable out of the wall and go outside and sit in a dandelion patch for a while and think about nothing in particular. But, I live in Cleveland, it's the middle of January, and the dandelions aren't due to bloom for about five months, so until then, the only possible response to this quandry is to move on to the creation of a new blog. Which, despite the presence of who knows how many logic pretzels by this point of this post, makes some sense to me, though not enough to really warrant a detailed explanation.[*5]

So, a new blog. But, why? To what end? What would be the theme, the style, the angle? I'm creating a blog, I'm thinking before I created the blog, because I'm tired of the Internet and it being so full of stuff that I feel morally obligated to fill it with yet more of my own material. What material are I going to put there, I ask myself, a lot, coming up with multiple ideas for high-concept journals, most of which I considered briefly for the amazing ideas they were, then immediately decided I'd never get my act together long enough to actually do them:
  • A first-person journal told without a single use of the word "I".
  • 52 posts, 500 words a piece, one epic story.
  • Photos of my keychain hard drive in strange places.
  • Imaginary conversations between myself, Nick Cage, and a ball of wax.
  • Daily fan mail, written to (or by) Nick Cage.
  • Actual references to, like, news, and culture, and stuff.
And while, sure, the last idea is obviously the least valid of the above, it's still the one I'm leaning towards. Because...there's a lot of stuff out there. And....I have ideas about some of that stuff. And...there's room enough on the Internet for my ideas. And I've done enough personal stuff for a while, I think, and there's always the LiveJournal for stories about my cats[*6] or funny stories people tell me about peeing themselves.

But, honestly, I don't know, for sure. Mostly I'm looking for a change. Something different, sometimes. So, you know, tune in, if you like. It's quiet here right now. I'm kind of cool with that. It's a nice change, for now.[*7]
[*] And yes, I did take some months off in the middle, and I did, believe it or not, hit some other slow points, so the figure quoted above is in fact low, and oh dear god, if the concept of this journal is going to turn out to be "Uses footnotes," I'm going to need to find a way to do this that isn't manual.

[**] I'm thinking about collecting the highlights out of the journal and packaging them up with some other stuff, stuff that's either on my hard drive right now or stuff that I'd like to push out of my brain and onto my hard drive, into some kind of book, something that I might be able to drop on the doorsteps of small presses who might consider publishing such a random collection of essays and true stories and such, and even if they consider it only for a split second before they order me off their property because it's just weird to show up on someone's doorstep like that, it might still be a fun experience. At least until the bit with the shotguns and the attack dogs.

[***] The LiveJournal's been fairly informal, in comparison to the Blogger blog that came before it, which was more of an attempt to write semi-polished pieces of prose that people might actually want to spend time reading. Of course now I look at it and I think, eegads, even I don't want to spend time reading it, but that might just be the whole looking back at things you wrote a long time ago thing kicking in. Because it has been a long time since I wrote that stuff, and I've written a lot of other stuff since then, and, well. I like to think I've learned a thing or two since then. Maybe.

[*4] Seriously how cool would that be. Dan Rather takes the news desk in his hands one day and flings it across the studio before screaming at the camera, "Yeah, we messed up, but what are you gonna do about it, chump?" Then he'd grab splintered wood from the exploding desk and kill some vampires. There's got to be some in the industry. I mean, if I was a vampire, I'd sure want to work for the evening news.

Though I will say it's partially Maureen's fault, because she picked up a LiveJournal, through which I learned about her blog, through which I learned that my old Blogger account was still active, or at least, it still existed, which lead me to learn that yes, that thing did happen a while back where Google bought Blogger, and unlocked the Plus features for everybody, so I could put the blog on my own Web site, which was way easier than my half-baked plan of installing blogging software of my own, were I to decide to do so, etc etc etc, next thing you know, here we are, here I am, here you are, lovely. Blame McQ for this. I do.

[*6] I have no cats.

[*7] Of course, also note that, this journal is, indeed, on my web site, which is one clue to the existence of another reason I've felt like moving on: the desire to create a blog that will conquer the blogosphere, win awards, gain a broad devoted following, and generally wreak havoc on the nation's political, literary, and weather climate. I admit it. I do. I want to take over the world. Which is why I'll eventually retitle this blog to "Me & Dan Rather: Kicking Your Ass".