Bleargh

I’ve been staying up too late all week. Yesterday I ended up taking a nap in the afternoon, but then I stayed up until 12:30, and that seems to have thrown me off, because when my alarm went off this morning I felt like a zombie. I snoozed for half an hour, and when the alarm went off again, I snoozed for another 15 minutes, and when it went off again, I almost snoozed for another 15 minutes, but after about three I reluctantly roused myself and shuffled into the bathroom.

I was sitting on the toilet scrolling through Tumblr when I noticed it was 7:15…sleeping in doesn’t leave much time for morning prep. So I got dressed and went to work and felt dead until I finally got my morning protein shake into me.

My day was spent organizing things that needed to be organized and researching things that needed to be researched. When my day was over I came home and asked Sean if he wanted to do Thai tonight. He did, so he got in the shower.

(He didn’t work today, so when I got home he was sitting at his desk in his white undershirt, all rumpled from sleep, his hair going everywhere, looking incredibly sexy, and I am unhappy to report that my period started this morning.)

It was raining, so we had to cover our heads and run to and from the car, and I had to watch for the usual drivers who don’t seem to care when road conditions are hazardous, zipping around, tailgating, turning from the wrong lane.

Dinner was very nice; I tried the dumplings, which are filled with a paste made of many different meats, and the Penang curry, which was delicious. Sean had a spicy herb soup with chicken and fried rice with shrimp. This was the first time I didn’t have any jasmine tea.

The rain had slowed to a drizzle by the time we were finished, so the drive back wasn’t nearly as treacherous. We stopped at Baskin Robbins and sat in the car for a bit as Sean finished telling me about something frustrating that had happened with one of his gaming friends. Then we went in and I got two scoops of butter pecan and Sean got a mocha cappuccino blast.

We came home and I basically read fanfiction and surfed Tumblr for hours. Not the most productive evening, but my brain doesn’t quite seem to be in creative mode. I opened a new Word document, thinking I’d start on an idea I had earlier, but it doesn’t seem to want to come out right now.

I’ve sort of hit a snag with the longer fanfic I’ve been working on as well. I’m not sure what to do next. I have some pieces, but I need to fill in a lot of gaps. Hopefully I’ll figure something out tomorrow.

I have had some writing fun recently, though. This past week I wrote a series of unrelated five-sentence ficlets as part of a Tumblr meme. Followers sent a sentence and I had to write five follow-up sentences. I ended up writing 34 of them. It was so much fun. I want to do it again.

I’m really enjoying interacting with other writers on Tumblr. I am often intimidated by how talented and prolific they all seem to be, but I’m managing to keep from comparing myself to them too much. I’m just trying to do the best I can and enjoy it.

Tomorrow I plan to sleep in, then focus on writing. Wish me luck. :)

Not much real writing lately

The past two weeks have been pretty light, writing-wise. My moments of strongest inspiration were a Night Vale one-off called “Brother” and Flace; otherwise I’ve been struggling with Opening a Door and its side story, trying to get back into the rhythm. It’s possible this writer’s block, or whatever, is contributing to the low moods I’ve been having. Or vice-versa. Regardless, it’s very irritating. I’m hoping being in a different place—my parents’ house—and being around lots of people who love me will help reboot my brain. I wrote about my moods separately so I could count that as today’s writing, because since I’ve been here I’ve mainly just been reading or spending time with family, and I haven’t written any fiction at all.

It is so easy to fall into “rumination,” thinking depressing thoughts over and over. My worst one lately has been questioning whether my writing is even worth doing, when there are so many amazing writers out there already. Who will read me? Does my writing really affect people? Does anyone care? Will it matter if I don’t write? It’s possible that these thoughts are affecting my motivation, even as I consciously fight them.

It’s also hard to feel good about my writing when the majority of what I’ve done so far is fan fiction. I think fan fiction is wonderful, and some of the best writing I’ve ever seen is fan fiction. Hell, much of our “legitimate”—culturally acceptable—entertainment is technically fan fiction, retellings of existing stories. But somehow it’s not seen that way; there’s an arbitrary distinction between the fan fiction that is licensed, sold to the masses, and the fan fiction that is just done out of love. “Do you have any original work?” one person asked me. “Oh, no, why are you writing fan fiction?” moaned another.

Honestly, I have just been trying to write every day. I’ve really been trying not to worry about writing something important. I want to write good stuff, but I’m not trying to meet any other criteria.

I want to have fun with my writing. It would be nice if it led somewhere. It would be nice if I could sell something I wrote. But it’s hard to profit on writing. You have to be far more prolific than I’m managing at the moment.

Let me just try to write what I want to write, what I enjoy writing, for a while longer. Let me get to a point where I feel like I can consistently put out a decent amount of writing. For a time there I was doing really well, but these past two weeks have been a significant bump. For now, let me just try to work through this.

That time I wrote a love story about a face and a floor

Tumblr is a lot of fun, I’ve discovered. Here’s an example.

I was about to go to bed the other night when I noticed a hilarious conversation on my dash. One of the people I follow, Athena, had sent another person I follow, Tasogare, an OTP/BROTP/NOTP ask. OTP stands for “one true pairing” and basically means you ship it—you want those two characters to get together. BROTP signifies a strong friendship, and NOTP means nope, you never want to see those characters romantically involved. The OTP/BROTP/NOTP ask is where you send someone a pairing and see how they feel about it.

The pairing Athena asked Tasogare about? “Face x Floor.” Apparently she was typing a different question, tripped over her cat, and smashed her own face into the floor, and so she decided to ask about that instead.

Tasogare replied seriously that the relationship seemed aggressive, and so it was a NOTP.

This was too freaking funny not to get in on. I reblogged with:

WHAT NO FLACE 4 LYFE

THEIR LOVE IS SO MISUNDERSTOOD

Athena and Tasogare responded with false outrage, discussing how horrible I was for shipping an abusive relationship, and then started discussing how great it would be to have fan fiction of this ship. Another person, Usual, chimed in with a funny, pun-filled story. Athena kept pretending to freak out about how terrible the whole idea was, and I was so amused I asked my followers if the next thing I post should be Flace fan fiction.

(Tasogare “liked” this.)

Late last night, I was crawling into bed after posting a new chapter to a fanfic that’s been dormant for awhile. I wasn’t thrilled with the new chapter, but it was something. As I pulled up the covers I realized I wanted to write about Flace. I was already in bed, though, and my laptop was shut down for the night.

So I wrote the following on my phone.

Brain was opposed.

No. Opposed was not strong enough a word. It needed a modifier.

Brain was violently opposed.

It was unnatural, after all. Face belonged in the heavens. Beautiful Face, soft of skin, should remain here, where her loveliness could be seen and appreciated by all. Here, far above the hellscape that was the domain of Floor. That rough, cold, low demon, that…creature, unworthy of even seeing Face, let alone touching her.

Brain was violently, violently opposed.

Unfortunately, the traitorous Legs were not.

At every opportunity, Legs would attempt to wrest control away from Brain, to stoop, to kneel, to lie flat.

Brain’s struggles against Legs were difficult and tiring and only marginally successful. They sent Legs stumbling and set Arms, the uninvolved bystanders, flailing. At the best of times, Brain would force Legs straight, continue walking. At the worst of times, Face would crash down to Floor, supple cheek smashing into that lowly being.

Brain could only hope that the pain would dissuade Face, would convince her that what she was feeling was little more than a fancy, a crush, a passing notion.

But time and time again it happened, and Face was resolute.

“I love them,” she said fervently, and Brain wailed. No, no, no. This was wrong. This was obscene. Face belonged in the heavens.

“She loves them,” Legs said. “She loves them.”

“I love her,” called Floor from below, their voice horrid and grating and evil and offensive to Brain’s delicate sensibilities. “I love her.”

Face was resolute, and Floor was resolute, and Legs stood by them.

But Brain was also resolute.

I posted it and went to bed, feeling satisfied.

This morning I woke up to such nice comments. This is extremely egotistical, but I want to save them here, to remember how fun this was and how much I enjoyed it and how happy I was to have my contribution appreciated.

Athena wrote:

 I DON’T WANT TO LIKE THIS

I REALLY DON’T WANT TO LIKE THIS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN FIC

I DON’T

I CAN’T

I AM THE ANTI-FLACE

WHY MUST EVERYONE ON HERE BE SO PERSUASIVE WITH THEIR AMAZING WRITING

NOOOOOOOO

*rocking back and forth w/ covering eyes* I am the anti flace, i am the anti flace, I am the anti flace. No matter how gorgeously written the fic, I MUST stay strong for my cause. I cannot ship  it. I CAN’T. I MUST KEEP MY IDEALS INTACT. I MUST NOT GIVE IN TO FLACE.

#I really am going insane #It’s actually happening #Imagine me checking into a mental hospital and the thing that pushed me over the edgde of the cliff of insanity WAS A SHIP I ACCIDTALLY MADE DURING AN ASK WHEN I TRIPPED OVER MY CAT #*ACCIDENTALLY #WHat evEN. #You really are an amazing writer though #Seriously write a book or something #flace #anti-flace #FacexFloor

(That last bit is the post tags…you can probably see why I want to keep them)

Tasogare liked the post, and Usual chimed in with:

We have the best shippers!!

#Conversations #Flace #Flace 5ever #OTP #I love you so much cosleia that it should be measured in light-years #And I bow down to you #All hail and long live the Queen of Flace #The Writer Supreme #All Hail cosleia!

So yeah, I wrote a love story about a face and a floor, and people enjoyed it, and it was nice. :)

I’m a little overwhelmed

I’ve come down from the writing high. Or maybe it wasn’t a high. Whatever it was, I’ve come down, and I was all set to just casually, leisurely enjoy writing for awhile.

I’m in a dangerous place today, though. I was once again reminded just how little I know. I’ve been writing fan fiction in the Night Vale universe, but that universe is suffused with the occult and horror and other things that I have honestly never really been that interested in, and as such have very little knowledge of. And Night Vale is a very smart work generally, filled with allusions I know I’m missing.

Sometimes I can accept my ignorance, or rather, accept that I have a lot to learn and am capable of learning it. But sometimes I feel like I’ve wasted so much time, that I know so little, that I’m a failure. Today is tipping toward being one of those times.

Today’s episode was emotionally draining. It’s left me somehow restless and numb. I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I don’t want to write. I want to just…recover.

But if I don’t write, I will break my streak, and I don’t want to do that either.

I’ll write. I’ll write something. Maybe it will be really short, but it will count.

And then I’ll try to figure out what the hell I seem to be yearning for.

Whew

Yesterday was pretty rough.

I’d been on a writing binge for the preceding four days, working on and then posting two long chapters of my fan fiction work “Opening a Door.” I felt driven; I needed to get the next pieces of the story out. I stayed up two hours late to finish the second one. I felt all right when I got up yesterday morning, but the lack of sleep did not bode well for the rest of the day.

(In an interesting parallel, my main character was also rather frenzied, and, like me, he had also forgotten to shower for a couple days.)

I’d waited to post the second chapter until morning, which was good—I ended up revising the ending paragraph, smoothing out the prose, and catching several errors. Then it was time for work. Due to the winter weather—there was a warning about black ice on the roads—I worked from home for a couple hours, then went to the office at 10.

Work was stressful, with various deadlines looming and lots of problems cropping up. I had to turn my music up as loud as I could in my earbuds to block out noise so I could concentrate.

I generally have a protein shake at 6:30 before leaving for work, then graze on some sort of breakfast food from 8:30 to 10. Because I’d left for the office two hours later than usual, I had second breakfast two hours later than usual, meaning I was actually still eating it at 1 o’clock when a coworker asked if I wanted to go with her to the cafeteria.

I really didn’t feel like I could eat, but I went anyway, thinking maybe taking a break would be nice. Unfortunately, I was wrong. As we walked, we got into a conversation I did not have the mental capacity for. She kept asking questions I didn’t feel like I could answer. I became increasingly frustrated. I couldn’t think. I ended up not buying any lunch, and, unfortunately, grousing a little at her. She was understanding, though, and I apologized for not being better company. Ultimately we just went back upstairs to our desks after she’d purchased her salad.

Finally at around 3 I got hungry again. The cafeteria had closed at 2, and I didn’t feel like I had time to leave the building to pick something up. So my oh-so-healthy lunch wound up being a package of peanut butter Nekot cookies and a Snickers bar from the vending machine.

Another coworker came by and started asking me a bunch of questions about myself. I can’t even remember what she was asking now; all I know is I felt like I was being put on the spot, and I got really frustrated again. I was able to express this without being completely rude (though I was a little rude). She backed off, explaining that she is just really interested in finding out how people tick. I apologized and said, “I am more open to that sort of thing at other times.”

Since I’d spent the morning revising and I didn’t write anything at lunch, I only had the evening to get something down. At first, I just tried to unwind, let my mind relax a little. I had a little fun with the dress meme and the llama meme that both happened to crop up yesterday, and I read a recently-posted chapter of an excellent fanfic I’ve been following. Finally, I wrote 77 words on a story that will be a companion piece to “Opening a Door.” Not much, but it was definitely enough for my exhausting yesterday.

I’m definitely going to try to eat properly today. There’s no winter advisory this morning; it’s cold and the cars are frosted over, but there should be no problem getting to work. I’ll grab second breakfast as usual and eat a real lunch. That should help today be a better day.

Swept up

The other day on Facebook, I posted,

I just want to read, and write, and read, and write, and read, and write.

That is all I want to do.

Yesterday I published chapter four of my fanfic “Opening a Door.” It was the most difficult chapter so far to write. For a long time it didn’t feel right; I had certain events that I knew should occur, but the story wasn’t cohesive. I’ve been writing in Notepad, but I needed to be able to “see” more of the story, see its structure, so I pasted it into Word, and that helped. I moved the part of the story that had been the climax to the beginning, because I realized it wasn’t really the climax…and suddenly everything started working.

It was so satisfying to finish that chapter, to keep digging at it until it came out the way I wanted it to.

I love this feeling. I want to keep going. I want to know what happens next in this story, and I want to work on all my other stories.

I’m so happy I’ve committed to writing every day.

Using technology to make in-house style guides more efficient

Companies that put out lots of content, have lots of employees, and want consistency in voice across their messaging will often have a style guide, which is good. If technology is leveraged, this can be even better.

Let’s say a company wants certain text in uppercase and certain text in title case. Often the copywriters are expected to type in the content in the required style. To me, this is the same as hard-coding boldness or color. Like other text transformations, case can be controlled by CSS. Companies could therefore simplify by having copywriters write all headlines and titles in title case. The content management system would label each item (via class or id) with a category, such as headline, subhead, etc., and the case of each could then be controlled via CSS. Not only would this simplify things for copywriters, cutting down on user error, but it would also make it simple to shift copy to a new format if there was ever a change to the style guide.

There are caveats. CSS is not natively able to transform text properly from uppercase to title case or sentence case, nor is it able to transform text from uppercase or sentence case to title case. Title case has strange rules–certain words are capitalized, others aren’t–that would have to be scripted. And transforming to sentence case presents another problem: there would be no way to preserve or create capitalization of proper nouns. If an organization knew all the proper nouns that were to be used in copy, this could be scripted as well, but it’s extremely likely that something would be missed, making this an imperfect solution.

I would handle all these situations by simply having copywriters write everything in sentence case. Transformations to title case could be achieved through scripting, as there are finite rules as to what gets capitalized. The capitalization of proper nouns would also be preserved. Meanwhile, changing to uppercase would be a simple CSS transformation.

This discussion has been web-focused, but I imagine something similar could be done for print.

Speaking of print, it amazes me that some organizations keep their print and online content storage separate. I would put them all together in a robust, customized CMS. Yes, the two have different needs, and those would have to be dealt with. But there is also a lot of crossover. Having everything in the same place would ensure consistency across the organization’s media.

Last night’s dream: An odd journey

In my dream last night I was on a journey, exploring sprawling lands dotted with preserved historic manor homes. I had left one of the manors, traversed a long dirt road with a sign at the end that changed from “Wopat” to “Cary” when the light struck it at a different angle, and met up with a large collection of my family for some sort of antiquing crawl when I realized I had thoughtlessly taken a china plate and a small figurine from the house. As everyone else pulled out and began to organize envelopes filled with cash gifts, I hurried to both return the items and find my own envelopes.

I turned back down the same dirt road I’d used before, but when I got to the cluster of buildings where I thought the manor house was, it was nowhere to be found. I entered a door and found myself in a Victorian-styled shop. A woman holding a baby was standing at a counter, and she accidentally dropped 10p (yes, pence, not a dime). Two scruffy, lazy-looking men dressed like Mary Poppins characters laughed and mocked her as she tried and failed to stoop down and retrieve the money. One of the men picked it up himself and then embedded it in his mass of thick curly hair with a jeer.

I could not let this stand, so I marched up to the men and told them off. Somewhere during my rant their victim shifted from being a woman holding a baby to being a pregnant woman. I made a big deal about this, yelling at the men that a pregnant woman has a hard time bending over. One of the men countered that she was only in her first trimester, at which point my speech was derailed and I wondered confusedly why she’d had trouble picking up the coin.

Meanwhile, the woman had run off, abandoning her 10p. It became clear that I was now the focus of the men’s attention, and I knew if they figured out what the plate and figurine were, they’d use them against me.

Suddenly I hit upon the perfect plan. “I took these from a manor house somewhere around here. I can’t remember which one,” I told them, handing the items over. “I’ll leave them with you. Now everyone will think you stole them, unless you can get them back to where they came from.” And I turned and slipped out, sprinting away from the store.

I had made it a good distance away and was stalking across a steep hillside partially covered with tarps when the men came running up to me. “Okay, you win,” one of them panted. “Just please take the plate and figurine back.”

“So we’re even?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said.

I retrieved the items and kept walking, and for some reason the men joined me. We ended up back in town. The man who’d given me the plate and figurine back seemed to think we now had a bond, and as we passed a stable, he spoke up.

“I used to use this livery all the time, but I’ve been banned. Can you just walk through there like you’re going to use it?”

I obliged. As I strolled through the stable, a small pack animal appeared beside me and, conditioned by years of habit, trudged up a ramp that led to a harnessing area. As stable hands began hooking up the tackle, the man who’d spoken grabbed a wooden cart and wheeled it out to the other side of the barn, where the other man stood waiting. I found myself abruptly lost in a maze of fences and wooden corrals–I had to turn back or crawl through a tiny space to get to where the men were with the cart. As I attempted the crawl, gave up, and doubled back, I muttered something about avoiding dust.

“Dust,” one of the men said mockingly. “According to your TARDIS, we’re all dust.” This made me slightly uncomfortable as I wondered if the men had designs on my TARDIS. (I had a TARDIS? Where did I put it? And how did it form its own opinions?)

Outside, stable hands hooked the cart up to the pack animal. I shrugged and placed the things I’d been carrying in our new cart, and we all continued on our journey. The original missions of returning the plate and figurine and meeting back up with my family seemed to have been forgotten; I’m not sure where we were going.

Before stopping to rest for the night, the man who’d done most of the (civilized) talking and I both purchased the same book from a roadside vendor. At this point the dream shifted into third person, and I saw that my character was a tall, slender woman with straw-colored blond hair that fell in thick, gentle curls well down her back, bright blue eyes that were set rather close together, a prominent but not large nose, and a somewhat long face. Her thoughts began narrating as both she and the man settled in to read before bed, she sitting at the window of her room at an old West-style inn, he outside propped up against the cart.

As the two of them read, cremated remains began piling up around them, appearing out of nowhere. It appeared to be a side effect of the story they were reading. Neither of them took much notice as the ashes buried their backs up to their necks and began spilling over in front of them. However, both frequently glanced up from their books to stare through the window at each other.

“The seduction happened then,” the woman’s narration intoned as she lowered the book into the ashes and, with a slight look of worry or discomfort, closed two sets of ineffectual, sheer lace curtains. She was still perfectly visible to the man and it was obvious she could tell as she resumed reading.

“As I read, the remains piling up around me, I felt the hands of other men,” the narration continued, and skeleton hands appeared from the ashes, stroking her shoulders.

I was really rather fascinated by where this was all going–for some reason the remains and the skeleton hands didn’t scare me at all–but alas, my alarm clock went off.

Sidebar fun

I’ve added a few things to my sidebar! Webcomics came first, after obvious things like archives and search. Today I  made a cute Welcome box that explains what I write about and includes a picture of me.

I also added a random assortment of my latest photos from SmugMug and a list of the most recently updated SmugMug galleries. This way, I can avoid blog posts that are nothing but one or two pictures. I always felt that picture posts detracted from my writing, but I was never sure how to solve the problem. With WordPress plugins it was quite simple to place my pictures in the sidebar.

Similarly, there was no easy way to incorporate an RSS feed into my FTP-published Blogger blog. Now all I have to do is drag a box to the right and add a link…so I’ve put a list of my latest blog posts on SparkPeople on the sidebar.

Back in the day I would post whatever came to mind here on pixelscribbles, because I wanted this blog to be wholly representative of who I am. I feel a little like I’m compartmentalizing my thoughts about health and fitness by putting them over on SparkPeople. But I don’t want pixelscribbles to turn into a weight loss blog. I don’t feel that health, fitness, and weight loss are “who I am” in any respect. Yes, I want those things, but I don’t want to become some sort of guru. I don’t want people to know me for those things. I just want to lose weight and feel better so I have the energy to concentrate on the things I truly enjoy–“writing, photography, travel, language, Japan, and the web”, as it says in the Welcome box ;>

Writing about my weight loss “journey” (as they say) has been helping me, though, and I want to keep it up. Plus, I adore feedback. So I’ve decided to actively blog about the process on SparkPeople. Hopefully the sidebar listing here will earn my thoughts some eyeballs and comments.

I may add more items to the sidebar–I haven’t addressed the issue of my blogroll yet, for example. But for now I think it’s shaped up pretty well.

Changes are coming to pixelscribbles

On May 1, Blogger will no longer support publishing to FTP, which is how I currently publish this blog. Sometime before then–hopefully this weekend–I will be migrating either to Blogger’s hosted solution or to WordPress.

I’ve thought about shifting to a different platform for years. The reason I’ve stayed with FTP publishing for so long is that I felt comfortable and safe with two copies of my blog in existence: one in Blogger’s database and one in static html files on my server. With this duplication of my content, essentially an automatic backup, I was confident that I’d never lose my posts. That made me reticent to change blog software.

Now that my hand is being forced, I’m leaning towards self-hosting. Frankly, I trust my webhost, pair, more than I trust Blogger’s servers. This may be a misguided view, but in the eight or so years I’ve used both services, I’ve only ever had problems with Blogger.

The main uncertainty in my mind at this point is WordPress. I’ve seen so many WordPress blogs get hacked and wonderful content get destroyed, notably the several times it happened to Sushicam. If, after losing all my offline writing and photos in the fire, I lost all of this too, I would be completely decimated. I do not want to go through that feeling again. I want to continue to be able to travel back in time through my writing and remember what I used to think about and how I used to feel. This blog is really all I’ve got left of my life before August 2005. I can’t lose it.

Obviously, I’m still thinking about what I want to do. But a decision will come soon, and then my blog will move. When that happens, the design will probably change.

I’ve also made a change to my photo posting recently. For awhile there I was emailing photos from my phone directly to this blog, to quickly and easily share what was going on. However, I was never really a fan of doing things this way. For starters, it saved the photos here on my server instead of on my photo site. For another, having a bunch of posts with nothing but one or two photos in them took up a lot of space and pushed text content–my thoughts, the real purpose of this blog–down the page.

So I’ve started using SmugShot again, the SmugMug application for iPhone. Now I simply send the photos I take directly to the proper album on my photo site. So far I’ve sent photos to February 2010 and March 2010.

When I switch my blog to whatever I switch it to, I plan to pull my latest SmugMug photos into the sidebar, so blog visitors will know I’ve uploaded new photos without having to scroll past them to get to my real content. I’m pretty happy with this solution and look forward to implementing it.

Once all these changes are in place, I plan to really get back into writing here. I miss it.

I have an idea

I think I will create a section of private webspace where I can write whatever I want. From that space I will select things to go public. Some things will never see the light of day. I think by doing this I can avoid most, if not all, of my writing fears, and just write anything and everything. Since it will be private, I’ll even be able to write about projects I am working on or would like to work on without fear of some random internet person stealing my ideas.

I’ll see about setting up the private area later this week.

I’ve changed

I’ve changed.

In five short years, I’ve changed.

Five years ago, I’d write about anything, with hardly any reservation. I wrote often. I didn’t care what anyone thought. I voiced every opinion I had. I put it all down here on my blog with no fear and no sense of responsibility.

I’m in my 30s now. And I’ve changed.

I don’t know if I’m more mature, or if I’ve lost something.

Now, there are so many things I want to say that I don’t. Writing has always been my one true outlet…but I’ve become more aware of the power of words. With words, I can injure. And with words, I can inadvertently give away my own being.

Sometimes I want to write and don’t because I don’t have time.

Sometimes, I’m afraid to write.

But I miss it. I miss scattering my thoughts with abandon. And I know at least some of you miss following behind to pick them up again.

Whenever I resolve to write more, I mean it. It doesn’t happen because I’ve changed.

I’m not sure how to change back. I’m not sure I even should.

More on The Great Santini

When I first finished The Great Santini, I mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of random violence towards the end. I now believe I know the purpose of that violence, but I’m not sure the purpose makes it any less random.

What’s interesting to me is that the majority of the violence came from people who were not the titular abusive character.

I went into the book expecting first-hand depictions of horrific child abuse. I described the indirect mentions and tension fully anticipating that they were leading somewhere dreadful. But the book was not that facile or straightforward. Most of the abuse was in the past; it guided the present but didn’t appear in it. It led the reader to the conclusion that if Bull’s kids would have just done things his way, everything would have been fine, and he really wasn’t that bad a guy after all.

It’s brilliant. Because this is exactly how Ben Meecham was feeling.

The random violence and killings stripped Ben of his support systems. His best friends were either killed or jerked away from him. He had nothing when the final blow came, and he ended up filling the hole in his life with the one man he knew best. At the end of the book, in a twist on the archetypal “mentor dies, hero accepts his destiny” story, Ben started becoming Bull.

He started becoming the man he’d spent the entire book resisting, hiding from, and going along with to appease. He started becoming what he insisted he never would. And it happened because that was all he ever knew, and when that was gone–when Bull died–a part of Ben needed that presence, and the only way to get it was to bring it back himself.

If Ben had had Toomer around, or Sammy, when his father died, I imagine things would have gone differently. He would have had other men in his life to remind him of what he wanted to be. Mr. Dacus was a father figure, the father Ben could never have, but ultimately he approved of Bull, and Ben took that approval to heart.

And with Bull dead, without the constant reminders of fear and uncertainty to guide Ben, it would only be that much easier for Ben to forget what he had hated and embrace the love he wished he felt for his father when he was alive.

This story felt true because it was true, and I think that truth greatly added to the experience. There are flaws. I pointed out a perspective problem in my original post; I never found anything later to disprove my view that it wasn’t intentional. And there was that feeling, again, that the violence in the latter half of the book came out of nowhere solely for the purpose of guiding Ben down a path towards his father.

But the prose was startlingly poignant, and the dialogue was sharp. I imagine that writing this novel was both cathartic and instructive for Pat Conroy, and I look forward to seeing how he pairs that experience with his natural gifts in later books.

The corpse of the premodern Japanese studies field

Frog in the Well posted about two classical Japanese studies symposiums, one this weekend and one coming up in May. They both sound fascinating! While I would love to go, that isn’t the reason I’m posting. I just wanted to spotlight the opening paragraphs of the announcement post, which made me smile:

Premodernists, particularly those who focus on history, sometimes feel gloomy about the state of premodern Japanese studies in the U.S., where a number of large graduate programs have shrunk, disappeared, or fundamentally changed in emphasis in the past two decades. Some of us have even been known to eulogize the field, as if the heart of our collective endeavors had already stopped beating. Is the field more like a rotting corpse, or perhaps a mummified one? Have we been subject to cremation, leaving behind only bone fragments to be buried in an urn? Or was the corpse of the field left lying on the banks of the river, food for the crows and source of anxiety for locals, known as “wind burial”? (Thanks, PMJS!)

Two upcoming events prove that the rumors of the death of medieval Japanese studies were greatly exaggerated.

Love it.

The Great Santini

The other day I posted on Twitter, “It is absolutely GORGEOUS outside in Augusta, Georgia!” Stu responded that that tweet put him in the mood to reread his Pat Conroy novels. I’d never read any Conroy, so I asked Stu for suggestions, and on his advice started reading The Great Santini. This post contains my thoughts so far; I’ve just made it to Chapter 12.

(Since I’m reading on my iPhone’s Kindle app, I can’t reference page numbers, so I will quote the text where appropriate.)

The book’s about a family dealing with an abusive father, a Marine fighter pilot named Bull Meecham who is known as “The Great Santini”. The prose simmers with nervous tension as it draws slowly towards what you know is coming, what has been foreshadowed from the beginning. You don’t see the abuse directly at first. You have to wait several chapters for it. Instead, you see almost-abuse. The story flirts with the line Bull Meecham will cross, and since you don’t know where the line actually is, you never know when something bad might happen. It’s very artfully done. It gives you the same feelings the children are dealing with.

The first horror is a fairly small one compared to the dreadful things Bull Meecham has been threatening. But that leads to some specific revelations that up the tension. It’s certainly not over yet. I’m curious as to where it will go and what conclusions will be drawn.

One thing that has struck me, though, is the somewhat uneven writing. At times Conroy’s prose shines, leaves me in awe. From the last paragraph of Chapter 9:

Here in the night [Ben] thought that somehow the secret of this marsh-haunted land resided in the quivering flesh of oysters, the rich-flavored meat of crabs, the limp of the flower boy, and the eggs of the great turtles that navigated toward their birthing sands through waters bright with the moon.

But other times Conroy does a little too much “tell” and not nearly enough “show”. There are even times when the perspective changes so abruptly that entire blocks of prose are cast in confusion, and I’m not sure that effect was intentional.

In Chapter 10, our third-person limited narrator brings us the basketball match between Bull and his son Ben through general descriptions of the action and glimpses into Ben’s thoughts. The entire chapter could be said to come from Ben’s perspective…save for an odd paragraph:

…Ben thought that he had a great equalizer working for him, called youth.

Ben was five feet ten inches tall and weighed 165 pounds; his father was six feet four inches tall and weighed 220 pounds. But Ben had been correct when he observed that Bull had thickened over the last years. He had become heavy in the thighs, stomach, and buttocks. The fast places had eroded. Rolls of fat encircled him and he wore the sweat suit to keep his new ballast unexposed. He was planning to lose weight anyway. There was nothing Bull Meecham hated worse than a fat Marine.

It took a long time for Bull to warm up and it gave Ben the chance to study his moves.

This sudden intrusion and just as sudden withdrawal of Bull’s perspective is extremely jarring. This isn’t the first time we see Bull’s thoughts, but it is the most awkward so far. If the text had continued in Bull’s perspective it would have been fine, but instead it snaps right back to Ben’s.

I considered whether or not that paragraph was Ben’s impression of his father’s thoughts, but it doesn’t really read that way–especially not the line “he was planning to lose weight anyway”.

Chapter 9 begins with a description of a woman who has come to the Meecham house. We do not see her thoughts. As if watching a movie, we read about how she arrives at dawn and waits. Then we see Bull Meecham run out the back door, and before we know it we’re in his mind.

The woman was sitting on the back steps when Bull Meecham hurried out the back door. He was on his way to the air station for additional briefings on the squadron he would soon command. Before he reached the first step, he stopped and regarded the dark Buddha blocking his passage. If there was a single group in America that Bull had difficulty with over the simplest forms of address, it was southern blacks. He had nothing at all to say to them so he generally retreated into his self-aggrandized mythology.

This paragraph should have stopped with the word “passage”. The last two sentences give us information, but not knowledge. They sound like a description Conroy might use in a character profile to remind himself how Bull should act. As I wrote on Twitter, it seems apologist. “Here’s why Bull’s acting like himself.”

We could understand these points about Bull by observing his actions. We don’t need to have it all spelled out.

And where is this commentary about Bull coming from, anyway? Our narrator sometimes has Ben’s observations, very rarely Bull’s or another character’s, and then sometimes, as now, a seemingly objective insight. The shifts are confusing and break the rhythm of the prose.

Just as we sometimes get too far into a character’s head or receive a bit too much spoon-feeding, sometimes we also don’t get enough description of the action of a scene. In Chapter 10, Bull says hurtful things to his children, but they don’t seem much different from the things he typically says, so when all of a sudden the kids are crying, I’m surprised. I could have used a few more details to ease the transition. Not an explanation of why being teased for being short would upset Matt, but an inkling of his mental state before and during the teasing. Was his face flushed? Did he look earnest when he was begging to be allowed to play basketball? Sometimes you have to read a little too far between the lines, and other times there’s nothing to read because it’s all overexplained.

Conroy shines when he’s presenting action and dialogue. One of the most powerful scenes, Ben’s talk with his mother in Chapter 11, includes very little description at all. There’s repetition of three themes–shoe tying and untying, cigarette lighting and smoking, and Bull’s basketball practice outside–and then there’s revelatory dialogue, evocative in its sarcastic directness. And that’s all that’s needed.

The best scenes with Bull don’t go into his head at all, but simply describe his behavior: Chapters 1 and 6, in which he gets up to no good in his natural habitat, give us far more insight into the man than a discussion of his history, pride, and competitiveness ever could.

The problems seem to crop up during critical scenes involving Bull’s abusive behavior–scenes between Bull and his children. I’m wondering if that’s the reason for it.

It’s known that this book is based on Conroy’s own childhood experiences. This sort of thing has got to be difficult to write about, especially when it’s happened to you. I’ve never been the victim of physical abuse, but I can relate in other ways. There’s a guilt and a shame that are extremely hard to get past.

It’s easier to deal with individual pieces of the puzzle than it is to attack the main problem all at once. That could explain why scenes involving Bull and Ben on their own are fantastic while scenes in which they interact are less so.

Were I Conroy’s editor, I would suggest not writing or appearing to write from Bull’s perspective at all. I’d treat all standard scenes as if I were an objective, non-omniscient observer, including scenes involving Bull. But I’d go into Ben’s head. The book may be called The Great Santini, but it’s about Ben. That was made obvious in Chapter 2. If Ben’s in a scene, I want to see the scene through him–and not through anyone else.

Those are my observations so far. Of course, I’m not done. We’ll have to see how my evaluation changes as I continue reading.