Monthly Archives: December 2008

Miscellaneous thoughts

On their own, none of these thoughts add up to a blog post. Even as a collection, they are sorely lacking. It’s all I’ve got right now.

It’s obvious my daughter is as happy to be home as we are to have her back, but every so often she gets a certain far off look in her eye and I know she’s planning the next adventure. You can’t un-climb a mountain.

Having both my kids here makes me realize there are a great number of people who are accustomed to opening the back door and walking into my house with, at most, a perfunctory knock to announce their arrival. One day soon I will sell this house and move to another and I feel certain there will be at least a few people who won’t get that news. I hope no one ends up in jail.

When you’re in the shower and the power goes out and the door is closed and your shower room doesn’t have a window, the sudden absolute darkness is disorienting and it’s strange to realize how much more awkward it is to rinse shampoo from your hair in the dark, even though it’s a familiar task and one you perform without ever being able to see what you’re doing.

If you leave the package of dog treats on the mantle, the Wonder Dog will know they are there and will go to great lengths to draw your attention to that fact and not be concerned in the least that you are highly amused by his lack of dignity.

I find it very odd that once you tell people you plan to spend a stretch of time focusing intently on writing, pretty much to the exclusion of all else, they develop an increased need to contact you, interrupting the concentration, sometimes just to ask how the writing is going. As if they suspect you are in truth sitting on a beach somewhere, doing absolutely nothing, inexplicably in dire need of company and conversation. It’s very odd. Perhaps I should have said I’m doing something significant and worthy, maybe studying for bar exams.

I realized today, during one of those “just calling to check on you” conversations (which are at once charmingly touching and infuriatingly distracting — not that I’m complaining about them, exactly, just saying), that I have never eaten a lamb chop and that my son is now the same age I was when I first started dating his father.

The rest of my thoughts these days, the ones unrelated to writing that is, are even more random and equally banal. So this seems like a good stopping point — for this post and perhaps for this blog as well. Doesn’t seem to be much point to it lately. But I’ve felt that way before, many times, and then end up changing my mind. We shall see.


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Sharing the music

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is one of my favorite Christmas songs. When the hectic hurry up and get it done insanity of holiday preparations has taken its toll and left throbbing aches in your head and back and feet and shredded the thin veil of your patience, there are few things more reinvigorating than turning up the volume, closing your eyes and letting this music fill all the depleted spaces. So I went looking for a worthy version to post over here for you all to enjoy. During my search I wandered over to Wikipedia and found some interesting history about the song:

Paul O’Neill explained the story behind Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 in an interview published on[1]

… We heard about this cello player born in Sarajevo many years ago (Vedran Smailović) who left when he was fairly young to go on to become a well-respected musician, playing with various symphonies throughout Europe. Many decades later, he returned to Sarajevo as an elderly man—at the height of the Bosnian War, only to find his city in complete ruins.

I think what most broke this man’s heart was that the destruction was not done by some outside invader or natural disaster—it was done by his own people. At that time, Serbs were shelling Sarajevo every night. Rather than head for the bomb shelters like his family and neighbors, this man went to the town square, climbed onto a pile of rubble that had once been the fountain, took out his cello, and played Mozart and Beethoven as the city was bombed.

He came every night and began playing Christmas carols from that same spot. It was just such a powerful image—a white-haired man silhouetted against the cannon fire, playing timeless melodies to both sides of the conflict amid the rubble and devastation of the city he loves. Some time later, a reporter traced him down to ask why he did this insanely stupid thing. The old man said that it was his way of proving that despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place.

The song basically wrapped itself around him. We used some of the oldest Christmas melodies we could find, like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” (which is from Ukraine, near that region). The orchestra represents one side, the rock band the other, and single cello represents that single individual, that spark of hope.

But the video clips I found left me unimpressed and disappointed. I mean really, who wants to watch an animated light display some guy set up in his front yard? And then I saw a version that told a story. Maybe not quite the same story as the one related above, but a story nonetheless. I found it intriguing, full of the possibilities of “what if.”

May your Christmas be one of magic and wonder and hope, and may you be filled with the fierce stirring strains of the spirit of humanity.



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After five long months of studying abroad, my daughter returned home today.

Sometimes words are profoundly inadequate.


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Counting pages, and minutes

Yes, I have been writing. Mostly I’ve been adding and deleting bits here and there. Not writing huge entire scenes, because lately I can’t concentrate to save my life (concentrate, hell, I can barely manage to dress myself and get out the door to work this week). So I’ve been filling in parts and pieces. Okay, maybe I wrote one scene. Or two.

How much have I written? Well, interesting thing about Scrivener (and by interesting, I mean frustrating), it doesn’t give you page counts. Or, if it does, I don’t know where to find them. And it only gives you word count within each scene, not for the entire document. So I had no idea how much “progress” I’d made. [Please note: I refuse to limit the definition of progress solely to page count. There’s more than that going on here. Really.]

However, there is a feature in Scrivener called “Compile Manuscript” that will supposedly take all your pages and put them into manuscript format. At which point you can count said pages. Words, even. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Yet just the thought of clicking on that option sent a cold chill down my spine. It sounded so final. Was this some irrevocable last step, after which one could not go back and continue writing and editing? Was I just a click away from one more excuse to put off finishing the damn book already? Surely not.

Tonight I decided to recklessly succumb to the lure of curiosity and give it a try. (Hey, as I write this, my daughter is sleeping on the floor in the airport in Santiago, Chile. Tomorrow night, Miami. I needed a distraction here.) I think I made three backup copies first. Just in case. And then I clicked on the magical “Compile Manuscript” option. Made me feel very accomplished, as if I were a real writer who had an entire ms that needed compiling. At first I didn’t even bother looking at the new version. I was too busy frantically clicking on the old version to see whether the work-in-progress was still, well, workable. And it was. Exactly the same as before the momentous transformation.

So then I looked at the compilation. Very cool. Very professional. This program is amazing. And I was pleasantly surprised by the page count. Once my daughter gets here and I’ve hugged her and kissed her and counted all her fingers and toes and made sure she has arrived unscathed and hugged her some more and generally cried happy tears all over her and can finally obsess abou–, er, concentrate on something other than her safe return, I’ll go back and see how many of those new pages are worthy of the name fiction. Because I suspect more than a few of them contain distracted ramblings about the inadvisability of letting one’s children wander off to foreign countries for months at a time in the name of higher education. Really, what the hell was I thinking? Next time, I’ll go with her.

Saturday can not come soon enough.



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It was on this day . . .

I subscribe to The Writer’s Almanac daily newsletter and every morning in my inbox there is an interesting and informative email containing “Poems, prose and literary history from Garrison Keillor.” [Thank you, Merry, for sending an email that contained a link to the site.] It’s a nice way to start the day. Plus, it’s free.

This is from today’s newsletter:

It was on this day in 1950 that William Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in literature. When a Swedish correspondent in New York called to give him the news that he was being honored, Faulkner was busy working on his farm in Oxford, Mississippi, and he said, “It’s too far away. I am a farmer down here and I can’t get away.”

The man pleaded for him to go the award ceremony, and so did Faulkner’s friends, relatives, publishers, editors, agent, and other American writers. But Faulkner resisted. Finally, his wife devised a plan. Their only daughter, Jill, asked for a trip to Europe as a graduation gift — she wanted to accompany him to the ceremony in Stockholm and then go to Paris. Faulkner relented.

Faulkner was a raging alcoholic at the time, and his wife came up with another plan, this one to make sure he would be sober by the departure date. Faulkner intended to drink heavily in the days leading up to the trip. He was set to leave on a Wednesday, so the Friday before, his wife and daughter came into his bedroom and told him that it was Monday, time to start sobering up. He started to space out his drinks, but that afternoon he realized that he’d been tricked, and he drank for three more days. But he did manage to quit on Monday.

He flew to New York with his daughter on Wednesday and went to a party in his honor, where he drank Jack Daniels and came down with a fever. He and his daughter arrived in Sweden on Friday. He had continued working on his speech on the flight over. On the day of the award ceremony, he told the American ambassador that he’d never given a speech before and that he was afraid.

There was a formal dinner before the speeches. Faulkner wore a tuxedo with a white bow tie. But he hadn’t shaved, and he wore his ragged, oil-stained trench coat over his nice suit. When he got up to give his speech, he didn’t stand close enough to the microphone, and no one in the room was able to understand him. It wasn’t until the next day, when the text of the speech was printed in newspapers, that people realized what a brilliant speech he’d given.

He said, “The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”

A half century later his words still resonate, his advice remains valid. 

As I said, it’s a nice way to start the day.



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