Category: hullabaloo

Post-WriMo

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Hey. Howdy. Well the novel-writing thing went well! I did finish, two days ahead of time, with about 51,500 words. It’s about a 200-page paperback if you want to think of it that way. Though as you can see it left me with little excess energy for posting up some poems or any of the other randomness that goes on around here.

I did honestly learn quite a bit about writing – and about myself (yawn) – in writing that novel. Tenatively titled A Trick of the Clouds, by the way. Maybe. For now. The first thing is was finding that could do this at all. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a prose writer. Never really had an eye for dialogue or plot, but I can describe the hell out of a place, so I veered into poetry long ago. But I found that the two writing forms are not mutually exclusive and I could use my poetry chops to expand the prose into new and interesting avenues.

Also, take note: Just because you’ve come up with a great idea or line that you think will define your work, or one of your characters, doesn’t mean you’ll remember it later. This book is littered with ideas, some terrific, some that seemed terrific at the time, that never came to fruition by the end. All these little seeds that I was going to grow and tie together, but then forgot to tie together in the simple attempt to just get enough words on the page. So take notes, people.

Writing 200 pages with words on them is easy. I found it sad, seeing all the NaNoWriMo contestants who had their 50k words done by the end of the second week. It just made me think they couldn’t have possibly put that much heart or thought into it. Yes, Kerouac did it, but he was a genius. And he was on benzedrine. And it was basically nonfiction with the names changed. I’m not Kerouac, you’re not Kerouac.

I barely understood my characters at all by the end of the second week. I certainly wasn’t familiar enough with them to bring them to a satisfying resolution. Now, by the end of the fourth week, and the end of the novel, I was a quivering wreck trying to finish their story. Writing a novel is hard. Especially in a month. Writing something that is totally original might be completely impossible. You just have to take the best of what you have and put it together in a way that is as unique as possible. I got so mad at myself seeing all the passive voice and all the cliched lines pouring out of my fingers. I would moan out loud as I hit the backspace button over “the stars shined quietly” what seemed like a million times. I was almost sick to my stomach every time I wrote “he” or “she” because I felt that I had written it so goddamn many times that the words had become meaningless as descriptors. I would write something and then realize I had stolen it wholesale from another book. This is different than the mass of “inside jokes” and quotes that I included, which was fun.

But then again, this is really a rough draft. Such as it is, I’m pretty proud of it. The ending especially is pretty good. I love my last sentence. There are so many nifty things that I feel so clever for thinking of. So many great moments that feel genuine and make me smile. I think that with some work – after some serious time apart to let things settle – this could really be something. I hope the brave proofreaders who have actually requested to read this will think the same way.

Newsflash: Nicholas Sparks is an asshole

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Pardon my French, as the French say, but COME ON, Nicholas Sparks. It’s bad enough that you inundate our Barnses and Nobleses with your awful, awful, AWFUL books, and you sear our eyeballs with the horrible movies that get made from said books, but now:

I write in a genre that was not defined by me. The examples were not set out by me. They were set out 2,000 years ago by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. They were called the Greek tragedies. A thriller is supposed to thrill. A horror novel is supposed to scare you. A mystery is supposed to keep you turning the pages, guessing ‘whodunit?’ A romance novel is supposed to make you escape into a fantasy of romance. What is the purpose of what I do? These are love stories. They went from (Greek tragedies), to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, then Jane Austen did it, put a new human twist on it. Hemingway did it with A Farewell to Arms.

I’m sorry, did you just put yourself in a category with Sophocles, Shakespeare, Austen, and Hemingway all at once? Are we comparing The Notebook to Electra? Have you ever read Sophocles? He did not write “fantasies of romance.” Unless you count Oedipus Rex, and if you do, that’s just sick buddy. Also, do people actually say “whodunit” out loud, ever? This guy is such a moron even Roger Ebert rips on him. You know you truly suck when even Roger Ebert feels the need to lob some potshots at you. And Ebert’s zingers are just so great.

Then the Lord of the Romances continues:

Sparks pulls [a book] off the shelf. “A Farewell to Arms, by Hemingway. Good stuff. That’s what I write,” he says, putting it back. “That’s what I write.”

Asked what he likes in his own genre, Sparks replies: “There are no authors in my genre. No one is doing what I do.”

Hahahaaaa. Crying and laughing and vomiting together is making my face hurt. I’m sending you my doctor’s bill. Good stuff.

You know, I take it back. I guess you are in a category with the above authors. If the category is “people who use words to construct sentences.” You know who else is in this exclusive club? This six year old kid. Writing books is so easy even a six year old and Nicholas Sparks can do it!

To make matters worse, Nicholas Sparks makes himself a third enemy (the first two enemies are Humankind and Literature, for those keeping score) in Cormac McCarthy by ripping his book Blood Meridian. This man is not even worthy of being on the same continent as Cormac McCarthy. He should be shipped to Antarctica, except then I would feel bad for the penguins. Cormac McCarthy is such a badass I doubt he even gives two shits what some hack like Sparks has to say about him. He’s probably sitting in New Mexico getting drunk and saying, “Nicholas who?” while he spit-shines his Pulitzer. Where’s your Pulitzer Prize, Nicholas Sparks?

Via Videogum’s hilarious post. Read through the comments too. They’re better than anything this guy’s ever written. More of Sparks’ BS here.

Reading Proust: Fin

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I’m done. I’m sick of Proust. Sick of his rambling go-nowhere prose. All that BS I laid on before? Total crap. My metaphor of exploration was based on the idea that my exploring would be rewarded with some shiny treasure; instead, it just goes on and on and hardly says a thing. I swear I read all of Swann’s Way and it’s all been meaningless. The prose, yes, is beautiful and a joy to read; his way with language cannot be understated enough. The guy knows his way around an epiphanic moment too. But at some point in the middle of saying things, you have to Say Something. The dense, thick language which takes so long to navigate (one paragraph I read was six pages long) must be made worthwhile. And for me it hasn’t been. I’m just bored. Simply bored. Somehow I keep finding book after book to read instead of Proust. There’s a reason that keeps happening. In my mind I keep comparing the book to Tolstoy, whose novels are also very, very long, but who has perfected the trade-off between lengthy ambiance/exposition and plot/character development. Perhaps at another point later in my life I will have the time and patience to enjoy finishing this novel. But for now, it’s just stupid to waste my time reading and reading and reading a novel that I can’t enjoy, when there is so much out there to read that is enjoyable for me. It was a noble pursuit but I admit defeat…for now. You win, Mr. Proust. Zut alors!

A.E. Housman, Nos. X and XI from “More Poems”

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X

The weeping Pleiads wester,
  And the moon is under seas;
From bourn to bourn of midnight
  Far sighs the rainy breeze:

It sighs from a lost country
  To a land I have not known;
The weeping Pleiads wester,
  And I lie down alone.

XI

The rainy Pleiads wester,
  Orion plunges prone;
The stroke of midnight ceases,
  And I lie down alone.

The rainy Pleiads wester
  And seek beyond the sea
The head that I shall dream of,
  And ’twill not dream of me.

* * *

Ah, Mr. Housman, so formal, so sorrowful, so beautiful. Iambic trimeter, with every other line starting with the first having an added half-beat at the end. Leaves you hanging on, leaves you unfulfilled and wanting resolution. This is how meter really works for you if you let it.

Another Installment of “Droppin Knowledge with Marcus Aurelius”

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Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.

(From Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, one badass benevolent emperor.)

The Blueberry Pie Outrage

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Phones do funny things sometimes. Sometimes on ye olde landlyne you could pick up the ghost of a conversation you weren’t having, sometimes as bright and loud as the person you were actually talking to, sometimes just an echo of an echo.

Cellphones can act even weirder. Saturday I tried to dial up a friend and a few things happened. The first time I called, there was dead silence. Not even the sound of the phone making the call (later the guy on the other end told me that he had in fact answered and had wondered why I wasn’t talking). But the second time I called…oh my.

To my surprise my buddy didn’t pick up but rather an agitated woman’s voice boomed into my ear. She was really pissed. At first I thought someone was holding the phone up to the TV or something, but it soon dawned on me that in fact my call had been connected to another person entirely! I could say more, but I think it’s best if I just recreate the whole “conversation” verbatim:

*A phone dials*

Crazy Lady: HOW IS IT OK TO SPEND $30 ON A BLUEBERRY PIE?

Me: Stunned silence.

Crazy Lady: HELLO?!

Me: Continued silence.

Crazy Lady: AREN’T YOU GOING TO SAY ANYTHING?

Me: Covering the microphone so she can’t hear me giggle –

Crazy Lady: SO YOU THINK IT’S OK TO SPEND $30 ON A PIE.

Me: Prancing around because is the strangest funniest thing that’s happened to me in weeks.

Crazy Lady: NOW YOU’RE NOT TALKING?

Me: I ain’t saying nothing Crazy Lady!

Crazy Lady: FINE.

*Click*

Wow.

Indo-European Root of the Day: Tuck

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A funny word we use only rarely in life, and only in specific instances, tuck turns out to be a rich and robust word – it’s a near cognate of its original IE root – with an equally rich history.

The IE root is deuk, “to lead.” Besides tuck we get a number of words from this root that come to us both from Germanic and Latin.

English tuck and Indo-European deuk are very similar, except for a couple sound replacements. The switch from d to t is a classic switch in a word traveling from IE and Latin into Germanic. Another noted example is the word god: in Latin god is deus, in early Germanic/Scandinavian it’s tiu, as in Tuesday, God’s Day. Pretty cool, right? (It’s also similar to the Greek Zeus.)

What’s interesting about the tuck/deuk similarity is that the word’s travels through language took it further and further away from the root sound, only to come back again. (Which is not to say this similarity has any meaning. But from a poet’s perspective the similarity in sound is worth noting.) Tuck is actually a skewed version of the word tug, meaning “to lead, to pull, to pull together, to draw (in).” Tug – say it out loud and you’ll hear how a g sound can easily become a ck – comes from Old English teon, which comes from Germanic teuhan, from which we also get the funny, savage word wanton. We get a number of other similar words from Germanic variations on deuk: tow, taut, and tie, all words that involve pulling in some way.

Deuk feeds more directly into Latin as ducere, “to lead,” and from that Latin root we get words like duke (a leader), duct (and similar words like aqueduct, viaduct, conduct), abduct, produce, reduce, seduce, and educate, “to lead out or bring up.” You can see the d/t shift even more clearly.

What I like most about the word tuck is its relationship with tug. Even though both are the same word, they have come to mean different things. The “to lead” part of the definition has disappeared over the centuries and both words are verbs that essentially mean “to pull,” which is sort of a more violent kind of leadership. Tuck however is a much softer word than tug, which still has some violence attached to it, a certain forcefulness that tuck lacks. Today tuck is used almost exclusively in reference to garments and cloth. Tuck means to pull or gather together folds in a piece of fabric. You also tuck things in and pull them tight, like a shirt into pants, and you tuck your child into bed, pulling covers over and tightening them. Now we have the nip/tuck, pulling and tightening skin. And in Britain “to tuck in/away” is “to eat.” Who knows where that came from.

Also we have the weird word tucker, or tuckered (out). The word first crops up in 1830s New England. This slang term gets right at the heart of the modern meaning of tuck, which is the idea of creating snugness and comfort. (Snug, coincidentally, comes from the same root that spawned a whole host of words about writing, ker (III). Another post.) “To tucker” is “to tire, to weary,” but the word has a sweetness to it that weary does not. The origin of tucker is unclear as far as I can tell, but there are a couple possibilities that relate to tuck’s bedtime meaning: when you’re tired, you get tucked in, so you are tuckered; or, if you take tuck to mean stretch (like pull) it becomes a slangy term for another sleepy action, the stretch. Or it may simply be the product of misuse, like so many of our most unusual words.

I find the deuk/tuck similarity so beautiful because the words are so very different. Deuk is this grand old word meaning simply and profoundly “to lead,” and today we have tuck, a meek little word with a singular task, to describe the act of pulling and gathering clothes. Something to think about when you’re dressing in the morning and deciding what to do with those shirttails.

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