More Productive Than I’ve Been in Months

I will be back on the job in less than 12 hours, and I mentioned in my last entry that I was banishing all mention of “work” from my vocabulary for the four-day Christmas weekend.  That does not mean that I’ve been completely idle since I left work at 5 Friday evening.

I wasn’t exactly a white tornado, but the too-long cluttered living room is almost presentable for company now. Part of the reason I launched into this project was to find a notebook from earlier this fall that seems to have been buried under all the flotsam and jetsam that Susie and I generate.  (I think being a bureaucrat is hard-wired into my DNA–I can generate paper and other paraphernalia almost logarithmically.)
My longest (but most welcome) respite came on Friday night, courtesy of my across-the-street neighbors.  I was taking a break from excavating cleaning the living room, and was walking to a convenience store up the street, and my neighbor was tending a barbecue in the postage stamp of front yard.  “You alone tonight?” he asked.  I told him I was; my daughter was in Florida visiting her mom.  “Well, party going on.  We’ll be serving the food around 11!”  I bought some Coke Zero to bring to the party, since I figured (correctly) that I would be the only teetotaler in attendance.
But that didn’t matter.  The company was fantastic, and, although I was probably the oldest person there, most of the music was from my high school and young adult days–lots of ELO, Gary Numan’s “Cars,” and a series of one-hit wonders, such as The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.”  The turkey and the spare ribs filled me up quite well, and I enjoyed the many conversations.  The down side was that, since I was drinking Coke all night, even though I came home around 2:30, it was well after dawn before I actually slept.
Earlier in this blog, I posted the dilemma faced by every bipolar person’s spouse: What do you do when your bipolar significant other, not famous for cleanliness, goes on a cleaning jag, quite likely as a result of swinging toward the manic end of the arc?  I do have a clean(er) living room, master bedroom, and office to show for it (pictures are forthcoming in an entry or two, I promise), but the down side is that I ended up missing both Christmas Eve services at church.  I didn’t want to lose the head of steam I’d managed to generate, because I know from bitter past experience that if I stop work on a project like that, it takes forever for me to resume the work, if at all.
The worst part of missing the Christmas Eve service was missing the dedication of my friend Ramona’s little daughter.  I learned about it the next day, when her folks, Steve and Kittie, invited me over for Christmas dinner.  I ate quite well, and enjoyed the company of Ramona, her daughter, Steve and Kittie, and Steve’s grown children (including his daughter Amelia, my companion on the journey to Washington last year for the One Nation Working Together march).  I ate buffalo meat for the first time, and loved it.  TBS was running A Christmas Story over and over for 24 hours beginning at midnight, and after seeing it for three or four times in a row, Kittie got a little bored with it, so she popped in a DVD of The Polar Express, which I had never seen before, but which I enjoyed.
Susie left me a voice mail message thanking me for the books I sent down to her in Florida.  (I made Steph promise to hide them from her until Christmas morning.)  In the message, she told me where she had hidden her present to me.  It was a book that was ideal for someone with a love of trivia and other minutiae–World War II: 4139 Strange and Interesting Facts.  It’s not the type of book you sit down and read from cover to cover, so I’ve enjoyed going from entry to entry.
I guess I’m still a little shell-shocked from the ordeal of NaNoWriMo, but other than this blog and diary entries, I have not done any writing.  In my defense, I am already planning next year’s NaNoWriMo project, but I am not going to tip my hand here, so publicly.  The rules say that you can take all the notes and write out all the outlines, etc., you want, but writing the novel proper cannot take place before 12 midnight on November 1.  I was hoping to get back into the mood by re-reading James A. Michener’s generically titled book The Novel, which I enjoyed when I bought it in Cincinnati in 1991–one of the few hardcovers I bought new.  I liked the book (and I was in the minority, even with Michener fans), and I’ve been carrying it around in my knapsack the past week or so, although I am not all that interested in Pennsylvania Dutch culture–the backdrop of much of the story.
This is the ultimate “Keep it simple, stupid!” when it comes to titling a manuscript.

I’m hoping it won’t take the next NaNoWriMo for me to start producing again.  The title of this entry is a little misleading–I was more productive on the domestic front than I have been when it comes to anything literary.  As I was getting my study arranged, I found the fat New Yorker diary from 1983 that I’ve used as an idea log and a place to write notes for future projects.  (I thought I had left it behind when I left Weinland Park.)  Maybe I need to keep it in my pack so I can jot down ideas for next fall’s NaNoWriMo project.

Who knows?  Maybe now that my work space isn’t quite as much of a shithole, I may actually be able to bear to spend time in it!
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Banishing Thoughts of Work Until Tuesday

When I left the job today at 5 p.m., I made it a point to shut off the weekday and Saturday alarms on my cell phone–your faithful blogger/online diarist does not have to work anywhere until 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.  I did set the 8:45 Sunday morning alarm, so I can go to the informal 11 a.m. Christmas service at church on the 25th, but, other than that, my sleep will be open-ended.

The only downside to this news is that Susie is not here to celebrate the holiday with me.  Late Wednesday afternoon, she boarded a Southwest Airlines flight to Orlando, so she can spend Christmas with Steph.  My friend Steve took us to Port Columbus International Airport, and her flight left on time, at 4:50 p.m.  She was due to arrive in Orlando at 7:05 p.m., but, according to Steph, she actually arrived a few minutes early.  After I saw that her plane took off on time, I went to the Discovery Exchange and worked the usual 2½ hours.  (I had given my supervisor a “definite maybe” about whether I’d be there.  If Susie’s flight left on time, I would be in for work, but if it was late, I would not come in.)  The last day of school at The Graham School was Tuesday, and Susie will return to Columbus on January 3, the day before Winterim starts.

I won’t be totally alone for the holidays.  I will be having Christmas dinner with Steve and his family after the service at First UU, and I am planning to go to the 10 p.m. Christmas Eve service.  Nor did I go overboard with gifts.  I bought for Susie, and she will open my gifts to her on Christmas morning in Florida.

My period of solitude at work has ended.  Due to an organizational shuffle at work, I am in a new department, and I was working alone in its new area on the 10th floor, but my co-workers joined me this week, so now I have other people around me while I’m working, and I am glad to have them.  My desk is near the south-facing window, so I have a good view of the Leveque Tower, and a not-so-scenic view of the back of the YMCA.

One of our supervisors has donated a small library of audio books.  Currently, when I have been scanning documents, and not listening to doctors’ audio dictations, I have been listening to The Stand (the original edition, although I hope Stephen King decides that The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition should be recorded.  (A co-worker has generously reduced this large novel to three optical disks by recording it as MP3 files.)  I have that and It (also on MP3 files) at my desk, along with cassettes of Kerouac’s On the Road read by Matt Dillon.  The only other audio book I have is an abridged reading of Thomas Merton’s Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation, which is the journal covering the years between his conversion to Roman Catholicism and ending a week before he entered the monastery in Kentucky where he spent the rest of his life.

I was excited when my supervisor sent this email about the collection of audio books she was donating.  I went over to see what she supplied.  One was To Kill a Mockingbird, and there were some Nicholas Sparks novels (the only one I ever read was The Notebook), and some abridged James Patterson novels, not all of them Alex Cross novels.

However, she did have–unabridged–all of the Twilight novels.  I probably will not read them.  Except for Dracula, vampire stories have never interested me that much, and my attraction to Dracula was because Stoker told the story in an epistolary format.  Susie read the first two novels in the Twilight series, reading them over her friends’ shoulders.  Since then, she has come to agree with Stephen King, who so famously wrote that

Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity.  Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.

Before I worked for the State of Ohio, I worked as a data entry typist (known as a “header entry operator”) at Medco Health Solutions.  I had brought my love of audio books with me, a love that began in the summer of 1986, when I was working as a temp for the State, in the Division of Elevators (and Boilers before that).  At Medco, enough of us listened to audio books that there was a lot of swapping and borrowing back and forth.  Because of this, I read things I would not normally have read, such as Sue Henry’s Murder on the Iditarod Trail and the novels of Clive Cussler.  The only time I voluntarily did without was when the only books available to me were Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind novels.

Their lunatic theology aside, the books are not that well written.  I learned this when I was waiting for a bus, and someone had left behind a copy of Glorious Appearing: The End of Days at the bus stop.  (This is apparently Volume XII of the series.)  Bored, I read the first few pages, and shook my head and left it behind for the next poor bastard.  (I think the person left it behind the same way some people do with the little religious comic book tracts of Jack T. Chick, in a bizarre way to proselytize.)  The late Christopher Hitchens (I won’t call him great, because no one who supported the Iraq War is great) described the Left Behind series most eloquently and accurately as “generated by the old expedient of letting two orangutans loose on a word processor.”

I had thought that I would be working at the bookstore tomorrow morning, but a four-, instead of six-hour day.  Yesterday morning, however, there was an email from my supervisor, wishing me a merry Christmas and telling me the bookstore would be closed Christmas Eve.  So, I am going to stay up as late as I want to tonight, and sleep as late as I choose.  With the 12-hour work days I have been logging lately, that is indeed a welcome gift.

It’s 100% irrelevant to the entry, but here is a plate from Christmas 1988, depicting the President’s House at Marietta College, a scene from my home town.  (My dad was never president of Marietta College–nor did he want to be–but I went to three or four functions here in my day.)

An All-Too-Short Breather From Moonlighting

I can tell that the end of the academic quarter looms at Columbus State Community College when I begin logging 12-hour workdays–my usual “day job” at the Industrial Commission, and the 2½ hours I work afterwards at the Discovery Exchange.  I wasn’t expecting to be back at the bookstore until Christmas, but I emailed my supervisor there to find out when he wanted me to start, and he asked me if I could start the first week of December.  My finances–or the lack thereof–made that an easy decision, quite a no-brainer.

So, starting Monday evening, I have been working at the bookstore, arriving home just before 9, and by then I’m usually so exhausted that I tumble into bed right away… and still don’t feel all that refreshed when the alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning.

It may some lingering NaNoWriMo mindset.  Even though I no longer have to type at breakneck speed to produce writing of questionable–if not outright nonexistent–literary merit, I still feel like I’ve expended an enormous amount of energy during the day, and just the proximity and practicality of sleep is enough of a suggestion that I tumble into bed at an early hour, often times before Susie.  (Even when I do stay up late, it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly she falls asleep.  She often dozes off reading or writing in her journal, so there’s light coming from under her bedroom door regardless of how late the hour.  If I’m passing her room at 2:30 a.m. en route to the bathroom, I’ll see the light, and long ago I came to realize that she’s sound asleep and has no problem sleeping in a brightly lit room.)

Susie and I are at Kafé Kerouac right now, just north of the Ohio State campus.  This is a good post-NaNoWriMo location, and a good place to host a write-in next year.  Kerouac wrote the version of On the Road that catapulted him to literary fame (and fortune–most of which he drank) in a style that NaNoWriMo writers would make famous over 35 years later.  After many false starts, Kerouac wrote On the Road in about three weeks, fueled by amphetamines and black coffee, writing on a long scroll of Teletype paper and getting up from the typewriter only for trips to the bathroom.  I am 48 years old now, so I have outlived Kerouac by a year, but I doubt that I would ever have had the spontaneity or the stamina to try such a project in such a radical way.  Several years ago, Viking published Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, and the work notebooks show that the writing of On the Road may have been spontaneous, but the text and the story was quite premeditated.

The famous scroll manuscript of On the Road.

This is the calm before the storm at the bookstore.  I have spent most of my workdays (-evenings?) re-shelving returns as students return them.  There are usually about five of us working on the second floor at night, and as one quarter winds down and the new one has yet to begin, there is not much customer traffic.  Sometimes I have to combat boredom, but shelving is a task that I genuinely enjoy.  During the lull in activity, when there aren’t even any books that need to be put back, I remind myself about how much I’ll relish moments like that once the onslaught starts again after Christmas.

One of my favorite isolated lines in Stephen King’s The Stand describes one of the heroes, Larry Underwood, tending to his mother when she becomes ill with the flu that eventually kills her and 99.4% of the human race.  Before anyone realizes just how deadly this is, he helps settle her in bed, moves the TV to her bedroom, buys her some paperback books at the corner store, and fixes her a small meal.  “After that,” says the narrative, “there wasn’t anything to do except get on each other’s nerves.”  To a much lesser degree, that’s kind of what we’re like on the second floor when there are no customers and no books to shelve.

The cashiers and customer service people downstairs place returns on a library cart, and when one is full enough, that’s when someone from the second floor (lately, me, but not exclusively) will come down and get it, exchanging it with an empty.  Because a loaded cart weighs so much, we take it up in the bookstore’s freight elevator.

One of my coworkers is a young woman from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa, who is taking pre-med classes at Columbus State.  She was a little scared when I told her the books had to go up in the freight elevator.  (I had seen her wheeling the cart toward the passenger elevator.)  Having worked at the Cincinnati post office, I have no fear of freight elevators.  The one at the Discovery Exchange could accommodate a small Toyota, but it has a mesh gate that raises and lowers, and the heavy steel external doors smash together with a sound that can make you jump.  As she and I waited for it, I’m sure my casual references to the “Elevator of Death” didn’t put her at ease.  (I suppose I should never let her see the L.A. Law episode featuring the death of Rosalind Shays.)

When I was 15 and living in Marietta, I helped a friend of mine deliver newspapers in the business district.  He had several customers in the Dime Bank Building at Second and Putnam Sts., across from the Washington County Courthouse.  The Dime Bank Building had an old, antiquated hand-operated elevator, complete with an old, antiquated elevator operator.  You got in, he would slide the accordioned gate shut, flip the lever (I always thought it looked like a ship’s engine order telegraph), and up you would go, watching the floors go by as you rose.

I made an all-too-quick trip to Cincinnati the first weekend of November, while Susie was at a church Coming of Age retreat in the Hocking Hills.  One of the people I took to lunch was George Wagner, who managed the apartment building where I lived.  George worked part-time as a clerk at Ohio Book Store on Main Street, and he had a healthy fear/respect for its freight elevator.  He emphatically stated he was not afraid of the elevator.  “I burn incense to it.  I pray to it.  I recite the 23rd Psalm before I get aboard it.  But no, I am not afraid of it!” he told me many times when I lived in Cincinnati.

NaNoWriMo – 30 –

And this year it ended triumphantly for both Susie and me!  Completely in character for me, I was working on my project until the bitter end, logging 50,028 words when I submitted it to the NaNoWriMo Website for verification.  I sent it in around 4:40 on Wednesday afternoon, and Susie followed around 9 p.m. the same evening.  Very little incentive to cheat, since bragging rights and a neat little graphic for your Facebook page are really the only “prizes” you win.

The contest has not been without cost.  Susie has been sick with a sore throat and a headache (she even stayed home from school today, which has been completely out of character for her since she started at The Graham School), and I have been rather draggy and unmotivated in both physical and mental energy.  I’ve had a hard time focusing at work, and seem to want to sleep more than usual.  I’ve always liked wintertime, so I can’t rightly attribute it to seasonal affective disorder, but I do find myself in a bit of a slump mentally.  My way of celebrating the completion of the project was going to bed before midnight for the first time in God knows how long.  I am hoping that this cafard will only be temporary, and, since Susie is going down to Florida for Christmas break, I really need to keep it from getting out of control.  (Again, cafard is a word that I picked up from reading The Journals of John Cheever.  He experienced enough of it for 10 people.)

Just by re-reading the two paragraphs I just typed, I can see that I’ve made some progress in coming out of NaNoWriMo mode.  To wit, I am using contractions again.  As a way to pad my word count, during the narrative of the novel, I stopped using contractions.  (I continued to use them in dialogue, and I admit that dialogue has never been my strong suit when it came to writing.)

My manuscript was called Founder’s Day, and Susie’s was/is Vengeance is Sweeter.  I am not sure what the fate of mine will be.  Even as I was writing it, I knew that I am capable of much better, and that I was pouring on the excess verbiage for the mere purpose of increasing my word count.  If you have ever seen You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, or listened to a recording of the music, you would understand what I was doing by following Lucy’s part in “The Book Report.”  Right now, Founder’s Day is hermetically sealed on my hard drive, and I can’t even bring myself to open the file, let alone start editing it.  I have a feeling that I may be working on it from the ground up if I ever decide to write it with an eye toward publication.  (And yes, I do have fantasies that it ends up being my breakthrough book, and then years later, I’ll do what Stephen King did with The Stand and publish “the NaNoWriMo edition.”)

I left work early today to run some errands (paying rent and getting a long overdue beard trim headed the list), and when I came back home, Susie was fast asleep in her bedroom.  I followed her lead and collapsed for an hour or so in my room.  But, she is awake now, and it is amazing what a little food did to perk her back up.  (I think the fact that she wants to go to the Marriage Equality rally downtown with me tomorrow morning, and see her friend in Romeo and Juliet at Dominion Middle School tomorrow night, may also have played a role.)

Another temporary casualty of NaNoWriMo has been that–completely out of character for me–I have barely written in my diary for all of November.  I guess what energy I did have, I poured into the NaNoWriMo project, and I was either too written out or too exhausted to turn my attention and energy to the pages of the composition book that always comes in my knapsack with me.  One of the reasons I’m writing in the blog tonight is to see if that will kick-start me toward resuming daily diary entries.  I don’t want to be as meticulous or as compulsive as the late Robert Shields, but when I go back and open the book, with my pen in hand, I am going to feel like I’m meeting someone and having to explain to them why I haven’t called them back.

I posted on Columbus Underground about needing to find someone to repair my Royal Royalite manual typewriter, and have yet to follow up on the suggestions folks posted in response.  I wish I could have used it for NaNoWriMo, but that would not have been practical, since you need to cut and paste your finished product into their Website so they can verify your word count.  Here is a picture of the Royalite, which has been on the receiving end of much abuse from me, in my old home office in Franklinton:

I loathed almost every TV series he produced, but, in the pre-YouTube days, I always loved seeing the ending credits of any Stephen J. Cannell program.  (Cannell, who died last year, produced 21 Jump Street, Silk Stalkings, and The A-Team.)  It is especially appropriate to post, as someone who “won” NaNoWriMo:

(I can never decide which one I like best, so this one seems to be the most inclusive.)