Wondering If I’ve Decompressed Sufficiently

It’s 5 a.m., and when the little hand is on 8 and the big hand is on 12, I will be back to work.  I still don’t feel like I’ve had sufficient time to change gears mentally from the trip to New Jersey and go back into civil service mode.  Especially not helpful is the fact that I collapsed from sheer exhaustion before sunset, and remained asleep until nearly 4 a.m.  (My shuteye was minimal at the LRY Reunion, but I knew from the get-go that would happen.)

Here’s the group picture, taken after the Sunday brunch, before the lack of sleep caught up with everybody.

Monday was one of my cost-saving days, as was Friday.  (I chose those days specifically for the safari that just ended.)  I fully expected to be spending Sunday night on the bus coming home, but thanks to Julie and Marc, Susie and I were home just after 11 p.m.  I would have arrived back in Columbus around 11:30 Monday morning otherwise.

You’d think that the minute I saw the bed, it would be like someone taking the switch that powered my body and throwing it immediately to off, but that was not the case.  I was still wound up from the trip–the joy of reuniting with old friends, meeting some new people, etc.  So, I loaded the 90+ pictures that I took with my Kodak EasyShare C180 (a good digital camera, a rather simple Ph.D.–Push Here, Dummy–camera) to my computer, culled through them for the ones that would go on Facebook, and then scanned the handwritten entries from the weekend into Blogspot.

Jacques, his mom, and I went down to Mineral to deliver clothes and food to Feed My Sheep.  I ran on sheer adrenaline for most of the time I was stocking food boxes and helping to get them out to the front parking lot. I hadn’t eaten anything but two chicken-salad sandwiches I bought at 7-Eleven on the way down.

The trip from Columbus to Mineral is 75 miles each way, and that’s a milk run compared to the trip I just completed, but I found myself dozing off quite a few times on the way back.  I managed to stay awake until dinner, but I lasted less than an hour after the meal ended.  I need to realize that I’m not the type of person who can nap.  When I do nap (such as the siestas I take in the quiet-reading desks at the BWC Library at work), I never feel all that refreshed when I wake up.

My news is good footwise.  I wore the boot on the trip home, mainly because it would have been such a pain to pack it otherwise.  I haven’t had a Darvocet since the noon meal Saturday.  (We went on a hike around the camp property that afternoon, and with lunch I took a double dose, so I could stay ahead of the pain.)  I took the hike wearing a regular shoe, and I can’t really say I’ve felt much foot pain since.

Here is the camp map.  I think we covered about two miles in all.  I remember that three of us (Joan, John, and myself) were standing on Vesper Island and looking out at Lake Shawanni, and we saw Susie in the middle seat of a canoe with two other kids.  They were having a blast, but seemed to have a hard time synchronizing their paddling motion.  (I’m glad now that I haven’t shown A Place in the Sun to her.)

Where I spent my weekend.

The sun will soon be up, and I will probably be moving on sheer automation the first hour or so that I am back at work.  Something truly unusual: It looks like I’ll make it to the bus stop without having to make my customary Dagwood Bumstead sprint to catch it.

Cracks in the Block

Thursday night, I regaled my Facebook friends with an ongoing account of my successful attempt to try and overcome both the hypersomnia and the writing block that has caused me some distress of late.  In May, I began a short story, and shortly after reaching the 1000-word mark, I said to myself, “I’ll pick it up again tomorrow,” and didn’t.  One of the characters in Bugsy Malone, Jr., a play I saw way too many times when Susie acted in it, sang a song that laments, “Tomorrow never comes!”  Annoying as the song was, it had the ring of truth when it comes to writing and me.

So, Thursday, I resolved that tomorrow had come.  There was no burning bush, no real epiphany.  I was at work, typing a stack of ex parte orders, and just as I released them to the hearing officer, I said, “I’m going to finish this story tonight, damn it!”  After work, I came home and cooked an elegant meal for Steph and Susie (Kraft macaroni and cheese, with Pop-Tarts for dessert), and then put my laptop into my over-the-shoulder bag and headed to Kafé Kerouac on North High Street (here is their link).  I made a brief stop at the OSU Library, but there is no Wi-Fi access for non-OSU staff or students, so I went north.

One of the few things I remember from my basic chemistry class at Marietta High School was the principle of potential versus kinetic energy.  A boulder at the top of a big hill has potential energy, but once you start rolling it down the hill, it has kinetic energy.  I had potential energy as I slogged through the process of logging on, “ping”-ing off Kafé Kerouac’s Wi-Fi, and making cursory checks of my email and my Facebook account.

Finally, I bit the bullet and signed onto Microsoft Office.  I had to sit down and scroll through what I had already written, and take some notes.  I had forgotten characters’ names, the name of the small city where I set the story, etc.  Finally, when I established continuity, I paged through the notes I had taken for the scenes yet to be written, cracked open a Diet Coke, and began to write.

The first few lines and paragraphs were sheer hell to write.  But once I got past them, and began to establish some momentum, I found myself eager to keep going.  In many ways, writing a short story is much more difficult than a novel.  A short story has a definite ceiling for word count–9000 words is generally the maximum, then you cross over into novella.  A novel, however, has no limit.  The writer can keep adding more and more, and the pages just keep stacking up.

I was a little bothered by how much I had to backtrack to maintain continuity for a work that would eventually top out at 5704 words.  Especially when I am such a stickler for continuity in television programs, other works of fiction, etc.  (My antennae go up when I watch an early M*A*S*H episode when Hawkeye Pierce concludes a letter to his father by sending greetings to “Mom and Sis,” whereas it’s established for most of the series that Hawkeye is an only child, and his father has been a widower since Hawkeye was 10.  Likewise, as much as I love Stephen King’s massive novel It, I can go straight to where Richie, one of the “Losers’ Club” who fights Pennywise, attends Methodist Youth Fellowship faithfully every week, but several hundred pages later, he says he’s Catholic.  Another Loser, Beverly Marsh, lives with her stepfather, but later on King mentions she inherited her artistic ability and hair color from him.)

Whenever I hit a thousand-work mark, I notified people via Twitter (and, by extension, Facebook).  I had to resist the urge to rest from it, and risk losing all the headway I had gained.  I left Kafé Kerouac a little after 12, so I could catch the last northbound High Street bus.  Susie was long since asleep, and Steph was in front of her laptop, communing with her retinue in Second Life–where she spends virtually every waking hour of late.  I knew the alarm would ring at 6:45, so I could be out on Indianola at 7:30 to catch the bus, but I knew that if I quit now, it would be another long stretch before I typed a word.  I took the laptop upstairs and plugged it back in, and finally, just before 4 a.m., I typed that beautiful indication:

– 30 –
at the bottom, and sat back with a sigh.  (- 30 – is a printers’ equivalent of THE END.  At one time, the end of an article or manuscript was represented by “XXX”.  XXX is the Roman numeral for 30, so that’s how it changed.)
I know the story is not ready to go out yet.  I need to go through and edit it, and resist the urge to fall madly in love with my own prose, as I am wont to do.  (I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook that it was time for the blue pencil, and maybe a scythe.)
There wasn’t total spontaneous prose, like Kerouac advocated when he wrote On the Road and many of his later books.  I was quick to backspace and edit whenever I thought I needed to.
The original manuscipt of On the Road, typed in three
weeks on a scroll of Teletype paper, fueled by massive
doses of amphetamines, black coffee, and pea soup.
The story takes place after the funeral of a beloved high school teacher, and my hero (close to my age, 47) and his wife meet up with my protagonist’s semi-romantic interest at the gravesite.  (“Semi-romantic is not meant to be facetious–romantic, not romantic is quite fluid in junior and senior high school.)  There is no rekindled romance, no Same Time Next Year arrangement.  The essence of the story is some legend tripping the major characters do as a result of this reunion.  (Look that phrase up yourself, Caped Crusaders.)
I went to bed at 4:15 Friday morning, and slept until 7, barely made it to work on time.  I was so wiped out that I left work at 3 p.m. and came home and went straight to sleep.  I’m off work Monday (cost-savings day), but I’ll be going down to Mineral with Jacques.

Holy Day of Obligation for Diarists

Samuel Pepys, we who are about to blog salute thee!  On this date, in 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote the final entry in his diary.  He was a member of the English Parliament and Naval Administrator under Charles II, and discontinued his journal (begun New Year’s Day 1660) because he feared (mistakenly) he was going blind.  So, every May 31 is the day that I feel I must post a blog entry, or write in my holographic diary, even if I abandon it all other times.

I started my first real diary on New Year’s Day 1974, when I was in fifth grade.  As a belated Christmas gift, my dad bought me a blank diary (blue cover with My Diary One Year on the cover, and a lock.  The lock was as impenetrable as Fort Knox unless you had a bobby pin.)  He bought me the diary at Sugden’s Book Store in downtown Marietta, and for the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s, I was itching to start writing in it.
I made my first entry New Year’s afternoon, as we were driving back from Richmond, Va. to Marietta.  We had gone there on December 28 to be with my aunt (my mother’s older sister) Jean and her family while her husband Roger was in the cardiac care unit of a Richmond hospital, undergoing treatment for the congestive heart failure that would take his life the following spring.
That diary, along with all the ones from 1974 to 1989, is long gone, since I stored them in a storage locker and never maintained the payments.  I distinctly remember writing the first entry with a dull pencil, even including a dateline (“Somewhere in Virginia,” which sounds like a Union Army dispatch to the War Department during the Civil War), writing about Uncle Roger’s return to Intensive Care, watching the ball drop at Times Square on the television, and how hard it was to find a gas station that was open.
I was hooked from then on.  My friends (particularly my male ones) thought it weird, but it was just another proof that I was completely nuts and 100% different from them.  (When I had friends staying over, or if I spent the night with them, they were respectful when I would get out the diary and a pen and go off by myself just long enough to fill a page.)  I even defended it with words I echoed from my dad: “You like to watch Star Trek, don’t you?  Well, when Captain Kirk does his captain’s log, that’s his diary.  Besides [I added, doubly righteously], the most famous diary in the world was kept by a man!”  It did take me a long time to get over the picture of the girl lying on her stomach writing when I heard the word “diary,” however.
I haven’t maintained a perfect day-to-day record, even in the many volumes that were lost.  I have gone days, weeks, and months between entries.  Overall, I am a pretty conscientious diarist.  I have used a variety of books as diaries.  Growing up, every Christmas I received a new one-year book (never another one with a lock), but when I was 16, I began to use blank books that were not predated, so I wouldn’t be confined to a page per day.  I varied in book types then, too, ranging from big red legal ledgers to spiral notebooks.
For most of my 20s, I used bonded leather blank books (usually the Anything Book brand), with the occasional stenographer’s notebook or appointment diary thrown in for variety, plus whatever books I received as Christmas or birthday gifts–when in doubt, get Paul a journal, was the wisdom.
From about age 35 on, I have–with some exceptions–written in simple composition books, inspired mainly by movies such as Se7en, Joe Gould’s Secret, and Henry Fool, where major characters make liberal use of composition books.  They’re cheap (often about $1 at places like Family Dollar) and much more durable than many of the more expensive variety.  That is the type of book I am now using.  (The current 200-page Mead composition book is 70% full, and its successor sits in my desk drawer right now.)  I have received expensively bound blank books with parchment pages, but they’re so beautiful you almost feel guilty marking the page.  Plus, I have good penmanship, but I can’t write without lines–the words go downhill almost immediately if I write on an unruled page.)
Steph vowed several years ago she had stopped reading my diaries.  There was no higher principle involved–the matters of trust and secrecy.  She had read them when she thought I may have had something to hide, or if there was something on my mind that I wasn’t sharing, but she quit for a much more practical reason.
“Your diary is boring!” she said.  She read page after page of my rehashing of a union meeting and its aftermath, where I would write something like:

John seems to think that this policy will help with the mandatory overtime, and he thinks that they should be adding five more people per shift per area.  I told him that he’d be playing right into Management’s hands if he did that, because they’ll be accusing the union (and I’m not sure they’d be wrong) of deliberate featherbedding, which will bite us in the ass come contract time.

 Steph’s remark that my diary was/is boring may well be true, but at the time neither of us knew much about the Reverend Robert Shields (1918-2007), a retired United Church of Christ minister in Washington State who kept a very detailed diary of literally everything that happened to him from 1972 until a 1997 stroke made the job impossible.  I first heard of him in a “News of the Weird” column in 1996:

According to a Seattle Times feature in March, Robert Shields, 77, of Dayton, Wash., is the author of perhaps the longest personal diary in history–nearly 38 million words on paper stored in 81 cardboard boxes–covering his last 24 years in five-minute increments.  Example: July 25, 1993, 7 a.m.: “I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.”  7:05 a.m.: “Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine.  Used 5 sheets of paper.”

I thought this had to be a joke or hoax, until shortly after Shields’ death, when excerpts from this mammoth diary were published on National Public Radio’s Website:

 One of the more exciting pages I could find in
Rev. Shields’ magnum opus.  Click on the
image to read the entries more easily.

This entry was written on my 31st birthday.

I bought a small white one-year diary at a junk store years ago for about a quarter, and used it for appointments, etc. until it disappeared with the coat where I carried it.  Most of the pages were blank, so I was able to fill in appointments under the appropriate preprinted dates.  There were a few penciled entries, such as “Me and Donnie told jokes at class today walked home there’s a good chiller movie on TV tonight.”
During my white-tornado blitz cleaning of the office the past few days, I christened the finished project with pictures from my new Kodak digital camera (see last entry).  One of the shots I made was of my own diaries.  This isn’t even complete, since some of the volumes are locked in my desk at work:
These are more or less in chronological order.
The current volume stays with me, so I can
write in it whenever the urge strikes me.

Just before Steph went to The Cleveland Clinic for her heart surgery, she made out a last will and testament.  I realize now I should have done the same thing, both as a gesture of solidarity and as a practical matter.  (I should have made one out when I got married, and again when Susie was born.)  I have no vast financial holdings–my net worth can be calculated by what’s in my wallet when I die, plus how many pennies are in the jar in my office, so I don’t have that many assets to distribute.  If I died intestate (as I am now), Steph and Susie would automatically inherit everything.  However, I do plan to bequeath my diaries to either Alden Library at Ohio University or the Ohioana Library here in Columbus–can’t decide which.
Whichever place finally gets the honor, I do have daydreams of the day they arrive, when the librarians march all my diaries around the facility in procession and people touch their garments to them.
Steph puts up no objection to my diaries ending up in a library vault somewhere–they didn’t interest her when I am alive, after all.  In this, she was probably a lot like Evelyn Yates Inman, whose husband Arthur, a reclusive and hypochondriac poet, kept a 155-volume diary.  Arthur Crew Inman kept his record while living off inherited money in a Boston hotel, living as an invalid because of a long list of imaginary ailments.  He began the record in 1919 and ended it in December 1963, when he took his own life.  Professor Daniel Aaron of Harvard University began editing the 155 volumes and 17 million+ words in the 1980s, while I was working for The Crimson, and Harvard University Press published a very abridged version in 1985.  A movie, Hypergraphia, about Inman’s life, is currently in production.  This Website for Hypergraphia is the place to go for the background and news on the film.
I discovered this Website 100% by accident last month.  It’s one that makes me feel like I’m a little less alone in my fascination with notebooks, diaries, etc.  The title is Notebook Stories, and I feel like I have a personal kinship with everyone who posted there.  I used to think I was the only one who would go back into my burning house to rescue diaries and notebooks (once my daughter and wife were safely outside).
And while I’m on here:

I slept until almost noon, then I got up, took a shower, and dressed.  My friend Jacques took me to lunch at Cazuela’s Grill at N. High St. and W. Northwood Ave.  (Normally, he’d be in Mineral at the Feed My Sheep food pantry, but the pantry is closed today for Memorial Day.)  He drove me back home, I loaned him two or three issues of The Catholic Worker (poor is having to buy a Catholic Worker subscription on layaway). I took Susie to our friend’s apartment so she could feed and water the cats, then she and I came back home.  She may go swimming later, once we’re 100% sure the cloudbursts are finished for the day.  (It’s in the low 80s right now, and the pollen count is in the stratosphere.)
And then I came home and wrote this entry.