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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"Some People Read Automobile Books or Rifle Magazines"

The title of this post is a line from the 1968 movie The Boston Strangler.  Attorney John Bottomly (Henry Fonda), who has been questioning the alleged Boston Strangler (Tony Curtis) for hours at a time, unwinds after these long interrogations by burning the midnight oil, burying himself in his law books.  When his wife asks why he is reading law, he says this is his way of relaxing.  “Some people read automobile books or rifle magazines,” he says.

My level of energy and motivation has been almost non-existent.  I was able to feign enough energy and activity for my first day back to work since Wednesday, but pretty much ran out of energy as soon as I came home.  I said hi to Steph and Susie, checked to see if there was any mail for me (there wasn’t), and then went up to the master bedroom and fell asleep immediately.  I didn’t remove shoes, glasses, watch, or cell phone, just collapsed in a heap on the bed.

The energy level (either mental or physical) isn’t much higher now, but nevertheless I’m going to try to stay focused long enough to type out a blog entry.  (I have my ear buds in and am alternating between the B-52s and the Alan Parsons Project right now, with no clue as to what that does for/to creativity.)

So, since I read neither automobile books or rifle magazines (having never used either an automobile or a rifle in my 47 years on earth), what am I doing to unwind?  Yesterday, I had a somewhat sustained burst of activity (it may have been a manic episode) and I spent hours communing with BookDB2, a shareware program I downloaded earlier this month from Spacejock Software.  I’ve begun cataloging my “holdings” here.

I’ve made futile efforts at this in the past.  When I took a public speaking class at St. Mary’s Middle School in the eighth grade, I gave a presentation on my book collection, and I brought in a small red and black hardbound notebook in which I had listed every book I had on my shelf (or windowsill or tucked over my bedroom door).  There was no logic or order as to where they went on the shelf–Jim Bouton’s Ball Four could be side by side with Joseph Gallagher’s To Be a Catholic, and paperback classics of American literature jostled alongside Pocket Books editions of Erle Stanley Gardner.

Most recently, I seem to have caught the bug after the evening I spent volunteering at Sporeprint, helping to organize and catalog its lending library.  (I wrote about it in an earlier entry in this blog.)  Our goal was to shelve the books by Library of Congress Classification.  Many books published in the last decade print this information after the title page, but when confronted with a book that didn’t have this, another person looked up the appropriate call number from the Library of Congress’ online card catalog.

Steph and Susie, sitting at their respective laptops in the dining room, looked up from time to time to see me carrying armloads of books from the milk crate bookshelves here in the living room and stacking them on the floor around my worktable.  Once sitting at the laptop, I’d click on BookDB2 and begin entering the specifics about the book.  At first, I was content just to enter author and title information, and maybe date of copyright, but soon I decided to enter call numbers.  Just like at Sporeprint, I kept the Library of Congress’ page up, and often found myself looking up book titles so that it would retrieve the call numbers for me.

(We’ve all heard the myth that the Library of Congress has a copy of every single book published in the United States.  It is just that, a myth.  I have encountered two books in my own collection–and I am sure there are more–that the Library of Congress doesn’t possess.  One is Sam Hedrin’s novelization of Network, based on the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.  The other is Robert Lomas’ The Secrets of Freemasonry.)

To make the project even more interesting, I set up the main menu to sort by call number, so it fascinated me to see the titles arrange themselves by subject matter–which they definitely are not in at the present moment.  Once the project is finished, I may consider buying the little spine stickers, marking the books, and then trying to arrange them in some semblance of order.  At least in the main menu, the sacred books are organized together (right now The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton is on the same shelf as Stephen King and James A. Michener).

I plan to be a deliberate latecomer to the world of the Kindle.  I have seen more and more people on the bus with them, especially after work, but I still like my over-the-shoulder bag bursting with actual print, from library books to the composition book in which I write my diary.  I may be more tempted once the price drops, but until then, a Kindle is nowhere on the horizon.  That is probably why my all-time favorite Star Trek character, throughout all the various series, was Captain Kirk’s attorney Samuel T. Cogley in the original series first-season episode “Court Martial.”  He eschews the use of computers and tapes, saying, “I’ve got my own system!  Books, young man, books!”  He invites himself–along with his many books–to move into Kirk’s cabin and excitedly discourses on how much he loves books before planning Kirk’s case with him.

“This is where the law is!  Not in that
homogenized, pasteurized synthesizer!”
–Samuel T. Cogley (Elisha Cook) to
Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner)
in “Court Martial,” Stardate 2947.3

Thinking of Adding a New Feature to My Entries

While I was writing about the Cincinnati road trip and the Radio Convention, at one point I started a paragraph with TANGENT ALERT: before proceeding to go off point to include a link to YouTube.

My thought now is to make that a permanent feature, so it can be as much a warning to the reader as it would be to me to try to stay focused on the subject at hand.  Earlier this month, I went to a Website called Blurb.com, because I’m considering downloading this blog’s LiveJournal years and ponying up the money for a professionally bound copy of it.  I had to format each page individually once they loaded (all 200+ of them), and I was appalled at how, in one entry, I could stray so far off the landscape from what I had intended when I logged on that day.

A Tangent Alert would probably amuse me as much as it would help me discipline my writing.  I can see it becoming an object of fun, both for my readership and myself.  Already I’m thinking it’s the blogosphere’s equivalent of a gimmick used in a 1966 thriller, Chamber of Horrors.  I saw this masterpiece on Channel 10’s Nite Owl Theater one Friday night as a teen with two friends.  We knew we were in for fun when this item appeared on the screen:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, the motion picture you are about to see contains scenes so terrifying, the public must be given grave warning.  Therefore the management has instituted visual and audible warning at the beginning of each of the FOUR SUPREME FRIGHT POINTS… the HORROR HORN and the FEAR FLASHER.  The FEAR FLASHER is the visual warning.  The HORROR HORN is the audible warning.  Turn away when you see the FEAR FLASHER.  Close your eyes when you hear the HORROR HORN.

The three of us were laughing until we were crying each time these “warnings” came on the screen, and the show’s host, mellow-voiced baritone Frederick (“Fritz the Nite Owl”) Peerenboom, was laughing right along with us.  For weeks, whenever one of us mentioned “the HORROR HORN” or “the FEAR FLASHER” in any context, it never failed to trigger gut-busting laughter.

Much of my writing–including in here–I’ve ended up having to delete because of just how far I have strayed off point.  I’ve gone so far afield that I’d look at the paragraph on the laptop screen and ask myself, Now where was I headed with this?  I’d even try to work my way backwards, because usually all these associations would make sense to me, at least.  If I couldn’t find the connection, and work from there, the passage would be gone.

The tendency has been there since day one.  My first “long” project was a 48-page (typed, single-spaced) personal narrative with the imaginative title, “Two Trips to Richmond, Virginia.”  I wrote it when I was 11, describing two car trips my mother, father, and I made from Marietta to the former Confederate capital (during Christmas break 1973 and February-March 1974) to be with my aunt and cousin while my uncle was hospitalized with the congestive heart failure that would take his life in March 1974.  Besides chronicling every hamburger stand, restroom stop, and gas station along U.S. Route 50, it took very little for me to write a page of two about something totally unrelated to this journey.  (I wrote a bit about Watergate, since we crossed the Potomac River at one point in the trip.  We passed through a little dot on the map called Belgium, W.Va., so I’d mention I’d heard of a movie called If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.  Less than 20 miles from the Virginia state line is the city of Romney.  Since Romney is the home of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, visited by Helen Keller in 1916, she would rate a long paragraph or two.  A motorist on U.S. 50 would leave West Virginia and enter Maryland, only to re-enter West Virginia less than 10 miles later.  John Wilkes Booth was a Marylander, as were most of his conspirators, so I was off and running about Lincoln’s assassination.  You get the picture.)

I am also not sure that I’m conscientious enough to be able to flag a tangent when it arises.  When I wrote the previous entry, I typed TANGENT ALERT: at the very start of the paragraph, knowing I was headed away from the main subject.  There will be many times, I am sure, when I’ll have to go back and insert it after the fact, or when I won’t notice it at all until the entry has been online for a few days.

During coffee hour at church Sunday, a woman who is a friend of Steph’s and mine asked about Susie’s and my day trip to Cincinnati on Saturday.  I gave her the Reader’s Digest account of the convention and the trip to Duttenhofer’s, and she mentioned that she’d probably read it in the blog when she came home.  I told her about writing TANGENT ALERT:, and she nodded very knowingly and approvingly, thinking I had at last seen reason.

While writing the entry about Saturday, I did show restraint, he wrote with some little pride.  I mentioned buying a $.50 paperback copy of James A. Michener’s Centennial, and began to write about something a friend had told me when we were in high school, when I made my first unsuccessful attempt to read this paper behemoth.  The friend told me that Centennial had literally been a lifesaver.  A man was sitting in a bar and a thief robbed the cash register at gunpoint, shooting up the place as he left.  The man in this story pitched violently off the barstool onto the floor, and was sure that he had been shot.  When he arrived at the E.R., the triage crew undressed him to search for bullet wounds.  (I’m sure you know the punch line to this story: The bullet had lost all its velocity passing through the book.  The man had not been shot at all!)  I doubt this story is true–I even Googled all the key words to see if there was a news story archived somewhere about it, and came up empty.

And in the previous entry, I refrained from writing about it.  I just noted that I bought the book, and didn’t mention I also purchased Cheever’s Falconer and Elvis: What Happened?.  I didn’t include this.

It can be done.