Winter is icumen in/Lhude sing goddamm

Ezra Pound’s parody “Ancient Music” seems so appropriate today, even though the winter solstice is still two weeks away–and I’ve used it before, back when this blog was still on LiveJournal.  The first wave fell yesterday, and we had a small respite from additional snowfall today.  This is, I understand, the calm before the storm.  According to the meteorologists I’ve seen on TV and online, Columbus is due to get slammed again tomorrow.

I took what turned out to be a minor fall Friday morning when I was walking out of my place to the bus stop, thinking the front walk was just wet, not icy.  In the end, I hurt nothing but my pride, but it was painful enough for me to call off from work, down some Naproxen, and sleep for much of the morning.  When I got out of bed, I was not walking like an old lady, like I was immediately after the fall, but I was walking more slowly than usual.

The juxtaposition was not lost on me.  On Tuesday, the mercury climbed into the 60s, so I rode the trike to work.  It took about 45 minutes, and I felt invigorated when I made it downtown.  (A trike ride, even when I undertake it reluctantly, does improve my mood and my overall spirit.  I have often wondered if my mental health insurance will reimburse me for it.  Futile, I know.)

I didn’t ride home until Wednesday night, because I had to head home early to meet the guys from Beavis & Butt-head Appliances, Inc., who were delivering my new washer and dryer.  (I live diagonally across from a Laundromat, but with my own equipment, I have the freedom to do my laundry at 2 a.m. in my bathrobe, if I so choose, or not to take it immediately out of the dryer.)  All they would promise was that the appliances would be at my place between 4 and 6 p.m., which entailed leaving work early, all so those these two could arrive at 6:30.  I could not christen my new machines until the following night, because the dryer did not come with a vent hose.

The trike spent Tuesday night in the BWC garage, and then on Wednesday, I rode it home.  I knew the weather was going to change, and if I didn’t ride it home Wednesday, the bike would spend all winter in the garage.

And Thursday morning, I attempted to walk to work.  I got about two-thirds of the way before it began raining too hard for me to continue.  I rode a bus for the final mile, and then worked until 5, hearing more and more ominous stories about the storm.

What is remarkable is that I managed to do a fair amount of walking today without falling.  Since I have accepted the fact–kicking and screaming–that I am middle-aged, I also know that part of this involves the fact that falls can be much more dangerous and have much more negative long-term effects than they did when I was younger.  Today, I vowed not to confine myself to quarters, so I loaded up my black over-the-shoulder bag with the laptop, two books, my journal, and the typescript of a long untouched manuscript that I am rewriting, and went to Kafé Kerouac, a walk of 0.8 miles.  Never has it seemed so long, so difficult.  The ice was melting in some places, but the bulk of the trip was on slick and bumpy ice surfaces.  Even though I was wearing tennis shoes, I felt myself about to slip several times when I put the soles of my feet on the ground.  (I am sure that if I had been wearing dress shoes, I would definitely have fallen.)

Adding to my worries was what would happen if I did fall.  Hurting myself would be bad enough, but I was mortally afraid of landing on the laptop and ruining it as well.  There were points along the journey when I was hanging onto street signs, shrubs, and garbage cans just to keep stable.

I did get a fair amount of work done while I was at Kafé Kerouac.  I finished the first chapter of the manuscript, and read a chapter of Grant’s Final Victory, the story of the last year of Ulysses S. Grant’s life, his sudden poverty, and the writing of his Personal Memoirs.

Earlier this week, I came home from work and found a large, but light-as-a-feather, parcel sitting on my front porch.  This was major good news, since lately my letter carrier seems to deliver mail only when the mood strikes him.  Inside, mummified in plenty of bubble wrap and balled-up newspapers, was a Simplex toy typewriter.  Novelist Robert Lowry died on December 5, 1994, 19 years ago Thursday.  He began writing at the age of seven, when he asked Santa Claus for a typewriter, and found it under the tree that Christmas.

The Simplex, which I bought on eBay, was the vintage of the model he received.  There is one key, and the operator turns a big rubber wheel to the desired character, and presses the big key so that it prints on the paper below.  (This machine is non-functional, and has not been inked in decades.  I have no plans to try to get it to work; it’s in my office as a conversation piece, and as an inspiration.)

The Practical Simplex Typewriter Number 300.  The keys in the front are painted, and not functional, just like the black keys on Schroeder’s toy piano in the Peanuts comics.

Online, I was kidding Susie that this was the original laptop.  Later that night, I was reading a clipping that I tucked inside the front cover of Jimmy Carter’s White House Diary.  It was a 1981 New York Times article about Carter’s upcoming memoirs.  It made the newspapers when the former President hit a wrong function key and lost two or three days’ worth of work.  More interesting was the description of the machine itself, back in the day when the masses did not know much (if anything) about word processing and computers:

The Lanier machine, which sells for about $12,000, takes up about the same amount of desk space as an electric typewriter but is taller by a foot or more because of the cathode-ray display screen.  The operator works at an electronic keyboard that returns the carriage automatically and also hyphenates and numbers pages.  Removable magnetic disks store up to 30 pages of typed information.

(I displayed a picture of President Carter’s Lanier “No Problem” word processor in an entry last month.)

Word is that we’re supposed to get pelted with even more snow and cold temperatures tomorrow.  I am not planning to go to church in the morning, so I plan to hibernate at least through the morning hours.  A good friend lured me out for dinner tonight, since I had recovered mentally and physically from the walk to and from Kafé Kerouac, but she had a car, so that involved almost no walking.  However, packed snow is much better for walking than ice is, so I may venture out to see what Columbus looks like under this second round of snow.

Just a Typical Fall Season–Cardiopulmonary Doctor and NaNoWriMo

We’re back to Eastern Standard Time here in Columbus.  The leaves are turning, and I habitually put on a denim jacket (and sometimes something heavier) when I venture outdoors.  I think I’ve retired the trike until next spring, so it will serve its secondary function–something in the dining room that I can run into while walking from the steps to the living room.

At the stroke of midnight, NaNoWriMo began.  As the hands of the clock neared midnight, I was sitting upstairs in my cleaner-than-usual study, Microsoft Word template onscreen, waiting for October to end and November to start.  (I admit I had jumped the gun a little by pulling up Word’s manuscript template, and filling in the variables at the top, such as my name, address, email address, etc.  But I did not do any work on the manuscript proper.)

This will be the third day of NaNoWriMo–the aspiring novelist’s PMS–the race to write 50 thousand words in 30 days.  As of right now, I have 4306 words under my belt.  I worked at home on Friday (not all of it just after the stroke of midnight), and had a long and rather aerobic session at Kafé Kerouac last night.  Susie was going to pass this year, but my first-day word count inspired her enough to jump back into the fray.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, here is a picture of the Lanier word processor former President Jimmy Carter used to write his memoir, Keeping Faith (1982).  When the machine glitched and he lost a chunk of the manuscript, it was newsworthy enough to make The New York Times.  (I have this on the brain because I am reading Charles Bracelin Flood’s Grant’s Final Victory, about Ulysses S. Grant’s race against certain death from throat cancer to finish his Personal Memoirs in 1885.)  

Work, planning the Christmas trip to Orlando to see Susie and Steph, and NaNoWriMo–not necessarily in that order–are what dominate the month of November for me.  Tomorrow, I will be focusing on something else I have mentioned in this blog.

Late tomorrow morning, I am checking in with Dr. Bryan Whitson at the Ross Heart Hospital.  It has been six months since the emergency room doctors at Riverside Methodist Hospital discovered my thoracic aortic aneurysm, so it’s time to check in to see whether it has dilated any further.  He is the same physician (a cardiovascular surgeon) who saw me in May when I first learned about the aortic aneurysm.  Before the appointment, I’ll be having a CT scan, and, based on that, we’ll see what will happen afterwards.  I think he will either decide on surgery (especially if it’s 6 cm or greater), or waiting another six months.  (One friend suggested it may not be a bad idea to take my toothbrush and some clean underwear along with me for the exam.)

The CT scan is not painful, although the feeling when they inject the dye is not pleasant.  It feels like they’ve shot boiling hot water into your veins, but the feeling lasts less than 10 seconds.  And I am not happy about the prospect of going under the knife again.  The first surgery I ever had was exciting, when I was five and having a tonsillectomy.  (The enticement of all the Popsicles and ice cream I could eat afterwards sold me, as it would any five-year-old, but the reality was far different!)  I have had three surgeries since then (plastic surgery, vasectomy, and cholecystectomy), and each one has become more and more of a burden.  I am saved the worry of telephone-number medical bills, because I am blessed with excellent health insurance, but the idleness that comprises so much of recovery is worse than the immediate post-surgical aftermath.

So, I have tomorrow off, but it’s hardly a vacation day.

Something Symbolic About the Books on Reserve For Me Today

I came home from work via the Northside branch of the library late this afternoon, and the two items awaiting me were a DVD of Joe Gould’s Secret and a hardcover of The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by Alice W. Flaherty.  Dr. Flaherty is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School.  Half her book is a study of hypergraphia, the overwhelming desire (urge) to write, the other half deals with the other side of the coin, writer’s block.

Joe Gould’s Secret is the true story of a hypergraphic person, Greenwich Village bohemian and indigent Joseph Ferdinand Gould, who prowled the streets of New York from the 1920s until the mid-1950s.  A Harvard graduate, Gould was frequently disheveled and penniless, but always pounded the pavement with a shabby portfolio and stacks of cheap composition books.  He claimed to be writing the longest book in the history of the world, An Oral History of Our Time, which he bragged was “11 times longer than the Bible” and still nowhere near completion.

New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell profiled him in 1942 in an article called “Professor Sea Gull,” detailing his daily rounds to collect money for “the Joe Gould Fund,” find rooms in flophouses, get meals in greasy spoons, and cadge free drinks from generous soft-touch friends.  As much as he talked up how monumental the Oral History was, Gould always had a million excuses whenever Mitchell asked to actually see the work in progress.  The few notebooks he let Mitchell see repeatedly covered the same subjects: the death of his physician father, and “The Dread Tomato Habit,” rewritten literally dozens of times.  Several New Yorker readers mailed Gould small sums of money after reading the article, and afterwards Gould would not let Mitchell alone, constantly harassing him for money, help with publication, etc.

Gould died in a Long Island mental hospital in 1957, and there was a mad scramble among his friends and those who remembered his Greenwich Village heyday to track down the many composition books which Gould said comprised his masterpiece.  The end result was Mitchell’s conclusion that the project was imaginary.

The many tellings and re-tellings of “The Dread Tomato Habit” and “The Death of Dr. Clarke Storer Gould” boomeranged on me while I was unpacking what I laughingly call my “files” when we made the move from Clintonville down here to Weinland Park.  To the left of my worktable here in the front room, I have a stack of bound legal pads, notebooks, and looseleaf pages.  I was appalled at how many of them were false starts of the same project, which I began sometime around 2003.  The working title is Collegetown, and it’s a novelization of my life at Ohio University in Athens during the mid-1980s.  The finished project, if I ever get that far, was for it to be a mammoth project, along the lines of Ross Lockridge’s Raintree County.  (I was inspired to try this after listening to the entire manuscript of Lockridge’s only novel as an audiobook.)  Yet I never seem to get past the same few scenes.

Someone may say I’m jinxing the eventual writing of the book by going into detail about it in a public forum such as this one.  All I can say in reply is that playing it close to the vest hasn’t worked for me.

I was reading The Boston Globe online the other day and saw that filmmaker Lorenzo DeStefano will soon begin production of the movie Hypergraphia.  It’s based on the enormous diary of Arthur Crew Inman, an Atlanta-born professional inheritor and unsuccessful poet who lived as a near-recluse in an apartment hotel in Boston from 1919 until he took his own life in 1963.  Inman lived with his wife and an ever-changing staff of servants and hangers-on, writing about his own bigotry, attempts to publish his poetry, and the conversations he had with thousands of “talkers” he hired through the classified ads to come and tell their life stories to him.  The film project’s Website provides you with many details of Inman’s life, including sound files of his voice and interviews with people who knew him.

One of the 155 handwritten volumes of Arthur
Inman’s diary.

When I lived in Boston, Dr. Daniel Aaron was in the midst of winnowing down the 155 volumes of the diary into the two-volume, 1600-page version the Harvard University Press published.  I can only vaguely place the location of the apartment hotel on St. Botolph St. where Inman lived.  I remember it was near the Mother Church of the Christian Science Church, and near the Prudential Center.  (In fact, noise from the construction of the Pru was one of the major factors that led Inman, who was the Leonardo da Vinci of hypochondria, to blow his brains out.)  What sticks out in mind about that locale is that the subway stop always seemed to feature the same ragtag string quartet, and on the rare occasions I was in that neighborhood, they always seemed to be playing Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” at a manic tempo, so frenetically that I wonder why they didn’t saw through their strings.

I’ve wondered if I’m hypergraphic at times.  I just checked Dr. Flaherty’s book out of the library today, so I haven’t even cracked it yet, so I’m not sure of the diagnostic characteristics.  I’m not even sure if it’s a condition listed in the DSM-IV-R.  But I know there are times when I can sit down with pen and paper and have to write for hours, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s creative writing, i.e., something that I am thinking of and bringing into existence, or if I’m copying something that’s put in front of me.  I am in love with the mechanics of writing, and the fact that I’ve kept some type of diary since 1974 (when I was 10½) bears witness to that.  The other side of this is that bringing myself to write anything–as I wrote about in my previous entry–is a major battle.  I have several ideas for projects, and since I never work from outlines and seldom use notes, I’m as clueless as a potential reader when I sit down at the typewriter, computer, or ruled page and get to work.  (Louis L’Amour loved to tell the story of when his daughter came into his study and found him furiously at work at the electric typewriter, writing one of his many Western novels.  “Daddy, why are you typing so fast?” she asked.  “I want to see how this story ends!” he replied.)

Last Friday, I went to the kickoff of the Radical Queer Convergence at The Awarehouse, the repair bay/party hall in the alley behind the Third-Hand Bicycle Cooperative.  After the film Riot Acts, I was talking with two people outside (one had gone outside to smoke, and we followed, mainly so we could hear one another over the music inside).  Somehow we got on the subject of the actual mechanics of writing.  I think this came about when I mentioned that I had to buy Liquid Wrench to get my old manual portable back into workable shape, something that should have drilled the point into my psyche.  The three of us agreed that the mechanics of the writing was just as important–if not more so–than the finished product.  Miles, who had operated the laptop to show the Riot Acts DVD, mentioned the scribes who laboriously Torah scrolls.
That would take a kind of stability that a hypergraphic person probably could not harness.  I remember when a rabbi brought out the Torah scrolls in the chapel at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati when I was taking a night class there in 1990.  If the scribe–the Hebrew word is sofer–made a mistake, he/she cannot just cross the letter or word out and keep on going.  An error would mean beginning that particular panel over from scratch.  And a sofer usually doesn’t do just Torah scrolls.  He/she also does sacred documents, such as the marriage ketubah.  (They’re also the ones who will produce the get, the divorce document, so it’s a win-win situation all around for them, marriage-wise.)
What made me respect the mechanics of actual writing was reading the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, the two-volume book he wrote about his military career (not his Presidency, for good reasons).  He had gone broke when one of his business partners depleted their company’s assets and fled the country, so he wrote his autobiography to provide for his family.  About the time he began the project, he learned that he was terminally ill with throat cancer, not surprising for a man who smoked 20 cigars a day.  He dictated until he lost his voice, and then took to writing the manuscript himself in longhand (the first typewriter was patented in 1870, but Grant used a pen and ink), finishing it only four days before he died.
Ulysses S. Grant at Mount McGregor, N.Y.,
in 1885, writing his memoirs.

No matter what you think of the finished product, and setting aside what a dreadful President Grant was (Ohio may be the Mother of Presidents, but with the exception of William Howard Taft, they’re generally a pretty sorry lot.), I have to admire someone who was able to write while facing a literal “deadline.”  When Jimmy Carter’s memoir Keeping Faith came out in 1982, in my mind I kept juxtaposing the picture of Carter sitting in Plains, Ga. at the keyboard of his word processor, still very healthy (which, at 86, he still seems to be), and Grant at death’s door with his pen in his hand.
I wrote an essay a few years ago called “The Keys to My Heart,” in which I confess my love of typewriters.  I mentioned the memorable scene in the film The Shining when Jack Torrance’s wife realizes that he has gone insane.  While working as a winter caretaker for a haunted resort hotel in the Rocky Mountains, Jack plans to write a play, and laboriously spends hours in front of the typewriter, banging away.  His wife Wendy goes to his desk one day and finds, to her horror, nothing but reams and reams of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  My take on this was not that Torrance had gone over the bend (although, ever since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you just take for granted that any character Jack Nicholson plays is nuts), but that he was blocked, yet addicted to the sound of his typewriter.