Quick Supplement to the October 6 Entry

When I posted on Susie’s 16th birthday (October 6), I mentioned that I had sent another gift to her, but I could not divulge it, because it had gone astray in the mail stream.  (Someone in the Columbus post office probably threw it in the wrong tub, which meant it went on the wrong flight, and ended up in Honolulu instead of Florida.)

The USPS people in Hawaii were able to right its course, so Susie received her gift, albeit a little later than I hoped.  There were two gifts in the padded envelope.  One was a spiral Beatles notebook (which Susie says will either be her next journal or an idea notebook).  The other was a black T-shirt from Records Per Minute, one of the many eclectic record stores (very minimal inventory of compact disks and cassette tapes) that I haunt, and to which I have brought Susie.

I gave Susie the notebook on the left.  All four of these choices are available from The Fab Four Store.

I was briefly tempted to buy one for myself, so as to continue my own diary, but I am using a large bound legal ledger right now.  I told myself that once I turned 50, I would use these books as diaries, instead of the Dollar Store composition books I’ve used for the past decade or so.

I am home from Fritz the Nite Owl’s showing of Halloween (1978).  Hate to cut it short, but it is past 3:30 in the morning, and the caffeine I had at Studio 35 has long ago worn off.  I realized that I had been quite unfair to my readers, leaving you dangling about what Susie received for her birthday.  So, now that we’re all breathing again, I will post this entry and crawl toward the bed.

How To Make Up For Neglect of Blog–Two Entries in Four Hours

It’s after 3 a.m., and I’m still awake.  Maybe because of the surplus of sleep, maybe because I’ve drunk half of a three-liter bottle of Stars & Stripes diet cola, or a combination of the two.  But here I am, in front of a keyboard, instead of nestled all snug in my bed.

Not much newsworthy has occurred since I posted before.  This has been a false cause for hope in the past, but this evening I actually made an attempt at writing.  I made a sincere effort to minimize the clutter on my work table in the living room (not 100% successfully yet; watch this space for pictures once that happens!), and I cleared enough of the surface that I can put the laptop and my beloved (and quite underused, lately) Royal Royalite manual typewriter side by side.

The typewriter indicted me by how many stuck keys it had.  After a little more digging, I found the plastic squeeze bottle of Liquid Wrench and applied it where needed.  After typing a page or two of random lines here and there, and staining the typing paper with excess Liquid Wrench, I put in a blank page, rolled it to about one third of the way down the page, and hit the shift lock.


I remember sitting in the chair and looking at that for quite some time.  For the page to sit there in the carriage for days, with only that heading, would be mocking.  I felt like I had committed myself to something, but when I typed those words, I didn’t have the slightest idea what fiction project I had in mind.  Did I type that just so I could hear the sound of the keys striking paper once again?
Turning away from the typewriter, I reached over to one of my milk-crate bookcases.  I pulled out my navy blue 1983 New Yorker diary, in which I’ve jotted ideas for various projects, written plot outlines, named characters and written little dossiers about their background and character traits (siblings, jobs, favorite flavor of ice cream, alma mater), and even sunrise and sunset times for the specific day on which a story takes place (courtesy of the U.S. Naval Observatory’s site).  I looked over some notes I wrote when I first bought the volume (I bought it online last year–it has not languished in my possession since 1983), and then scooted back over to the almost empty page in the roller and ended up producing six paragraphs.  The writing process was not easy, and it wasn’t because I had to gear down my typing speed to accommodate this aging machine.
And yet I almost did not share this bit of news with my “14 readers out there in the darkness,” because I’ve often jinxed myself by my own hubris.  Look!  I produced just over one page–the dry spell is over, I’ll have the 21st-century equivalent of Ulysses stacked up on this desk in three short months.
I reread my last entry, where I described my asinine neighbor and his barrage of firecrackers and bottle rockets.  (The police never did come.)  Rereading the entry reminded me of one that I posted when LiveJournal hosted this blog.  In this entry, which you can find here, I described how I miraculously escaped injury when someone dropped a cherry bomb or an M-80 into a wine bottle.  I was standing about an inch away, wearing sandals, and to this day don’t know how I escaped injury.
I’m not sure if my email will appear in Notebook Stories or not.  As I wrote before, two of the planners that I brought home from the Really, Really Free Market last week were from Greek organizations.  I am getting a genuine kick out of reading the information printed in these books before the calendar pages begin, about the histories of the organizations, the codes of conduct, the mythical zero-tolerance policies on substance abuse and hazing (Phi Delta Theta calls it “Don’t Tarnish the Badge”), and how to flourish as a member.
One of the people in my small group in Philosophy 101 was a Sigma Chi pledge, and the reason I remember that was because he constantly carried his copy of The Norman Shield with him, and he hung onto it like it was some kind of Bible.  I was a devout Gamma Delta Iota (goddamn independent), and could barely afford textbooks and drinking, let alone the dues that many of the fraternities charged on a quarterly basis.
The most amusing thing I found in the Phi Delta Theta planner was that their national headquarters is in Oxford, Ohio.  This does not amuse me because I went to Ohio University, and Miami is the closest thing we have to a rival.  (And it never reached the insane levels that the Ohio State-University of Michigan rivalry have achieved.)  I chuckled because of an event last year at Miami University, when the behavior of Pi Phi sorority members and their dates at a party (read about it here) led to a one-year suspension.
The only significant way Susie and I are going to mark the Independence Day holiday (and it is right now the Glorious Fourth) is with a trip to the Short North to see the Doo Dah Parade, which steps off at 1 p.m.  A parade that marks the birth of the United States and doesn’t take itself seriously… priceless.
Susie (at far right) at last year’s Doo Dah Parade, part of a vain attempt for a mass jump-roping.

Exile on High Street

Steph’s Saturday calendar was packed to the rim today (even more so than usual), and so, though she didn’t specifically order it, I’ve made myself scarce today.  I’m blogging at the Whetstone Library, one of the many stops I’ve made on High Street this afternoon.  I’ve been a regular on the 2 bus today.

Steph taught some voice and piano lessons this morning, and when I left, a double rehearsal for her a Capella women’s group, The MadriGals, had just started.  I slinked (slunk?) slowly and unmissed from the house, headed to Cartridge World to exchange ink cartridges for my Hewlett-Packard DeskJet printer/scanner.  (I’m too stingy to break down and buy a laser printer.)

There was rain last night and some this morning, so all of Columbus has a mildewy smell about it.  I seem to have outgrown most of the environmental allergies that plagued me as a kid, otherwise my eyes and nose would be running, and aforementioned eyes would be bloodshot right now.

I finally did buy the notebook I was seeking on Thursday, before my friend Scott and I found ourselves in the midst of the OSU AXE Undie Run.  (I’m still old enough to remember when having your underwear showing was the ultimate humiliation.  At the Ohio-Meadville Youth Con last weekend, I came to the conclusion that exposed bra straps are now a fashion statement of some kind.)  I bought a blue Mead 3″ x 5″ notepad, and christened it last night by making notes for a short story.  I haven’t typed a word of the story itself, but I think I know what I want to do with it.

I turned around and headed north here to Whetstone, mainly to return interlibrary loan books.  If they’re overdue, the fines can be prohibitively expensive.  I also picked up a Book on CD, Haiku, the most recent Andrew Vachss novel.  (I was a bit leery, since he’s permanently retired the Burke series, but what little I read of this book in print sounds fantastic.)

I’m not sure where Susie is.  She was in her bedroom with the door closed when I left.  I doubt I could have interested her in a trip to Cartridge World, so I didn’t bother to knock.  I had company on the errand; I’ve begun a long overdue taped letter to a friend of mine, so I was communing with my tape recorder (the Memorex MB1055 standard-sized one, not Diane the Olympus microcassette recorder).  As I was waiting to catch the northbound bus, a gaggle of four or five sorority women walked by (I was in front of the Newport Music Hall), and one leaned over and shouted “Hi!” into the microphone while I was talking, sounding like a nursery school kid on Romper Room.  The time-and-temperature sign in front of the Ohio Union said 12:45 p.m., and these women were already quite drunk.  It made me wonder how long they’d been at it.

I’m going to a wedding on Second Life tomorrow night–one of my rare forays into that domain.  (Its national anthem should be the Alan Parsons Project’s “In The Real World”: “Don’t wanna live my life/In the real world.”)  Steph and I are tux-shopping for me tonight.  I’ll enjoy that as much as I enjoy real-world clothes-shopping, I’m sure.  (I’ve worn a tuxedo only once in my life, when I was best man at a friend’s wedding.  When I saw myself wearing the tux, I wondered if it came with a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey, or if I’d have to buy them separately.  I didn’t even wear a tux to my own wedding!)

Were it not for the threat of rain, and my overfilled over-the-shoulder bag, I might have walked from campus to here, all 20+ blocks.  The musty after-rain smell didn’t make me as miserable as it would have during my childhood, but it was still triggering an itchy palate.

I probably should have walked, because I dozed off a few times on the relatively short bus ride north.  I slept rather well last night, but I recognized the dozings-off on the bus as narcoleptic attacks; I was going straight into REM sleep and dreaming in a matter of seconds.  It’s happened a lot on the way home from work lately, too.  Last week, I was riding the northbound bus and reading The New Yorker, and at least three times I dozed off, awakening only when my magazine hit the bus floor.  (The article I was reading was far from dull, too.)

The cough seems to be 95% gone.  I do still cough from time to time, but the tickle in my throat doesn’t trigger the long and loud bouts that have plagued me through much of March and April.  The chest pain episode on my birthday turned out to be pleurisy, so I’m willing to bet it’s all part of the same package.  There was a woman on the bus the other day whose cough sounded as bad as mine, although I could tell by the sound that she had a much more productive cough than I did.  (Mine was dry 99 times out of a hundred.)  I’d look over toward her seat and her face was red from the effort of all that coughing.

She got off the bus before I did, and I saw her opening her purse as she stepped off the bus.  I thought she was getting out an aspirator (for asthma), or her cell phone (so a friend could take her to Urgent Care), but I was wrong on both counts.  I was just shaking my head in disbelief when I saw her pulling out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes.  No doubt where her cough originated.  (Mine was probably an opportunistic infection that came when I was still recovering from the gallbladder surgery.)

My Writing and Plotting Style: The CONRAD’S CASTLE Method

There were some signs my writing block may be ending.  During my 3 p.m. break, I hurriedly jotted several short story and poem ideas in my breast-pocket notebook, worried I’d forget them if I didn’t put them on paper right away.  Such bursts of inspiration have led me to write, sometimes they’re of very short duration.

I’ve always described my writing style, whether with fiction or poetry, as Conrad’s Castleish in approach and execution.  Not many people get the allusion.

Above is the cover of the book.  I’d best not scan and paste any more of it, ’cause I don’t want to run afoul of copyright issues and laws.

This remains my favorite children’s story, and it was ever since before kindergarten, when I got the book for my birthday.  Conrad is a kid who tosses a big stone in the air.  It remains hovering in mid-air (I spent many futile afternoons trying to copy this trick, in vain), so he gets a ladder, and begins building a castle, presumably pulling other stones out of hammerspace.  As he works, his friends try to distract him and lure him away, the best temptations being, “Hurry, we’re going to watch Harry eat some mud!” and “Do you want to see a dead mouse?”  The castle is finished, hovering in mid-air in all its glory, flags flying and entrances barricaded.  A bird says, “Hey, that’s impossible!  You can’t do that!”, whereupon the castle collapses.  Conrad stands on the rubble, brandishing his fist in a “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” gesture, and says, “I can, too!”  He builds another castle, ignoring similar distractions and lures from his friends, and has a much better castle to show for it in the end.

How does this relate to writing?  I’ve taken several writing classes, and teachers have wanted outlines and plot descriptions.  They encourage linear writing, starting at Chapter I and going on until THE END.  Even Jack Kerouac, typing On the Road on a 40-foot roll of Teletype paper, managed to start at the beginning of the narrative and go on until the end, fueled by Benzedrine and gallons of black coffee.

Usually, an idea, a phrase, or even a single line will pop into my head, and if I’m fortunate enough to get out my notebook and ballpoint and write it down, I’ll look at it and then try to think of something to put around it. “That single line is great,” I’d tell myself, “now get 20-odd more to put around it, and you’ll have a poem.”  Likewise, a vignette will pop into my head, often (but not always) based on a past experience or an anecdote someone has told me.  The vignette isn’t substantial enough to be free-standing as a short story, so it hovers in the literary netherworld until I find a plot and supporting characters to put around it.

That’s the Conrad’s Castle analogy.  Our young hero doesn’t build his castle from the ground up (it never touches the ground, in fact), but he throws a stone into the middle of the air and works from there.  I’ve often wondered if Shecter was honoring that great Unitarian sage, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

This type of plotting and writing is problematic when you (like I) still prefer pen and ink, or a manual typewriter, to word processing.  Using this method, when I composed exclusively on a typewriter, meant many crossed-out passages, paragraphs written in margins, pages numbered “72½”, etc.  (When I was a typesetter, copy like that would drive me absolutely bonkers.)  When I do actually sit down and get to work, the laptop is a blessing, not just because it’s much quieter (I am not gentle with typewriters; I have been told I treat them the way Pete Townshend treats stage guitars), but because I can move things around and insert entirely new ideas and scenarios and have the finished product still look decent.

So, I doubt any writing teacher will endorse this method, at least not in class.  But it seems to be the only way I ever get anything done.

There may yet be hope, since I was sitting at break at 3 p.m. and some ideas came to mind.

We’ll see.