Trying to Rise Above the Torpor of Summer

My neglect of this blog (and any other type of writing, other than emails) is Exhibit A of my current lack of emotional, physical, and spiritual energy of late.  I’m beginning to think I may have the polar opposite of seasonal affective disorder–I become more sluggish and unproductive in the summer months, whereas most people with SAD completely shut down in the wintertime.  Columbus has been tropical this summer, and the relative humidity saps my energy.  I am sure that the months of 13-hour workdays has not helped, either.

We shall soon see.  At 4 p.m. yesterday, the summer quarter rush at Columbus State Community College ended, and with it my evening hours at the bookstore.  From now until fall, I will only be working 9 a.m. until 12 noon on Saturday mornings.  Susie is especially happy at this news, because it means I will be home with her more evenings, and we’ll be able to go to the pool, and we can eat dinner earlier.  (It’s been so damn hot that neither of us wants to cook, so we’ve eaten out most evenings.)

Susie worked as a Comfest volunteer for the first time this year.  She enjoyed the work, especially getting a free T-shirt and a pink Comfest mug, but she hated having to pick up so many cigarette butts.  She made quite liberal use of the hand sanitizers strategically located by the Porta-Potties.

I went to Comfest both Friday night and Saturday afternoon-evening.  I worked at the bookstore, during its extended rush hours, on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.  I know I’ll be grateful for it once they hand me the paycheck in Human Resources, but I still had a being-kept-after-school feeling during the entire work day.

Comfest negatively affected me in only one way.  Susie and I waited on W. 5th Ave. and High St. for the 5 bus to Grandview for the monthly Return of Nite Owl Theater at the Grandview.  (The movie was The Terror, with Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson.)  The exodus from Goodale Park snarled up traffic so much that the 5 never arrived.  It’s been my practice to walk to the theater on Fritz nights, but between the proliferation of drunks and the humidity, I told Susie this month we’d take the bus.  (The movie at the end of July will be Teenagers from Outer Space, which will go along wonderfully with Pulpfest ’11 at the Ramada Plaza.)

I did quite well at the Really, Really Free Market on the last Sunday in June.  Earlier tonight, I sent an email to the Webmaster of Notebook Stories bragging of my achievement.  Susie came away with some clothes, and I came away with five spiral-bound planners.  (Their dates range from 2006 to 2008, but if I ignore the pre-printed dates, they will be quite useful.)  Two were from Greek-letter organizations (Phi Delta Theta fraternity and Chi Omega sorority), and the other three were from St. Bonaventure University (where Thomas Merton taught English from 1940 until he resigned to join the Trappist monastery in Kentucky), Southern Methodist University (which houses George W. Bush’s Presidential library–I wonder if all the pictures have been colored in the books), and Seattle Pacific University.  (I found something amusing in the St. Bonaventure planner–under Saturday, February 2, 2008, one of the events in the schedule is 4:00 p.m. Pre-Super Bowl Mass and Reception.)

My cache of new notebooks, courtesy of the Really, Really Free Market on  June 26.

There was absolutely no way Susie or I were going anywhere near downtown on Friday night, when Red White and Boom was happening.  I am lukewarm at best about patriotic celebrations.  I think they–and the people who participate in them–are the (very!) secular equivalents of the ostentatiously pious folks that Jesus lambasted in the Sermon on the Mount.  (When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers standing up in synagogue and at the street-corners, for everyone to see them.  I tell you this: they have their reward already.  Matthew 6:5, New English Bible.)

Susie and I went to First Friday, a potluck held at church on–when else?–the first Friday of every month.  The attendance was pretty sparse, between Red White and Boom and the congregation being scattered to the four winds for vacation.  We found some friends of ours.  Susie spent most of the time conspiring with talking to a kid who will be her lab partner for science classes at The Graham School come September.

I took her to Kafé Kerouac after we left First Friday, and this turned out to be quite the stroke of good timing.  She learned about their Wednesday night poetry slams, and she plans to go and read some of her poetry.  (I’ve always avoided poetry and writing groups, because listening to them discussing their poetry and their projects reminds me of teenage boys bragging about sex: The ones who are talking about it the most, are doing it the least.  I have never publicly read or participated in a slam because my voice is almost totally without affect–an Asperger’s symptom characteristic–and performance counts as much, if not more, than content.

While I was typing, my idiot neighbor has set off a string of fireworks and firecrackers.  There is a momentary lull at present, but I’m waiting for the noise to start up again, so I can call the police, and the dispatcher can hear the noise in the background.  (I have had minimal personal experience with shooting off fireworks and recreational explosives.  Since most of the jobs I’ve held in my 29 years in the workforce have involved typing, I realized that having hands is a good idea.  The only body parts I no longer have are my tonsils and gallbladder.  That’s enough.)

I never really how truly exhausted and sleep-deprived I was until yesterday.  After I left the bookstore, Susie and I took the bus to Graceland Shopping Center to pay the electric bill at Kroger, pick up dinner, and go to the hardware store.  She and I went to China Garden, a smorgasbord she and I both enjoy.  She and I both ate until we could barely move, and we were walking in major slow motion across the parking lot to Sears Hardware.

Once we got home, I told Susie I was going to take a brief nap before I did anything else.  I remember my bedside digital clock saying 8:20 when I lay down.  I didn’t even get undressed, not even my shoes.  When I felt rested enough to get out of bed and get on with the day, it was 8:30, as in a.m.  It was Sunday morning coming down.

Update: I called the police about the pyrotechnics next door.  I learned to use 911 for any time I call the Columbus Police Department, unless I’m in the mood to wade through their voice mail prompts and spend four minutes on hold.  The entire block smells like sulfur, and I hear the whistle of bottle rockets every few minutes, and no sign of the police.  If I had it to do over again, I would have called and reported gunshots.  (Hey, I’m no expert in ballistics–gunshots and firecrackers do sound alike to the untrained ear, don’t they?)

After breakfast this morning, Susie and I went to a yard sale on Medary Ave.  She bought a file folder, and I bought a pristine copy of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition, a 1987 Book-of-the-Month Club edition.  It’ll reside on my shelf between my 1938 Modern Library edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway and Carlos Baker’s exhaustive biography.

It was “altogether fitting and proper,” as Lincoln would say, that I should buy this book.  (Susie brought it to my attention, and I happily ponied up the $.50 for it.)  Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, by his own hand, in Ketchum, Idaho.  I haven’t read the obituaries that appeared, and I am sure it was front-page news all over the world.  However, through the many connections I’ve made in the old-time radio world, I found Harry Reasoner’s radio obituary, broadcast on CBS radio, where he tried–with iffy success–to emulate Hemingway’s prose style.

The Doo Dah Parade beckons tomorrow afternoon.  Neither Susie nor I are setting alarms, although after my megasleep yesterday into this morning, I am now quite wide awake.  Nonetheless, we’ll be awake in plenty of time to make it to the Short North for the parade.

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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.