Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Done with revisions!

I have finally completed revisions! Forever! That's it!

[waits for laughter to stop; wonders why there's sharp cheddar but no such thing as dull cheddar; wishes he could have another look at that last MS page.]

Ha ha. Phew. What a comical way to start a blog post. A book is like a pencil: the more you use it the more it needs to be sharpened. So what I'm done with are the CURRENT round of revisions. The book is now closer to my vision than it ever has been.

At least, until the next revisions. It never stops.

Now all I have to do is decipher my notes; disagree with nearly everything I decided to do; un-disagree; write "stet" and cross it out and write it again and cross it out; and type thousands of glittering little improvements that accumulate and make this story burn and shine. Because this is what I want:

I want the story to catch fire in readers' minds.

What's the difference between published and not published?

Wait, I'll make it even broader. For any endeavor, what's the difference between successful and not successful?

It's not intelligence, or society-shattering good looks (trust me, if that were the case I'd be selling books like crazy. Am I right, ladies?). It's not the ability to whistle while inhaling (handy for long solos) or wiggling your ears individually (check and check). Special judo-like cat-claw-clipping techniques? Watermelon seed-spitting accuracy? Freakish adherence to a single brand of coffee? Kindness to stray dogs and small children? Lackadaisical approach to gutter-cleaning-out?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

The difference between success and failure is one thing: work.

And I doubt it's a coincidence that it's one of the few things we can actually control.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Violence and Stories

I've pondered whether, and how, to write this, but that was taking way too long. This is a blog, after all, so I've decided I can get away with slightly meandering prose and incomplete

I'm not sure when a movie review became a springboard for social commentary (maybe when movies themselves stopped being the springboards) but A. O. Scott in the New York Times last week takes aim -- I think -- at violence in movies. Or maybe it's depictions of violence. Or maybe it's when children are doing it, or being subjected to it. It's a little hard to tell: if I were critiquing the article I'd advise the writer either to write more and fulfill the promise of the premise, or less so we don't get our hopes up.

In any case, here's my issue. There are some truly valid points raised here: inuring audiences to graphic depictions of violence; the message for children when they see their heroes committing violent acts, or subjected to them.

And the article, to Scott's credit, does throw one lifeline out of the quicksand of its own rhetoric: "It is, of course, the acts themselves that are cruel."

I know movies and books should be, at times, an escape from a cruel world, or a mundane one. I know we all, and especially children, are impressionable creatures. I know it's irresponsible to wantonly expose people to the message that casual violence is acceptable.

But casual violence exists. Random cruelty exists. Anyone who complains that it's unreasonable to show the torment of children -- or, and the author seems undecided on whether this is worse -- children committing acts of violent or vengeful cruelty -- should make that case to a room of child soldiers or traumatized war orphans -- pick your continent, pick your skin color, pick your century.

My point is that although I am opposed to shock for shock's sake (and shlock for shlock's), I find it reprehensible -- cowardly -- to pretend that any of us is somehow immune to cruelty.

The world has light and it has darkness; inexplicable cruelty and loss, and surprising joy; unfairness as well as delight unlooked-for. I guess what I'm advocating is balance: don't anesthetize us, but don't traumatize us either.

As far as movies go: watch them or don't watch them as you choose. But if you're opposed to violence and cruelty, perhaps a place to start is where those exist in the world, rather than in the stylized depictions of them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This Coffee Tastes Catty

From yesterday's New York Times: the revelatory discovery that not only can you make coffee from cat-excreted coffee beans, it's actually a sought-after delicacy.

What a strange and wonderful world we live in.

It's not just any cat, but the Indonesian quasi-cat called the civet. The civets eat the coffee beans (?), deposit them (??), they are collected with sighs of delights (???) and then ground into delicious coffee (!??!??).

Now. I love my coffee. After a vigorous campaign of sighing and feeling sorry for myself, our local grocery store finally caved and now carries Peet's Coffee again, so once more I have the strength to face the day.

But civet-crapped coffee!? I'm sorry, that's just ... I mean, can you even imagine ... Okay, who am I kidding, I would try it. There, I said it!

After all, when you're, say, wandering the jungles of Java, and you find some droppings that look curiously like coffee beans -- and you have a roaster, grinder, press, fire, and water -- why not just go for it?

In this vein I'd like to suggest some other untraditional uses for animals:

-- temporary tattoos made from butterflies that cling to you (the ink sinks in and they fly off, colorless)
-- clothes made from worm excreta (never mind, somebody's already thought of that.)
-- trained snakes to hunt rabbits (they're just the right shape for snaking down rabbit holes; also for finding lost socks behind the dryer)
-- horse trumpets (don't ask)
-- flying piranhas

Okay, Nature, get to work!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pallid Cave-Dweller Reporting For Duty

Yesterday was one of those rare spring days with bright sun and cool air; dew glittering on the pines. I had laudable plans to go for a long bike ride after work.

But then again, I AM revising a book. So I when I got home I walked past my pile of biking clothes, patted my wheel regretfully, stared through the garage windows at the dinosaur-like boat skeleton ... and sat down with my manuscript and a pen. There is work to be done here.

And lo, from outside I heard the shouts of children playing, and bike riders whirring past, and birds singing, and all the delightful and joyous hum of spring; and the late sun shone golden and the breeze caressed ... other people. Not me.

For I sat inside away from the sunlight world, growing pale and Gollum-like, blinking at the pages and my scrawled edits, grinding stone against stone to produce the fine dust of revision. We grind, and the work grinds us, and it grindeth us exceedingly small.

On the upside, though, I got to feel sorry for myself. Never a bad thing!

As far as the revisions go, I oscillate spastically from despair ("This is utter garbage") to trembling joy ("This will change the world"). Usually within the same breath.

Solution: up at 5 today to black coffee, a chilly sunrise and more revisions; then this afternoon I get to play outside with the other kids.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stringers complete!

Completely scarphed, that is, not completely installed. I've scarphed 18 of the suckers, each requiring a floppy ten foot by 1-inch square piece of fragrant pink fir, with a very, very, very delicate feather-edge angle trimmed into one end.

Once glued, the twenty-foot pieces are even floppier. But I have them. Finally! Sixteen plus two in case of breakage. 'Cause hey, wood breaks.

Then again, it also floats, so I figure we're about even with fiberglass, aluminum, steel, all those other boatbuilding materials.

Oops, and it won't kill you when it gets on your skin. Go wood!

Ahem. In any case, having liberated my workbench from epoxy shavings, sheets of plastic, two heat lamps, a digital thermometer, a few dozen clamps, heavy steel weights, safety glasses, ear protectors, scraper, chisel, other scraper, silica powder, rubber gloves, epoxy mixing station, mixing sticks, plastic container, and other gluing detritus, I can now proceed with next steps: bunk flat supports (these hold up the "floor" of the boat) and the bunk flats themselves (the "floor".

The chine stringers are still awaiting a stretch of warm days to coincide with me not being at work so I can glue them in. We've hit 80 a few times and I quit using the heat lamps on the stringers several weeks ago.

As the monkey said about his tail after he backed into the lawn mower: won't be long now.

Monday, April 5, 2010

O Spring, thou cruel minx

80 degrees? In April? Spring blossoms have an actual smell; it's not just poetry.

Each year I forget and each year I remember again, and the smell takes me to the small house we lived in until I was in fifth grade. A small blossoming tree droops over a cracked sidewalk; three brown steps and a leaning iron rail. In the summer you could palm moths on the marigolds. Inside we watched black-and-white Superman reruns and, if it was a good day, TV dinner while Buck Rogers was on. I stood on those basement stairs and wept when I heard my grandfather had died.

I buried a pet in the back yard; we moved when I was nine and I always wondered if some curious child would find, ten inches down from the edge of the metal shed, the towel-wrapped tiny bones of a guinea pig. What pets would they have? Where would they bury them?

So now when I pause while taking out the trash, or walking the dog, or stretching after a run, and I close my eyes and inhale that breath of spring, thirty years flicker past like an eyeblink, and I think of that old house and that young family and the sidewalk with weeds in the cracks.

Then the wind blows, bending the snow-weakened pines, and I think of the sound of river water against a wooden bow. I can almost smell that low-tide mud. And I think of epoxy and curving wood, and the scrape of sharp of tools, and the sound of a man's voice now ten years dead.

How broad life seems on the first warm day of spring.