Log in

15 January 2016 @ 09:54 am
Here’s the upper-middle-class hustler, eighteenth century style , preparing a dinner party to impress business associates at home.  Samuel Pepys’s diary for 13 January 1662/1663 – the two years, I suppose, because of Gregorian calendar confusion –
So my poor wife rose by five o’clock in the morning, before day, and went to market and bought fowls and many other things for dinner, with which I was highly pleased, and the chine of beef was down also before six o’clock, and my own jack, of which I was doubtfull, do carry it very well. Things being put in order, and the cook come, I went to the office, where we sat till noon and then broke up, and I home, whither by and by comes Dr. Clerke and his lady, his sister, and a she-cozen, and Mr. Pierce and his wife, which was all my guests.
I had for them, after oysters, at first course, a hash of rabbits, a lamb, and a rare chine of beef. Next a great dish of roasted fowl, cost me about 30s., and a tart, and then fruit and cheese. My dinner was noble and enough. I had my house mighty clean and neat; my room below with a good fire in it; my dining-room above, and my chamber being made a withdrawing-chamber; and my wife’s a good fire also.
I find my new table very proper, and will hold nine or ten people well, but eight with great room. After dinner the women to cards in my wife’s chamber, and the Dr. and Mr. Pierce in mine, because the dining-room smokes unless I keep a good charcoal fire, which I was not then provided with. At night to supper, had a good sack posset and cold meat, and sent my guests away about ten o’clock at night, both them and myself highly pleased with our management of this day; and indeed their company was very fine, and Mrs. Clerke a very witty, fine lady, though a little conceited and proud. So weary, so to bed. I believe this day’s feast will cost me near 5l . . .
The jack was a contraption that held or suspended a joint of meet an adjustable distance from the fire in a fireplace (in case you don’t have one) . . . the “sack posset” is a wine punch, a mixture of sherry and lemonade.  All for five pounds.  I can’t imagine what that would be in American dollars.  Can’t get decent sack around here anyhow.
14 January 2016 @ 07:46 am
I’m looking for a drawing notebook that’s only a couple of dozen pages long, drawing paper that’s acceptable for a light wash, which I can use both for lunar pencil drawings and nature sketches when we go down in the Keys for the Winter Star Party.    Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff hawks the American Journey Journaling Sketchbook, which is 140-pound hot press paper, “an elegant off-white color,” no less.  Twenty sheets is about the right length, 12” X 9” landscape.  If I put an order in soon, it will be here in plenty of time for WSP.

But first I want to check at the local art store,  both to “buy local” and to save the postage – nine bucks for a $28.59 sketchbook.  Anyhow, I’ll pedal down in that direction to work this morning.

This was the year I was born (from Writer’s Almanac) –

On this date in 1943, Franklin Roosevelt completed the first airplane journey by a sitting president. He needed to get to the Casablanca Conference in Morocco to discuss strategy with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. German U-boats were making sea travel too perilous, so his advisors agreed - somewhat reluctantly - that air travel was the best option. Roosevelt left Florida in a Boeing 314 Flying Boat. Nicknamed the Dixie Clipper, the 314 was a commercial, rather than a military, seaplane, and it was fitted out comfortably with beds and a lounge area.
They departed from Florida, and the journey took four days, due to frequent refueling stops. They flew from Trinidad to Brazil, then across the Atlantic to Gambia, and then on to Morocco. Roosevelt, 60 years old and somewhat frail, suffered some from the high altitude, and had to be given oxygen, but he was in good spirits. He celebrated his 61st birthday on the return journey, enjoying a birthday luncheon over Haiti.

Four days to get to Morocco!  Our trip there seemed that long, most of a half-century ago, taking a small boat across from Spain.  A clear windy day with high seas, and both of us had a touch of the stomach flu.

That was 1971, I think.  I’d been back from Vietnam for more than a year, and still carried the switchblade I’d bought in Mexico the year before.  In Marrakesh I had to pull it out to bluff down a pack of juvies.  Wouldn’t do that now.  (Wouldn’t have carried it on the plane over, either.)

The sky’s starting to get light here.  A damp gray.  It’s only 36 out there now – hey, is this Florida? – but it will be in the fifties by noon.  Think I’ll write for a couple of hours before I venture out on the bike.

08 January 2016 @ 12:52 pm
There are writers you have to love from the very first line.  Stephen Becker did that for me when I opened up The Chinese Bandit:

That summer, they hanged a fat man at the Western Gate as a warning and example to all. In those days, the penalty for most crimes was death. They swung him from a fresh gallows on the city wall, where twelve horsemen in silks could ride abreast, and once had. For sure he deserved it. Every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

I was standing up when I picked up that book, but before I got to the end of the paragraph,  I sat down and read till dinner.  Is there a better testimonial for a novelist?
I do remember that day well, because I'd just been accepted to the Iowa Writers Workshop, and I'd gone to the bookstore and picked up an armload of books that were on the first semester's  reading list.  There were better-known authors on the list.  But there was no better writer.
Steve could put words together and take them apart.  He could explain what he'd done.
What I loved about Stephen Becker as a writing teacher was his sense of being first of all an entertainer, relatively immune to the lure of academe.  Which gave him an honest strength as an educator.  He wrote books and stories that people actually bought, because they were amusing or thrilling or posed fascinating moral problems.

The problems his characters faced were real and earth-shaking:

What if you were a good man brimming with success and talent, but had a third martini and ran over a pedestrian.  People will move heaven and earth to get you off, but do you really want to be free?

What if you were condemned to hang but first contrived to murder the hangman – claiming self-defense?

What if you were a teenage Confederate prisoner about to be executed for lack of papers, even though Lee had surrendered, and the Confederacy no longer existed?   That one, unfortunately, did happen.

Stephen Becker's work was often unsettling, and thought-provoking in ways you don't expect, in tales that traffic in murder and mayhem.  It's good to hear the music of his truly unique voice again.

Open Road Media is releasing nine of Becker's novels on ebook format:


-- Joe
03 January 2016 @ 10:20 am
I've seen a few of those escritoires in Parisian flea markets, Seth.  Highly tempting, but you'd have to haul it around while traveling in Europe, or pay as much in shipping as it cost, to get it home.  At various times I've wished I had done that.  But I so rarely travel by stagecoach anymore.

It would be an elegant accessory if you were a writer in the late 19th century, especially.

I have the functional equivalent in my office here in Florida, a field file cabinet of sturdy brass-fitted cedar.  On top of it is a more humble home-made "portable office" that I got unfinished at Wood You and sanded down, stained, and shellacked.  Just a box with a slanted top that holds a ream or so of paper  and some pencils, pens, and ink.  Pencil slot on the top like old school desks had.  Together they give me a good surface for writing standing up, which I should do more often.  (Picture on sff.net.)

I made room for it on the "Florida room" porch and used it intermittently.  I don't think I wrote for more than an hour or so at a time that way, before finding a place to sit down.  But if I had the architectural "footprint" for it now, I'd still use it.

Hemingway claimed that he could think better, writing standing up.  Dickens said the same, and Nabokov, Woolf, Churchill, and Kirkegaard agreed.  So if your name has double vowels, you might look into it.

24 December 2015 @ 09:56 pm
Merry Christmas and Happy Channukah to those who celebrate them.  Lots of loot 'n' love to those of us who just like holidays.

May appropriate metaphors gladden your hearts and give meaning and enchantment to our lives.

Joe and Gay
23 December 2015 @ 08:47 am
The Writer's Almanac printed a great poem by Robert Bly --

A Christmas Poem
by Robert Bly

Listen Online

Christmas is a place, like Jackson Hole, where we all
To meet once a year. It has water, and grass for
All the fur traders can come in. We visited the place

As children, but we never heard the good stories.

Those stories only get told in the big tents, late

At night, when a trapper who has been caught

In his own trap, held down in icy water, talks; and a

With a ponytail and a limp comes in from the edge of
the fire.

As children, we knew there was more to it —

Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve

Wasn’t explained, nor why we were so often

Near tears nor why the stars came down so close,
Why so much was lost. Those men and women

Who had died in wars started by others,

Did they come that night? Is that why the Christmas

Trembled just before we opened the presents?

There was something about angels. Angels we

Have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er

The plain. The angels were certain. But we could not

Be certain whether our family was worthy tonight.

"A Christmas Poem" by Robert Bly from Morning Poems. © Harper Perennial, 1998.
14 December 2015 @ 06:42 am
It's 6:08 and I've been up for almost two hours.  I got up to look for meteors at 4:14, and stared at the quiet grey sky for some time.  Only Jupiter was intermittently visible, but I sat and bore witness for most of an hour.  Some years the Leonids lance across the sky as bright as a headlight – and never more dramatic than when there are clouds that they pierce through.
A nice quiet time to sit and think, anyhow, looking at the dark skeletons of trees against the night sky glow.

"A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, on order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful that God has implanted in man's soul." – Goethe

A good principle.  Of course you have to "find" the time, as if it were hidden behind something.

It is, of course.  Hidden behind the concrete veil of the quotidian.

Ah well, to work, to work.  (Twerk!  What a useful verb.  The action had been around for thousands of years without a single word to describe it.)

Current Mood: amused
09 December 2015 @ 07:19 am
I was wearing my brother-in-law's jacket yesterday morning, writing out on the porch, and this was the result . . . .

              motorcycle jacket

                (for Mark)

I am wearing a dead man's clothing
this ambiguous time of year
in our somewhat tropical
somewhat paradise

poised between not-quite-winter
and not-yet-summer

the jacket of a man
who came down in winter
every year
for a week or two of sere 

Florida the undead
with its two zombie months

I am wearing a dead man's jacket
in this darkest month of the year
to celebrate his spirit

and our cycles of return
08 December 2015 @ 03:04 pm
I just had a minor disaster – one of my favorite fountain pens self-destructed.  A nice, and expensive, Pelikan that I bought to celebrate winning the Hugo for FOREVER PEACE in Baltimore, in 1998.  Joan Gordon talked me into buying it the next day!

An internal part fractured and it doesn't look easily, or at all, fixable.  But I'll send it off to the Fountain Pen Hospital or the pen shop in Boston, and they should be able to replace the internal mechanism.

That model – that size! – is no longer made by Pelikan, unfortunately.  I'm going to see whether the Bromfield Pen Shop in Boston might be able to do something.

(Meanwhile, I do have about thirty other currently working fountain pens, so I don't have to stop writing.)

04 December 2015 @ 08:25 am
This morning reminded me of a "drunkard's walk," or Markov Chain, in mathematics.  Less colorful mathematicians call them "random walks," viz.,

Random walks are an example of Markov processes, in which future behaviour is independent of past history. A typical example is the drunkard’s walk, in which a point beginning at the origin of the Euclidean plane moves a distance of one unit for each unit of time, the direction of motion, however, being random at each step.

. . . what happened, phenomenologically, was that I woke up because I was cold.  Got dressed.  Staggered into the kitchen, where the clock told me it was only 4:50.  Rather than return to the damp cold bedclothes, I put on a jacket and relaxed in the recliner and listened to the coffeepot blurping.  When the coffee was done, I went out into the morning dark to get the paper and saw that I'd left the Xmas lights on.  Went into the garage and unplugged them. All of these independent events happened before my morning officially started.

Thus the day began in a state of what I now christen "stochastic fatigue."  I hadn't really gone anywhere, but was getting tired.  It didn't help that the newspaper was all about some lunatic couple who decided to dress all in black and go kill a bunch of strangers.  And coworkers.  An all-American sport.  I suppose it could happen in Lithuania.  But then people would think it was strange.

To be fair, it was strange even for America, since the rampage was more carefully planned than most highway projects.  They had their assault gear all set out, along with pipe bombs and another 3,000 rounds of ammunition.  Unsurprisingly, the ammo was standard American military fodder, 9-mm. and .223 caliber.

You have to wonder what their breakfast conversation was like.  "Did you remember the hand grenades?"  "No – you said you were going to do the hand grenades!"  "I did not!  You're always blaming me!"  And so a domestic dispute spills over into the common weal.

Seriously, their careful advance planning didn't seem to include survival.  They set out bombs in a "roll-out" configuration, so they could keep chucking them out efficiently until they died.  They also had explosives attached to small remote-controlled toy cars, which apparently is an Al-Qaeda "signature."  But hey, anyone can use it now.

But the thing seemed to start in a fit of pique; the guy stormed out of an office party at a perceived slight.  Then came back loaded for jihad.  Just a couple of nuts – Muslim nuts, but in a thoroughly American tradition.  If we want to take out an office mate, there's a gun shop just down the street.

Whew.  Somebody pour me a cup of egg nog.

Other than blog stuff, what happened yesterday was that I wrote for awhile, and then went down to the book store to do some Christmas shopping, and then came home to write a bit more.  Typical exciting day.

We met Chuck and Judy for dinner at a Japanese restaurant for a pretty good meal, and then to the local playhouse for a presentation of Mary Poppins, which was more entertaining than I expected.  Interesting flying-umbrella special effects, and a dandy villainess who all but twirled her moustache.  I had a hard time following the dialogue, the more so because it featured a couple of children as leads, and their thin piping voices didn't carry.  But it was a good time, and wine was only a dollar a glass!