Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bought new shoes...

I hate shopping. That aspect of my gay gene must be warped or was excised when I was born, because unless I'm in a mood to find something special and don't know what it is so will keep looking until I find it, I just want to go into a store, buy what I need and leave. No checking this and that and contemplating anything in the way of fashion or pricing or alternate possibilities.

So after work, today...which kept me an hour late...I toodled over to Chili's and had ribs and a salad then hit Macy's to see if they had a decent pair of shoes I could wear to my niece's wedding, next month. It took me more time to actually find the men's shoes department than it did to zero in on a pair of Rocklands and start looking for my size. I found one pair in a 10 wide, pulled them on, took a dozen steps, took them off and bought them.

I took longer to eat my salad...but that's how it always has been with me. The only times I can remember actually shopping were when I was looking for a gift for someone and couldn't figure out what to get. Then I'd hit off-beat little shops, like along Third Street down from the Beverly Center in LA or along La Cienega north of Beverly, and dig through to see what hit my fancy. Occasionally, I'll do the mall thing but only for certain types of people and then normally for a married couple instead of a single.

Like for this couple I know who are big on wine tastings and a glass in the evening. I happened onto a selection of wine glasses in different sizes and shapes, depending on the vintage and type of wine, and a set of those worked great.

Then there was a woman I worked for when I first moved to LA -- she was one of those extremely demanding people so somehow I wound up being given the task of finding the right Christmas present for her from all the staff. It took me three days but I happened onto a set of silver Cross pens with a clip of hearts that was similar to her company's logo. Cost $200 but we went with that...and she was speechless, she was so pleased. I felt very smug.

So I can shop, I just don't like to. I don't buy clothes until I have to...which I'm getting close to needing to do; I need to be presentable at the wedding, but at least I don't have to buy a suit. Those things are like a straight jacket to me.

Maybe I'm more straight than I think...

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Advice from a philosophy...


The Japanese view of life embraced a simple aesthetic that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated and trimmed away. architect Tadao Ando

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time-Katherine Hepburn versus Marilyn Monroe. For the Japanese, it's the difference between kirei-merely "pretty"-and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful. (Omoshiroi literally means "white faced," but its meanings range from fascinating to fantastic.) It's the peace found in a moss garden, the musty smell of geraniums, the astringent taste of powdered green tea. My favorite Japanese phrase for describing wabi-sabi is "natsukashii furusato," or an old memory of my hometown. (This is a prevalent mind-set in Japan these days, as people born in major urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka wax nostalgic over grandparents' country houses that perhaps never were. They can even "rent" grandparents who live in prototypical country houses and spend the weekend there.)

Daisetz T. Suzuki, who was one of Japan's foremost English-speaking authorities on Zen Buddhism and one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, described wabi-sabi as "an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty." He was referring to poverty not as we in the West interpret (and fear) it but in the more romantic sense of removing the huge weight of material concerns from our lives. "Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau," he wrote, "and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall."

In Japan, there is a marked difference between a Thoreau-like wabibito (wabi person), who is free in his heart, and a makoto no hinjin, a more Dickensian character whose poor circumstances make him desperate and pitiful. The ability to make do with less is revered; I heard someone refer to a wabibito as a person who could make something complete out of eight parts when most of us would use ten. For us in the West, this might mean choosing a smaller house or a smaller car, or-just as a means of getting started-refusing to supersize our fries.

The words wabi and sabi were not always linked, although they've been together for such a long time that many people (including D. T. Suzuki) use them interchangeably. One tea teacher I talked with begged me not to use the phrase wabi-sabi because she believes the marriage dilutes their separate identities; a tea master in Kyoto laughed and said they're thrown together because it sounds catchy, kind of like Ping-Pong. In fact, the two words do have distinct meanings, although most people don't fully agree on what they might be.

Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquillity, and balance. Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi. Sixteenth-century tea master Jo-o described a wabi tea man as someone who feels no dissatisfaction even though he owns no Chinese utensils with which to conduct tea. A common phrase used in conjunction with wabi is "the joy of the little monk in his wind-torn robe." A wabi person epitomizes Zen, which is to say, he or she is content with very little; free from greed, indolence, and anger; and understands the wisdom of rocks and grasshoppers.

Until the fourteenth century, when Japanese society came to admire monks and hermits for their spiritual asceticism, wabi was a pejorative term used to describe cheerless, miserable outcasts. Even today, undertones of desolation and abandonment cling to the word, sometimes used to describe the helpless feeling you have when waiting for your lover. It also carries a hint of dissatisfaction in its underhanded criticism of gaud and ostentation-the defining mark of the ruling classes when wabisuki (a taste for all things wabi) exploded in the sixteenth century. In a country ruled by warlords who were expected to be conspicuous consumers, wabi became known as "the aesthetic of the people"-the lifestyle of the everday samurai, who had little in the way of material comforts.

Sabi by itself means "the bloom of time." It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It's the understanding that beauty is fleeting. The word's meaning has changed over time, from its ancient definition, "to be desolate," to the more neutral "to grow old." By the thirteenth century, sabi's meaning had evolved into taking pleasure in things that were old and faded. A proverb emerged: "Time is kind to things, but unkind to man."

Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough. An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America's contribution to the evolution of sabi. An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique.

There's an aching poetry in things that carry this patina, and it transcends the Japanese. We Americans are ineffably drawn to old European towns with their crooked cobblestone streets and chipping plaster, to places battle scarred with history much deeper than our own. We seek sabi in antiques and even try to manufacture it in distressed furnishings. True sabi cannot be acquired, however. It is a gift of time.

So now we have wabi, which is humble and simple, and sabi, which is rusty and weathered. And we've thrown these terms together into a phrase that rolls off the tongue like Ping-Pong. Does that mean, then, that the wabi-sabi house is full of things that are humble, plain, rusty, and weathered? That's the easy answer. The amalgamation of wabi and sabi in practice, however, takes on much more depth.

In home decor, wabi-sabi inspires a minimalism that celebrates the human rather than the machine. Possessions are pared down, and pared down again, until only those that are necessary for their utility or beauty (and ideally both) are left. What makes the cut? Items that you both admire and love to use, like those hand-crank eggbeaters that still work just fine. Things that resonate with the spirit of their makers' hands and hearts: the chair your grandfather made, your six-year-old's lumpy pottery, an afghan you knitted yourself (out of handspun sheep's wool, perhaps). Pieces of your own history: sepia-toned ancestral photos, baby shoes, the Nancy Drew mysteries you read over and over again as a kid.

Wabi-sabi interiors tend to be muted, dimly lit, and shadowy-giving the rooms an enveloping, womblike feeling. Natural materials that are vulnerable to weathering, warping, shrinking, cracking, and peeling lend an air of perishability. The palette is drawn from browns, blacks, grays, earthy greens, and rusts. This implies a lack of freedom but actually affords an opportunity for innovation and creativity. In Japan, kimonos come in a hundred different shades of gray. You simply have to hone your vision so you can see, and feel, them all.


Wabi-sabi can be exploited in all sorts of ways, and one of the most tempting is to use it as an excuse to shrug off an unmade bed, an unswept floor, or a soiled sofa. "Oh, that. Well, that's just wabi-sabi." My nine-year-old son, Stacey, loves this tactic.

How tempting it might be to let the split running down the sofa cushion seam continue on its merry way, calling it wabi-sabi. To spend Saturday afternoon at the movies and let the dust settle into the rugs: wabi sabi. To buy five extra minutes of sleep every morning by not making the bed-as a wabi-sabi statement, of course. And how do you know when you've gone too far-when you' ve crossed over from simple, serene, and rustic to Uber-distress?

A solid yellow line separates tattered and shabby, dust and dirt from something worthy of veneration. Wabi-sabi is never messy or slovenly. Worn things take on their magic only in settings where it's clear they don't harbor bugs or grime. One senses that they've survived to bear the marks of time precisely because they've been so well cared for throughout the years. Even the most rare and expensive of antiques will never play well in a house that's cluttered or dirty.

Cleanliness implies respect. Both ancient and modern tea masters teach that even the poorest wabi tea person should always use fresh green bamboo utensils and new white cloths for wiping the tea bowl. In tea, the host's cleanliness is considered a clear indicator of his state of mind and his devotion to the way of tea. Chanoyu Ichieshu, a tea textbook published in 1956, even goes so far as to advise guests to look into the host's toilet if they wish to understand his spiritual training.

I'm definitely not advocating this extreme. In fact, I'm mortified at the thought of anyone judging me on the state of my own toilets. But the tea masters' point is valid: Spaces that have been thoroughly and lovingly cleaned are ultimately more welcoming. When the bed is neatly made, the romance of a frayed quilt blossoms. The character imparted by a wood floor's knots and crevices shines through when the crumbs are swept away. A scrubbed but faded kilim, thrown over a sofa that's seen one too many stains, transforms it into an irresistible place to rest.

Wabi-sabi's roots lie in Zen Buddhism, which was brought from China to Japan by Eisai, a twelfth-century monk. Zen, with its principles of vast emptiness and nothing holy, stresses austerity, communion with nature, and above all, reverence for everyday life as the real path to enlightenment. To reach enlightenment, Zen monks lived ascetic, often isolated lives and sat for long periods of concentrated meditation.

To help his fellow monks stay awake during these excruciating meditation sessions, Eisai taught them how to process tea leaves into a hot drink. Once Eisai was gone, though, tea took on a very different life of its own. Around the fourteenth century, the upper classes developed elaborate rituals involving tea. Large tearooms were built in an ostentatious style known as shoin, with numerous Chinese hanging scrolls and a formal arrangement of tables for flower vases and incense burners. Tea practitioners proved their wealth and status through their collections of elegant Chinese-style tea utensils during three-day weekenders where up to one hundred cups of tea-as well as food and sake-were served.

Then along came Murata Shuko, an influential tea master who also happened to be a Zen monk. In a radical fashion departure, Shuko began using understated, locally produced utensils during his tea gatherings. Saying "it is good to tie a praised horse to a straw-thatched house," he combined rough, plain wares with famed Chinese utensils, and the striking contrast made both look more interesting. Shuko's successor, Jo-o, was even more critical of men whose zeal for rare or famed utensils was their main motivation for conducting tea. Jo-o began using everyday items such as the mentsu, a wooden pilgrim's eating bowl, as a wastewater container, and a Shigaraki onioke, a stoneware bucket used in silk dyeing, as a water jar. He brought unadorned celadon and Korean peasant wares into the tearoom.

It was Jo-o's disciple Sen no Rikyu, however, who is widely credited with establishing the quiet, simple ceremony that made it possible for everyone-not just the wealthy-to practice tea. In the sixteenth century-the beginning of an age of peace following several long centuries of civil war in Japan-gaudiness was all the rage, and Rikyu's tea became an oasis of quiet, simple taste. He served tea in bowls made by anonymous Korean potters and indigenous Japanese craftsmen, the most famous of which are the Raku family's style. He created tiny tea huts (one and a half tatami mats, as opposed to the four-and-one-half- to eighteen-mat rooms that had been the norm) based on the traditional farmer's hut of rough mud walls, a thatched roof, and organically shaped exposed wood structural elements. The hut included a nijiriguchi, a low entryway that forced guests to bow and experience humility as they entered. Rikyu made some of his own utensils of unlacquered bamboo (as common as crabgrass in Japan, but nowadays a Rikyu original is worth as much as a Leonardo da Vinci painting), and he arranged flowers simply and naturally in bamboo vases (shakuhachi) and baskets. Rikyu 's ceremony became known as wabichado (chado means "the way of tea"), and it endures in Japan to this day.

We Westerners tend to scratch our heads at the thought of four hours spent sitting on our knees, participating in an elaborate ritual during which a charcoal fire is built, a meal of seasonal delicacies is served with sake, one bowl of green tea is made and shared among the guests, and then individual bowls of frothy thin tea are made by whisking hot water and matcha. What most of us don't realize, however, is that tea embodies so much of the beauty that makes up Japanese culture. To truly understand tea, you must also study poetry, art, literature, architecture, legacy, and history. Tea practitioners are accomplished in the arts of flowers, fine cuisine, and-perhaps most important-etiquette (sarei). And the four principles of tea-harmony (wa), respect (kei), purity (sei), and tranquillity (jaku)-could of course be the means to any good life.

Tea, in its current form, was born out of a medieval society rife with terrible warfare, yet the samurai were willing to set aside their rank-and their swords-to become equals within the tearoom. The room's design is deliberately simple and clean; it's meant to be a sanctuary. "In this thatched hut there ought not to be a speck of dust of any kind; both master and visitors are expected to be on terms of absolute sincerity; no ordinary measures of proportion or etiquette or conventionalism are to be followed," declares Nanbo-roku, one of most ancient and important textbooks on tea. "A fire is made, water is boiled, and tea is served; this is all that is needed here, no other worldly considerations are to intrude." As soon as we enter the tearoom, we're asked to shake off our woes and worries and connect with others, "face harmonious, words loving."

"Tea brings people together in a nonthreatening place to escape the modern world, then they can go back out and take that with them," Gary Cadwallader, an American-born tea master who teaches at the Urasenke Center in Kyoto, explained to me. It seems to me that we Americans who lack the time-or the desire-to learn tea could take the essence of that statement and apply it to our own lives.

"If a friend visits you, make him tea, wish him welcome warmly with hospitality," Jo-o, one of Japan's earliest tea masters, wrote. "Set some flowers and make him feel comfortable." This is embodied in a common Japanese phrase, "shaza kissa," which translates, "Well, sit down and have some tea." What if we adopted that phrase and learned to say it more often-when the kids get home from school (before the rush to hockey and ballet), when our neighbor stops by, when we feel our annoyance level with our spouse starting to rise? If we just allowed ourselves to stop for a moment, sit down together, and share a cup of tea, what might that moment bring?

In learning tea, we're constantly reminded that every meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to enjoy good company, beautiful art, and a cup of tea. We never know what might happen tomorrow, or even later today. Stopping whatever it is that's so important (dishes, bill paying, work deadlines) to share conversation and a cup of tea with someone you love-or might love-is an easy opportunity to promote peace. It is from this place of peace, harmony, and fellowship that the true wabi-sabi spirit emerges.

Wabi-sabi is not a decorating "style" but rather a mind-set. There's no list of rules; we can't hang crystals or move our beds and wait for peace to befall us. Creating a wabi-sabi home is the direct result of developing our wabigokoro, or wabi mind and heart: living modestly, learning to be satisfied with life as it can be once we strip away the unnecessary, living in the moment. You see? Simple as that.

This is tough in any culture, of course, but darned near impossible in our own. In America we're plied daily with sales pitches that will help us improve ourselves, our circumstances, our homes. We can have the whitest teeth, the cleanest carpets, and the biggest SUV money can buy. All of this flies in the face of wabigokoro, as described in Rikyu's sacred tea text, Nanporoku. "A luxurious house and the taste of delicacies are only pleasures of the mundane world," he wrote. "It is enough if the house does not leak and the food keeps hunger away. This is the teaching of the Buddha-the true meaning of chado."

This is un-American. Or is it? I believe there exists in all of us a longing for something deeper than the whitest teeth, sparkling floors, and eight cylinders. What if we could learn to be content with our lives, exactly as they are today? It's a lofty thought...but one that's certainly worth entertaining.

You can start cultivating this mind-set in small ways, taking a lesson from tea. In learning to conduct tea, we're taught to handle every utensil, from the bamboo water scoop to the tea bowl, as if it were precious, with the same respect and care we would use to handle a rare antique. You can do the same thing with the items you use every day.

You can also read more... by reading the wonderful book this came from: "the wabi-sabi house,the Japanese art of imperfect beauty" by Robyn Griggs Lawrence. Robyn's book puts it in perspective, using evocative descriptions of modern designs using salvaged materials and (local?) artisan wares. All in all a unique insight into a true way of life.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Advice from the Master...

Stole this from's Abi Zipwinkel:

"How Tolstoy Can Dramatically Improve Your Writing With One Russian Word"

Russian Orthodox hate him: this count found a simple trick to take your writing to the next level.

Lev, or Leo Tolstoy. Maybe you’ve heard of him.

With his bestsellers Bared Shoulders and Soirées for 900 Pages and The Girl under the Train, he won some modest critical acclaim. Including the obscure title of Best Writer Ever.

He also happens to be one of my favorite authors. Which is why the following piece of advice is especially dear to me. Not in the least because of the instant and profound impact it will have on your writing — whether that’s blogs or stories or anything else.

So, what is this simple trick Tolstoy used in his writing to captivate millions of readers for over a century?

The magic word is Ostranenie.

There you have it. Now go and write some wonderful stuff!

Just kidding.

Ostranenie is a Russian word. The meaning of which is something along the lines of estrangement or ‘the art of making strange’.

It was a key term among the Russian avant-garde artists of the early 20th century. The formalist Viktor Shklovsky, in his 1907 essay “Art as Technique”, found Tolstoy to be one of the most efficient users of ostranenie ever.

What’s more, Viktor argued that ostranenie was actually the key to Tolstoy’s phenomenal success as a writer.

So how does ostrannenie, or estrangement, work exactly? And how can you apply it to your own writing?

First we have to learn about the opposite of ostranenie: habituzation.

When you are familiar with an object, a concept or even a literary trope, then your mind will skip over it — you take in only the cue that is offered without paying attention to the whole. Your mind simply tunes out and doesn’t pay attention to the details anymore. This is known as habituzation.

This is exactly what happens when you read an article of writing tips that you’ve seen a million times before. You see that first cliché and you simply zone out. You gloss over the words but they don’t really enter your consciousness. They don’t fire your emotions. Let alone inspire you.

It’s not just cookie-cutter blog posts however. This process also happens in our spoken language. By its very nature you don’t notice it, but when we are conversing in a language that we feel comfortable with, we often don’t finish words or sentences. Yet we still understand what we are saying to each other. We are so familiar with the language that we don’t have to pay attention to the details to make sense of it. All we need is a cue. The initial sound of a word. Half of a sentence.

Habit forming happens when something has become routine. Whether that’s reading cliche blog posts, gossiping with a friend in a familiar language, or doing the dishes for the millionth time.

Sure, habits make things easy. Habits uphold your comfort-zone. But habits never make you experience anything new. And habits rarely fire your emotions.

Habits predominantly make things boring.

When your mind blinds itself to the details, it blinds itself to the experience. When something becomes habituated you won’t learn or experience joy from it anymore. Habit forming may even waste more of our precious time than we are willing to admit.

Tolstoy himself provides the following example of the dulling effects of habit forming:

I was cleaning and, meandering about, approached the divan and couldn’t remember whether or not I had dusted it. Since these movements are habitual and unconscious I could not remember and felt that it was impossible to remember — so that if I had dusted it and forgot — that is, had acted unconsciously, then it was the same as if I had not. If some conscious person had been watching, then the fact could be established. If, however, no one was looking, or looking on unconsciously, if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.

Tolstoy was busy cleaning a room. But when he walked up to dust off his divan he had forgotten whether he’d already cleaned it or not. He realized that if he had dusted it and forgot, then it’d be like he had never dusted it at all. A big waste of time. Leave it to the Russian master of drama to make this trivial act a terrifying metaphor of wasted human lives, but the example is clear: when you do something unconsciously, you have wasted the experience.

This is where ostranenie comes in.

Ostranenie aims to break you out of your habit and forces you to pay real attention to what you are reading. No matter how trivial or common the content is.

Ostranenie makes even the most trodden and dull scene an exciting, fresh experience that you want to pay conscious attention to. It ignites your mind and your emotions and engages you fully to the words on the page as if they were the first words you ever read.

Ostranenie snaps you out of your habituated duldrum and activates your mind and your senses. It makes you process what it truly is that you are doing, hearing or reading.

When your partner suddenly starts performing handstands and scat-rapping during an otherwise boring work story, best believe you are going to pay attention.

So how can you apply ostranenie — the ‘art of making strange’ — to your writing?

As the translation implies, you simply turn the common into something strange. You present the known as if it were something new.

For example, if I make you read the word ‘chair’ then you immediately conjure up a picture of a chair in your mind. The word does not significantly register at all, except for providing you with a cue to place a chair in the scene. Any chair.

If, however, my goal is to make you consciously think about a specific chair, to really make you experience the chair, then I would use ostranenie and make the chair seem like a strange object that you’re approaching for the very first time:

You see four round pieces of wood. They are about a foot in height, dark and coarse and placed at about two feet from one another. If you’d draw lines between them, you would make a square shape. On top of these wooden cylinders rests an equally dark wooden plate of sorts. It is concave, like a shallow puddle. Mounted on the back — or the front — of this plate is a long wooden board. You realize the board is about the length of a man’s back, and that if you were to sit on the plate the board would support your body nicely, allowing for a good rest.

Of course there would rarely ever be a reason to describe a chair in this manner, but it exemplifies the idea of making something strange by not naming the object but describing it through unfamiliar eyes instead.

Tolstoy employed this technique to great effect whenever he wanted his readers to see something from a fresh perspective.

Take for example his description of the act of flogging. Tolstoy wanted to show his readers how cruel, strange and barbaric this very common act of discipline really was. And so he described the act in detail without actually using the word ‘flogging’:

To strip people who have broken the law, to hurl them to the floor. To rap on their bottoms with switches. To lash about on the naked buttocks. Just why precisely this stupid, savage means of causing pain and not any other — why not prick the shoulders or any part of the body with needles, squeeze the hands or the feet in a vise, or anything like that?

Here Tolstoy shows that just because ‘flogging’ is a common word and concept, it doesn’t mean that the act isn’t actually just as savage as any other means of causing pain to a body.

In another example Tolstoy wants to make clear to his reader just how weird the concept of private property really is. And to achieve this he employs ostranenie. In order to make the concept strange, he has the story narrated by a horse instead of a human:

I understood well what they said about whipping and Christianity. But then I was absolutely in the dark. What’s the meaning of “his own,” “his colt”? From these phrases I saw that people thought there was some sort of connection between me and the stable. At the time I simply could not understand the connection. Only much later, when they separated me from the other horses, did I begin to understand. But even then I simply could not see what it meant when they called me “man’s property.” The words “my horse” referred to me, a living horse, and seemed as strange to me as the words “my land,” “my air,” “my water.”

With a horse as a narrator, the reader is forced to view the events and concepts of the story trough the horses eyes. This allows for an unfamiliar perspective on otherwise known and habituated ideas about ownership.

So what can we learn from Tolstoy and his use of ostranenie?

When something is important for you to tell, don’t settle for common ways of telling it. Don’t use habituated and cliche words and sentences. Instead, tell it from a novel perspective.

Use descriptions instead of words, like Tolstoy’s description of flogging. Or tell the story from an alien perspective, like Tolstoy did when using a horse as the narrator.

Say you’re writing a blog about productivity and you want to open it with an anecdote about how much time you wasted writing nonsense because you just weren’t inspired at all. Don’t simply say ‘I spend hours writing nonsense yesterday’. Instead describe the process. Write something like:

I tapped away on the little plastic buttons, producing a cavalcade of rattling until my fingertips hurt. The letters I pressed reappeared on the screen to form supposed units of meaning. But they meant little to me.

And when you’re writing a story about workplace politics, why not have it narrated by a young child and situate it on the playground of an elementary school? (Lord of the Flies is a brilliant example of ostranenie!)

Habituated words, concepts and narratives serve their purpose. And foregoing them all together and filling your blog or story with ostranenie will turn it into an unreadable mess that will only make a handful of absurdists happy.

Instead, employ ostranenie when you really want to emphasize a point or an experience. When you believe that a fresh gaze is needed to really drive your message home.

I personally strive for the ‘cookie-dough rule’:

I try to maintain a balance between vanilla ice cream (the whole text) and chunks of ostranenie (cookie-dough). Vanilla ice cream bores me after a few bites and spoons full of just cookie-dough quickly make me feel a bit sick. In literary terms Tolstoy strikes an impressive ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ on the cookie-dough scale.

And you just can’t go wrong with that.

BTW...I love how he reimagines Tolstoy's titled for War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Time for thoughts to be deeper...

I need to find a better way to do my writing. This rewriting and rewriting and rewriting is draining and yet necessary for me to get to where I'm ready to release the story into the wild, because every time I go through what I've written, I find ways to make it clearer and better and more accessible and that's ridiculous. But if I don't do this, I know what I'll turn out is not as good as it can be and will be more open to criticism over the guy who bitched about LD because I had a character misuse the conjugation of to lay and gave it a one-star review on Amazon.

I halfway blame having a computer for this. I can write out a story and then rewriting it is easy, relatively speaking. I don't have to retype every draft, can make changes with minimal effort and when I do print out a copy to make corrections, it's not like I spent hours doing the typing myself. I wonder if that's made me lazy in the setting up of the story's arc and the characters?

When I wrote Find Ray T, I did it as an experiment of sorts. I worked up a basic outline and the character basics then took a week off work, bought a case of Corona, began drinking and wrote the script in 8 days. And the story has stayed basically the same, ever since. Details have changed...but thinking about it they changed a lot as I got deeper and deeper into the story and listened to feedback and tried to make it funnier and more action-packed and something people could connect maybe this is just the way I have to write -- over and over and over till I finally just say stop.

Damn, that makes it a shitload of work, with me having the vaguest notion of where the story is going and then plunging in and writing. Though to be honest, I'm at the point where I'm happy with how things turn out. I'd say I tossed half of what I wrote for The Vanishing of Owen Taylor and didn't come up with the idea of who the killer was till months into working on it...and then I didn't figure out how to do the reveal in an interesting way for months more. But now? I'm so fucking happy with the final product, I wouldn't change a bit of it. I'm probably whining over something I have no real intention of changing. Which isn't unusual for me. I bitch and moan and dance around then keep doing things the way I'm bitching and moaning about. I don't know if that's smart or crazy or just a lazy form of chaos. Maybe I see myself as God and I'm forming a world out of the nothingness in my brain.

Hmm...does that notion count as sacrilege?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

I'm probably an idiot...

I know some people who say that I definitely am, but we'll keep their attitudes out of this...for now. I meant to spend the day going through A65 but instead I did grunt work on getting taxes ready and clearing out my files from the 2017 junk so I can do new ones for 2018 because the left side of my face aches -- from eye to teeth to jaw -- and that's all I could focus on. Then I worked on a possible job for Christie's, which turned out to be a lot more than initially thought...and now it's after 11 and the only thing I did was add another note to my printout of Adam's story.'s a solid note. Part of my clearing process was putting away the other copies of the book I'd printed...and I happened upon this one comment from Vincent that I'd taken out but realized needed to be in. Not just to better explain what's been happening but to give Adam a sort of breather at a crucial moment in the story. It was also a disservice to Vincent's character, because his actions are cruel, regarding what happens, and I gave him no excuse for that. No justification. Now he has one.  It's still a shit move on his part, but more understandable.

God only knows what more I'm going to add to A65 before I finally say enough. I could easily do this for the next 5 years, I'm sure...but I also know that's a danger -- not just because it's taking so long to complete but because I could easily rewrite the believability out of it. Make it uninteresting and so complex no one cares about it. Including me.

I did that with a script of mine, once. Came up with a great idea and wrote it out but it didn't quite work so I rewrote it and changed it and added and subtracted and reworked it and refined it until now I can't stand it. The whole premise seems dumb. The characters are caricatures of people who do things to move the story along. I pulled together some great set pieces in a Hitchcock style that made absolutely no sense but sure would have looked good.

In that one, I made the mistake of thinking I could work around what was a ridiculous concept that I'd convinced myself was real and wonderful and would make a hundred million on opening weekend and blow people's minds. I think this was the first time I actually fell in love with my words, and it's been a tough lesson about that. I am beginning to mellow and may actually go back to the story to flesh it out in a more adult fashion...but it's low on my list of priorities. Place of Safety, for all the hell I'm putting myself through on it, be it deserved or not, is next on the agenda.

Once I'm done with The Alice '65.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Life and times...

I'm not the kind of guy who gets nosebleeds, so when I had 2 of them in the last 3 days, I freaked out. We're not talking about a little bit of the red stuff; we're talking about the Mississippi flowing from my nasal cavity. For no reason. None. Wasn't exercising or sneezing or blowing my nose or anything. Just all of a sudden there's a tidal wave rolling down my chin and ruining my shirt.

I got them to stop by using an ice pack and cold compress, then after the 2nd one called an Ear, Nose Throat specialist. He had me come in today and checked my nostril out -- left; right's above all this attention-seeking nonsense -- and a blood vessel had decided to let go. It started doing it in his office so he shut it down and cauterized it...and gave me a nose-pincher to use if anything like it happens again. The best part? It was NBD to him. "See this all the time in dry noses."

I never thought of my nose as dry. Oh, and apparently I have a deviated septum. I barely held back the comment that my septum's not the only thing about me that's deviated.

Of course, right now the left side of my face aches. I've used a nasal gel-spray to calm it down some, and I've been warned off baby aspirin for the next 10 days. I take one in the mornings to help my heart and it turns out it's hurting my blood's ability to clot. 81 mg baby aspirin is as big on messing with my platelets as regular strength Bayer. Scary thought.

Anyway, I finished a full pass through A65 and will go through it, once more...then it's set into print. I'm getting the book version copyrighted and will resubmit to the Library of Congress for a PCN under a new ISBN. If the old one does eventually get revised, I'll use it for the paperback. I'm still aiming for a mid-March rollout.

Let's see what the fates can do to screw me over, this time...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I'm being dissed by the LoC...

I've been trying to get a response from the Library of Congress about my PCN for the A65 and my supposed liaison is not answering my emails.. I ask about correcting the mistake in the title of the book  and nothing happens. It's still in progress. Granted, it's only been 2 weeks since I first contacted her about it, but still...a simple, "I'm working on it," would be nice The way she acts, you'd think she was my agent or something.

I printed out a copy of the book, today...and I have to wonder what it is about computers that makes a file in Word wind up so different in a PC from when it's in a Mac. I made no changes or corrections or anything, but in my Mac the file is 279 paged long, including the information sheets that go with a published title. When I pull it up in Word on a PC, it jumps to 296 and the page numbering is off.

I guess I could've saved it into a PDF before printing it, but I didn't really think about that. I had a lot going on with the job...which should calm down, a little. I hope it does; I need to research a couple of packing jobs. I know at least one has vanished -- going to Oxford UK. That one's just papers in binders going into boxes; we have a guy in London who can do that. But I've got others I need to dig into and am already way behind on.

What's funny is, I didn't really want to go to Oxford. It was set up to be a roundabout whirlwind trip with no free day to at least poke around the town a little. To me that's like letting me smell the aroma of a good steak being grilled over hickory chips and telling me I can't have a bite. The only mitigating factor is, I'll be able to focus on A65 and get it out, now. That's my one and only, at the moment...

If I could just get a fucking answer from the LoC.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

All work all day and no play...

Twelve solid hours at the office...and for half the day I was thinking it was Wednesday. I didn't realize till 8pm today's Mardi Gras...not that I celebrate it but it's still fun to think about. But now I've got a nice headache and got nothing done on A65 and tomorrow promises more of the same.

It seems as soon as I push to work on something I like, crap pops us to push me away from it. I'm ready to finish A65 and doing that has become a fight. I';m sure some of my issues are self-inflicted; I'm like many writers who slide into procrastination tactics to keep from facing the creation of a new world. But now I have Adam's story at a point where polishing and honing is all it needs because the heavy carving's nothing but stupid crap is what's kicking me down.

So I wind up whining like a brat, which achieves nothing.  I guess I've got my habits too ingrained to change anything, at this stage of my life, and one of them is messing around till the work comes together despite me then trying to make it perfect in too short a time so I have excuses for my lack of craft or attention to detail or something. Now I let anything that happens appears be a hinderance.

Damn, I'm tired of that. I keep saying I'll change but I don't. I'll just keep meandering along and pulling the story-cart behind me in fits and starts and get there eventually. And try to make sense of my own insensibility. And laziness. And avoidance.

At the end of next month, it will be 16 years since Brendan started walking with me. 16 years since he let me know who he was and kicked a shallow childish idea out of my head, regarding him. That's how long I've been circling his story...and it's finally become too much for me to avoid, anymore.

Actually, right now I'm tired and don't know if I'm making any sense. I may pull back to 4 days a week instead of 5, at my next birthday. Make that extra day one where I focus more on Bren and less on me.

That'd be interesting.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Another California Book Fair done...

Meaning I'm staying late at work to help get everything in order for the return of dealers to their homes. I'm more backup in the office than anything else, completing paperwork and sending pdfs and getting quotes and checking on shipments and handling the phones. That's about it...and that's a lot. I'm not as fast as the others I work with and that can be irritating to them, I know, but if I speed up I fuck up. That would be even more irritating.

I'm also trying to complete a couple of quotes for a packing job in Oxford, England and in NYC to go to the UK, and I do have a packing job lined for Indiana, next month. I fly into Louisville, not someplace I ever planned to go...but I'm getting close to being able to say I've been to every state in the Union. Right now all I need is Montana, South Dakota, Alaska and Kansas. And I'm not talking about plane-hopping. I'm talking about going there for work.

I did get settled down enough to do a couple more chapters of editing on A65...and made some more detail changes. Nothing major, just little aspects to handle things that would come up in reality, concerning the book Adam's after. They sort of tie everything up at the end, in ways I'm enjoying. I even found another book reference for Adam to make, when he's making a point.

I'm in a dangerous place now, with the story -- I've fallen in love with Adam and Casey and when that happens it's usually a bad sign. But I can't help it. I feel protective of them both and am worried about sending them out into the cold cruel world where some people will do anything they can to hurt others just to prove they have some form of effect on life.

It's pathetic...but it's reality.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Busy day so I'm not quite done with A65, yet. I am closing in, tho'. Step by now-careful step. Once this pass is done, I'm doing one more then I'm getting it proofed, again, by an editor. I keep finding mistakes and stupid things like putting "thing" for "think" and "then" for "than." Makes me wonder about all of my earlier writing, just how hard my sloppiness made for reading.

I started getting paranoid about my use of English with OT because I wanted it to be as professional a book as possible, so I had it proofed, twice. Now, after this one's been through the wringer four times and I'm still finding mistakes, I'm wondering if I should just bite the bullet and pay someone to do it. I know a couple of professional editors; maybe they'd give me a discount on their rates...

I will say, I'm not interested in commentary about my actual writing, which is part of their service. I like the way the book has come together. I just need someone to check my grammar and I guess we'll have to see if I can work this out.

But I do think I did right by Jake in OT. As I was heading to the laundromat The Black Keys' Lonely Boy played on the radio and Jake bounced up to let me know that's his song, and he began dancing to it. He's happy. That makes me happy.

What makes me happier is how Brendan is letting out aspects of P/S that will help the story. Prepping me for the long haul. Helping me see where the story is going and why it must be told. There is no one reason for that...but I'm getting hints of how there will be an all-encompassing idea that holds everything together.

Wow...and if that doesn't sound grandiose...