Thursday, November 29, 2012


Yesterday and the day before, I was working on a novelette, which I want done by the end of the year. (This is the story I hoped to finish by the end of November, but that is not going to happen.)

Today I was working on the novel which I am trying to finish revising before Wiscon. In addition, I just got the line edits for a chapbook and need to start working on them right away. Tonight, I will be going to my workshop, where we may be discussing part of my novel and a recent short story. I find it hard to keep so many balls in the air.

A moment's thought makes obvious what I should do: go over the line edits, then finish the planetary romance, then go on to the other stuff. But for a moment, it seemed like a lot.

I assume there is a reason why I work on several things at once. I must like it or find the process useful. It does mean when I am mulling over one story, I can move to another one. But it makes it hard to push ahead at a steady rate. I am always shifting gears or changing hats.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I haven't done a word count yet, but I think I got about 500 words done yesterday. For me, this is pretty good. I haven't paid a lot of attention to how I write. But I seem to go on till I don't know what happens next, then I stop and mull for a day or more. Some stories come really easily, and I don't have to do much mulling. Other stories come slowly, with many halts. I am in awe of people who can write steadily. I used to think I had to wait for the muse to arrive with the next 1,000 words. Now I think it's possible to push through the halts and keep going. But I still spend a lot of time mulling.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

More on Consumption

Back in the 1940s, economists and others worried about what would happen when war spending ended. There was a lot of pent-up consumer spending from the war era. But once every household had a car, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a radio -- what then? There was a real -- and realistic -- fear that the country would sink back into the Great Depression.

One solution was to continue military spending. This led to the Permanent War Economy, which we still have.

Another solution was to make things that broke or wore out. For a long time, many Americans bought a new car every three years, which was the length of a car loan in those days, The joke was your car began to give trouble right about the time the loan was paid off. New cars were very attractive. Remember the 'new car' smell? So you bought one; and Detroit's new car orders determined the American economy for the next year. The industrial Midwest -- the automative, steel, glass and rubber plants in Detroit, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown and Gary -- all depended on cars. The jobs the car orders created, many of them high-paying union jobs, determined much of the country's income. This solution is Planned Obsolescence, which is still with us. Cars last longer than they used to. Clothing doesn't, and electronic equipment is designed to be tossed when the next, new, improved goodie appears.

Planned Obsolescence doesn't work as well as it used to, because the big industrial plants and the good union jobs are gone, or so reduced that they can no longer power the economy. Cheap clothing made in China is not an adequate economic replacement for cars made in Michigan from steel, glass and rubber produced in the US.

Yet another solution was to create new needs. Your fridge still worked just fine, but advertisements told you that you needed a new one, harvest gold with a larger freezer compartment and an ice cube maker. Or you needed an entire separate freezer -- which is, in fact, useful if you buy in bulk or need a place that will hold this year's deer. Not all new purchases are a bad idea.

One of the things driving the modern American economy is advertising and marketing. It's advertising which leads to mobs of people wandering through the Mall of America, looking for something to buy and dragging their unhappy infants with them, so the wee things can learn the importance of buying.

It works on me. In my case, it's mostly catalogues that tell me what new goodies the local pen shop has or what kinds of neat clothing can be bought from J. Jill.

What's interesting in all this is the solutions not tried or tried right after the war and now given up. If you want to pump money into the economy, why not build affordable housing and new infrastructure, like the dams built during the New Deal? Highways don't make a lot of sense today, but light rail and railroads are a great idea. Why not put money into clinics and colleges and public schools and sustainable energy?

The Interstate Highway System was built with federal government money. States and counties continue to build and maintain roads. These roads made suburbanization possible and cars increasingly necessary. Obviously the housing and auto industries benefited. It's government money that pays for the Military Industrial Complex. But there seems to be a limit to how much governments can spend -- and on what kind of goods and services -- before American business gets bent out of shape.

I'd like to see the money spent on war and advertising invested in the huge issues that face us: global warming, peak oil, food shortages, lack of water... We could provide decent jobs for the entire country and rebuild the world.

I did go out today and buy a cup of coffee. Now, I am home and am staying home and not spending money, except maybe to donate to a few good causes.

Black Friday

These are a series of facebook posts about Black Friday and an article in The Guardian on Buy Nothing Day.
Black Friday does not only happen at malls. The Y is having Black Friday specials, and my email is full of Black Friday offers from (for example) the Chicago Art Institute online shop.
I like the idea of consumer fasting. But Buy Nothing Day seems to be this coming Saturday, when I plan to go to the Farmers Market and buy bread, eggs and (I hope) apples and a butternut squash. This time of year, the Market is only open Saturday.
I am still thinking about Buy Nothing Day. Today (Black Friday) is the absolutely best day for it, since you are taking your life in your hands if you go shopping, though I guess formally Saturday is Buy Nothing day. The Guardian says the economy can't survive if we pull money out of it. Well, you can always give the money you would have spent on shopping to a good cause. If you donate to an organization helping the homeless, the organization will be able to buy more supplies and that will put money into the economy. For ordinary days buying locally and from small businesses is good, but I think days of buying nothing sound good for personal well being. I speak as one who absolutely loves shopping.
Turns out Friday is Buy Nothing Day in the US. Tomorrow is International Buy Nothing Day
I was reading more about buying nothing or (at least) less. The blogger Mathbabe suggests going through your closets and finding out what you already own. Many people -- possibly most Americans -- have more than they need already. This is certainly true for me. I have a handful of favorite things -- clothes, pens, bags and so on -- which I use all the time, and lots of things that stay in the closet or a drawer. I figure I could pull out some of the things I don't use and begin to use them, and that would have almost the same thrill as shopping. There are things that are not interchangeable -- books, CDs and DVDs. But these can be obtained from libraries or Netflix. Or -- since I do have some money -- I could buy a few things. But I don't have to keep the Mall of America in business.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Natalie Goldberg 2

Goldberg is well read in good, traditional, non-genre fiction and poetry, possibly better read than I am. But she really does not seem to understand that much literature is not about one's own life.

Obviously, writers use what they know -- though often it is what they learned from books or other people. Shakespeare seems to have been well read. We can trace the plots of many of his plays to stories in Italian collections, English histories or plays by other authors.

His sonnets sound personal, but we can't be sure, because we don't know enough about his life.

Milton wrote Paradise Lost to justify the ways of God to man. His sonnet "On His Blindness" is clearly personal, as is Michelangelo's poem on how much he hated painting the Sistine Ceiling:
I've grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be–
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.
From Wikipedia.

It's not comfortable to lie on your back day after day painting; and he thought of himself as a sculptor. Obviously, this is personal. It's also about pleasure in invective and pleasure in the art of writing.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and my moods are very closely connected to the amount of light around me. I'm convinced that Edmund Spenser had a similar problem, given the way he uses light and darkness in his great poem The Faerie Queene. Light and dark have been used by many writers obviously. They are standard symbols out of the symbol kit. But Spenser's descriptions of both are especially numerous, specific and felt. His light gleams, glitters, shines, glows... That much is personal.

However, the poem is his attempt to write a poetic romance in the Italian manner, an allegory about Christian morality, and a celebration of Queen Elizabeth I and her England. It is not his life story.

Well, I could go on and on. But Goldberg does not seem to get how much of literature is not about oneself. It's about craft. It's about ideas. It's about telling or retelling a story that is evocative and emotionally charged, but not one's own personal tale.

Natalie Goldberg 1

It's pitch black dark outside, and I seem to be in a grim mood. I think it's the approaching end of a really dreadful election, in which we have a choice between a party of sexism, racism, homophobia and hatred of the poor -- and a party which shills for Wall Street. Evil and lesser evil. Ah well.

I plan to go to the Farmers Market as soon as it's light enough to see what is being sold. In the meantime, I think I will write about Natalie Goldberg. I have been re-reading one of her books. There is much about her I dislike. I envy her success. I think she gushes too much, and I think she is too self-involved. But she is a good memoirist; and she writes well about using writing as a form of Zen meditation. I use her when I want to read about Zen and Katagiri Roshi, the wonderful Zen teacher who lived in Minnesota for many years; and when I want to think about my relationship to writing.

It's interesting to read her ideas about writing and think, "This is utterly crazy."

Goldberg sees writing as self-expression. "We all have a dream of telling our stories -- of realizing what we think, feel and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate." Talking about herself, she writes, "There were stories only I knew about my family, about my first kiss, last haircut, the smell of sage on a mesa and my kinship with the flat plains of Nebraska."

Yes, we all have stories like these. But why share them with the world? Find a good friend. Find a good therapist. Tell them. Or keep a journal.

I have very little interest in telling the story of my life. I live it, and that is sufficient. I'm not especially interested in meeting myself. I probably should be. I certainly respect Goldberg's dedication to Zen practice.

But I want to write about other people, people who aren't me; and I want to write about places that don't -- at present -- exist. I want to tell made-up stories, not memoirs disguised as stories.

Lots of people take Goldberg's classes and struggle to record their lives, so this is a common need. But lots of people read science fiction and fantasy, which suggests a need for made-up stories.

Friday, November 02, 2012

An Unpleasant Topic

The Republican statements on rape remind us that rape is a political topic and a political action. It was used in the civil war in Yugoslavia, and it has been used in civil wars in Africa, among many other places. It demonstrates that women are powerless and, if the woman belongs to another ethnic group, it demonstrates that the ethnic group is powerless. It is the next-to-ultimate weapon in any conflict, the ultimate being murder. Because rape can result in pregnancy, it has an added result, which makes it especially powerful. Women can be forced to bear the children of the enemy.

Rape is an attack on women, families and the generations that follow. When it is used in war, the idea is to destroy communities. When it is used within a community, it may seem less devastating, but it still threatens individuals and families and the community.

(One can argue that rape within a community is a tool that men as a group use to frighten and control women. Yes. But it has consequences. Do most men really enjoy it when the women in their family are harmed? Do they enjoy losing a sense that their homes and lives are safe?

(Frederick Engels argued the oppression of women is the basis of all oppression. Violence toward women (and children) is -- most likely -- the basis for all violence.)

This is what the Republican candidates are talking about. This is not about the sanctity of life, it is about war. By harping on rape and insisting that women pregnant as a result of rape remain pregnant, the Republicans are threatening violence of the most extreme kind -- against women, first of all, but also against their families and communities.

The important thing here, I think, is to demonstrate that women are powerless, their families are powerless and entire communities are powerless. The rich will always get abortions. It is the poor who have to bear children they do not want or risk dangerous, illegal abortions. The message is, "We want you to live without self-determination and in fear. We want to be able to destroy your lives."

Thursday, November 01, 2012


I just heard the William Tell Overture on Minnesota Public Radio. Hi-yo, Silver, away!


I mentioned that I have a couple of contracts. One is for the sequel to Ring of Swords. I have been stalling on the final revision for years now. However, I have made a commitment to my writing group -- the Wyrdsmiths -- that I will bring in 30 pages of the revision to every meeting till the novel is finished. That means it will be done and mostly out of my life by the next Wiscon.

I also have a contract for a novelette to be included in a theme anthology. I have something like 3,750 words written, a rough plot and a lot of world building done. My plan is to make it a National Novel Writing Month project, and finish it in November, while continuing to put the novel through my workshop.

This means I need to write something like 2,100 words a week starting today. This should not be difficult. It will give my life structure. I find life without a job kind of fuzzy.

In addition, I have a backlog of short stories and novelettes, six to be precise, that I need to finish and get out. But I am going to focus on the work under contract.

I do get things done, but slowly.


63% of the electorate voted in 2008.

(Other interesting information I have just found: 68% of the African American electorate voted in 2008; and the average for off-year elections -- congressional elections -- is 48% of all Americans eligible to vote. I know Americans don't believe in their government, but this is shameful.)

The turnout is likely to be about the same this year as in 2008. Maybe lower, because a lot of people have lost faith in Obama.

Right now, per Nate Silver at the New York Times, polls show that President Obama will get 50.5% of the vote and Mitt Romney will get 48.6%.

So this means about 30.6% of the American electorate plan to vote for Romney, while 31.8% are planning to vote for the president. 27% will not vote.

I don't like Obama. His administration has continued the Bush wars and expanded war into at least three new countries: Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. The Administration has continued Bush's attacks on civil liberties; and Obama bailed out Wall Street at huge expense, when the banks should have be nationalized and the bankers tried for breaking all kinds of laws. This was done in Iceland.

I could go on about the failings of the current Administration: their failure to adequately protect national resources, such as the Gulf of Mexico -- BP got off easy, and it shouldn't have -- and their failure to deal with global warming, a clear threat for all of humanity.

However Mitt Romney is just as bad and worse. Current Republicans are pretty clearly racist, openly homophobic, and opposed to health care for women. They can't stop talking about rape and the need to force women to bear fetuses produced by rape. Romney and Ryan have no policies except cutting taxes for the rich and benefits (such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) for the rest of America, while making life hell for women, homosexuals and nonwhite Americans.

What kind of fool would vote for Romney and Ryan? Is a third of America crazy?