Archive for July, 2008

TMI

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

After only two days’ looking at computers, I’m trapped in the secret world of bits, gigs, ram, drivers, operating systems … warranties and stocking fees. Way too much information.

Concepts that didn’t even exist before now loom enormously large in my life as I narrow down my choices for a new laptop computer. Until yesterday, I didn’t even know such a thing as 64-bit Vista even existed. Then, I learn the news: the computer model I’ve so carefully chosen has that operating system.

I use nothing on a computer, really … a simple word processing program … iTunes is critical … some kind of streaming applet for radio and, well, television programs … solitaire — preferably spider and klondike, with minesweeper for those really intricate feature stories that require me to unload my mind every 15 minutes.

So now I’m deeply ensnared in computer world trying to make up my mind. I’ve selected a laptop, but just as I’m about to close the deal, the sales assistant says, By the way, this is 64-bit Vista … only minutes after recommending that I stay away from that version of the program.

You see, he says, there may be compatibility issues with some software.

Like what? I ask. Like we don’t really know yet.

I’m an “open source” gal. My browser is Firefox and yesterday, I downloaded Thunderbird which I’m going use for e-mail. It’s awesome!! And nothing makes me happier than to see that creative thunderbird circle graphic, like the Firefox logo, reminding me that I’ve escaped the crushing arm of Microsoft.

I plan to use Open Office for my word processing and spreadsheet programs … but who knows if it will work with the troublesome “64-bit Vista.”

The good thing is that I’ll have more USB ports on whatever model I buy … can’t have enough of those these days.

So one way or the other, tonight after work I’ll go to see the nice people at the blue-and-yellow electronics store and place my life in their hands long enough to purchase a laptop. What’s a writer to do?

Off-‘Road’ travels

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

On a lark, yesterday at Sheppard Memorial Library here in Greenville, N.C., I checked to see if a copy of “Big Sur” by Jack Kerouac was included in the collection. This book, published in 1960, is Kerouac’s epic tale of a several weeks’ stay in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s remote California cabin to recapture his sanity when he was falling apart after the success of “On the Road.”

Guess what? No copy.

My query came after learning that a FD reader and blogger was unable to find “Big Sur” in his county library. How can that be? I thought.

Indeed, it is a more pervasive problem that you’d think.

There is a misconception among many people — including the so-called writing community, the literati if you will — that “On the Road” is the only work by Jack Kerouac that really matters.

Nothing could be further from the truth. “On the Road” is the centerpiece, most certainly. But it is only the first chapter in a long, fertile, literary opus that covers far more ground. The adventures of Sal and Dean in “On the Road” are an enthusiastic opening round by Kerouac, but he was a writer of so much more vision, heart and production.

Each book is a perfect jewel of prose and expression (with the exception of Pic, which is just a mistake of his later, drunken years). You’ll never read a more pathetic, hilarious and bumbling scene than when the trio of friends in “The Dharma Bums” tries a mountain hike, one in Sunday shoes, overweight and huffing, Kerouac full of dread and fears, and Japhy strong and fearless. It’s powerful, and if you’ve read “A Confederacy of Dunces” you can imagine how Kerouac may have handled that kind of unbearable comedy.

In “Big Sur” we have a moving confessional, in the tradition of Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from Underground,” Kafka, even Charlotte Perkins Gilman (“The Yellow Wallpaper”). Nothing is as it seems — it’s hyper-beautiful for the man suffering a drunken nervous breakdown; it’s hyper-ugly, too.

Yet “Big Sur” is rarely cited when talking about Kerouac’s masterpieces, unless by readers like me who have soaked up nearly every word he wrote. We’re often jeered as “fanatics” with no literary discretion.

I beg to disagree.

Desk Work

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Am considering a new computer, and since this weekend is North Carolina’s much-heralded “tax-free” weekend, I can save $70-80 in taxes by going ahead and buying one.

My first desktop was purchased in 1989, and I took out a loan from the bank to buy it. It cost about $2,300 and had NO HARD DRIVE!! It had two floppy drives and I would boot up DOS on one floppy (3 1/2, thank god, not the old 5 1/4 in floppies), remove that disk, then boot up my software program called “First Choice.” I kept that disk in the drive and saved my files on a disk in drive B. Those were the days when you could brag about having a 4 mb hard drive!!

Since 1995 I’ve used a laptop exclusively … something about those big white box monitors sucked all the life out of me and I couldn’t bear them. When I moved to Prague in 1995, I had three turtlenecks, one pair of jeans, my running shoes, my beloved tabby Norma Jean and my IBM Thinkpad.

Today there are thin screens, with harddrive bases that can sit beside your desk while you work on sleek, flat keyboards. So I was ready to buy a so-called “desktop” model. Yet when I started pricing, I realized laptops had become much more affordable.

These days, I’d love a Mac … but as a business of one, with no operating margin to speak of, I can’t afford it. So I’m there with all the mass-market PC shoppers, now forced into the cult of Vista whether I want to join or not.

So this week I’ll be taking a much-feared and scary step of purchasing a new computer. There may be some missed posts as I work out the kinks, but my heart is never far from Fiction Daily and I’ll keep up as much as possible.

Losing sleep

Monday, July 28th, 2008

I knew I’d be wrapping up a complex article this week, and lay in bed last night for some time, unable to sleep.

I worried about leaving out an important section or source; I worried I hadn’t introduced the concepts fully in the first few paragraphs. I worried I wouldn’t have the guts to snake through the article, tediously wending thought by thought, sentence by sentence.

More worries keep me up at night. How many projects do I need to keep afloat through the end of the year? What will I do when my savings are gone … in my business you stick every possible check into savings and then parcel it out month by month. You hope it’s not a fatal a hemorrhage.

This summer I’ve watched my savings do a slow-fall. I’ve had several some important features that haven’t had big checks. Sometimes you do it because you really like the client; other times, you know that a good story, well done, can open new doors, even if the payoff is modest. Those are the terms of writing.

Figuratively Speaking

Friday, July 25th, 2008

INORDINATE

This week, I found myself reading some historical information about Fort Macon, N.C., a marvelous open place at the tip of the Bogue Banks island at Atlantic Beach.

I’ve been visiting the site since childhood, and even today, make the trip whenever I’m on the coast. Fort Macon is the most highly visited state park in North Carolina — you might think a fort would be boring, but just beyond, in about 12 feet of water, lies Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. What’s more, the fort has beaches, open spaces, hidden passageways and is a wonderland for kids.

But reading about the fort, I came across this line

As a result of congressional economizing, it was garrisoned in 1834-36, 1842-44 and 1848-49, but more often it was occupied by a single ordnance sergeant acting as caretaker.

Ordnance is a noun referring to mounted guns, military weapons, ammunition and equipment used in connection with them. It’s also a branch of the armed forces.

It has no “i” as you might expect — but is a variant of the more familiar ordinance, which is a piece of legislation enacted by a municipal authority. We have city ordinances against open burning, weedy yards, loud music. (Guess cities aren’t powerful enough for full-blown laws.)

Ordinance derives from the Middle English ordenance, from the Latin ordinare, to put in order. That meaning also gives us ordain.

We also have the word ordonnance, which is the systematic or orderly arrangement of parts, especially in art and architecture. That word is not surprisingly also derived from the French. (I can imagine trying to use this word in conversation, with that French nasal twang. No one would be listening, just laughing as I uttered oar…donn…awnce.)

From the Latin ordinare we also have ordinate, which in math means to place in order on the x- and y-axis.

That’s an extraordinary talent, indeed.

‘Lonesome Traveler’

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Today, a last post on Jack Kerouac before I break to finish reading ‘Big Sur.’ Instead of looking at that book, I wanted to spend a few words on another, often overlooked, confessional, ‘Lonesome Traveler.’

‘Traveler’ captures the endearing sentimentality that colors Kerouac’s works, a prose that’s tempered — and saved — by Kerouac’s agitated soul that’s always searching for meaning, for experience, and for a place to call home.

The book starts with his classic ‘Author’s Introduction’ — a resume of his life as a “madman bum and angel.”

Though it’s labeled a novel, the stories are pure Kerouac. The Railroad Earth captures the lonely moments waiting for work, where he was a brakeman, and the meaningful details of his simple monkish life at that time.

Alone on a Mountaintop reveals what happened on Desolation Peak, an experience in many ways like his Big Sur stay, where the peace and solitude — instead of refreshing him, drove him mad.

Big Trip to Europe is his tale of going to France to track down something of his French-Canadian heritage. It is a great companion to Satori in Paris, a later book.

TOMORROW: FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING FRIDAY

Music of Kerouac

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Everything about my understanding of Jack Kerouac changed when I heard him reading his work.

It was the three-disk set, the Jack Kerouac Collection, purchased sometime in the 1990s. I had little spare money and so the boxed set was a hardship, but having three CDs of Kerouac himself reading was an epiphany.

The discs are “Poetry for the Beat Generation,” Kerouac and Steve Allen; “Blues and Haikus,” with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims; and “Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation.”

Each disc has its own flavor, but unfortunately, you can also hear him become sloppier and more intoxicated, especially with Steve Allen.

Most of the time, however, the readings are transcendent. San Francisco Street Scene is unmatched for evoking the poetry of an ordinary morning, echoing Thoreau’s “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” when he says,

There was a little alley in San Fransisco back of the Southern Pacific station and Third and Townsend in redbrick of drowsy lazy afternoons with everybody at work in offices in the air you feel the impending rush of their commuter frenzy as soon they’ll be charging en mass from Market and Sansome buildings of foot and in buses and all well-dressed thru working man Frisco of Walkup ?? truck drivers and even the poor grime-bemarked Third Street … so hopeless and long left East … and now all they do is stand there spitting in the broken glass sometimes fifty in one afternoon against one wall at Third and Howard.

Hearing Kerouac read his own work awoke me to the sublime sonority of his voice and his phrasing. There is music in his words. When reading, he lingers on the “o” sounds, making them long and resonant with deep sadness; other times, he races through vowels on his way to consonants and every three or four words there is a melody, if you can hear it.

Now, when I read Kerouac’s prose, I hear that marvelous voice of his wrapping itself around paragraphs and phrases.

So it is reading “Big Sur” again this week. I can taste the music of phrases like these:

It’s all marvelous — and at first it’s so amazing to be able to enjoy dreamy afternoon meadows of heather up the other end of the canyon and just by walking less than a halfmile you can suddenly also enjoy wild gloomy sea coast, or if you’re sick of either of these just sit by the creed in a gladey spot and dream over snags….

If you hear Kerouac read, his voice is forever in mind, breathing song and life into every word.

Sinister Solitude

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Read a few more pages of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur yesterday … My evenings have been consumed (guilty as charged) watching DVDs of “Six Feet Under.” Not as good as “Dexter,” but still riveting. I’m disturbed by some product placement in the show, but it’s a cheap thrill, so why complain.

Once Kerouac gets to the cabin offered for a restful stay by his friend Monsanto (Lawrence Ferlinghetti), he has a fitful night’s sleep and wakes at 3 a.m. The creek sounds — at first so soothing — have become “the babble and rave of evil angels in my head.”

He picks up the copy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde left behind, perhaps for him or maybe it’s just a staple for any of Ferlinghetti’s guests.

He finishes the book at dawn, and goes to the creek again to prepare breakfast, and it seems a brighter day at last. Maybe things are looking up, as he writes about making his first meal, washing the dishes and napping to “the rapturous ring of silence.”

Before the next day, he will have more problems with his sleeping bag and begin to develop the “nostalgia for cities.”

So busy today I wonder when I’ll have a chance to read, but it’s sitting on my desk for any spare moment.

‘Big Sur’

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Found my copy of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur — It was buried in the attic along with my original copy of On the Road.

Reading those first pages I remembered just why I loved this book so much. The time is after publication of “Road:”

the book that “made me famous” and in fact so much so I’ve been driven mad for three years by endless telegrams, phonecalls, requests, mail, visitors, reporters, snoopers… Drunken visitors puking in my study, stealing books and even pencils — Uninvited acquaintances staying for days because of the clean beds and good food my mother provided — Me drunk practically all the time…

Kerouac has been invited to spend three weeks in the deep solitude of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cottage at Big Sur, California, where Kerouac believes he can find peace, clarity and an end to the crazy boozed life that’s trapped him.

Instead, when he makes a “secret visit” to San Francisco, he gets totally drunk with several friends and isn’t there when Ferlinghetti comes to pick him up, awakening in a seedy hotel room with liquor bottles everywhere.

He does make it to the cottage in the dead of night, and his description of taking the dirt path that night takes you to the emotionally tangled state of mind he brought to Big Sur.

I’m only a few pages in as yet but already captured, as I was the first time I read “Big Sur.” I believe it’s one of literature’s greatest confessionals.

Don’t Sweat It

Friday, July 18th, 2008

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

In honor of summer’s crest in the days ahead, today Figuratively Speaking sweats it out.

As a girl my mom barred certain words from my language — she required me to say “smells bad” instead of “stink,” for instance.

Among the banned words was “sweat.” So if I ever got worked up as a child, I perspired.

Her prejudice says a lot about the difference between these two terms. You can see those differences in their origins, as well.

Perspire has a delightful French air to it — and belongs in the dignified word family that includes “inspire.”

Perspire derives from the Latin spirare, or “breathe.” From there, it goes through the 17th-century words “perspirer” from the Latin “per” (through) plus “spirare” (breathe). There is a sense of breath coming through.

Now then, we have sweat. As is so often the case, words with a coarser sense come from our good German and Dutch friends. Not sure why that’s the case — maybe it’s because their words have a more guttural, gruff tonality.

Sweat comes from the old English word swat, which comes from the German swaetan, related to the Dutch zweet and German Schweiss. There is an Indo-European root back there somewhere … sudor.

Nothing about that word evokes the lofty act of breathing, as does perspire. And, really why not use that word instead? Perspire captures what it means to be human: to live by the results of our work.

Or, as some may say, By the sweat of our brow.