Potpourri, June 18th (2016 edition)

1959ish, I'd sayIt’s been a few months of hardware madness here — and if you know my tastes in computer stuff, you know they lean towards the software rather than the hardware side of things. So I haven’t been entirely happy during that time…

Back in mid-April, my two-terabyte (2TB) hard drive abruptly failed. It took me several weeks — educational ones, to be sure — to admit that I probably could not resuscitate the thing. I replaced it with a 3TB one, and all went swimmingly at first…

…at least, until I installed Windows 10 on it.

Here’s how my computer at home has been set up, now going back maybe five-six years:

The hard drive is divided into two (main) partitions, running two entirely different operating systems: Windows in the first partition, and Linux in the second. This is called a dual-boot setup: when you boot the computer, you’re prompted to select which operating system you want to run for this session. The default for me is Linux, but I do occasionally (rarely, actually) use Windows for one specific program or another.

The Windows side has moved progressively from Windows XP to Windows 7 and then finally to Windows 10, via the automatic (i.e., forced) upgrade which Microsoft “offers” to users of older versions. When I installed Windows 10 on the new hard drive, I was actually restoring it.

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The Ordinary Mystery

'The Lovers' (1928), by René Magritte

[Image: Les Amants (The Lovers) (1928), by René Magritte — one of the “stars” of a recent traveling exhibit of Magritte’s work, The Mystery of the Ordinary. See the note at the foot of this post for a macabre detail.]

From whiskey river:

I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.

(Mary Ruefle [source])


Losing My Sight

I never knew that by August
the birds are practically silent,
only a twitter here and there.
Now I notice. Last spring
their noisiness taught me the difference
between screamers and whistlers and cooers
and O, the coloraturas.
I have already mastered
the subtlest pitches in our cat’s
elegant Chinese. As the river
turns muddier before my eyes,
its sighs and little smacks
grow louder. Like a spy,
I pick up things indiscriminately:
the long approach of a truck,
car doors slammed in the dark,
the night life of animals — shrieks and hisses,
sex and plunder in the garage.
Tonight the crickets spread static
across the air, a continuous rope
of sound extended to me,
the perfect listener.

(Lisel Mueller [source])


I do not think I really have anything to say about poetry other than remarking that it is a wandering little drift of unidentified sound, and trying to say more reminds me of following the sound of a thrush into the woods on a summer’s eve — if you persist in following the thrush it will only recede deeper and deeper into the woods; you will never actually see the thrush (the hermit thrush is especially shy), but I suppose that listening is a kind of knowledge, or as close as one can come. “Fret not after knowledge, I have none,” is what the thrush says. Perhaps we can use our knowledge to preserve a bit of space where his lack of knowledge can survive.

(Mary Ruefle [source])
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'The Awakening (in Snow),' photo by InnocentEyez on Flickr.com, used under a Creative Commons License

[Image: “Awakening in the Snow,” by user InnocentEyez on Flickr.com (photograph of sculpture, The Awakening, by J. Seward Johnson). Reproduced here under a Creative Commons license.]

From whiskey river:

Franz Kafka is Dead

He died in a tree from which he wouldn’t come down. “Come down!” they cried to him. “Come down! Come down!” Silence filled the night, and the night filled the silence, while they waited for Kafka to speak. “I can’t,” he finally said, with a note of wistfulness. “Why?” they cried. Stars spilled across the black sky. “Because then you’ll stop asking for me.” The people whispered and nodded among themselves. They put their arms around each other, and touched their children’s hair. They took off their hats and raised them to the small, sickly man with the ears of a strange animal, sitting in his black velvet suit in the dark tree. Then they turned and started for home under the canopy of leaves. Children were carried on their fathers’ shoulders, sleepy from having been taken to see who wrote his books on pieces of bark he tore off the tree from which he refused to come down. In his delicate, beautiful, illegible handwriting. And they admired those books, and they admired his will and stamina. After all: who doesn’t wish to make a spectacle of his loneliness? One by one families broke off with a good night and a squeeze of the hands, suddenly grateful for the company of neighbors. Doors closed to warm houses. Candles were lit in windows. Far off, in his perch in the trees, Kafka listened to it all: the rustle of the clothes being dropped to the floor, or lips fluttering along naked shoulders, beds creaking along the weight of tenderness. It all caught in the delicate pointed shells of his ears and rolled like pinballs through the great hall of his mind.

That night a freezing wind blew in. When the children woke up, they went to the window and found the world encased in ice. One child, the smallest, shrieked out in delight and her cry tore through the silence and exploded the ice of a giant oak tree. The world shone.

They found him frozen on the ground like a bird. It’s said that when they put their ears to the shell of his ears, they could hear themselves.

(Nicole Krauss [source])


We read of spiritual efforts, and our imagination makes us believe that, because we enjoy the idea of doing them, we have done them. I am appalled to see how much of the change I thought I had undergone lately was only imaginary. The real work seems still to be done. It is so fatally easy to confuse an aesthetic appreciation of the spiritual life with the life itself — to dream that you have waked, washed, and dressed & then to find yourself still in bed.

(C. S. Lewis [source])

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Scraps and Leavings: What I’ve Been Working On

Cover: 'Night of the Living Dregs,' by the Dixie Dregs

[Image: album cover for Night of the Living Dregs (1979), by the Dixie Dregs]

For some time, I haven’t talked much at all here — anywhere — about what sorts of things I might have been writing since I finished the putative final draft of Seems to Fit, now a couple of years ago. I haven’t talked about it because it’s hard to classify:

No books, certainly not completed ones [Update: see the note at the foot of this post] — although much of what I’ve been writing has (you might say) potential in a bookwards direction. Instead, I have been sort of puttering around with well over a dozen short projects. A handful of these are complete, more or less; most just stop — some in mid-page. I don’t even remember a few of them: the act of writing, or even where the story was headed. But every one of them contains something, some scrap of verbiage and/or some scene or scrap of dialogue, which I was happy to encounter today, as I set about revisiting (not revising) them.

Here are some samples.

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Lacking Focus

Cover from the catalogue of the 'Focus on Imaging' show, 2010

[Image: cover from the catalogue of the “Focus on Imaging” exhibit of 2010. Photo by artist Nick Veasey, who specializes in X-ray photography; found it on Flickr, uploaded by user Karen Roe. The image seems straightforward at first, but the more you look at it the less plausible it seems. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

People don’t do what we want, things don’t happen quickly enough, the weather doesn’t cooperate, our bodies don’t cooperate. Why are these moments so painful? Because our minds are focused on a static, unchanging, me-centric picture while the dynamic unfolding of a broader life continues around us. There is nothing wrong with expectations per se, as it’s appropriate to set goals and work, properly, towards their fruition. But the instant we feel pain over life not going “my way,” our expectations have clearly taken an improper turn. Any moment you feel resistance or pain, look for the hidden expectation. Practice giving yourself over to what “you” don’t want. Let the line at the store be long. Let the other person interrupt you. Let the nervousness make you shake. Be where your body is, not where your mind is trying to take you.

(Guy Finley [quoted everywhere, but unsourced anywhere that I can find!])


To the Happy Few

Do you know who you are

O you forever listed
under some other heading
when you are listed at all

You whose addresses
when you have them
are never sold except
for another reason
something else that is
supposed to identify you

who carry no card
stating that you are—
what would it say you were
to someone turning it over
looking perhaps for
a date or for
anything to go by

you with no secret handshake
no proof of membership
no way to prove such a thing
even to yourselves

you without a word
of explanation
and only yourselves
as evidence

(W. S. Merwin [source])

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Not So Very Empty

[Video: “Empty Space Is NOT Empty,” from Veritasium (Derek Muller’s “science video blog from atoms to astrophysics!”). To my knowledge there’s no plain-old Web page to point you to, but here’s the YouTube channel, and here’s the Facebook page for those of you who are all Facebooked up.]

From whiskey river:

The Moth, the Mountains, the Rivers

Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original

Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile
time with them. And I suggest them to you also,
that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life
be richer than it is, that we — so clever, and
ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained — are only
one design of the moving, the vivacious many.

(Mary Oliver [source])


Many people are afraid to empty their own minds lest they plunge into the Void. Ha! What they don’t realize is that their own Mind is the Void.

(Huang-po [source])


When Tesshu, the famous Japanese samurai master, was young and headstrong, he visited Master Dokuon and triumphantly announced to him the classic Buddhist teaching that all that exists is empty, and how there is really no you or me. The master listened to this in silence. Suddenly he snatched up his pipe and struck Tesshu’s head with it. This infuriated the young swordsman, and then Dokuon said calmly, “Emptiness is sure quick to show anger, is it not?”

(unattributed [but see here, among many other sources, in more or less these words])

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Understanding the Terms of the Bargain You’ve Struck

Panels from 'Changeling's Child,' a webcomic by Bartholomew Schmidt

[Image: two panels from the Changeling’s Child webcomic, by Bartholomew Schmidt. See the full installment from which this is excerpted here; the complete series begins here.]

Well before a writer signs with an agent or outside editor, and certainly well before anyone will consider publishing his book, he must agree to one very important contract — arguably the most important contract of all, and one which needs to be at least drawn up even before the first word goes into the manuscript*.

I speak, of course, of the writer’s contract with himself (which will later be countersigned by his work, but that’s another matter (and a more rickety metaphor)).

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Writerly Tics, and The Willy-Billy Touchy Botfly

The careful writer of novels, I regret to report, knows no rest; he can never indefinitely regard a final draft as final. At best, he arrives at the first printing stage. As soon as such a (haha) finished object comes out of the box, he opens it, a-tremble with anticipation… unerringly to a page on which:

  • he’s assaulted by that bit of awkward phrasing which, goddammit, he’d been meaning to tidy up ever since that sentence’s first draft, like, fifteen goddam years ago; and/or
  • a character named Lewis is referred to as “Louis”; and/or
  • a historical or scientific factoid which he knows to be false shrieks at him in mad hilarity, because he didn’t know it was false until last week; and/or
  • the Latin phrase pro bono appears as pro boner; and/or
  • etc.

All of which weighs on my mind today because even though Seems to Fit‘s first printing remains hypothetical, even as I noodle around with the book’s marketing campaign, such as it is, I continue to tinker with the work itself. Among this morning’s tasks: the global spellcheck.

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Running a Book through the Marketing Wringer

[Image: found it here, at the “family tree” site of a gentleman in a
much better position than myself to identify everyone involved.]

I haven’t talked much of Seems to Fit here since announcing a few months ago, rather deliriously, that I imagined it to be “done.” Whatever else this meant, of course, it meant that the book was about to set forth on an awkward journey, drifting — mostly becalmed — between two ports: the author’s desk and an unknown reader’s hands. If you’re at all familiar with the process, you probably know some of the intermediate destinations I may be stopping at along the way. I promise to report on the trip once the guy up in the crow’s nest glimpses the mainland coast (and convinces the skipper he’s not imagining things).

In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of developments I thought I’d share. These aren’t “marketing” developments, strictly speaking, but they should help me when the moment arises.

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Midweek Music Break: Pendyrus Male Choir, “Cwm Rhonnda

[Image: the valley of the Rhondda]

I’ve mentioned before that while writing Seems to Fit, I used a variety of musical playlists to put me in the proper frame of mind for a given chapter. The selections on the day’s playlist were among those which (so I imagined) would be favorites of the character most heavily featured in the section or chapter on which I was working at the time. Two characters, for instance, were World War II veterans, so (naturally) they listened regularly to Big Band/swing music… and so did I.

Actually, I took it further: one of the two preferred the smoooooth sound of Glenn Miller; the other, the more raucous Benny Goodman Orchestra. They argued about it periodically, one sarcastically, exasperatedly, and the other with gentle good humor.

Anyway, a handful of chapters scattered throughout recount the story of an eighteenth-century Welsh brewmaster named Emrys ap Rhys, and how he came to brew a particular ale which plays a significant part in S2F‘s storyline. Even Emrys had his own “My Music” sort of playlist, which may sound like a tall order… unless you know about the history of music in Wales.

Briefly, the Welsh love music, particularly choral music — and further particularly, choral music performed by men. The tradition goes back centuries, with much of the music composed and sung in the performers’ native Welsh language rather than English. As it happened, then, it wasn’t hard to build a good soundtrack for the Emrys chapters.

One tune in particular stands out.

Cwm Rhondda” (Welsh for the Rhondda Valley, in South Wales — the Rhondda being a river there), like many tunes, isn’t in itself a song to be sung. It has no words of its own. Instead, the melody which goes by that name is used as a scaffold for the lyrics of a hymn: several hymns, in fact. Although the tune is sometimes described as the unofficial national anthem of Wales, the hymn has no lyrics of a typically national-anthemic sort. (Given the title, for instance, one might expect a praise song about Nature’s beauty on display in the countryside of South Wales.) Instead — at least in the versions I know of — the supplicant just asks God for help on his or her journeys through life and the world. Nowadays, the tune also underlies the chants of You’re not singing anymore! which erupt among Welsh fans, from time to time, when their football teams are on the field.*

(The specific circumstances calling forth this chant, apparently, are a form of Schadenfreude: delight in someone else’s troubles. If one’s culture encourages one to burst into song when things are going well, then a sudden turn in fortune tends to shut one up.)

My favorite writeup about “Cwm Rhondda” is the one on the h2g2 site. (This is the pre-Wikipedia and often much more informal online encyclopedia originally established by Douglas Adams as the Earthbound counterpart to the one described in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.) It’s tempting to quote the entire piece, but I’ll offer just this:

‘Cwm Rhondda’ is a belter of a hymn that defies one to sing it quietly… It is the very embodiment of hwyl, the Welsh love of homeland and of culture, and as such has come close to supplanting the official Welsh national anthem. This is especially the case at rugby ‘internationals’, where the faltering, bathetic, falsely-devout Land of My Fathers [JES: that’s the actual Welsh national anthem] is soon dispensed with in favour of something far more robust. England fans often respond with their own countermeasures, often the Negro spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, but soon buckle under the sonic onslaught of ‘huge gangs of tough, sinewy men… terrorising people with their close-harmony singing.’


Anyway, here’s the Pendyrus Male Choir (Welsh-language version of their home page here), and “Cwm Rhondda“:

[Below, click Play button to begin Cwm Rhondda. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 2:43 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

When the group hits and holds those high notes, it makes me wish I could join them in song. (Not a reaction I commonly have, which many people would consider a mercy of the gods deserving a hymn in its own right.)

Tracking down the lyrics to the above is complicated by my not recognizing spoken (let alone sung) Welsh. This page (about which I know pretty much nothing) suggests that it’s the hymn called “Lo, Between the Myrtles Standing,” which you can find in Welsh and English translation at Wikipedia.

(By the way, yes, I know: the tune “Cwm Rhondda” was actually composed in the early twentieth century, and thus would have been unknown to a real Emrys ap Rhys. So would his late-twentieth-century creator. :))


* Videos of these mass outbursts constitute almost an entire sub-genre… and given the context (cellphone and other handheld video cameras; the natural rowdiness of crowds at sporting events; mass quantities of brew), their quality is, well, all over the map.


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