The Merits of Having a Garden

One of the things I got back when I returned to the house was my garden. When I lived in the post-divorce apartment, I was above it all. I had a front porch, but no real contact with the soil. It was fine.

My current office (a corner of the dining room) overlooks the back yard. The bushes and trees were much overgrown when I returned and many of the perennials gone. I won't prune much until next year, since winter is on its way, though I am taking some of the bamboo back. I do get to feed the fish in the small pool every day. Nothing exotic, just thirty-nine cent goldfish that have grown surprisingly large. I can't really tell them from koi anyway, because I'm a total heathen.

But I go out every day and walk around and check things out, think about what I want to do next spring. Most of the butterfly garden is gone. Some years ago I had a neighbor whose back yard abutted on the yard of our triple decker. I was just starting to garden then, and Sinclair's garden was quite impressive. And every day she would get home from her job at MIT, and would walk around it with a drink and a cigarette, considering its many details. She really looked at it.

 From my desk, again

From my desk, again

So I try to channel her, and really feel what the garden is, and what might be changed. Sinclair would readily move plants, just to see if things could be improved. She gave me much advice across the back fence, and she was one of my favorite neighbors of all time.

My next door neighbor Lisa is a gardener too, as well as another writer, so I do have another compatriot.

There is not much to be done to it now, so I am not tempted away from my desk. But I do enjoy going out to look at it, while thinking about something. I almost called this post "the perils of having a garden". But that's really wrong. Writing feels more like growing things than building things, and the problems of rearranging things, only to find that a plot point or character does not like its new surroundings, has similarities to managing a garden as well.

But writers are prone to elaborate metaphors, so I'll stop there. Still, taking care of something that will only gradually become something, is the perfect pace to relax the mind from the frustrations of making stuff up. For now, I'll chalk that up as a time benefit. Next spring, I may have a different report for you.

Essential Writer Skill: Drinking Cheap

I like a good cocktail. So I also like a good cocktail podcast. Particularly a cocktail podcast that helps me save money while still enjoying myself.

The Daily Beast's Life Behind Bars is maybe a bit looser than I typically like my podcasts. A lot of people seem to like listening to hours and hours of people sitting around chatting. I don't particularly like chit chat or banter unless I am actually participating in it, and prefer for podcasts to be severely edited before I let them in my ears. Don't waste my time, or I'll listen to you at 1.5x or even faster.

That said, Noah Rothbaum and David Wondrich are entertaining enough, and have a great deal of information to impart. Of course, a lot of cocktail discussion seems to be about who invented what, what the original recipe was, and other such matters that seem to be a topic solely to have something to argue about.

Episode 13 was about the Manhattan, probably my favorite cocktail. In the course of this episode, David Wondrich told a story about a test he once gave some bartenders. They were given Sidecars to taste. One was made with the original, high quality ingredients: Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. One was made with California brandy, triple sec, and lemon juice.

 The robot is flabbergasted by this new intruder on the desktop

The robot is flabbergasted by this new intruder on the desktop

David tasted them also, and had to admit that it was almost impossible to tell the difference. I felt a moment of revelation. I like a good Sidecar, but the standard ingredients are a bit expensive for me to justify. But after this I ran out and got some E&J brandy. My home orange liqueur is Luxardo Triplum, so not a bottom level triple sec, but certainly not Cointreau.

This is a great Sidecar! Basic ingredients are pretty good these days. Fresh citrus juice is really the defining feature of any drink where it's an ingredient. Squeeze it right before you make your cocktail and you're golden.

There are a number of different ratios you can find for a Sidecar. I don't like remembering a lot, so I do two parts brandy, one part triple sec, one part lemon juice. I don't put sugar around the rim, though I might if I serve it to someone else. You might bump up the triple sec if you want it a bit sweeter.

I got a lot done today, and also sent a story off to my writing workshop for our next meeting, so I justified one, even though it's pretty late in the evening as I write this. Save your fancy Cognac or Armagnac for a snifter, squeeze a lemon, grab some basic brandy and triple sec, shake it up, and enjoy yourself.

You're welcome.

Do you have a favorite cocktail?

It says less about you than people like to think, but it is something to consider.

The Big Move

Right now, I'm in the midst of packing to move. A huge proportion of my possessions are books, even in this electronic era, and those are mostly packed. Still, those are what makes this more of a trial than it needs to be.

 Some of my books

Some of my books

I moved to this apartment when my marriage ended, four years ago. Now I'm buying my ex-wife out and moving back to the house, and she is moving to her own apartment. Don't ask me if this is a wise financial decision. There is a lot of sentiment involved, perhaps a bit too much.

Interestingly, though I am moving from an apartment to a house, the quality of my writing area will decrease. Right now my office is a weatherized porch on the second floor, just off the kitchen. It's a smallish room with good light, and just enough room for my desk, a table for the printer, and a bookshelf.

 More of my books. Not my worst habit.

More of my books. Not my worst habit.

The house has no real space for a separate office. I'm not ready to confiscate a bedroom from one of my two kids, even though one of them is off at college. So it will either be back to the basement, where I worked for so many years, or in a space in the dining room. My dining room gets more use than some, because I like having people over, but maybe I'll turn the space into a hybrid library/office/dining room. It does have a nice sliding glass door opening out on my garden, which is currently an overgrown mess. Bringing that thing back to life is my first goal.

I used to have a big garden party in the late summer for all of my writer and writing associated friends. My then-wife never liked it, and I missed a couple, and then moved out. I don't know if I can manage to schedule one before the weather cools down and gets too unpredictable.

This is what passes for exciting news in the life of a writer! Packing. Dismantling things. Fretting about where the moving truck is going to park. Yeah, you have no idea.

Maybe You Should Exercise a Bit

There really are only two things we know about how our actions are affecting our health. I don't know you. I've never met you. But I know (statistically) two things you should try to do:

  • Eat a little less
  • Exercise a bit more

Sadly, pretty much everything is in there. And even if I'm wrong...well, you know I'm not wrong.

We really do like reading things we already know

 Well, he was attacking me with a banana

Well, he was attacking me with a banana

Still, newspapers and websites need to fill space, and some of us have an insatiable urge to read about diet and exercise, just as some of us like reading about organizing things. As you may have guessed, I'm guilty of both. Reading about it is a partial replacement for actually doing it, whatever "it" is.

And The New York Times writes about exercise all the time, particularly in their somewhat loosely named Science section (Tuesdays). Often they cite studies of various sorts. "Studies show". We all know studies show that virtually every study is misleading.

Gretchen Reynolds seems to get the duty of spinning some tiny study involving eighteen people who only ate standing up for two weeks or something (not a real study...as far as I am aware) into a plausible-seeming article about health.

Last week it was about how our experience in gym class in our youth affects our attitude toward exercise in adulthood. It's based on that gold standard of high-quality studies, the online questionnaire. Yeah, you should probably stop reading right now.

Did you hate gym class? Does it matter?

The subhead of the article starts with the observation that people who filled out the survey "tended to harbor vivid memories of gym class". Because that's the kind of person who wanders around the internet filling out lengthy online questionnaires about immensely tedious topics like how you felt about gym class! And like all these articles, they cite what people say about why they don't exercise as a cause, rather than an excuse. "Thirty years ago I hated gym class, so I can't bear the idea of getting off the couch now". I don't know why people bother. Why not say "I don't exercise. I don't like it. Go away"? Own it!

Look, I get it. I was inept as a child and young adult. Picked last, slow, clumsy, and bored. I never really found gym class interesting or useful. I never looked forward to it. I would find some similarly malfunctioning friend and hang out in the outfield talking and hoping no one would hit anything in our direction.

Now I exercise a fair amount. I lift, I run, I bike, I enjoy the hell out of it. I would still be miserable at kickball, and apprehensive at the idea of trying to hit a thrown baseball with a stick. Someone I went out with recently told me that a friend of hers observed that no one ever came back from going out to exercise saying "man, I wish I hadn't done that". I hope she goes out with me again. People with interesting friends are always the best people to know.

Exercise makes you feel better, even if exercise itself doesn't always feel great. Gym class didn't teach me anything about that.

Now, maybe gym classes should. They should focus on finding things that are relatively fun to do that get your heart pumping, build muscle, and maintain flexibility. It should help you build lifelong habits that make your life long.

Because habit is everything, intention almost nothing.

I still don't think your memories of gym class have anything to do with it.

What habit do you wish you had?

And which one did you wish you didn't?

Dealing with Classical Music Hosts

I've previously been a jerk about "The Moldau". Now it's time be a jerk about on-air classical musical hosts.

It's not an easy job. How much information should you provide about each piece? How many unfamiliar pieces should you mix in with the old warhorses? And how many old warhorses should you include that are performed by unfamiliar orchestras, or with innovative interpretations? I get that there is more work involved than us listeners appreciate.

 Chris Voss is annoyingly good looking too.

Chris Voss is annoyingly good looking too.

Still, you could have an interesting and pleasing personality. My home station is WCRB, though, weirdly, its player just will not load in Firefox, my default browser, so I have to have a separate Chrome window to listen to it. My favorite host by far is Chris Voss, on in the afternoons. I'm not quite sure what makes him so appealing. He is funny but not ingratiating, and seems to both love the music and be a regular guy you'd like to hang out with. I also don't get a sense of staleness from his programming choices.

I used to also really like another WCRB host, Lynnsay Maynard, who had that same afternoon slot. Then she disappeared. Earlier this week, I was listening to my other favorite station, All Classical Portland, and I recognized a familiar voice. It was Lynnsay! She seems to have moved out to the west coast. That's a pity, but at least I get to hear her again.

 I can hear Lynnsay through the miracle of the internet

I can hear Lynnsay through the miracle of the internet

At All Classical Portland I do miss Robert McBride, who recently left. He was incredibly knowledgeable, and seemed to have met and interviewed almost everyone in the field. He seemed a bit austere, but always hopeful that we could appreciate what he was finding for us to listen to. And I've had a crush on Brandi Parisi since she was the overnight host, many years ago. She also teaches philosophy and seems to have cool-looking tattoos. She has distinct likes and dislikes, though she won't force them on you. I remember her very gently indicating to another host her dislike of Simone Dinnerstein's interpretation of the Goldberg Variations, which I appreciated even though I rather like Dinnerstein's Bach.

Classical hosts who fail tend to try to ingratiate themselves by being jokey when they clearly aren't at all funny, or by being a bit cutesy, as if we are all children in music appreciation class. Or by being dead boring. Though I said I was going to be a jerk, I really don't want to name people I don't like. There's a senior person at All Classical who is just dull.

And here in Boston we have a morning host I find simply appalling. I won't even listen until this person has safely left the air. My dentist is a WCRB listener, and he says he has another patient who loathes this host. If I didn't know he was a professional, I'd ask to meet this woman. Bitching about our shared dislike of the morning host would be a great first date. WCRB has a tradition of divisive morning hosts. For years it was Robert J. Lurtsema (chirping birds!) who drove some people crazy.

So, yeah, I've baited you with the internet's main currency, rage and denunciation, and instead given you a bunch of stuff I like, and been bizarrely discreet about my dislikes.

Do you have any hosts you particularly like...or don't?

You can remember ones from your childhood too. A good host can really open things up to a beginner...and a bad one can make the whole thing seem intolerable.

Sometimes there's a good reason for procrastination

 Actually, I regard it as more of an art

Actually, I regard it as more of an art

Often the hardest thing is getting started. You're faced with a vast, complex, tedious, and frustration-filled project. It needs to be done, but the thought if it is so unpleasant that you'd rather do almost anything else. So you put it off and you put it off until the consequences of further delay are so threatening that you establish what the first doable task is, sit down, and dive in.

And you find out that in fact...it is just as awful and miserable as you thought, except that it takes much longer, because you spend hours making mistakes and then trying to recover from them, trying to figure out why numbers don't match, or changes mysteriously appear in places you could have sworn were immune from accidental change.

Because sometimes you've put something off for good reason. In its little stories of humble success, the procrastination kind of slides over these fairly frequent circumstances.

Today I did not one, but two things I was putting off. One involved money, and involved finding a bunch of long-lost documentation, calculating a very large spreadsheet, and chasing someone else down to contribute something. It was miserable, and lost me hours, but I had to do it, and the only way was to essentially put off necessary work.

Then, all evening, I did some of that necessary work, with an unintuitive web interface I don't use very often. Nothing displayed properly, files vanished into mysterious URLs, what displayed wouldn't change when I changed the text, because what displayed was a duplicate in another location.

Now I'm done with both projects, and don't really feel at all satisfied. Maybe later I will but...really, did it need to be that hard?

I was totally right to evade these projects. The only sad thing is that I couldn't evade them forever.

What projects have you recently gotten to that you kind of wish you hadn't?

Or is there one you want me to tell you not to start?

My Readercon Schedule

Readercon_logo.gif

I have three panels at Readercon next weekend, which is kind of my sweet spot. I like doing them, and I like doing enough work that I contribute to the convention, but I don't like doing too many. I'm not particularly extroverted, and so don't like being on stage too much. Plus, it's pretty easy to get tired and be boring, rambling, and dumb on a panel.

As a writer, I figure I am on a panel to entertain, not sell, at least not directly. The more interesting I seem, the better it is. So getting tired and "holding forth" as so many of us have done, is really a bad idea.

I did not get a moderator role, despite the fact that I put myself down for it a number of times, including on at least one of these panels. I sometimes evade knowing a lot about a topic by being the narrator. Then I can be curious and ask questions I actually want the answers to.

I'm done with my work by Friday night, giving me time to hang out with friends. If you're at the con, please do find me, even if I've never met you before.

What Comes After Late Capitalism?
Salon C
Thursday, July 12, 2018 9:00 PM

The current American economic climate is often referred to as "late capitalism," suggesting that capitalism as we know it is on its way out and will soon be transformed beyond recognition or replaced altogether. What can futurists and fabulists imagine for how that might happen, and what might take its place? How would postcapitalism look not only in fiction but in our lives, transforming publishing, reading, and conventions?

  • T.X. Watson moderator
  • Alexander Jablokov
  • Romie Stott
  • Christopher Brown
  • Robyn Bennis

The Bureaucracy of Fantasy
Salon 5
Friday, July 13, 2018 4:00 PM

Authors such as Daniel Abraham, Max Gladstone, and Ken Liu have received attention for incorporating bureaucratic concepts into their fantasy works, but fantasy frequently has bureaucratic underpinnings that escape notice because they're so familiar: the nuances of who inherits a title or a throne, the specific wording of a prophecy, detailed contracts with demons. Why do some bureaucracies feel more incongruous in fantastical contexts than others? What are some tricks for making dry, nitpicky topics exciting and comprehensible?

  • Kenneth Schneyer moderator
  • Alexander Jablokov
  • John Wiswell
  • Victoria Sandbrook
  • Phenderson Djèlí Clark

Dorothy Dunnett, Literary Legend
Salon C
Friday, July 13, 2018 8:00 PM

Alaya Dawn Johnson called Dorothy Dunnett "the literary equivalent of the Velvet Underground": not many people read her, but everyone who did wrote a book. A painter, researcher, and opera lover, she wrote what she wanted to read: epic historical drama. Come learn what our panelists and many other writers learned from Dunnett.

  • Kate Nepveu moderator
  • Victoria Janssen
  • Nisi Shawl
  • Alexander Jablokov
  • Lila Garrott

Trying to take advantage of insomnia

For many people, insomnia involves not being able to get to sleep. Mine, when it manifests is in the form of early morning awakening. Its incidence comes in waves. Sometimes I have no problem for weeks at a time. Then there will be a period when I do wake up at 3 am or so, but fall back asleep almost immediately. Then comes a period, such as the one I'm going through now, when I wake up at 4 or 4:30 am or so. My usual wake time is 5:30.

So, this week, I've been hitting the writing chair way early. That can be great--I can get my fiction stint in, then turn to client work, and not have a time crunch later in the day when exercise bumps up against other required tasks.

But sometimes it also gives me an excuse not to work. "I have an extra couple of hours!" I, for some reason, say. "That means I deserve to goof off." It doesn't help that self-control is lessened when I haven't had enough sleep--and willpower is not something I have an oversupply of to begin with.

I do have a project I want to get done before I go on vacation (a revision of a novel about my detective, Sere Glagolit), so today, Saturday, I've been working since about 5. And I'm ready to take a break!

So, using the time makes it valuable, giving in to temptation and goofing off makes it a curse. You might think that decision would be easy.... But if you are realistic, you know how hard it is.

"So, how's the novel going?"

Writers aren't exceptionally mean, even to other writers, but it does somehow seem that way, because of the way we leave our egos exposed. No wonder others are tempted to at least give them a good swift kick now and again.

"How's the novel going?" (unless you know the writer is a demon of productivity, in which case there are other ways of getting their goat) is one of the great questions. It seems to come out of genuine interest, maybe really does come out of genuine interest, but a certain passive aggressiveness that leads, when deployed appropriately, to dismay, depression, and defensiveness. Well played!

Yeah, I asked a couple of people that at Readercon. You may ask why, if we treat each other so badly do we hang out with each other? First, it's because many of us are genuinely entertaining, at least to each other. Second, by the same token, no one else finds us as entertaining as we do.

And I did have a great time last weekend, and had to take a long nap the day after to recover.

My time at Odyssey

Last week I did a guest author stint at the great Odyssey Writing Workshop, held at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. Odyssey is kind of a bootcamp for people honing their skills in all areas of fantastic fiction. For six weeks, 16 writers write, read, think about, discuss, eat, and sleep fantastic fiction, under the stern yet kind direction of Jeanne Cavelos, who created the enterprise.

I envy them. I never did anything like this earlier in my career, which might really have helped.

Jeanne likes to have a writer or editor come in every week, to talk about the writer's life, and help critique varius students' work. Since writing is very much a part-time enterprise for me, which I anticipate for most of the students, I focused on how to manage that, and what to expect.

I'm not a writing teacher. It's just not a topic where I think I have an enormous amount to add. And it takes me forever to come up with something useful or interesting to say. This year my topic was literary SF, which is just crazy as a topic. Usually I do plot, which I can kind of fake. But it was kind of fun researching, thinking about how literary fiction differs from commercial fiction, what writers should pay attention to, and how to have fun with it.

After a couple of weeks drafting my lecture, writing critiques of a bunch of manuscripts, giving my lecture, having individual conferences with students, and in general talking about writing for a day and a half, I was exhausted. I came home and slept much of the weekend.

Jeanne does this all day every day for the entire session. It's really her baby, she knows everyone is depending on her, and she is enormously present for everyone at all times. I just can't fathom it.

This is about as much instructing as I can manage with my limited energy and even more limited neurons, but I do enjoy it, and end up meeting a lot of interesting people. I worked with some fine writers, and hope to see them in print soon.

My Readercon schedule

I will be at Readercon again this year, July 13-16.  If you want to catch me, go ahead, I'm not that fast.  Otherwise, these are the panels I will be on:

Thursday July 13

8:00 PM    5    How to Moderate a Panel. Alex Jablokow, Victoria Janssen (leader), Kathleen Jennings, Tom Purdom, Kenneth Schneyer. The moderator plays a crucial role in making panels run smoothly and enjoyably for participants and attendees. This panel will cover how to get questions rather than comments from audience members, how to deal with a panelist who goes off the rails, and how to make sure everyone gets equal time, among many other topics.

Friday July 14

3:00 PM    AT    Autographs. Alex Jablokow, Yoon Lee.

6:00 PM    C    The Catastrophe of Success. Alex Jablokow, Jim Kelly (leader), Matt Kressel, Paul Levinson, Eric Schaller. In a 1947 essay called "The Catastrophe of Success," Tennessee Williams wrote, "We are like a man who has bought up a great amount of equipment for a camping trip... but who now, when all the preparations and the provisions are piled expertly together, is suddenly too timid to set out on the journey.... Our great technology is a God-given chance for adventure and for progress which we are afraid to attempt." This is a very 1940s SFnal way of looking at technology and the world. We are in Williams's future, with 70 years of perspective to add to his still-relevant observation. What has changed in the human relationship to technology since 1947, and what has stayed the same? How can present-day SF explore this tension between what technology allows us to do and the fear that holds us back?

Saturday July 15

2:00 PM    5    The Life Cycle of Political SF. Dennis Danvers, Alex Jablokow, Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Sabrina Vourvoulias, T. X. Watson. SF writers have often written deeply political books and stories; some stand the test of time, while others become dated very quickly. John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, Octavia Butler's Kindred, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, and Ursula K. Le Guin's "The New Atlantis," to name just a few, directly addressed major issues of their day and are still relevant now—but differently. What affects how political SF ages and is read decades after its publication? What are today’s explicitly political books, and how do we expect them to resonate decades in the future?
I hope to see you there.

My new favorite ingredient: fermented bean curd

A few months ago I listened to Tyler Cowen's conversation with Fuchsia Dunlop on his podcast, Conversations with Tyler. The conversation takes place over dinner and includes one of my favorite economics/food bloggers, Megan McArdle as well as Ezra Klein and several other interesting people.

Well worth a listen. It makes me realize how often I'm just not paying attention to my food.

The podcast led me to purchase Dunlop's book Every Grain of Rice, subtitled Simple Chinese Home Cooking, also recommended. I don't usually read cookbooks, but this one has interesting information about Chinese food, its history--and its ingredients.

Here I discovered fermented bean curd. It comes in at least two varieties: red and white. Her main recipe is for spinach, but I went online and found one for cauliflower.

I popped down down to H-Mart in Central Square and grabbed some Laoganma brand (people seem to love The Godmother, and the somewhat mournful lady on the logo was allegedly a real person).

I bought a lot of other stuff too. It's a great market, though the one out in Burlington is way bigger, almost intimidatingly so.

I think I prefer the red to the white, but both are good. Salty and full of umami, the cubes are kind of cheese-like, and melt into the vegetables, giving them a distinct tang. I've never even been a huge fan of cauliflower, but the simple dish above is now in regular rotation, because it's so damn fast, easy to make, and delicious.

Anyway, its now a staple here. Give it a try.

 

Am I too lazy to get outraged?

Reply All is one of my favorite podcasts because it entertainingly explains all sorts of internet memetic activity in a way that even someone my age can appreciate. They've long had a segment called Yes Yes No where the boss comes to the two hosts (Alex Goldman and P J Vogt) with a mysterious tweet that he con't figure out, and that always turns out to be a deeply multi-referential deep dive into what the soul of the internet looks like that week.

Now, they've added "Why Is Everybody So Mad And Do I Have To Be Mad Also", about figuring out what everyone else is so outraged about online, and then whether that outrage makes sense. Using "also" instead of "too" is a stroke of genius, giving it slight fillip of dorky formality.

For me, no, it never makes sense. I don't actually think I'm particularly busy during my day. I do have work to do, things to accomplish, something even something fun to do. But the amount of work is certainly not overwhelming. But no matter how uneventful the day, I don't have enough time in it to generate outrage over something I see online, forward it to others, post it on Facebook, and comment on it.

It's not that I don't get exasperated at some of the bits of flotsam that the internet floats into my mind. I have one kid in college and another heading there, so what happened at Middlebury College really did disturb me. So when I have beer or coffee with a friend, I will discuss some of the issues on my mind. Don't worry, I can view with alarm with the best of them, and speak fluent harrumphish. It's just that I prefer to express my outrage in person. And with an good IPA or dark roast.

I guess that's it. If I am not consuming a hot or cold beverage with someone else, opinions are just meaningless.

 

Behind on everything, but...catching up?

I am the mercy of my internal astrology. I have some decent organizational structures, essential for a basically disorganized person who has a lot of things to get done.

But sometimes they work a lot better than other times. For instance, recently, I've been catching up with stuff. I am doing nothing different, making no particular effort, but big chunks of stuff that were hanging around, punks with cigarettes dangling from their lower lips, ominously refusing to leave, have suddenly realized they had somewhere else they needed to be, and have cleared out.

I really wish I knew what conjunction or trine or whatever of my interior solar system led to a sudden burst of work.

But what then? Some people track things about their lives, like how much they sleep, how many hours they spend in REM, etc. To me, unless that information enables you to make a decision, it's just data, like counting the number of birds that land on a phone line outside your window.

I guess if the metaphor of internal planets is accurate, I could plan major life tasks for when they are in the right positions, and invest more effort in my external organizational systems when the planets tell me I'm going to be a useless load.

Because I sure don't see any correlation with anything else in my life. These moods of productivity come and go. I figure successful people feel productive a higher percentage of the time than I do. I envy them. I really do feel good when I'm writing well, producing for my clients, paying bills on time, and meeting my personal obligations, all without have to strain and torment myself. I wish I felt that way more.

But I guess I'll just have to be satisfied with feeling that way sometimes.

Works and days

Most of us writers need to make money, since few of us make enough from fiction to buy lunch, much less support ourselves (much less support ex-wives, college-attending children, expensive tastes in alcohol, etc.) So we have day jobs.

Mine is freelance marketing writing. I really like it, and regularly recommend this line of work to fellow writers with an inclination for it. It involves a lot of the same skills, in addition to the writing part: understanding motivation, creating suspense, leaving things to the imagination.

It's also got the feature that your clients can suddenly need what you're working on more than anything. One of my clients suddenly got a lot of pressure to generate a huge amount of marketing content, all at once, and with ridiculously short timelines. So she wrote me an email with lots of caps in it, got me a purchase order, had me invoice, and put me to work.

I have no idea why my client's higher ups only figured out they needed this stuff two weeks before it had to be in the hands of the sales team, but if you've ever worked at a large company, particularly one that has recently acquired large numbers of other companies, you know that everyone is barely keeping their heads above water, much less calmly looking ahead a few quarters to see what they'll be needing to get things over the line and make their numbers.

On the other hand, if I write fiction, someone will read it, but no one is really breaking my door down for it. So I won't lie: it's nice to be wanted.

And, as always, doing high quality work on deadline is the only thing anyone will pay for. Mediocre crap turned in late is somehow not a hot commodity.

But the fiction is still the first thing I do in the morning. I just have to give it a bit less time when deadlines loom. And the book is going pretty well. I should write about that at some point.

 

Back from London

I took my daughter Faith to London for school break, and it's taken me awhile to get back on schedule. We were absolute tourists, all the big sights you would expect. So don't expect any undiscovered gems or anything. Thought February was a great time to go, not too cold, not many other tourists. A few highlights:

Faith is a big politics fan, so we saw sittings of both Commons and Lords. The Commons chamber was destroyed during WWII, and is kind of bland, but Lords still has the elaborate 1834 Gothic Revival interior. Faith saw Boris Johnson in the Central Lobby--I saw the back of his head.

In keeping with the politics theme, we went to the Garrick and saw This House, by James Graham, a wonderful play about an unpromising subject, the hung Parliament of the mid-1970s, with the two party deputy whips as the main characters. Watching the procedural infighting, sly tactics, and confict between principle and practice might seem to show how arbitrary procedure is, but really shows how the structure provided by procedure keeps passion within bounds and focused on meaningful ends. Harrison, the Labor deputy chief whip, says, at a climactic moment, that all he ever wanted to do was work in the engine room.  I also liked that MPs were always referred to by their constituency, particularly "Finchley" (Margaret Thatcher).

I kept away from huge museums, which can be tiring, but we both enjoyed the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum, which is kind of a museum of the museum's origin, just the right size, and full of interesting oddities.

The Palladian Queen's House at Greenwich is startlingly elegant, with impressive maritime art, including a portrait of the older Pepys, long after his Diary, which placed him right in his day job--and an impressive day job it was, too.

Lots of Hawksmoor churches, one in Greenwich, several along the Docklands Light Railway on the way back, and Christ Church in Spitalfields, where I took Faith afterward to rummage through the vast number of vintage clothing stores there. Faith got tired of Hawksmoor. I did not. My interest him no doubt stems from the Peter Ackroyd novel Hawksmoor which I remember being impressed by when I first read it, but I'd like to think I have my own aesthetic response to his stagy facades.

John Soane collected more things in his house than I would be comfortable with, but I'd still like to liver there. And you can always go right across Lincoln's Inn Fields to the Hunterian Museum to see the skeleton of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant, whose biggest fear was that John Hunter would get hold of his body after he died and put his skeleton on display in his museum. There is something so wonderful and awful about the tangle of love of knowledge, obsessive completism, and showmanship revealed by the incident that I hope well-meaning spoilsports never give the long-gone Byrne the funeral at sea (in a lead coffin) that he was desperate to have. Science is never an emotionally neutral endeavor.

I'd forgotten what a theme park of the war against Napoleon St. Paul's Cathedral got turned into: aside from Wellington and Nelson, it's piled with the overblown monuments of forgotten generals and admirals. And Nelson's black marble sarcophagus (lowered through the cathedral floor to the crypt during the funeral ceremony in what must have been an extremely stressful event for the engineer) was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, then taken by Henry VIII for his own tomb, but never used (perhaps not large enough....) and then knocking around royal palaces for 250 years, never quite matching the decor, until George III finally figured out a use for it.

And we went on the Millennium Eye. I'm from Chicago, so it takes more than a leftover from the Columbian Exposition to impress me, but it's got a good view. Still, I'd advise spending the money on beer instead.

Well, that's enough. Give me beer and a lot of old crap to look at, and I'm happy.