Friday, August 02, 2002

In preparation for my birthday next week, I’ve been reviewing my New Year’s resolutions. For years I resolved all sorts of improbable things, but around the turn of the millennium I changed my strategy. My single resolution for 2000 was to live mindfully, and I did -- with the result that I left my husband by mid-March. In 2001 I resolved to move to California. Those few words covered months of sorting, packing, selling, suffering, scrambling for money. And, since we’re still unpacking books, that one may not be complete yet, though at least I have everything under one roof now.

For this year I put together a list of practical goals, mostly associated with writing. Here’s the list and my assessment of how far I’ve come with each goal.

Find a job (or freelance work) that offers an acceptable compromise between pay, satisfaction, and time to write.

Well, I found the job before the end of January. Working out the acceptable compromise between work and writing and family is considerably more difficult. That one may take me a decade or so.

Get the new office set up, organized, and decorated.

Still working on this one. The desk and computer have been set up and usable since the first week of January. I’ve gradually done other things to make the place both comfortable and functional, and I’ve definitely achieved something, since Gabriel now sleeps on my reading chair, a comfortable leather swivel chair with an afghan for coziness. [Gabriel, AKA the Spawn of Satan, is my cat.] This weekend I’ll be hanging pictures and bulletin boards, moving old files out, organizing the bookshelves, maybe putting down a rug. That’s on my list to finish before my birthday.

Having the office not just usable but welcoming matters a great deal to me. I’m deeply territorial, and I need a safe place to work before I can write. Insisting on having that space, physical and psychic, wasn’t easy for me, and making it into the appropriate writing nest has been even harder. It’s self-care (something I haven’t always excelled at), and it’s care for my own work.

Get a Mac.

Done. I bought a used G3 loaded with software, and I’ve been cramming it with all the old manuscripts. Writing on a Mac is consistently easier for me than writing on a PC. I never have to think about the interface. Despite years of using PCs at work and even at home, the Mac is still my native tongue, the computer interface I think in. (I could also easily go back to the old Apple IIe, which I used from 1984 until it finally died in August of 1993, but I would miss having a hard drive.)

Also, since on a Mac I use Clarisworks instead of Word, I never have to watch my work reformat itself after I’ve made a minor deletion. (Yes, I’ve turned off Autoformat; I’ve done my best to go through and delete all the predefined styles, and it still does it.) To be fair, Word has a couple of very useful features -- Change Case and Track Changes. I still dislike it for day-to-day writing, and I actively loathe it for any kind of lengthy formatted work. That’s why I have PageMaker, Frame, and Quark. Maybe next year my employer will also have PageMaker. I spent an extra week desperately reformatting documents for the new software release.

I’m also trying to get an elderly Paperport to work, though I suspect that’s a lost cause. Maybe I should stop at Fry’s tonight for a scanner so I can convert all those years of typed journals into electronic data.

Finish one novel — either the computer story or Smoke.

Not yet, but I am in fact working on research for Smoke.

Write at least three to five short stories.

Not yet. I have a couple of good ideas for ghost stories, though, and one for a fairy tale.

Set up a website for each of my books in print.

Does a blogger count? Actually, yes, it does. The others are likely to be created over the next few months.

Write three to five of the essays for SDG, the book on sex and death and God.

Not yet, but I’ve been making outlines recently, and much of the research I’m doing for Smoke will also feed SDG.

Join a few professional organizations and keep up contacts with other writers and editors.

Definitely done. I’ve been volunteering at a women’s bookstore, and I’m hoping to organize some author events there. That’s bringing me into contact with the local community as well as the national publishing world. Also, for both contact and inspiration, I’ve signed up for a writers’ conference in September. I’ll get a chance to have my work seen by some writers I admire, as well as by agents (I’m more or less without an agent now, or so I assume).

Keep reading new books. I hope to discover at least one new worthwhile writer.

Oh yes. Definitely American Gods. Neil Gaiman. Also his recent Coraline and Adventures in the Dream Trade, his book of collected essays, poems, introductions, and blog. I’m waiting to have all of the issues of Sandman before starting that ten-year, 2,000-page graphic novel.

Gaiman’s work is dark, brilliant, disturbing, and beautifully written and structured. There is also a deep current of redemptive love there, for human beings and for this world.

Of course I had read his work before. He co-wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett, a charming and very funny look at what happens when the Apocalypse goes wrong. I’d also run into his work in anthologies, and I admired all I’d seen: “Troll Bridge,” “Tastings,” and the poems “Instructions” and “Locks.” But his first novel Stardust had felt slight, as though it wasn’t all quite there.

Which is understandable: he had translated a graphic novel into a prose novel, and the two forms are strikingly different. In a graphic novel the writer needs to suggest, to leave room for both the artist and the reader. Writing a prose novel, more must be on the page; otherwise the reader feels the writer isn’t going all the way, nor facing all the monsters he has conjured up.

With American Gods, Gaiman came of age as a prose novelist. (As opposed to graphic novelist.) It’s undoubtedly a masterpiece: fresh, original, effective, powerfully felt and thoroughly expressed. Buy it, read it, reread it.

Also, in a very different way, Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion. Bujold writes with great power and insight about some damned difficult subjects — personal honor, political issues, surviving abuse. Her gods are so different from Gaiman’s that I’ll leave the topic for another entry. Her words can move me to tears because, in the old Quaker phrase, they speak to my condition.

I’ve read a lot of other good new books this year, most of them nonfiction — biographies of Lawrence Durrell and his brother Gerald (as well as more of Gerald Durrell’s delightful nature writing). The research I’m doing has the librarians looking askance at me: books on human sacrifice, cults, and suicide. I’m also delving deeply into cognitive science, neuropsychology, and the interplay of mind and body and brain, particularly the effects of trauma. For depth, I especially liked D’Amasio’s The Feeling of What Happens; I also liked the overview provided by Ronald Kotulak's Inside the Brain : Revolutionary Discoveries of How the Mind Works.

Write up a proposal for editing a new line of fiction for a press I know.

I’ll be in a better position to do this at the end of the year; right now it’s not on my radar at all. Writing comes first.

And, if all these grand dreams and ambitions must be melted down into one fervent hope: Let the words flow.

Please. Yes. Please.

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