Monday, May 9, 2016

Mental Errata

     Just a few scattered thoughts this morning. No integrated jeremiads on our headlong rush toward the abyss. No lofty pronouncements of overarching principles. And no commentary on the tawdry business our politics has become.

     Let’s see, now...

     I just came back from a blood test. Weekday mornings are best for this sort of thing, and as early as possible. The crowds that develop later in the day can result in waiting an hour or longer for a three-minute procedure.

     The lab I use has a nasty habit of rotating its entire staff every three months, except for the senior nurse, who by coincidence attended me today. I asked her why the company did this; she confessed to ignorance, just said it’s “policy.” So I asked her why she’s exempt from this deliberate disturbance of their labors. She smiled and said, “Because I know where all the bodies are buried.”

     “It’s not who you know; it’s what you’ve got on ‘em.” – Lawrence Block

     I’ve been rereading Steven Pressfield’s inspirational little tome for creators Do The Work. It’s a useful reminder of the mindset necessary for any sort of creative work, especially this bit:

     “End first, then beginning and middle. That’s your startup, that’s your plan for completing a triathlon, that’s your ballet.”

     Really, does anyone who does anything that’s not mere rote repetition work any other way? You have to know where you’re going before you can chart a course to get there. It’s so obvious...but there’s that word again.

     I think part of the reason my fiction has been lagging of late is that I’ve neglected to observe that “obvious” rule. Back to the drawing board, moron.

     An excellent essay I encountered not long ago exhorts the reader to make action his guiding principle. This is a bit of wisdom a lot of us could stand to have tattooed on our eyelids – the inside surface of our eyelids.

     We’re often told to “look before you leap.” And indeed, one standing at the edge of a cliff should ponder his course; the wrong next step could be his last. But we’re also told that “he who hesitates is lost.” That maxim could stand some revision. Here’s my edition:

He who hesitates is likely to hesitate some more.

     How does that strike you, Gentle Reader?

     Here’s a new business idea. I don’t say it’s necessarily a good idea, just that there appears to be an unfilled niche that holds out some promise.

     Have you noticed how every waiting room in this blessed land has a television or two in it? And have you noticed that they’re almost all tuned to some news station? So that while you’re waiting for the attentions of whomever you’re waiting to see, you have to listen to the news? Finally, have you noticed that the news these days is almost all the sort that depresses or terrifies?

     People don’t sit in waiting rooms by choice. Why feed them additional reasons to be unhappy about it? Accordingly, what about a cable station specifically designed to elevate the moods of people stuck in waiting rooms? For material: amusing video clips; quick bits of entertainment-related trivia; a few brain teasers; maybe even some live comedy.

     Doesn’t sound profitable? Think again. How many of the folks in the last waiting room where you languished were desperate to go home and surf YouTube?

     For me, one of the consequences of the explosion in indie publishing has been a greatly increased selectivity...and a commensurate decrease in the number of pages I’ll spend reading an unsatisfactory or unsatisfying book. There are so many alternatives that it’s pointless to continue with a mediocre (much less bad) book. Besides, it’s a lot easier to admit that I picked a loser and discard it when that loser cost only $0.99. (Bless you, BookBub.)

     I suppose that course wouldn’t be advisable for readers on a really severe budget, but it’s one I can afford. It has another facet of importance to writers struggling for recognition: the possibilities for quick circulation that arise from pitching a novel cheaply, or literally giving it away for some period. The counter-argument is that some readers will think that a book available for $0.99 can’t possibly be any good...and such is the actual frequency of talent to be found among indie writers that those readers will be right more often than not.

     Old people listen to old music. This might not be an ironclad law of Nature, but it certainly seems to be true more often than not. Sometimes that has amusing consequences.

     A couple of weeks ago, my cleaning lady came by while I was playing a slew of “old” songs – mostly from late 70s and 80s artists – as background to my own labors. She was mesmerized by them and demanded to know everything about them. So I wrote them to a CD for her, which she took with her when she left.

     The next time she was scheduled to come by, she brought her twin teenage daughters to labor beside her. Almost immediately upon arriving, they complained to me that “Mom won’t stop playing that CD you made for her!” Oops! My bad. (snicker, snicker)

     “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” – The “First Law” of the late, great Cyril Northcote Parkinson
     “There’s always something you’d rather do than work” – Me.

     And that’s what I’ve been doing. Retirement has that aspect to it: you have time. You feel no deadline pressure. You can take a relaxed attitude toward everything...and many of us do, to the effect that we achieve nothing.

     It’s time for me to get back to work. Till later, Gentle Reader. After I’ve actually finished something.


Anonymous said...

Number one, I am mid-forties and although I love 70's and 80's music, I keep current on today's rock scene. I regularly turn my 25 year old son on to a new band. As to being retired, I am also, although for medical reasons. Number two, my wife is a hard charging executive for a supplier to America's largest retailer. The whole idea of relaxation, or having spare time to do something non-work related is completely foreign to her. I am trying to get her to slow down, but I don't have much hope. Your blog gives me something to smile about each morning. Thanks. And learn to relax. Life is much better in slo-mo.

prairie gopher said...

I have been retired for almost three years now. Love the spare time but hate the paycheque! I do love learning how to blacksmith. It allows me to release my creativity!

Unknown said...

I got lots out of this blog, Fran. Read some of it more than twice. Retirement is easy as long as you don't 'really' do it. Last year I retired from 45 years in Air Traffic Control business. Loved every minute of it. I was triple blessed. Now my writing gets lot more attention, so am thinking of actually trying to publish something besides the poetry. I've mostly written poetry to friends as gifts, and never keep a copy. The blessing is having them read back to you years later.