Writer’s Block? Diary, 3/4 to 3/8/21

Devotion (1946), lurid advertising

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl
All Rights Reserved

{3/5/21}  Weight 211.8 at 6:30 am.  Saying you don’t care doesn’t mean you don’t care.

I ate cookies for lunch, then chips.  After the cookies I moped for at least half an hour, wondering if this was a direct result of my lunch.  It probably was.  After the chips I felt rather sick.  So: I shouldn’t do that.  I put the cookies in the freezer so I probably won’t binge like that again.  Of course, I might find that nuked cookies are even more awesome.  I won’t be buying cookies again any time soon, and it will take some work to lose the weight again that I’m sure to gain before they’re gone.

I read Albert’s Book, the very short “novel” that I wrote about ten years ago (in prison).  I enjoyed the heck out of it, laughing out loud and tearing up.  It’s got some clever ideas and good characters.  It might be called a critique of how we raise children in this shithole country, told from the point of view of an intelligent and sensitive ten-year-old boy.  Thus it ends badly, though he survives.

What to do with this?  I see two possibilities:  add childish drawings and publish it, or just type it up and put it on my blog.  The latter seems more likely.  But a third thought:  sit on it until I’m a famous author, hire someone to do hand-lettering and drawings, and publish that and make lotsa money.  Meh.  A third possibility is to follow my original plan and interleave the chapters with chapters of Free Books, Free Love, Granny Jan’s story.  This would add enough length to make a short novel.  I should read FBFL before “deciding.”  Unfortunately, I have no interest in GJ’s story.

I think it’s clear that I’m depressed.  The diet alone suggests it.  Though I did eight pages of dictation this morning, a solid chunk of work.  I wonder if I might do better to just type the stuff.  Or, maybe, type some and dictate some, which would probably get more work done—the thought of more dictation right now is repellent; less repellent is the thought of typing.

Traffic on the blog good today, and it’s only 4:00 pm: 17 views by 13 visitors, no likes or comments.

Today has been a strange day because my moods have been strange.  Mostly I’ve been unhappy, though there’s nothing strange in that.  It is the peculiar quality of that unhappiness that seems unusual.  I’ve been sort of numb, moving and acting rather mechanically, especially in relation to food.  It’s 7:43 pm, and I just ate a small serving of applesauce and a small handful of chocolate chips; only my breakfast was normal and healthy (if three eggs can be called that).  I’ve been sort of nervous, unsettled, cruising the cable TV menu, dipping into a show here and there, looking for something to tweak my sexual hunger, I suppose.

My first drafts of novels are all unappealing, aside from Albert’s BookThe Hungry Man still has possibilities, as does Hap the Crystalwright.  The others are:  Free Books, Free Love; Man and Mother Nature; You Have No Right to Remain Silent; and Don’t Tell God.  I like the titles, mostly, but about half of the stories are tainted by my perversion, and none of them retain any significant interest for me.  The titles, it turns out, are mostly already in circulation in one form or another, except the less interesting ones.

Notes from Underground offers a pattern that I could use:  a nutsy man’s view of the world, with some unimportant incidents.  I could take Fynn’s situation, minus the next-door Lolita.  What’s missing is the Underground man’s characteristic voice.  He could be seeking self-mastery, which would give me some books and experiments to write about, but not much of a plot yet.  In my 100 Ideas notebook I have #70:  “Fynn writes a diary, and super-romantic poems about his young neighbor…”  He finds his imagination getting out of hand, and so runs away to die.  Why doesn’t Fynn just move out?  If he’s crazy, I think the story loses interest—I don’t think that suspense about what he might do is a good idea.  Some novels have little plot, even some good novels.  I could write the story of Zeno, which could give me some incidents as the start of a novel.  I don’t really need a plot so much as a situation—that’s where I usually start.  What I have is an old man’s life when “the end is near.”

The most I can say is that I don’t hate the idea.  I could call it a writing exercise, which would turn it into a labor of hate, probably.  I resist the urge to talk myself out of it.  I’ll let it simmer, or stagnate, and see what happens.

Apple and the Birds is a possible other, dull title.  Consider Harold and Maude—looking a lot like a sex-reversed Fynn.  One mustn’t expect too much in the way of originality.

So that leaves me with, essentially, nothing.  It’s Albert, Fynn, or Hap, or square one.  I don’t know of a brute-force method; but I’ll keep thinking about it.

{3/6/21}  Weight 212.2 at 5:55 am.

Had my normal breakfast and two frozen burritos for lunch, and I’m in a better mood and getting work done.  ’Course, I also had a two-hour nap—but I had a nap yesterday, too.  I exercised yesterday, my minimalist, “better than nothing” routine of lifting my eight-pound dumbbells over my head and down, thirty times.

In the prison diary dictation I found a fairly long consideration of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and a couple of his other novels, so I put together the somewhat scattered bits and posted the result as “Prison Diary:  Nabokov and Lolita” on the blog.  It got the usual number of hits (i.e., few) and one “like.”  But in rereading it just now, it occurs to me to use this in the Fynn novel, as a “diary entry.”  And, of course, recycling other entries.  But the problem is that most of the PD would be completely irrelevant to the main thrust of the story, and so, “boring.”  Lolita, of course, would be relevant, and indeed, could loom much larger than the two or three pages I’ve got.  Apple could read it, they could discuss it, and this could become a new strength of the book.  But?  No but, I don’t see a downside.  Similar things could be done with other books, as much as I liked.  This is better than the bird angle.

And I could make Fynn a blogger, another source of reader interest and pages of text.  Apple could be a reader.  She could read his diary, too, finding it while he’s napping—leading to the crisis, perhaps.  Well, this is promising, though I need to think about “why doesn’t he just move?”  Maybe he does move, but can’t leave her alone.  He’s “torn in two” and must kill the monster.  It’s a way.  I can’t see (at this early date) an objection.

Apple must bewitch the reader as well as Fynn (and the author).  I have work to do, and I think I want to start with the easy part, the work I want to do anyway and have been doing:  the prison diary.  And I observe that, even though I’ve reread the Albert pages, but not the Fynn, the ideas coming to me are for Fynn and not Albert.

In the PD I said:  “…fast writing is likely to please me less than slow writing.”  I find, too, that the PD is somewhat better written than my new version, which I type; probably because handwriting is more laborious, thus slower.  It could also be that I’m wrong—the difference, if any, is subtle.

In rereading just now what I dictated and edited this evening after 9:30 or so, I find uncorrected errors.  The eye fatigues, starts to hurry, wanting to get it done.  Not so good, then.  I think I did more than ten pages today, the most ever.

{3/7/21}  Weight 212.4 at 6:30 am.

HC today.  We started late and knocked off early.  Gertrude attended, along with Pablo and (after an hour) Nog.  Much time was spent on nonsense with selfies, and when Nog arrived, more nonsense about a book he had with him.  Nothing of much interest was discussed—I ended up writing down almost nothing.  In place of discussion, we had a lecture from Pablo on the Brothers K and an argument between Pablo and Gertrude.  Gertrude asked me why I had written Kick Me, which Pablo had mentioned.  As we were getting ready to leave, Pablo insisted on reading the first page and a half of The Brothers Karamazov, which was something like a “Note to the Reader” from Dostoyevsky.  I called it “the most boring thing he ever wrote.”  Pablo’s point was neither apparent nor explained.  I mentioned wanting to write a novel, but this went nowhere.  I was bored much of the time.  Nog didn’t have a lot to say, and when he tried to talk he was talked over by both Gertrude and Pablo, asking him questions, causing me to complain about it at one point.  At the very end I distributed copies of a four-page assemblage from the prison diary, which we may discuss next time.  It was my comments on Lolita, Lonesome Dove, Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary, and Candide from November, 2009.

The thought of trying to write a novel makes me tired.  The thought of giving the Fynn novel to these people makes me shudder.  Surely the very idea of the novel is disgusting.  So?  If it’s disgusting because I am disgusting, what then?  WRITE IT!

As was said at the Hemlock Club today, I am our official pervert.  I should “own it,” right?

My Twitter thread just now:

“The human animal is adapted to, and apparently can thrive on, an extraordinary range of diets, but the Western diet, however you define it, does not seem to be one of them.” –Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manual.

Pollan’s condensed advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I don’t think he’s against carbs so much as sugar. I don’t recall whether he stresses salt, but I would, especially in fast food and a lot of prepared (canned, frozen, etc.) foods. Some mfgrs are shameless.

I got an unforgettable lesson this week: making a “lunch” of chocolate chip cookies, I was morose and listless for an hour; later bingeing on potato chips, I felt sick. I put the cookies in the freezer and will give them to Pablo whenever he shows up. (I can’t resist them.)

I’ve often binged on chips or (especially) Cheetos. They never made me feel nauseous before. Normally I can control my buying, and so my diet; this time I lapsed, and the resulting binges were predictable, but went well beyond weight gain this time. I got sick of “being good.”

So I stopped “being good” and paid the price. Always before my restraint was weight and general health concern; now I have a stronger restraint.

{3/8/21}  Weight 212.8 at 6:15 am.  Ook.  One pound gain in three days, when I was trying to be good.  It seems that I failed.

Also, a sore throat this morning, apparently brought on by dictating ten pages just before bed last night.  If I hadn’t been through this before, and if it hadn’t eased up in the five minutes I’ve been awake, I’d be more concerned.

Reading my Fynn novel last night, I was disappointed when I had expected to be charmed (as I had been with Albert’s Book)—it seems a very poor thing, preachy and improbable.  Karen and Fynn need to disagree, or come on more superficially or warily, rather than all this 100% agreement on political and social issues and recitals of personal history on first meeting.  Perhaps make Karen an “establishment Democrat” while Fynn is progressive.  Make one of them depressed—they’re both chirpy and bantering from the get-go.  Apple’s reaction to Fynn’s talk of his library, which had long seemed pitch-perfect, now looks weird and contrived, and Fynn’s instant infatuation with her looks ridiculous.  It could be set up better if he is previously shown nostalgic for his son at near that age.  As it is, the two encounters are too much alike.

Ate too much today; breakfast and lunch were fine, but I needed to go light on dinner and I don’t think I succeeded.

{3/9/21}  Weight 213.4 at 6:00 am.  Yow.  This is getting serious.

Watching Devotion, I learned something about expectations in fiction.  This is the story of the Brontë sisters; their father is a Parson, and the arrival of a new Vicar is expected.  He appears unexpectedly, escorting the drunken Branwell Brontë to the Parsonage late in the evening.  He is assumed by one of the sisters to be another drunk.  When he arrives at the Parsonage the next day, the event has unusual interest because of the secret shared between the two characters.  The point is, it’s always more interesting in fiction to tweak, if not shatter, a reader’s expectations.  It’s a small thing, but novel writing requires many small things.

I’ve seen this movie before but mostly forgotten it; it reminds me of Little Women without so much treacle.  I suppose it’s about 90% Hollywood invention.  Ida Lupino is very good; I’ve never appreciated her this much before.

Now this:  Olivia de Havilland’s cleavage provokes a startled and delighted “Wow!”

I love this movie, though I get very tired of Branwell.  Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold was an unexpected plus.

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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