Fynn Novel: Diary, 3/9 to 3/18/21

Google & Wikipedia on Jean Dutourd

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{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.

{3/10/21}  Weight 213.4 at 6:30 am.  I was expecting a gain because I followed dinner and dessert with four chocolate chip cookies from the freezer, which felt self-destructive at the time, but the scale says the same thing as yesterday.

Listening to the soundtrack for North by Northwest, wonderful, perhaps eccentric music by Bernard Herrmann.  Nobody conducts his music as well as he did.  The package of soundtracks in Alfred Hitchcock:  The Classic Soundtrack Collection comprises four CDs of often great music, mostly by Herrmann, with generally execrable sound quality—as should be expected from original soundtracks from mostly very old movies (1934-1964).

Watched the last hour of Paris, Texas, a very slow movie about a man and his son that he abandoned.  One might think that this would strike home, but it didn’t, and I was frequently bored by this very slow movie.  The music by Ry Cooder was pretty good.  Pablo said he liked the movie when he saw it before.

A possible breakthrough on the Fynn novel:  start with a reading group (or Hemlock Club) discussion of Nabokov’s Lolita, then revisit this throughout the subsequent text as a sort of commentary on the relationship.  At any rate, the new scene gives me an impetus to get started writing again.

Some published criticism of Lolita:

“A damning review from Orville Prescott in the New York Times (in which he famously called the novel ’dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion’) failed to dampen the public’s enthusiasm. The shocking subject matter, gleefully punning unreliable narrator, and Nabokov’s spellbinding sentence-level prowess combined to create a book as repulsive as it was inviting—comic and horrific and utterly absorbing.”  From https://bookmarks.reviews/sick-scandalous-spectaular-the-first-reviews-of-lolita/.  Also:  “Kingsley Amis called it ‘bad as a work of art, and morally bad…a Charles Atlas muscle-man of language as opposed to the healthy and useful adult.’”  Also Amis:  “There comes a point where the atrophy of moral sense, evident throughout this book, finally leads to dullness, fatuity and unreality … The only success of the book is in the portrait of Lolita herself. I have rarely seen the external ambience of a character so marvellously realized.”

From the same article:  “This is still one of the funniest and one of the saddest books that will be published this year. As for its pornographic content, I can think of few volumes more likely to quench the flames of lust than this exact and immediate description of its consequences.”–Elizabeth Janeway, The New York Times, August 17, 1958

“Lolita stands as a monument to Nabokov’s resentment: it is not a novel of sexual consummation but of cultural contempt. Contempt is the true driving passion: the landscape, the characters, the narrator, the narrative are all drenched in it. Nabokov despises his characters and their bright vulgar world, with its populist architecture and cheap displays, its tawdry, ersatz culture. Lolita is a raging cry for the world Nabokov lost, which was one of refinement, perception and beauty. It’s a cry of rage at a world that represents his world’s counterpart: young, vulgar, unrefined and irredeemably seductive.”  From Against Lolita ‹ Literary Hub (lithub.com) (by Roxana Robinson; she calls it “a minor work.”)

{3/11/21}  Weight 211.8 at 6:45 am.

“She never has an orgasm, right?”  I think that will be the first line.  At first I typed it without the final word, and as a statement, not a question.  But my original thought was as I have it now.  I think it’s better this way.  I think also that the story should start after Fynn has met Apple.

“If he wanted it to be erotic, she’d be having orgasms.”

In the prison diary I have:  “Quoting Toni Morrison: ‘The function of freedom is to free someone else.’ This inspires me to contemplate writing an honest book about my neurosis.”

The Fynn novel is that book; the idea being to help others who might have the same defect that I have.

{3/12/21}  Weight 212.0 at 5:30 am.

I just pissed away ninety minutes doing two things:  trying to understand the file structure of my laptop (running Windows) and failing; and trying to be funny on Twitter and failing.  Maybe now I’ll do some work and succeed.

Turns out maybe not. I did a software update and the dictation app quit working. It’s happened before. Right now it’s working again.  Switching documents while it’s running seems to be the cause of the problem.  Really don’t need the new pop-up window which you can’t get rid of, seemingly, while the app is running.

A miserable, pointless dream:  I was in the army, or possibly a prison, a very large room full of beds and lockers.  I had trouble finding my locker; it had doors on both sides, or possibly the back was of two door-like panels.  I opened both sides, but inside was only a shirt—everything I owned had been stolen.  I had trouble finding my bed.  There was more, but I’ve forgotten it.

Watched Citizen Kane for the second or third time, and enjoyed it more than ever.  There’s not much more to say.  Perhaps I should confess:  the singing by “Mrs. Kane,” which was supposed to be terrible, sounded okay to me.

Earlier, Pablo and I watched East of Eden; he liked it, I didn’t.  I thought James Dean overacted, and the story was essentially a melodrama, with too much boring talk of ice and lettuce.  The stars were good, the settings interesting, the music was so-so.  Meh.

{3/13/21}  Weight 211.6 at 6:00 am.

HC today.

I’ve been doing so much dictation that my reading has dropped to almost nothing.  My bedtime reading, which always goes very slowly, is Stendhal: The Charterhouse of Parma, so far the story of a foolish, rich, uneducated young Italian in the time of Napoleon.

I keep finding errors in the edited dictation.  I need to be more careful, maybe comparing the handwritten to the dictated, sentence-by-sentence; or, since that’s unlikely, just rereading the whole.  In theory, I’m already doing that, but in fact, the errors get overlooked somehow.

Rereading “Our Bounded Rationality,” by Mahzarin Banaji, in John Brockman (ed.):  This Explains Everything, The Edge Foundation, Inc., Harper Perennial, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2013, pb; here’s the quote that sparked an idea:  “The Reason we are boundedly rational is because the information space in which we must do our work is large compared to the capacities we have…”  It occurs to me that, eventually, human society will be reduced to the ever-more-hopeless task of recovering—rediscovering—past discoveries from the overwhelming literature, rather than making new discoveries.  This idea could provide some of the social background for an SF novel; but I doubt that I’ll ever write such a novel.

I spend a hell of a lot more time doubting than writing!  But one must also select one’s tasks, which means criticizing one’s ideas, and thus, doubting the doubtful.  Which is fine, but when the doubting is done, the selected task remains, and completing the task is something I seldom manage.  Though I also seldom fire blanks, in the sense of abandoning a novel-in-progress before getting very far.  I usually get at least eighty pages out of whatever idea I’m willing to commit to; this has happened about eight times.  That’s a lot of work, yet, I feel that nothing has been completed because I have nothing that I consider worth publishing in its present form.

Once the first draft is written, I face a stumbling block that I’ve never really learned how to deal with effectively:  the sheer bulk of the manuscript seems to require endless rereading, a rereading that gets more and more painful each time I attempt it.  Gardner says you do this until all objections fall away; I’ve never reached that stage, so maybe I’m not that kind of writer.  I may be the kind that abandons as “completed” the novels that one can no longer stand the sight of.

Charles Bukowski, Leslie Charteris, and I think Thomas Wolfe never rewrote anything, they just kept producing new pages.  Hemingway rewrote endlessly, he said.  Kafka finished his short stories, but I think his novels are all defective and he didn’t want to publish any of them.  I think Dostoyevsky rarely rewrote; I think Tolstoy did rewrite, though how much I have no idea.  I guess the answer is, do whatever you have to do to move on.

Now, the situation with the Fynn novel is this:  I want to reread Lolita before I try to write the book discussion scene.  While waiting to get a copy, I can reread what I have and make changes.  After I’ve reread Lolita, then I can presumably write the new chapter and see where that leaves me.  So:  order the book.  Which I just did; it is scheduled to arrive on 3/22, nine days from now.

Serious disagreement with Pablo today, at the Hemlock Club and after.  At the meeting he lost control, yelling “Fuck you” and literally threatening to kill me.  Talking to him on the phone just now, I told him that he had gone “beyond the pale”; he said that he “has no regrets about today’s meeting.”  And he accused me of bullying him at the meeting!  That pissed me off, on top of everything else today.  He has excuses, complaining about how he was raised, and how being interrupted “triggers” him.  So we’re supposed to treat him like a petulant child who will fly into rages when he doesn’t feel he’s getting his way?  Or in particular, when we interrupt him?  Fuck that.  Today he was behaving like an abusive husband towards his spouse:  blaming me and Nog for his rage.

Will this break the club?  Today I’d have to say that the club is broken.  I don’t want to attend until I’m persuaded that his behavior will be different.

{3/15/21}  Weight 211.6 at 7:00 am.

I’ve had some long talks with Nog on the phone and one with Pablo yesterday regarding, in part, Pablo’s behavior at the HC and his subsequent words.  One thing he said I wrote down in my Bullet Journal because it was another outrage; I asked him how he felt about his behavior, specifically regarding his threats of violence and murder and yelling “Fuck you,” and he said that it hadn’t worked.  Not that he was ashamed or embarrassed, but that it hadn’t worked.

It turns out, on further questioning, that when he was growing up he had tried to kill his older brother, because he had been bullied and picked on.

Ah, I am suddenly weary of the subject, I don’t want to try to recreate any of these conversations; my bottom line was that he does not consider these threats as very serious because this was not such a rare occurrence in his history as it has been in mine.  Nog and I compared our family cultures regarding conflict; all three families were very different.  I have banned Pablo from the Hemlock Club for the next meeting.

Binged on cookies tonight.  Whatever I thought I was doing turned into something else.

No work done today, though I did grocery shopping and, alas, bought cookies.

Waiting for live Jimmy Dore Show to start at 8:00 pm.  So far it’s 10 minutes late.  Tweet says, “Standby.  Troubleshooting a technical problem.”  I stopped watching a Greta Gerwig movie for this?  (Maggie’s Plan).

Twitter thread just now:

Me (to “St. Brian”): My reading has slowed down greatly, and I abandon a lot of books these days, early; I’m spending a lot of time on transcribing (via dictation) handwritten pages as well as napping and being depressed.

Zena:  Why are you depressed?

Me (in monologue, combined tweets):  Diet, world situation, laziness, ambition, COVID, troubles with a friend, tinnitus, age, mental deterioration, physical deterioration, no response to letter from my son, probation, medical bills, unresponsiveness of NGOs owing me money, isolation, impotence, take your pick.

In truth, I don’t know why today and not tomorrow or yesterday, or why everyday but I don’t always notice it, or why never but I always think so; in short, I don’t know myself and so cannot judge when I am depressed.  “The mind is flat.”  I just have the habit of saying so maybe

Correction:  “No response to letter *to* my son.”

“Is there something very important that you are trying to do that you can’t succeed at and can’t give up?” Randolph Nesse:  Good Reasons for Bad Feelings, p. 268.  This might be it, as much of my first answer would fit this category.  Johann Hari:  Lost Connections has other ans.

So: I have answers both professional and personal, too many answers and I don’t know…maybe it’s because I haven’t washed dishes today and I binged on chocolate chip cookies, though these might be *because* “I’m depressed.”  It’s chronic, not serious.  Good question you asked!

Consider that I renamed my blog, from “Not Afraid That You’ll Hate Me” to “The End is Near,” a month or two ago.  It’s meant to refer to climate change and worldwide famine this may lead to, but could be “the footsteps of death” behind me, too, or instead of.  So:  chronic.

I’ll be speaking with my “counselor” (as part of probation) tomorrow, so she may have some insight.  I’m too close to the problem to give a diagnosis; it could be a function of “too much time, no meaningful purpose.”  I consider my writing “meaningful,” but:  do I *really*? shrug  [End of Twitter thread for now]

That was “I don’t know,” long version.  Interesting that I didn’t mention my often-mentioned death of my father when I was ten.  If the mind is indeed flat, as Nick Chater says, then all answers are essentially confabulations of the moment; I’m not 100% convinced he’s right.  We do have habitual answers, perhaps no more accurate than any of our confabulations.  And we do have answers that we remember from books, like Hari’s Lost Connections; are these baseless confabulations?  Why do we select some such answers and not others that we’ve read?  There are endless questions, and endless answers, but no clarity—which is why I keep reading books.

The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology, definition of “depression,” in part:  “Generally, a mood state characterized by a sense of inadequacy, a feeling of despondency, a decrease in activity or reactivity, pessimism, sadness and related symptoms. In this sense depressions are quite normal, relatively short-lived, and (damnably) frequent.”

And:  there’s “my neurosis,” which I consider permanent, and a crippling handicap in trying to develop a relationship.

And:  there’s “my philosophy,” the bleak philosophy as I call it, though I’m not sure that label works any more.  It was intended to reflect that “life is meaningless,” but my current answer to the meaning of life question is now more complicated and I’m not going to repeat it here.  In fact, a search of this document for “meaning of life” did not reveal a definition.  But I do have a “mission statement,” which I am pursuing.  Meh.

{3/16/21}  Weight 213.0 at 6:00 am.  Pound and a half gain, putting me back almost a week.  Well, I might have a bit of a bounce tomorrow morning, or not.

600 pages of the Prison Diary are now in the computer, 40% of the total.  Getting it all done this year is possible.  But what about novel-writing?  Both are important.

An exchange on twitter today, part of a much longer thread, bookmarked:

St. Brian:  Well no, at least not what I was thinking. The only way to see ourselves as others see us, is to ask others how they see us, in some way. To get the information from other people, somehow. But not to just blindly listen to them; to parse it, figure out what you show to the world.

Hillbilly Highlander:  And why they chose to use those words to describe you; were they holding back, being flippant, cruel, mean, trying to build you up?  The motivation for their description will be telling in and of itself.  Asking someone to tell you something like that can be off-putting to them.

Me:  How about a little test? I would like to ask St. Brian, Zena, and Highlander, while recognizing that you are free to decline and “guaranteeing” that I will have no hard feelings, how do I seem to you?  How do I come across here?  Reply by DM if you wish.  I have met none of U IRL

Highlander:  I’ll be as honest as I can given that I’ve only ever read your tweets.  You seem to me to be a liberal philosopher, slightly damaged, but feisty, a bit cantankerous, but we all get that way with age, and Impassioned about not only your beliefs but with ideas.  You like to share.

St. Brian:  Agree here. He’s very dark, too. He sees the dark lining before he even sees the cloud. Seems to look for it. And (to me at any rate) when you look for it in everything, you’ll surely find it. Which adds to his depression and creates a vicious circle. He’s a likeable guy, too.

Interesting, no real surprises except maybe the “slightly damaged.”  My impulse is to say, “Isn’t everyone?”  In fact, I don’t think I said anything in response.

Posted two things on the blog today, and wanted to add a third, current diary pages.  But I can do that tomorrow or something.  I think I dictated six pages today, reaching a total of 600, as noted above.  9:30 at night.

{3/17/21}  Weight 213.2? at 6:45 am.  And I was expecting a loss!

A tweet of mine this morning:  One small joy:  I look to where I thought I left my pocket calendar and it’s not there.  I look to where I ordinarily leave my pocket calendar and it’s there.  It’s great when things work like they’re supposed to.

A surprising photograph on Twitter shows a shelf of books where the books are all turned around so the spines are hidden; the exposed page blocks have been painted by an artist; here’s the link.  Probably all the books the owner had, so knowing which was which would likely be no problem.

But now, to work.  Alas, after almost a page of dictation, “I give up.”  The app is erratic this morning, leading to much aggravation and wasted time.  I’ll find something else to do, like breakfast, then reboot the laptop and try again.

Napping in my chair.  I dream that a tiny leafhopper is crawling along the edge of an open book in my lap.  I open my eyes and there’s a different book in my lap, with no leafhopper.  Then I really open my eyes:  no book, no leafhopper.

Problems continue with the dictation app.  It seems that I’ll have to wait for an update from Microsoft.  Now what?

So far, “what” means “Twitter.”  Maybe I’ll open a book instead.

{3/18/21}  Weight 213.4 at 7:15 am.  Again I was expecting a loss but get a slight gain.  Apparently my standard breakfast, a pizza for dinner, an ice cream sandwich, and a few chips is too much.  I skipped lunch.

The dictation app continues to be more trouble than it’s worth, taking an estimated twice as long to produce text.

Well, what do I do to get work done?  I can try to focus on reading, and there is a lot of reading that would be useful and important; but somehow it seems easier to just watch TV and play with myself.

No money coming in yet; Nordstrom’s said “a day or two” for my $1000 to be returned, and it’s been 48 hours.  The Federal bailout $1400 is unpredictable.  My next Social Security deposit will hit on 3/24; will it include my $800 that should not have been taken out?  I guess that may depend on Medicare, but anyway, no point in holding my breath.  If I get my $1919, I won’t complain, though I’d expect that the Medicare part B cost won’t be deducted, so it should be more.  Money woes are boring.  Waiting for the government to react to appeals is tedious.

So I went to bed to take a nap, but started reading Pluche, a novel I love but have never finished—I started reading it years ago, and am only around page 110.  I was charmed by it all over again, first reading the page and a half of description of a young girl, “Lise,” the narrator’s niece, a description I copied into my Collected Quotations because it’s so wonderful.  Then picking up where I’d left off in the novel, and loving it both for its pure charm and for the ideas it was sparking, such as:  “I eat words,” a description of my relationship with books, words, and ideas.  I can use this.

As it happens, in the three or four pages that I read, Pluche acquires a dog, says much the same as I would about a dog (except I would have refused it); then he takes it immediately to his niece and she charms me all over again.  The relationship of this to the novel I’m trying to work on is obvious; and she’s the same age as Apple.  I like the author’s approach very much—a lot of character analysis, something I’ve never written.  Sometimes waxes poetic, also something I never do.

If I believed in synchronicity…I had the idea of including as a friend of Fynn, a book-hoarder friend living in Ising, who encourages him to move there and provides a convenient foil, perhaps, or at least an interlocutor, a role not adequately filled by Karen.  The book is coming alive in my mind, and growing at the same time.

As I settled in to sleep, I thought of three adjectives that I thought captured a snapshot of who I am, but all I can remember is the first, “grubby.”  I have often thought of myself as “gnomelike.”  A third “g” would be good.  And maybe I should look up both “gnomelike” and “gnomish,” and some other words to get this just right.

Fynn and the book hoarder could discuss Lolita, rather than have a book discussion group to start the novel.  I have tried to get Pablo to talk about it, but he hasn’t said much except “it’s great,” his typical useless kind of comment.  But the BDG idea is not as good because the book hoarder would be a continuing character, and so should be characterized ASAP.

On 3/15 I had much to say about my depression; give me a couple of new ideas and I’m happy.

[Pluche: Or the Love of Art is a novel by Jean Dutourd, translated by Robin Chancellor, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1967, 1970.]

Copyright 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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