Novel Talk: Diary, 5/10 to 5/11/21

Mayim Bialik

{5/10/21}  Weight 212.0 at 6:15 am.

I started watching Tenet last night, then at 11:00 I checked and found that it had another ninety minutes to run.  I stopped it just as “protagonist” is walking out of the machine.  Then I discovered that Kenneth Branagh had a prominent role and I had not recognized him—he’s much older here and looks quite dissipated, as though he spent the last ten years trying to drink himself to death.

The movie introduces “reverse entropy,” which is hard to get hold of or make sense of (one character says, “Don’t try to understand it”—apparently good advice).  Very trippy, and presumably the best is yet to come.  Rotten Tomatoes has it at 74%, I think, and audiences at substantially less.  When it started I realized that I had seen it before, though apparently only about the first twenty minutes; I hadn’t known this when I bought the DVD at Wal-Mart for $13.  I like “puzzle movies,” generally, and this is one.

Reread and “reblogged” my old (2018) essay on Charles Bukowski.  It surprised me with the quality of the writing, especially the first paragraph, which I’ll copy here:

I like to say and to tell myself that I was “influenced” by Henry Thoreau, Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Kozol, and other acclaimed and brilliant thinkers–see My Best Books for a long list.  But in fact I started reading Charles Bukowski before any of these others, in my teens, and found in him the antisocial antihero that I had longed for without knowing it, that others found in James Dean or The Wild One, a kind of savage, a Tarzan of the slums.  It was Bukowski (hereafter, affectionately, “Buk”) that nourished the social critic, the crank, in me, and prepared me for the more systematic and effective Walden of Thoreau that I loved and was corrupted by at seventeen.

Maybe it’s not brilliant, but it surprised me with its clarity and effectiveness—rare and gratifying.  Also alarming, making me wonder how much I’ve lost in the last three years.

Noticed a couple of typos on the first page of the “Prison Diary 3” file; I started correcting and found more, mostly in wrong-facing quotation marks and extraneous spaces around quote marks.  So I started correcting, but soon found that it would take days to fix them all.  I believe they were introduced by a bug in and a misapplication of the “cleanup” macro that I use to fix dictated text.  So I decided:  just keep on with the dictation.  When it’s all in the computer, I’ll almost certainly want to print it out and read it all over again, looking for “gems.”  So instead I might read it on the laptop and fix the typos as I go.  In any case, it’s the dictation that’s important right now.

Had a hearing test today, learned that I have a mild hearing loss in the right ear and a moderate loss in the left, both in the high frequency ranges—no real surprise there.  Also learned that tinnitus (which I have) is aggravated by alcohol, caffeine, sodium—the usual precious-bodily-fluid pollutants—and high blood pressure.  Purity of essence!

{5/11/21}  Weight 212.8 at 6:00 am.

“Downtime and boredom are good for your brain.”  So says neuroscientist and (former?) actress Mayim Bialik in a YouTube clip.  It seems that, while I wasn’t looking, this former child star produced a number of these things, responding to brain questions.  It was less entertaining than one might wish, but I’d be open to watching others.  As for the statement, clearly, boredom is not good for your brain, in general, quite the opposite in fact.  It’s good only for brains that try to do “too much.”  I say this without research to cite, of course.

YouTube has riches untold (to me) that I am slowly discovering.  I’ve mentioned here already, Fritz Perls and maybe Alan Watts, but I’ve also watched and listened to performances of Mahler’s “Urlicht,” Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song,” and Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” “Immolation” scene, and “Forging Song.”  There are already far more things to watch that I’m interested in, than I am willing to spend time on.

As well as not wanting to be depressed by progressive political opinion.  Progressives have very little to cheer about in the news, and much to dread.

In writing down items, such as the Bialik bit above, from a post-it note, I came finally to a book published on May 4th, Grace Lindsay:  Models of the Mind; I clipped a bit of screen from Amazon’s “Look Inside” and posted it to Twitter.  It describes “a form of extended cognition,” that is, a spider altering its web to make itself a more efficient predator, and humans do likewise with mathematics.  The concept is obvious, an extension of “extended memory” that I’ve known about for years.

This is a book I’d like to read, but I won’t spend the money right now.  I have six books on the way from Hamilton and Thriftbooks, not that that’s anything unusual.  I would prefer to buy it from Barnes & Noble.  Maybe I’ll go there later this week.  It’s already noon, and 89° outside.

Reading a bit further, I came to this:  “…mathematics is the only language precise and efficient enough to describe the natural world.”  This is the second statement in two pages that I consider an overstatement, in this case a ridiculous overstatement.  That is, I’m not aware that geology and biology have been reduced to mathematics.  Maybe I don’t want to read this book after all?

I’ve got a couple of other post-its that I wanted to write here, written while perusing Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (current comments in parentheses):

How can I write a novel without addressing the coming doom?

  • Address the doom.
  • Keep it offstage.
  • Write about the past.
  • Write a fantasy.
  • Write post-apocalypse or, e.g., Andromeda.

Make everything go wrong—it’s the slips twixt cup and lip that are most interesting.  (This should mean something more than just “adding complications,” advice given in some books on writing.)

Look with interest.  (Advice to myself to be more “mindful” when I’m out and about.  Not advice I’ll necessarily follow, or even agree with—if I have a good book along.)

Start [a scene, a novel, whatever] with people walking.

A couple of items relevant to Kick Me:  You are not alone in your guilt.  And an anticipated criticism:  “You’re just a pussy and all your crimes are pussy crimes.”  This clearly isn’t worth recording, yet I want to.

Finally, a line of dialogue:  “I never hear my phone ring.”  Perhaps for the pending novel idea.

Found both Maslow, several clips which I didn’t watch, and something from Viktor Frankl, “Self-actualization is not the goal.”  As I’ve said here several times, Maslow doesn’t claim this (though I’d want to reread him to be absolutely sure).  Frankl comes across as passionate, and maybe dogmatic and fanatical, unlike his books.

Another Frankl clip has him speaking in German, which would be great if I ever get back into studying German again.  The books are within reach from where I sit.

“Dogs are very good to read poetry to.”  Billy Collins in a commercial interrupting a YouTube clip I’m watching, comparing Avengers and Justice League.

Turns out this is a really interesting clip for a writer to watch, notably, the “all plot, no story” analysis.  It’s not enough to have exciting scenes and squabbling characters; it’s necessary to look at the dynamics between your characters and to give your readers reasons to care.  Something like that.

Justice League is all about “waiting for Superman”; Avengers is about forming a team.  Just seeing this difference sheds some light on why JL is a poor feeble thing, and A is not.

I’d dearly love to see something like this on some novels that I’ve read; could I do this kind of painstaking and insightful analysis myself?  Only if I’m sufficiently interested.  Now, if I wanted a couple of novels, not too long, say, The Stranger and 1984?  Or maybe, closer in theme, The Stranger and Crime and Punishment.  I don’t want to reread C&P, however.  Maybe…but this would be a major project that would kill any time for reading other books.  What could I compare Pride and Prejudice to, other than another Austen?  It’s a novel of a love story, with some social commentary.  Jane Eyre?

It’s painfully obvious that doing something like this myself would teach me oodles more than reading someone else’s analysis; and it could form the basis for a book, or at least an essay.  Given the popularity of romance novels and books about how to write them, surely there’s something out there to save me a ton of work?  Except that I have read such books, and have yet to find one that served.  Maybe Percy Lubbock’s book?  Available for free at Project Gutenberg:  The Craft of Fiction.  Yay!  A search for “literary criticism” brings up 78 titles, not including this one.  I printed the Lubbock book for easier reading, etc.  Virginia Woolf’s Common Reader is also available.

I could compare Lolita and The Lolita Curse.  Don’t wanna.

Looking into a book called Kindle Income, I am told that “writing is the fun part.”  OMG, who knew?  If writing is supposed to be the fun part, then the writing I should try to sell should be this diary, because it’s almost the only fun writing that I do.  Writing for myself would be a broader category.  I don’t write fiction for myself; I used to write porn for myself, but now I dare not.

Meanwhile, families in India are dumping dead bodies in the Ganges because they can’t afford the wood to burn them.

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