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Echoes and Mirrors

It finally happened

August 1st, 2015 by Daniel

Some people despise the word “moist,” which I’ve never understood, because it’s really a great word to describe well-prepared foods like cake and turkey.

Moist is good.

There are countless others, but I’ve never in my life recoiled at the sound of a word before. Connotation, usage, definition, meaning…sure. but never the sound of a word.

That is, until tonight, when it occurred to me just how much I loathe the word “shmear.” I think it’s always bothered me, but as I don’t spend too much time in bagel shops, I haven’t encountered it very often (nor would I encounter it in any medical sense, generally speaking).

Ugh. It certainly doesn’t sound like something I want to put on my bagel, that’s for sure. Just call it cream cheese or lox and we’ll be fine.

So, I found the word I hate. I’m fairly annoyed about it because I love words, too.


Late Inspiration

January 22nd, 2015 by Daniel

Seven or so years ago, before I went to college, I began writing an awful, sad attempt at a novel. (I posted it to my MySpace blog, if you need any clarification on how much of an amateur I was.)

A few of my friends, in real life, pestered me for years about finishing it. I think I managed to get three or four chapters completed before I realized it wasn’t going anywhere (and, looking back, was basically bleakness porn).

Today, while driving to work, I thought about it and suddenly knew where it could go.

I’m not about to start writing it again, but I did scribble the idea down for later. And I’m damn glad that it didn’t come to me then, as I may have actually kept on with it instead of devoting my energy to better projects.


“The Imaginative Poverty of the Middle Classes”

December 25th, 2014 by Daniel

“We are reverting to the civilization of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth, and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty.”

There are dozens of gloriously snide but intelligent passages like this in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End. I never quite think of myself as one who enjoys pre-Modernist writing, but I’ll be damned if it’s not sharp as hell at times. This narrator doesn’t care about judging the fuck out of people, which is tremendous, but the wit with which it is done? Remarkable.


What You Can Get Away With

September 2nd, 2014 by Daniel

From The Illuminatus! Trilogy, The Eye in the Pyramid:

The sculptures were unlike the work of any culture George knew, which was to be expected, after all. They were at once realistic, fanciful and abstractly intellectual. They bore resemblance to Egyptian and Mayan, Classical Greek, Chinese and Gothic, combined with a surprisingly modern-looking note. There were some qualities in the statues that were totally unique, though, qualities doubtless lost by the civilizations to which Atlantis was ancestral, but that might have been found in known world art, had there been other civilizations to preserve and emphasize them. This, George realized was the Ur-Art; and looking at the statues was like hearing a sentence in the first language spoken by men.


It took a few more pages before it dawned on me that the only really good line in the passage. The rest of it is vague in the extreme. This is a prime example of telling instead of showing. But that last sentence is almost poetic enough to make you ignore that.

This is less a critique of the book than it is a lesson in What You Can Get Away With If Your Novel is Strong Elsewhere™. Sleight of hand, as it were. The strong point of this book is certainly not in it’s descriptions or language, but in the plot and ideas. Nothing wrong with that.

The Goldfinch was quite the opposite; I found it to be a really poetic, language-rich work that sort of suffered from a weak plot that just meandered and wrapped itself up. Again, nothing wrong with that.

Writing really is about what you can get away with.


I shouldn’t be laughing

August 12th, 2014 by Daniel

Because all the hubbub about Junot Díaz’s This is How You Lose Her being very misogynistic seems to be (to a degree, at least) true.

But, damn, it is a funny book. And the humor undercuts the drama in just the right way — not to devalue it but to highlight it while still letting the reader breath.



August 10th, 2014 by Daniel

From Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch:

“Are you vexed with me?” Family language: vexed. A word Andy had used when we were children.

Seems like a bit of Lampshade Hanging used to make you ignore that word — vexed — rather than for a particular detail or plot point (some of which require a pretty solid suspension of disbelief in this novel). It’s almost as if Tartt was adamant she would use this word and would justify it any way she could. It’s an indulgence, and one that I think works.

I say good on her for it, too. That line made me chuckle as much as it did strike me as an interesting use of trope.

What may be most interesting to me about it, though, is the fact that a line like this would get ripped up in a workshop. Not that a workshop doesn’t have its value (a tremendous amount of it, in fact) but the notion of a workshop is necessarily attuned to find and destroy things like this, despite how clever it is. It is designed to destroy indulgences, especially of the linguistic variety.

I would never give up my workshop experiences (and would welcome more) but it holds true that the best lessons about writing happen outside of the classroom, and always will. Mostly, they happen while reading.



August 8th, 2014 by Daniel

I’m doing it again. The masochism has bubbled up from the depths.

I hadn’t meant to take as long of a hiatus as I had, but the summer ended up being mostly awful and entirely too stressful to even consider it. Not that I’m any less busy now. I’m definitely less stressed, though.

But what’s noteworthy is that after a couple of months wherein the only writing I did was a few tweets and emails (and no small number of resume/cover letter combinations) I slipped back into it like I had never stopped. I feel better about it, in fact. Looking back over old manuscript drafts, I recoil in horror (drafts, which, in May, seemed fine). The break, I think, was good for my brain. It needed some downtime.

The adage about “write every day” has always struck me as being, to a degree, crap. While I can’t deny that writing is like working out and requires pretty regular exercise, I suspect that there are thousands of writers out there banging out shit manuscript after shit manuscript because they won’t take a break. Like any other muscle, you need to let the brain recover, too.

Unlike any other muscle, the brain does not need to merely rebuild some tissue. It has to flush out a lot of bad ideas, generate new ones, rethink old ones, absorb and integrate new facts, experiences and skills.

I’ve more and more (especially during grad school) become a burst writer — I will take notes for weeks, months sometimes, and then just dump it all out in a relatively short period of time. My master’s thesis was probably written in three or four sessions (100+ pages, all told). The editing time wasn’t any longer than when I used to write daily. It may have actually been shorter because the bulk of the work was coherent. Sadly, my mood and style and general ability to write is not consistent day to day (nor hour to hour, but that’s somewhat irrelevant).

Unfortunately, with a full-time job comes the necessary writing schedule. I think I used to take two or three hours “warming up” — typing a sentence or two, deleting them, turning the television on, wandering off for a beer, typing a little bit more, etc. — before I was able to just do the damn thing.

I don’t even have time to “warm up,” let alone get a good session in now. Adjusting is difficult.

Which is why I’m so happy that it seemed to just come back without any real hiccups. It’s slower, sure, but it feels okay.


I’m just gonna go ahead and leave this right here…

June 24th, 2014 by Daniel


Been Out of the World for a Bit

June 22nd, 2014 by Daniel

Well, the job market world that is. Six years in the military, four on the GI Bill, and two more on a TA stipend. Generally, the pay was always a bit low, but it was secure and reasonable for what I did.

I have no idea what constitutes decent pay these days. Apparently minimum wage hasn’t changed since I was in high school (13 years ago), and I am aware enough to know that doesn’t make for reasonable paychecks.

This is making the job hunt much more difficult.

I do know, roughly, how much I want to make, how much I need to make, and what’s reasonable for the jobs I’m applying for. Yet sometimes this doesn’t seem to add up.


The Return of the Boner Bill

June 12th, 2014 by Daniel


I’ve been drawing the B and R onto dollars for years and spending them freely. Handing boners out to cashiers all across our great land.

Only today, I got one back with my change at a 7-11. The cashier couldn’t help but laugh and apologized. I laughed and told her that it was just crazy weird how I’ve been handing these out for years and only just now got one back.

It’s kind of a landmark moment, somehow. For what, I don’t know.