Thursday, November 29, 2007

Compulsive revising

How do novelists stop themselves from endlessly revising the beginning pages of their novels? I gather this is a fairly common problem. By nature beginnings get more work since they're around the longest, and you see novels that seem better crafted in the beginning and more scattered as they go on. However if you aren't all the way through a first draft, as I am not, revising makes little sense. It's likely I will end up throwing out the beginning, or cutting off the diving board, as someone said at the Tin House workshop a few years ago. But how can I stop? Do I really need to open a new file every day, as I've tried in the past, so I can't look back at what I've written? Should I take what I have so far off the computer and store it on disk in the Nevada desert? Here's the thing: I still feel I need to understand what happens in the beginning before I can write what happens next. The rewriting is part of figuring out the characters' motivations. But maybe I can figure those out as I move forward, and revise the beginning later. Perhaps I don't trust that I will remember how things have changed, so I feel I have to go back right away. But then things change again, and the beginning gets messier and messier and covered with claw marks. So I am actually not even making the beginning better, let alone progressing.

I'm afraid of finishing. That's it! I'm afraid of finishing and finding out I have a disaster on my hands.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Poetry of the Universe

I bought this book by Robert Osserman years ago at a used book store and finally started reading it on the plane to Cleveland last week. It is wonderful. For the first time, I feel I am starting to "get" spherical geometry. Not that I could do any calculations or anything, but Osserman explains it by starting with the basic problem of map-making: there's no way to make a two-dimensional map that is not distorted; the issue is how best to manage the distortion for the purposes of the particular map. He then translates this problem into mapping four-dimensional space using three dimensions. Apparently Dante's "map" of the earthly vs. heavenly spheres uses pretty much the same idea as the mathematical "hypersphere." If Osserman can even begin to get this across to a spatial illiterate like me, he must be onto something.

I wonder what would happen if math teachers taught this book or a similar one, along with the usual calculations and story problems. The students could read a chapter and they could discuss it for a half hour once a week or something. I understand there's no time in the high school classroom for this sort of thing, but it would be great. I never cared about figuring out when two trains would pass each other--but learning that I could use math to understand how the universe works would have hooked me a lot more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chancellor May

Congrats are in order once again to Brian May, who's now a university chancellor.
h/t to Amy

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Props to the NYT

For vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes. I'm going to try this one for sure, the Pumpkin, White Bean, and Kale Ragout. I know from my experiments combining Vegan with a Vengeance and Tassajara Cookbook recipes that white beans and kale are great together, and you can't go wrong adding butternut squash or pumpkin. The ingredient list is in the middle range, not quite the 40,000 typical of NYT recipes (and Tassajara).

Here's another one from the same article, Curried Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Swiss Chard. I've come a long way from the days I swore I could never be a vegetarian because all they ate was lentils, which reminded me of guinea pig food. The fact that I have a very strong sense of what guinea pig food tastes like might give you pause. But this recipe sounds good too.

I'm not so sure about the Corn Bread and Broccoli Rabe Strata, especially because of the "resting."

Anyway, good on the NYT.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Meteor shower

Trev and I went to Sea Ranch last weekend and scored the best room in the house--top floor, corner, with a 180 degree view of the ocean. We watched the Leonid meteor shower from the comfort of our window seats (Trev woke me up at 5 a.m., after it stopped raining, but I was surprisingly polite). We also watched the stars fade into daytime. It was somehow comforting to be reminded that they're always there.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Writers' strike

Joss Whedon has a great post up about the writers' strike and why it matters. And the guy really can write.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Last Thursday Trev and I were sitting in our favorite "family restaurant" (it calls itself a "creperie" but has nachos and the occasional screaming kid), waiting for our clothes to dry at the laundromat next door. I reading Anthony Grafton's article on the library of the future in the New Yorker, when my eye was drawn to the television over the bar. A shirtless, heavily tattooed man was dancing under a spotlight. I thought it was some kind of dance-contest show, but then the man trotted down a ramp into a large octagonal ring surrounded by a chain-link cage. Another man appeared from the opposite direction, and the two of them started punching and then kicking each other in the head. I put Grafton down.

I studied karate for four years before destroying my ankle. These guys seemed to have some technique. Apparently they were engaged in a practice called Strikeforce, which I learn from Wikipedia is "an American professional kickboxing and mixed martial arts promotion based in San Jose, California." (At the time I thought that might just be the name of the company that made the mat.) The bout ended quickly, though I don't quite remember how, and then another bout started with two new heavily tattooed guys. These guys immediately went to the floor, wrapped their arms and legs around each other, and sort of scootched around the mat. Eventually the ref separated them, then they did the same thing again. They looked like a couple of brothers fighting, or a couple of drunks, as Trev said. It was impossible to tell whether they knew how to fight. The effect was hilarious and boring at the same time, suggesting that if no holds are barred, skill becomes irrelevant, and/or aesthetics goes out the window. Or perhaps they were really fighting. My karate teacher told us about a real fight that broke out during a sparring competition. The guys immediately dropped all their fancy training and started windmilling and slapping each other.

What does this mean for the library of the future?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is Star Trek a religion?

Trev thinks so. Consider:
--It has dieties (it is probably polytheistic).
--It has rituals (conventions, role-playing games).
--It has relics and iconography.
--It has sacred texts (the original series, maybe Next Generation).
--Many Trekkers have formed groups that engage in social activism.
--All are welcome, misfits fit in.
--It has a utopian vision for humankind's future.

I would argue that Star Wars, while more blatantly religious, is not a religion, though it borrows from another one. The Force is just warmed-over California Buddhism. And I don't think Star Wars inspires in the same way.

When pondering this question you may wish to view the film Trekkies. (I notice Blogger underlines Trekkies as a misspelling, but not Trekkers. Interesting.) We first saw Trekkies at the Tanforan Theater in South SF, years ago. I don't know if it still exists; back then it was in post-apocalyptic decline, with upturned buckets of popcorn in the bathroom and drifts of it in the aisles. Not only did your shoes stick to the floor, they came off when you tried to lift your feet. The projectionist started screening the wrong movie, then the aspect ratio was off so everyone looked like an ET; finally they got the film going but never centered it on the screen and all the informative text (like who was speaking) was cut off. It was perhaps the greatest movie-going experience of my life.

Robot patient

If Sherry Turkle is right, that we attach to what we nurture, how do the nursing students feel about this? Also in the works: the first robot birth.

h/t Natalie.