Monthly Archives: December 2014

That’s Where That Dog Chased Me

Nacoochee Valley

Nacoochee Valley, north Georgia

Following your Christmas carousing, with the passing of the soporific turkey coma, having opened, played with, and broken all your presents, suppose you were to wander down to the bookstore (while they still exist), to browse about.

If you were walking down the aisle and saw a book that is set in the town where you’re living, would you stop to look at it? Don’t try to lie to me, because that was a rhetorical question. And if the book had interesting elements, like theological discussions, explorations of metaphysical conundrums, or crazy hot sex scenes, would you buy it and read it? Don’t try to lie to me.

I was driving home this afternoon from the north Georgia mountains, where I spent Christmas, and on the radio from a local college station, I heard a writer being interviewed about a book he had written. The book was set in the Nacoochee Valley, which is where I had basically been. I somewhat know that area (in fact I lived there for a while), so the discussion of the book caught my attention. Regarding a different book, I’m also currently reading Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson, who lives close to me, over in Decatur. More pertinently, the book takes place in contemporary Atlanta and Decatur, and I know all the places being talked about.

Having read half the book, I like it (so far) enormously, but my point is that the book is even more interesting because it’s in a place I live and know. I’m going to posit the proposition—because I’m such an average common person—that most people feel this way. A book holds an extra interest when it’s about a place we know.

Why is that? Our first response is “duh” because it seems obvious, but I’d say, rather, that while the fact of being interesting is obvious, the reason is not so clear. Because I am the master of this blog and it will do what I tell it, it proceeds with several possible explanations for this phenomenon.

1) When we read about places we know, we can see ourselves there, can actually picture ourselves doing things in those places, either by imagination or by memory. Thus we perceive a locale that we connect with as somewhat representing us, and we like to read about ourselves (unless of course we discover our arrest record on the internet, when we do not like to read about ourselves—or I don’t know about you, but I hate that).

2) We take an interest in reading about topics we know about. The topic may be an abstraction such as “why does love suck so damn often?” (I’m just saying), or it may be horses or Turkish culture. In a different sense, the topic we know about may be geographic, as a place we know. And how much better if the book took place on my very street?

3) The literary presentation of a place we know seems to simultaneously add both profundity and magic to a place that is familiar. That isn’t merely Ponce de Leon Avenue, which I often drive down. It’s the place where Rory was jogging when he first met Carolyn, with all the consequences that followed. Ponce de Leon Avenue has turned into something new and greater, lifted above the real avenue.

4) [I reserved number 4 for you to fill in your own reason, because after all, we’re talking about places you know.]

For my own reading, maybe it’s helpful that I’ve lived and visited so many places. So many more books that I can say “hey, my car broke down there” or “boy, I managed to avoid being arrested there, so it’s not on the internet”. Ah, memories.

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Notes From the Pole

two bottlesFrom the diary of Hildegard Claus, wife of Santa Claus

November 25

We had a good Thanksgiving, as always we ate too much, especially Ludwig, but who’s surprised by that? I think he could show a little more self restraint, but that’s not “Santa’s way” he tells me. I ask him “Is it Santa’s way to lie moaning on the couch for three hours after dinner?” but then he doesn’t say anything. Still, it was a good day, and Ludwig’s friend Karl came for a visit. He surprised us, though, said he had been in Thailand back in the summer, and he’s practicing Buddhism now. “You should try it,” he said to Ludwig and was trying to get him to meditate. Buddhism? Ludwig? I mean seriously, maybe I shouldn’t have opened that second bottle of brandy after Thanksgiving dinner. Anyway, I think Ludwig was just falling asleep.

December 2

This morning I was in the kitchen talking to the cook. Since she only stands three feet tall, I always sit down in a chair when I’m talking to her. I try to be polite, but she wanted to complain, and I was thinking, “This isn’t my issue.” This time of year when the workshops are going nonstop, the elves need a lot of snacks, and they can’t seem to get enough cheese toast. I don’t especially like cheese toast myself, as it makes me feet bloated, but it sure seems to be elf food. Anyway, Tixiria, the cook, was saying, “Any dwarf could make cheese toast! I didn’t attend the Cordon Blue school just to melt cheese on toast. I want to cook real food, but these country elves wouldn’t know the difference!” There’s always some kind of issue, especially this time of year.

December 11

Do you know how long it’s been that Ludwig has been wearing that red outfit with the white trim? I know everyone thinks that’s what Santa Claus looks like, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they think he looks good that way. He started wearing that outfit before he ever met me, that’s for sure. Last night we got cuddly on the couch and I said, “Ludwig, you like blue, don’t you?” Isn’t that an innocent question? But right away he was defensive and said, “What are getting at, Hildegard?” “Nothing,” I said, “but I was thinking what if we had a designer, from New York or Italy, draw up a few possible costumes? We could see if we like them.” “I already don’t like them,” he said. Ludwig can be such a child sometimes. And he looks like a child in that red thing.

December 13

Just like every year, the music issue comes up, what to play in the workshop. The elves want music, and I understand that. I like to have music playing all day myself, although I really lean toward Dean Martin or Tony Bennett. But what music should they play in there? For the record, there are 437 elves employed in the workshop, which, as far as I can see, makes about 4,370 different ideas on the right music. At least everyone here at the Pole is agreed on one thing. We will have absolutely no Christmas songs, ever.

December 21

Today is the winter solstice, and I always insist that Ludwig and I have a quiet dinner alone on the solstice, that this close to the Big Night we have a quiet break. I took the chance to suggest to Ludwig that when he’s in France this year, he doesn’t have to eat all the cheese that’s been put out as snacks. “Bring some home,” I said. “The elves would like it.” But I know he’s going to just eat it.

December 24

Well, they’re off. It’s always kind of exciting, as many years as we’ve done this. When I see that sleigh rise up and hear those bells jingling as they go off into the distance, it still gives me goose bumps. Roman holidaySo I’ll putter around a bit, then take a nap so that I can be awake when Ludwig gets home. Whenever he gets back he always likes to have a few dark beers and watch the movie Roman Holiday. It relaxes him after working so hard, and I like to sit with him then. I love that time, the two of us together when it’s all over. Merry Christmas.

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I Feel So…Energetic!

monster eating the sun

Looks like winter is back

As we slide deeper into December, it grows closer to being dark when I get home from work, and it’s also colder this time of year. I feel more inclined to huddle in my apartment, bar the door, get under the blankets with a bottle of brandy, and wait for the monster that is eating the sun to go away.

Perhaps the increasing consumption of daylight by the darkness makes me more aware of metaphors of light and heat. I was also thinking about such metaphors because of a phrase I often hear. Every Sunday at the Unitarian church, someone lights a sort of lamp, and when it has taken fire, we say, “We light this chalice for the light of truth, the warmth of love, the energy of action, and the harmony of peace.” Other than the final phrase, which seems a bit out of place in that list of metaphors, we have references to light, warmth, and energy itself.

While I’m huddled under the blankets in my apartment, perhaps from the influence of the brandy, I think about how we try to use language to express things we struggle to understand. Things seem more real when they turn into language, as though the very act of finding words and putting them into sentences clarifies our thoughts. To give language to what is difficult to understand—this is why metaphors are so basic to using language.

I think I’ve previously discussed metaphors of light, which seems to represent almost every kind of good thing: holiness (Jesus is the light of the world), knowledge (enlightenment), safety (a light in the darkness), health (a healthy “glow”). Warmth is also a popular metaphor with positive emotional connotations, such as a warm heart or greeting someone warmly.

Light and heat of course are forms of energy, and with the third metaphor in that Unitarian ritual, energy seems to represent motion. If you have nothing better to do under your own blanket than read some physics, you can see that energy comes in still other forms, including electricity, kinetic energy, potential energy, and more. You can do your own Wikipedia search.

Years ago I began to wonder what energy is really, what this word actually refers to. I assumed my ignorance was merely my own lack of knowledge, and that if I read the right book or asked the right person, I’d find out.

I assumed wrong. In fact, no one knows, at least not in a way that would satisfy me. Here are four “definitions” of energy taken from four different websites, quoting them exactly as I found them: (1) Scientists define ENERGY as the ability to do work, (2) Energy Is the Ability to Do Work, (3) In physics, energy is the ability to do work… (4) Physicists…say that energy is the ability to do work.

You seeing a theme here? Every definition uses the same vague, semi-magical language. Whatever energy might be, it is nothing we can put our finger on, and our language indicates that lack of knowledge. Consider two examples of the inscrutability of energy:

  • Electricity consists of the flow of electrons, electrons are part of an atom, and an atom is considered matter. How can electrons be both matter and energy?
  • If you put a book on a table, it is said to have “potential energy”, which will be released if the book falls off the table. So is there something in the book that disappears after the book falls? What is it that was there?

candleAbout a week ago I was thinking about energy, because I just do that, and it occurred to me that the word “energy” itself, even when used alone, is actually a metaphor. Our observations of the world—light, heat, and so on, all of them in some ways mysterious—we sum up in the word “energy” and by doing this, we compare them to some kind of “substance”, or more fully to a “mysterious invisible substance”, as if energy is a thing.

The very word seems to make it a real thing. Whatever energy might be, we don’t know, yet we can sort of talk about it. To do so, however, we have to use metaphors, because it remains an enigma.

Maybe you’re not into this discussion, but as you can see, it leaves me fired up.

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Only the Best—Which Isn’t You

aliens

Did you write that down?

If space aliens are watching me through a special supermacronite telescope, and keeping notes, one of the things they are probably writing down is “He likes to be told no.” Of course they may have come to this conclusion just from watching me try to get dates. But as further evidence—if aliens need more evidence—they can note that I am again sending out query letters to literary agents.

You know how space aliens are, they can be a little harsh, what with the death rays and all, and I picture them up there with their supermacronite telescope stopping to write, “Reconsider whether intelligent life exists on this planet.”

I don’t want to argue with anyone who has a death ray, but I might say that I contact the agents because I’m “hopeful”, or not hopeful exactly, experience necessitates avoiding that word, but “desirous” perhaps.

Or I might say that I am expansive in my policy of giving the world an opportunity to reject my advances. Now that I’ve self published The Illusion of Being Here, in addition to publicizing it when and how I can (I stand on street corners and say “Uh, uh, excuse me”), for the next novel I’m still considering the traditional route of using a literary agent to approach a publisher.

The one petite hitch to this graceful, elegant plan, almost too small to mention, really, is that you must have a literary agent. Dang it. So I’m searching for representation, or to use the preferred technical terminology, I’m “agent begging”. Over the years I’ve compiled a list of agents, and while there must be many who I don’t know about, I tend to contact the ones who I’ve actually heard of.

My list has about 200 names, and I’m currently going down the list, hoping to finish contacting them this month, though I can’t use all 200. If you choose to walk this happy road and contact literary agents yourself, be aware that things change, people leave the profession, or switch to new agencies, or they may simply not be accepting anything at this moment. I would never consider contacting someone based on my list without checking for current information. The ideal place to look is at the website of the agency or individual agent.

But since this is only the 21st century and not the 22nd, some agents do not have websites. In that case, there are other websites you can go to for information, such as Query Tracker, 1000 Literary Agents, Absolute Write Water Cooler, or others. With everything you do, however, you need to keep your critical faculties sharp about you.

You might, for instance, go to 1000 Literary Agents and read the entry on Robert Lescher. That seems like good information, unless you happen to have seen some website such as this one from the New York Times, telling you that Robert Lescher died in 2012. Most of these sites do not have dates, and they are certainly not kept up to date, so you might be looking at information ten years old.

In addition to knowing whether an agent is still working, still at that address, accepting things at the moment, and so on, if a particular agent only handles cookbooks or children’s books and you query with an erotic science fiction thriller, you look like a Viking in a martini bar. A stupid Viking with a plastic cup asking where the keg is. Even when the agent has a website, however, and you check it, sometimes they tell you all about themselves and the fact that they went to Brown University and live in Brooklyn with a cat named Mr. Spock, but they don’t actually say what they are looking for. I would ask that the space aliens make note of that fact.Christina and flying saucer

Unless you are fond of wasting time and effort, it takes investigative work for every agent queried, and that effort can add up over hours, evenings, weeks. Then when you actually go to contact the agents with a query letter, to make sure to spell their names correctly, to include a bio if they want it, to send the required 10 pages, or 5 pages, or 30 pages, etc. ad nauseum (whatever they ask for), and don’t grow bored or glazed over or inattentive and screw something up—well, the fun just doesn’t seem to stop.

It could be better. I want to go up on the ship with the space aliens and see if Elvis is there. I heard that he is, that he needed a quiet place to write a book. I might offer to do some proofreading.

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