Saturday, May 3, 2008

On the road again: Florida, day 1

The morning came entirely too early, so after a rushed two-mile walk and shower, I headed to the airport. An old colleague ended up in the seat next to me, so we passed the flight in catching up--which though pleasant meant I did not work.

I'm heading homeward--same city, different houses--because it's my mom's 75th birthday and because she's on chemotherapy for lymphoma. I was already planning to come for the first reason; the second only emphasized the importance of the trip. Chemo is tough on everyone, and pretty much everyone loses his/her hair in the early weeks of the treatment. My mother is no exception to either facet of the therapy. Though the battle is very hard, Mom does seem to be licking both the cancer and the many side effects and complications. If she'll keep her faith in herself, I truly believe she can beat this, and so, too, do the doctors. Go, Mom!

My brother and sister-in-law and their two kids are putting me up. They've completely redone big parts of the house from when I was last here, and it's quite lovely.

For me, it's the middle of the night and so, as usual, a partially written book awaits today's efforts. I shall go to it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

And now a word from Sarah

She was on a five-game losing streak, her RPS chops in serious doubt. Tonight, however, she overcame an innate disadvantage--my superior skill--and managed to steal a win. Her long-necked spirit invader, Phyllis, then took over her body and tormented me with bizarre neck stretches. Fortunately, I was able to restore Sarah to control and her neck to normal.

And now, a word from Sarah:

"You readers of Mark Van Name's blog and books should know that my father is a freak of nature. Superior skill? Pshaw! I lull him into a false sense of superiority. It is a game of cat and mouse! He is the mouse. Phyllis is the cat.

Also, please go listen to '9:00 A.M.' by Girls in Hawaii. It will make your day more cheerful."

She is deluded, but I indulge her.

Tomorrow, I will be in Florida. More then from the state that spawned John D. MacDonald, Carl Hiaasen, and, for all but my first two years, me.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Back to the book

I was working on a special project, and I wasn't able to find enough time in my schedule to make serious headway on it. The project involved writing, so it was competing for that part of my day. The deadline approached, then became part of my past as I utterly blew it, and then the real deadline, the one with no wiggle room, appeared. I had to do the job. In desperation I put aside Overthrowing Heaven and focused my writing time for five days on the project. I finished the project, sent it in, and last night returned to the book.

I was so relieved I could hardly stand it.

I spent about 23 years farting around with writing: doing a story every couple of years, agonizing all the time, not able to give up the writing but also not able to buckle down. Finally, I decided my only hope was to work on my writing every day. Every day. No exceptions. I've done that for the last three years--including those five days of working on the special project. I've spent my writing time some days on page proofs, some on plotting, most on novel writing, and some on essays and short stories, but it's all been writing work.

The special project was writing work, so I didn't expect the days on it to bother me so much.

I was wrong. I found the time away from the book to be nervewracking, because at some level leaving the novel, even for only a few days, left open the possibility that I might slip in discipline and never finish it.

Neurotic? Most definitely. But it works.

Last night, as I said, I resumed Overthrowing Heaven, and I'm heading back to it now. I'm quite happy about that fact, and though I know The Dread awaits me sometime in the next ten or twenty or thirty thousand words, it's not here now.

It's good to be back.

Still processing

Some events move me enough that I take a long time to process them. I'm still working through all of my thoughts and feelings about TED, for example--though I learned yesterday that I didn't make the cut for the 2009 main conference. (I'm still hoping to attend a satellite, should they have one again.) Last night's concert was another such event.

Several things in the show affected me deeply.

The music, of course, is a big one. I love most of Springsteen's songs, and many of them would make my desert island top 100 list, were I to have one. A lot of his songs tell stories of poor, trapped people trying alternately to make the best of what they have or to get away from it all, and those tunes resonate with my childhood and teen memories. Others--and many of that first group, of course--rage at injustice, and I have related to them since I first heard them.

It's not just the music, however. His joy in performing touches me, as does the show's undeniable energy. I also respect and admire the fact that the same band has been together for so long; I aspire to do as well by my closest friends. In addition, he strikes me as an entirely decent and admirable man, someone who's become rich while never forgetting for a moment that most people aren't.

He also makes me want to be a better writer. If my work brought anyone as much joy as his provides to me, I'd be honored and thrilled.

As I said in the title, I'm still processing it all. I wish you could have been there to enjoy it with me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Boss

Tonight, six of us drove in pouring rain to Greensboro to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The show was amazing, exciting, emotional, uplifting, exhausting, and entirely wonderful. This evening marked the fourth time I'd seen Springsteen perform, and each concert occupies a cherished place in my memory.

I'll write more about it tomorrow or sometime soon, but for now I still need to process it all.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

And the rain came

Tonight brought a glorious rain. It started lightly, the sky darkening and the air thickening with moisture. The pre-rain smell was strong and wonderful; I love to stand outside and breathe slowly and deeply so I can fully enjoy the scent. The drops then fell few but heavy, and I thought we might get merely a passing shower.

Then the clouds really went to work, and we were in a doozy of a storm. I had the misfortune to be out driving when the rain turned into a gray curtain limiting visibility to a few car lengths. As luck would have it today, however, everyone on the road with me drove nicely, kept their distance, and played it safe.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the rain much more when I was home, but it was all good. To an area still recovering from drought, this is simply wonderful.

Al Pacino's hair is alive

and it's mutating rapidly. That's the only theory that can explain all of the many transformations his hair underwent in the course of 88 Minutes, the entirely mediocre movie a couple of us saw tonight. The course of the plot was predictable, which in and of itself is not a huge problem--provided the ride is good. The ride just wasn't enough fun to make up for the weak plot, and Pacino's hair kept distracting us from everything else. The amount of gray, its apparent length, its style, whether it was straight up or flat--pretty much everything about it varied from scene to scene.

To his credit, Pacino tried to keep up with his hair. He used his entire arsenal of muted emotive expressions; for the most part he kept his insane emotional looks in the drawer for this one. I would have preferred the insane looks, because they might, just might, have been able to upstage his hair.

If you're a hardcore Pacino fan, buy the DVD. If you love him and are mad about at least two of the supporting actresses, then shell out for a ticket at the theater. If you're none of the above, give it a pass.

The dinner at Poole's Downtown Diner before the show was far better than the movie. Greg Cox, our local food critic, had awarded it four stars (out of a possible five), and for the most part I thought our meal justified his rating. Our appetizers, main courses, and all but one side were top-drawer, with strong tastes whose only consistent flaw was an overuse of lemon. The mac au gratin with Cabrales bleu cheese was a superb sample of its type and is a dish you should not miss.

The one course in which we all disagreed with Cox was dessert. In keeping with its diner location, the menu--which is available only on two blackboards on opposite walls and ends of the room--offers only pie for dessert. We tried all three of today's pies, and their crusts were all bad: thick, hard enough to get through that you had to lean on your fork, chewy, and not very tasty. The pie fillings were also all weak, sad second-rate ends to a first-rate meal.

More and more, we find good, very good, and even great meals ending with mediocre desserts. That's one food trend I'd love to see end.


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