Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Victoria, R.I.

Mighty Reader and I spent a long weekend in Victoria, British Columbia. There was a lot to see and do and I felt, by 3:30 on Sunday afternoon, that I'd been seen and done out. "What do you want to do now?" Mighty Reader asked. "More than anything else, I'd like to get out of this fucking country," I said. Nothing against my Canadian friends, but I was tired and I wanted to go home. We spent yesterday in our own back yard with our cat and our laundry on the line and our flowers encircling us and cocktails and books and warm summer sunlight and that was a fine time indeed and I'm glad to be back home.

Home, where I will soon begin revisions to my philosophical detective novel's first draft. I have no idea how long that will take, but I'm guessing a couple of months. It would be nice to have Draft Number Three ready by, say, Halloween, but that might be too ambitious. I haven't read the full draft yet, so I can't pretend to know what sort of work it really needs. Some, though. I already have a stack of notes.

I'm also 11,000+ words into yet another new novel, which I'll be setting aside while I work on the revisions to the aforementioned detective book. I think the new new novel is going to be pretty cool if it all works out. It's already got some of my best bits ever.

I also have a new long-range project of reading all of Chekhov's short stories. Mighty Reader was kind enough to purchase the Ecco 13-volume set for me (birthdays can be wonderful, I admit) and so I'll add those volumes to the ongoing mix of old novels, new novels, Shakespeare plays and nonfiction. During our trip to Victoria I read Volume 1, which ends with the novella "Three Years." I was unfamiliar with this novella and I must say that it's one of the best things I've ever read. The more I read of Chekhov (I think I've read about a fourth of his stories; maybe fewer), the more I wonder why I read anything else. The guy was absolutely brilliant.

Also, this was our favorite piece of public art in Victoria:


36 comments:

  1. Glad all things are going well! And hoped you loved B.C. -- such a lovely place.

    Can't wait to hear more details, when you have them to share.

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  2. Weronika! I'm glad Irene left you undamaged; a friend of mine in Brooklyn emailed me a photo of a tree that fell onto the sidewalk half a block in front of him, as he was walking home in the storm. Yeesh.

    Yes, I'll send you stuff to read in a couple of months. I hope.

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  3. I'm glad your holiday went well. However, there's something to be said for one's own backyard.

    Question -- If Victoria is in British Columbia, and its abbreviation is B.C., why does your post have Victoria, R.I.?

    I lived in R.I. all my life and to my knowledge there is no Victoria there. Am I missing something, or am I just a dolt?

    BTW Happy Belated Birthday. Are you now considered curmudgeonly?

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  4. Anne: Queen Victoria, that is, after whom the city is named. Right at the harbor there's the BC Parliament building with a larger-than-lifesized statue of Queen Victoria out front, "VICTORIA R.I." engraved on the plinth. R.I. stands, in this context, for "Regina et Imperatrix," or "queen and empress," which was Victoria's title. She signed her name "Victoria, R.I." on official documents. Et cetera.

    I knew someone would tell me there's no Victoria in Rhode Island. I knew the post title was vague. Yet I used it anyway. That's how I am.

    I was a curmudgeon before my birthday. I might actually like to be less cranky, though odds are against that happening.

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  5. Thank you for the explanation. I knew it was a good one.

    As for being less cranky, perhaps you're going through male menopause. You are at that age you know.

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  6. I think I'm at that age where my body begins to tell me constantly that I'm at that age. Everything creaks and aches. Possibly that feeds into the crankiness, but I try to combat the effects of aging with liberal internal applications of alcohol.

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  7. "I think I'm at that age where my body begins to tell me constantly that I'm at that age. Everything creaks and aches. Possibly that feeds into the crankiness, but I try to combat the effects of aging with liberal internal applications of alcohol."

    So, you just turned 32? Or have I not been taking care of myself?

    I bought a pair of running shoes while you were gone, Scott. I ran north, which perhaps seems like I was chasing after you, but really I just wanted to run over a bridge after reading Murakami's running book.

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  8. Can you walk up and down stairs after you go running? Because it's really painful for me. For the record, I turned 33. I turn 33 at the end of every August. Next year, I'll turn 33.

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  9. I huff and puff when I run, but I'm an ace at stairs, I must admit. It's all thanks to my fear of elevators. I could climb twenty flights of stairs, and I'd enjoy it. But I suck at running. My mom is 22. She was 21 for a long time, but turned 22 around my 30th birthday. Later this year you and I will be the same age. We should go to a club and party all night and get crazy drunk! 3333!

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  10. Me = Lame for not commenting here earlier. But you know I'm happy you're back! Isn't it crazy how vacations just make you want to go home? We sure are restless creatures. :)

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  11. Michelle: We're all busy, so I don't blame you for not commenting. What's the last comment I made on your blog? "What she said"? Yeah. Lame.

    The restlessless of people and how it conflicts with the desire to go home is one of the themes in my WIP, weirdly enough. Write what you know!

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  12. You know, I never realized that about your work, but it's true! I love that.

    Tara Maya is smart. She's worth quoting. :)

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  13. I think I have only three themes: the search for identity through work, the search for love, and the search for home. Maybe if you get rid of "through work," there really are only three themes in all the history of art. Maybe you can reduce it all down to the search for love (or, if you're cynical, the search for identity; or if you're an evolutionary pyschologist, the search for safety, maybe)?

    Tara Maya is way smarter than I am.

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  14. I think everything boils down to identity in a lot of ways, but you can pretty much boil anything down to basics. My themes seem to center around growth (or non-growth) and figuring out how to find oneself and truth amidst a lot of crap. Wait, isn't that every book?

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  15. There's a sort of Western/European rejection of fate, of seeking the self, that your work has. That's one of the things I like about it. It's something missing from the Murakami book I'm reading (I just realized): the characters are all sort of controlled by fate, are puppets under the hand of greater forces. That makes them harder to care about for me, but I also think it's one of Murakami's themes: there are big events that sort of happen on their own, like hurricanes and earthquakes and wars, and individuals are powerless to stop the events and what individuals do is almost beside the point. It's an interesting idea even if I don't find it at all attractive.

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  16. I can't stand feeling out of control because I believe everything, including things "out of our control like hurricanes and forces of nature" are still a huge percentage of our perception. How we think about them and deal with them inside is what counts the most, so I hate putting my characters into situations where nothing they do or think is going to make a difference in their outcome and personal journey because fate is just too big for them. I just think that's the most depressing thing I can imagine.

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  17. That makes me wonder if I'd make it through Murakami at all. Not sure. This is why I hate "end of the world" stories.

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  18. Oh, and why I liked "The Road" because it was all about perception instead of fate completely taking over.

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  19. Murakami is fun if you just look at is as sort of a fairy tale, with your disbelief suspended and a willingness to see how weird things can be. It's also interesting if you take the idea that the world is essentially unknown and unknowable and what we believe about reality is a self-imposed illusion but if we truly have a good look it becomes baffling and much more frightening than we tell ourselves. So I can see where Murakami's coming from, maybe. I'm in the last 100 pages now (of 607 pages) and the book keeps surprising me and I like it well enough. But I don't plan to run out and buy his new 1,000-page novel anytime soon.

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  20. I tend to dislike long stuff, but you and Davin have said good things about him. I'll have to at least try. :)

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  21. I recommend After Dark to both of you. It's like Murakami concentrate. It's a novella, and I'm rereading it and liking it all over again.

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  22. I already have an unread Murakami on my shelf and I'm not buying a new one until I read that one, damn it!

    I guess my problem with Murakami might come down to fate, so this is an interesting discussion. I reveal myself as a total Westerner in this philosophical discussion, maybe. But while I do believe that in many ways individuals are absolutely powerless and I also don't believe that people really transform themselves or overcome their own shortcomings (though Mighty Reader will tell you that I spend a lot of energy on trying to do that very thing), I don't like stories where characters accept that they can't change their fate. The protagonist of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles is actually doing things and making decisions, but I guess I don't really believe his motivations for acting. That may be (probably is) a cultural difference. It's very interesting. The section I'm reading now has a lot of stuff in it about obeying orders even when you know those orders are pointless and stupid.

    Unlike most of America, I really didn't like The Road. I loved the prose, but I hated the story. I really really hate the ending of that book (except for the very last paragraph, which is beautiful).

    While I see life as essentially tragic for everyone, I also hate the idea of not being in control. I think Michelle and I write a lot about people trying to take control of their worlds. Her characters mostly succeed and mine mostly don't.

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  23. I like that yours mostly don't succeed. In fact, I love that about your work. I didn't really love the story of The Road. I liked how it was presented, I think more than anything. Which means I liked the prose. My mom hated it. She couldn't even get through it. :)

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  24. I should say that my mom has a fine taste in literature so that means something that she hated it. I just keep going back to The Great Gatsby and wondering why I love THAT book so much. Something about fate and taking control of yourself is really prevalent.

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  25. The Road bored me after the first half, but I really liked the first half. I liked the idea that the man basically had no hope but had to create hope to encourage his son to live. That felt very real and deep to me, which maybe says that I am a nihilist more than anything.

    I don't particularly like the protagonist of Wind Up Bird, from what I remember of him. He's sort of a passive loser, isn't he? But I really like the book anyway because it makes me think of real life. I connect the events of that story to how I see my own world and how everything is really so imprecise and blurry...and I think it's interesting that I let those imprecise and blurry things basically direct my life even though I don't understand them. The character ends up having very little to do with whether or not I liked that book, which is interesting and makes me think.

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  26. Michelle: One of the things I love about Gatsby is how everyone pretends to be different from how they are but in the end they can't escape their real selves, which are mostly pretty awful. Everyone is a fraud, calling themselves sophisticated but really they're just hungry animals with cocktails and cigarettes.

    Domey: I liked the man's struggle against the inevitable, but I hated the false sense of hope at the end, as if McCarthy really wanted us to believe there was some kind of happy future. And I really hated the survivalist family that shows up when the man dies. Deus ex machina, anyone?

    The Murakami book has been a really valuable experience for me, especially because of this very conversation we're having today. I believe in a Sisyphean universe, mostly, and I believe in those big invisible forces that we can't see even when they act upon us, but I also believe in the struggle against the stone, in the daily push up the hill. I also believe in the struggle against evil, though what I mean by "evil" changes.

    You know what I like about Wind-Up Bird today? Cinnamon. I love the Cinnamon character. He's so cool.

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  27. Scott, exactly. Nobody really takes control so it all ends in disaster for the most part. :) I love that.

    I think you have a good point about The Road. I was disturbed by the ending because I wanted a more realistic "the boy wandered off into the dark" kind of end and you don't really know what happens because then you'd focus more on the relationship that actually happened instead of "Oh yay he's going to live!" kind of scenario, which wasn't really the point of the story - it shouldn't have been. But then there wouldn't have been a movie and lots of fans and all that stuff.

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  28. And don't even get me started on The Inception ending.

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  29. Anyway, what I DID like about The Road was the whole perception thing - the father didn't go off and kill himself like his wife did. He kept surviving because of his perception of his son and the world no matter how bad it got. And it got pretty darn bad. So in that sense - him shrugging off the fact that fate would probably end up taking his life and his son's life, was what I liked, and I liked how it was presented.

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  30. Michelle: Yeah, I liked that. I'm strongly attracted to stories about people fighting tooth and nail against a force that you can see will inevitably beat them. What's that say about me? Or about you? The ending threw away the whole struggle that came before it.

    I hated Inception. It pretended to be profound but it was really just a cheap trick and a lot of CGI. "Look, it's all a dream!" Wow. Never seen that one before.

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  31. I thought it was entertaining, but I wasn't really watching the whole thing. I was in the room on my computer while hubby was watching it. I didn't get really interested until halfway through. I liked the layered dream withing a dream thing, like nested stories in a way, but that's really not anything new. I think it would have been better if it hadn't tried so hard to be profound. Something doesn't have to be profound to be good.

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  32. Yeah, it should've just been, "Hey, look: secret agents who operate inside people's dreams! Way cool! Let's go have weird fun!" I would've accepted just about anything if they'd kept it at that level. But they wanted to look smart and failed.

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  33. Belated Happy Birthday, Scott! Love that piece of public art!- my exact thought right now..

    I don't have anything interesting to add to the Murakami discussion. I read it 6 or so years ago and really enjoyed it and almost loved it...However, in retrospect and I've never admitted this to myself aloud- I almost feel as if a lot of the profundity in the book isn't that profound at all and a little deliberate (ignore me, I think I am just feeling particularly critical)..From what I remember, I think my favorite part in the book is him making pasta or spaghetti.. ok..suddenly I am in the mood to read some Murakami. Now, how did that happen..

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  34. Lavanya: Thanks for the birthday wishes!

    I think this conversation has been more profound than the Harukami novel, certainly. I think the book presents an interesting set of ideas about reality without really exploring those ideas, and a lot of the subplots don't seem to tie together. There are a dozen unanswered questions at the end of the story, but I think that's fine, actually. I like that about the book. When I got to the end and read the last pages I was really satisfied by it, but I will say that I didn't come away thinking Murakami was a genius.

    But the thing is, I am attracted to the ideas he presents in Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. The non-structured narrative is cool, too. My big problem with the book (and this was my problem with the only other Murakami book I've read, Sputnik Sweetheart) is that the characters were almost all flat and frequently cliche. The story was acted out by mannerisms, not by people, and that really held me at arm's length. So I have a new respect for Murakami but not a lot of interest in reading more of his work.

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  35. Hi Scott!

    I didn't have a problem with the unanswered questions either. And I enjoyed the rambling non-structure of the story. I like his kind of writing and I don't have a problem with the seemingly aimless twists. However, in retrospect and having read better books since, I felt like I cannot say that that was a great book - and in my comment I was sort of trying to figure out why(even though, in terms of personal taste that book is one of the 'kinds of books' I like. I especially love the pacing). I wonder if he uses structure instead of substance sometimes (and I am often in the danger of falling into this trap myself and have and I need to train myself not to do that). That is an interesting point about the characters, maybe that is why? Like the letters of that girl, May (was that her name?) - they seemed immediately quirky and appealing to me, but again,what they actually said, wasn't as interesting as he made it seem. Anyway, I am speaking from memory and I probably should read the book again before making any more harsh pronouncements..:)

    An aside: I had the strangest experience after reading Wind up. I picked up Orhan Pamuk's Black Book a year or so after, and found the premise freakishly similar. I didn't end up reading past the first chapter so I am unsure how similar it actually was, though.

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