Feast and Famine

As I’ve said before, my day job sure gets in the way of writing!

I’m a corporate trainer for a civil engineering company. Since I’m also the senior engineer for the company, I wind up getting involved in a number of special needs, and am given those things all the youngin’s don’t know how to do. Since the company is in the midst of a slowdown, travel is restricted, and I’m not traveling to the branch offices to hold training classes. It’s been a time where I had to force myself to keep concentration. I’ve always had plenty to do, but a lot of it was self-starter type stuff.

That all changed this week. I found a training seminar we can have in-house via a conference call, and invite in a bunch of clients and potential clients. This week I started the ball rolling on that. A “white paper” I wrote on a marketing issue a few months ago came up this week, and I’m to present it at a managers meeting next week. Our Phoenix office has a problem project, and I’m trying to help them out. Our Dallas office has a municipal recreational project for which that they weren’t sure how to write the specifications, so I’m helping them, trying to teach them how to do it rather than do it for them–by long distance, of course. I’ve been working on revising a detail (our name for detailed information about a specific piece of construction work that goes on our construction drawings) that involves a change in the way we do our engineering. I’m finally ready to do the work needed, which is getting some final reviews, and that came to a head this week. On a large, local project, there is a sudden fear that an item I designed a year ago using approximate methods will not withstand the applied loads, so I now have to do a rigorous design. That is coming up this week. And the usual mix of people coming by my desk, asking for help with this or that relatively minor issue intensified a little. Maybe that is a leading indicator that our work load is increasing.

All of these things are unfinished as the work week ended. Next week will see all of these continuing, with more things added. Thus my time for writing will likely be minimal. I won’t be able to sneak a few minutes here and there to read writing blogs and web sites. I’ll likely have to work a few extra hours during the week, and I’ll likely be mentally exhausted at the end of the work day. None of that bodes well for finding time to write, so I may be reading in my evening hours. This will be a real test of my mental stamina.

At least I’m not playing any computer games!

The Tentacles of Research

I find myself with more time on my hands while abstaining from computer games during Lent. Last night I used that time to return to research on Doctor Luke’s Assistant, things that have been nagging me and leaving me fearful that some things might not be historically accurate. So, using the miracle of search engines, I began this task.

In the book, I have the educated farmer, Jacob of Ain Karem, making ink from animal blood and keeping it in a container fashioned from a leg bone of an ox. Is this even possible? Would the blood congeal, even if mixed with something? Would it be absorbed into the bone? Or would it form a film, that maybe would prevent very much from absorbing? This may not be a major item, but I’d like to get it right.

So I searched for “ancient documents” and “ink”, and had the usual large number of hits, many of which were not germane. One, however, was to the book Forty Centuries Of Ink, by David N. Carvalho. Who knew such a book existing, or that it was on-line at http://www.worldwideschool.org/library/books/tech/printing/fortycenturiesofink/toc.html . I haven’t yet found the answer to my question, but I have much more of this to read, and other links to pursue.

Then, since I’m preparing the correspondence of Augustus ben Adam, assistant to Doctor Luke, I wanted to research some expert references regarding ancient letters for form and content. I’ve done some of this already, but not as extensive as I’d like. So I searched for “ancient letters” and had thousands of returns, some amazing documents, either books or articles on-line, or blogs, or professors’ web sites. And these sites have hundreds of references to original sources they used. It’s a veritable treasure trove of information. When I am at home tonight, I will edit in some of the names of the originally found document and some of the references of interest. How I would love to access and read it all!

But, maybe I don’t need to go that far. While perhaps one article or book cannot be considered definitive, maybe two is enough for the purpose at hand. The derivative research, which would be more pleasure than research, will have to wait.

Waiting, Waiting

Three months and three days. That’s how long it’s been since I sent a partial manuscrpt of Doctor Luke’s Assistant to an agent I met at a conference. The agent requested the partial, and I complied a couple of days later. No word since them. This is about at the time when, if you listen to on-line writer groups, I should be thinking about a refresher contact to the agent. I think I’ll wait another couple of months, however. It seems the waiting is getting harder on this one the longer it goes on.

Four months. That’s how long it’s been since I sent four items out for consideration by four different periodicals. Three were poems; one was a literary essay. I heard back from two of them over the next two months–two rejections. The other two, nothing. These are not ones I’m sweating over, as I don’t think much payment, if any, is involved, and not a lot of noteriety. Still, knowing would be better than not knowing.

One day. That’s how long it will be before they announce the results of the Valentine’s Day love sonnet contest at Absolute Write. I entered an older one titled “Motif No. 1”, a take-off of the famous fishing hut in Rockport, Massachusetts. One of forty-five entries with five prizes being awarded, I think I have a decent chance to get something. But I’ve been disappointed before, so my hopes aren’t really up.

Waiting is part of the writing industry, with most waits ending in the disappointment of rejection. We’ll see what these four unresolved submittals hold.

So Much To Do

The whirlwind of life never seems to slacken. Or maybe I should phrase that otherwise, for life is not always a whirlwind. The things that tug at my time, things I would rather not be doing, continue to tug. When I resist, I feel the tension. When I yield, harmony reigns in life, though in my inner most being, I feel less fulfilled.

Today was the Lord’s day, the Christian Sabbath, meant to be a day of rest and worship, recovery and devotion. So how did I spend it? Slept till 8:30 AM, since we were having a special service today and no Sunday School. Before leaving, read 1 Kings 16, 17, and 18, from which I will be teaching an adult Sunday School class beginning next month (on the lives of Elijah and Elisha). Church was in the gymnasium today, a special service for Upwards Basketball. We had a huge congregation, with many, many visitors. Drove by someone’s house to loan a book, but they weren’t home. Drove through their neighborhood, for some reason. Dropped off our recyclables. Went to Wal-Mart for grocery shopping. Came home and had meatloaf sandwiches. Read a few pages in a book. Took a nap, which lasted from about 2:15 to 4:00 PM. Spent time on the computer, posting to a political blog, then reading at a writers site. Read more in the book. Cooked a frozen pizza and ate. Read more in the book. Fixed popcorn and ate it. Read more in the book. Came downstairs, where I first filed some papers and checked e-mail before deciding what to post hear.

So did I keep the Sabbath? I hope so, maybe except for that shopping. Now, downstairs in “The Dungeon”, as we call our computer room, I’m faced with choices of what to do. I filed a few papers, as I said, but a stack remains on the table. Still, if I file as many each day as I did a few minutes ago (11, I think), I will soon be caught up and can stay up to date. If I spread out reading writer websites and blogs, I’ll recover perhaps 75 minutes a day (between work and home). Maybe, just maybe, that would help me see my way clear to write more often.

Getting Things Done, Part 2: The Impact of Lent

Lent began yesterday, and, while I haven’t been in a church that practiced Lenten rituals in over thirty-five years (I do miss the hot-cross buns), last year I decided to use Lent as a springboard to give up a negative habit: computer games. I did so sucessfully, not even playing games on Sundays (which are not part of Lent), although I did backslide one day near the end of Lent and play a few. In the ten and a half months since, however, the bad habit has returned, and now I find mself eliminating mines and moving cards instead of tending toward business, that is, my avocations of writing, genealogy, and Christain studies. Thank God that all games are deleted from our computers at work, and it’s only at home that I have the problem.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a new Lent season, I decided to do it again. So Tuesday night was the last time I’ll see Solitare and Free Cell for forty days plus Sundays. Maybe, this year, the habit will stick and I will find myself still game free when Lent begins in 2009.

So what did I do with the time? Did I write a column in the Documenting America series? Did I work on a chapter in In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming Poeple? Did I market anything? Did I pursue a new ancestor, and try to drag him/her out of the depths of some Internet web page? Did I start a new poem?

No, but I did something perhaps more important for the needs of the moment: I started on my income taxes. I had the goal for the evening, only one or two hours work, of making a start on the taxes for our (my wife’s and mine) home business partnership taxes. I hoped at best to copy the spreadsheet from last year, wherein I calculate profit and loss, and make a handful of entries to check the formulas; in addition, I hoped to gather all the papers needed to complete the calculations another day. Instead, I was able to enter ALL of the transactions for our main business, leaving only the irregular items to do tonight. Since these are a much smaller set, I should be able to finish that tonight and know what profit we made. Yes, we appear to have made a profit this year, the first in four years of operating.

Which gives me a wonderful feeling of getting things done. Oh what I might accomplish in life if I could wrap my brain and body around getting things done that need to be done. If Lent can help me with that, I will celebrate it every year.

Reflections on the Death of Poetry

This is a frequent topic on the poetry boards I participate in and monitor. Poetry, if not dead, is minutes away from expiring. People don’t buy it; people don’t read it; newspapers don’t print it and don’t print reviews of it. Poets no longer have influence as they once did. The debate is heated on what has caused this. Some say competing entertainments, such as movies, television, and the internet has drawn off all but the most dedicated readers. Others say that poetry is imploding, due to the dominance of masters of fine arts (MFA) programs and how they produce poets just like their instructors, who are just like their instructors, thus resulting in a similarity of poetry that is strangling. Others say that the poetry community at large is to blame, that they are writing poetry that no one but other poets (or other MFA grads) want to read.

I think it is a combination of these. Many more entertainments exist than, say, when Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot were starting their careers–pre radio, pre television, etc. Entertainment in the home consisted of reading, and little else. Poetry was among the items read. But why does poetry not compete well with television, et al? I think it’s because poetry, as the most compressed type of language, requires the greatest use of brain power of all the written arts. Prose requires less, visual arts less still, motive visual arts even less. So when faces with a choice of brain-taxing poetry reading or mindless sexually-oriented sitcoms most people choose the sitcoms.

However, I do find fault with poets for not providing a product their audience wants. I have always been partial to poems with rhyme and meter (or rhythm), but it seems poets and their marketing outlets (many of which are MFA-led “literary” journals) find fault with rhyme and meter, and go for free verse exclusively. The vast majority of the people simply don’t like free verse. Why? I think Screwtape (see my last post) answered that. People have a love of change, while at the same time a love of permanence or stability. God fulfills that through rhymthm. The seasons change, but always come back to each other year after year. Daylight follows darkness. Low tide follows high tide. In poetry, rhyme and meter in poems to specific forms seem most enjoyable to the largest group of people. Yet, about the same time radio came in, the poets en-massse began moving away from rhyme and meter. Hence, in the face of a shrinking market, the poets turned their backs on what that shrinking market wanted.

IMHO.

Book Review: THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

I first read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis in 1975, and kept the small paperback copy I had of it until my daughter ran off with it (since returned). As a young man just starting my Christian walk, this book had a profound effect on me. Still, the years gave no opportunity for me to read it again until recently. I suggested to the co-teacher of our adult Sunday School class that this would be a good book to study. I found a study guide from Progeny Press, and we began the study last October, finishing up just today. While C.S. Lewis is sometimes very dense in his writing, everyone today said they were glad we did the study, that they got much out of it.

Now, much further into my Christian life, The Screwtape Letters has once again had a profound effect on me. I love the way Lewis puts himself into the voice of one of Satan’s helpers, the senior demon Screwtape, who is corresponding with his nephew Wormword. Wormwood is just beginning his career as a tempter, and has been assigned to a young man in England, about the time that World War 2 is beginning. We never do learn who Wormwood is tempting; his is simply identified as “the Patient”. But we learn much about him, as early in the book he becomes an adult convert to Christianity (reported by Wormwood and commented on by Screwtape in Letter 2). Screwtape tells Wormwood, “There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s [meaning God] camp and are not with us.”

Throughout the rest of the book, Screwtape coaches Wormwood in the art of temptation, while Wormwood, in letters that we don’t see, reports to Screwtape about what he is doing to tempt the patient and what the result is. The result is a wonderful insight into human nature, our relationship with God, and what temptation and sin are all about. When the patient’s rocky relationship with his mother does not improve after his conversion, Screwtape tells Wormwood, “It is…impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always “spiritual,” that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism.” When the patient acquires a new set of friends, Screwtape says they “are just the sort of people we want him to know–rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly sceptical about everything in the world.” When the patient meets and falls in love with a Christian woman who would be a perfect helpmate to him, Screwtape says of her, “a two-faced little cheat…who looks as if she’d faint at the sight of blood, and then dies with a smile…filthy, insipid little prude…she makes me want to vomit!”

With many such statements, Lewis keeps us entertained, while at the same time helping us to understand ourselves. In Letter 25 he talked about similarity and change, and has Screwtape tell how the world below has caused human (“two-legged vermin”) to have a horror of “the same old thing”. Humans want change, and the tempters should give it to them. But Screwtape warns Wormwood how God provides for change in a positive way. “The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart–an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconsistency in friendship…The humans…need change, [so] the Enenmy…has made change pleasurable to them….He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.” Wonder, wonderful stuff.

The main theme which seemed to stand out to me, in a way it didn’t 33 years ago, was that Screwtape advised Wormwood to direct the man into a state of confusion. Confusion is what drives people to Satan. Unsaid was that order drives people to God: orderly habits, orderly thinking, orderly praying, etc.

If you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, I urge you to do so. Don’t just read it: study it, meditate on it, reflection on Lewis’s genius, and grow because of it.

Book Review: NELSON’S TRAFALGAR

With Christmas money I purchased Nelson’s Trafalgar by Roy Adkins, First American Edition, Viking. I began reading it a little over week ago, and finished it Saturday night–all except for the credits and bibliography; those came last night.

This is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in naval issues (especially war), the British/French war brought about by Napolean, sailing ships, or history in general. Before reading this book, I really knew little about the Battle of Trafalgar. Oh, I knew it was an important sea battle won by the British in the early 1800s, but I didn’t really know where it was fought or who they beat. I knew Admiral Horatio Nelson was the British victor and hero, but I knew little about his career, nor that he died during the battle. So for sheer transfer of facts and increase in my knowledge base, this was a great read.

Adkins used a good mixture of his own narrative and contemporary reports about the battle. He did not focus only on the victors, but talked considerably about the combined French-Spanish fleet. He talked about the life of the sailors in the navy, and about the officers. He took several occasions to explain subjects about life at sea and how the battle was waged. Consider this segment about on-board surgeons.

It was during battle that surgeons were most effective, even though they were working in appalling conditions. For much of their time on board ship, they were involved not with battle injuries, but with the daily hazards of disease and accidental injury….As soon as a ship was under fire, a steady stream of casualties arrived on the orlop deck. In most ships the crew were taught the use of tourniquets, to reduce blood loss, and also elementary bandaging, but in the heat of battle such first aid was usually inadequate…While waiting their turn to see the surgeon, some men bled to death whose wounds were otherwise not serious or complicated…putting [surgeons] under pressure to work as fast as possible….In a matter of seconds, he had to decide whether the injuries were fatal, could be dealt with by stiching and dressing, whether amputation was necessary….Usually this was all decided in one hurried glance, in poor lighting, as the surgeon tried to stand steady on a deck juddering from the countershocks of outgoing and incoming broadsides, as well as the normal roll and pitch of the ship.

This type of information is reapeated over and over in the book, for different jobs, such as the powder monkeys or the gun crews. Even with the large amount of information given, the book is an easy read, striking a good balance of popular readability and academic information. Anyone at all interested in these subjects should read this book.

Technologically Challenged

I received an e-mail from my son-in-law, Richard Schneberger, who said that the comments feature of my blog limited comments to team members. When Richard helped me set this blog up over the Christmas holidays, I thought I had that set to allow anyone to comment. Obviously not. That is now taken care of. Any one who drops by, feel free to make a comment on any post. I realize this blog is not really the type that will generate comments, at least it isn’t right now. Maybe in the future, if I really become published, that could change.

Richard said he added a link to my blog on his blog. I intend to do the same for his, but right now I haven’t figured out how. Several times in previous posts I tried to add a link to some web site, only to find out the link didn’t work. I haven’t learned the code using the < and > characters. On the message boards I frequent, you use the [ and ] characters for code. Substituting characters that designate code is coming should not be a problem, but the links still don’t work. So there is something else I have to learn.

I’m planning on taking a community college class in web site building during the month of March. Maybe then I’ll learn what I need. In the meantime, I hope to learn how to post a clickable link, and add a blogroll.

2007 in Poetry

I spent little time with poetry in 2007. Having completed Father Daughter Day the year before (but with most of it written 2004-2005), I read it through once and did some minor edits, and found a few beta readers in my target audience. The year began with it under consideration by a gift book editor, but I heard in June (after three follow-up e-mails) that they weren’t interested. I showed it to a couple of editors at a writers conference in November, but as expected they were not interested in poetry. I almost looked into having the book illustrated, but decided the time was not right. So I’m letting this sit for a while.

As to writing poetry, my production this year was only seven:
– a sonnet “Yoked”, on the progression of marriage
– a free verse poem “A Far Away Look”, the first free verse I’ve tried for a while
– a light verse “Oxymoron No. 1”, about reading poetry
– a light verse epithet “For One Who Died Too Young”
– a light verse “On The Virtues Of ‘Good’ Or ‘Fine'”
– an haiku
– a sonnet “Of Bollards And Berms”, about the inner struggle to purity

Several of these I workshopped at Absolute Write or Mosaic Musings.

I just didn’t feel like writing poetry this year. Very few situations arose where I thought That would make a good poem and sat down to do it. I don’t know if this means my poetry interest is waning, or just that the time wasn’t there to do both prose and poetry, and thus I supressed, either purposely or subconciously, the desire to write it. I hope it’s the latter, and that at some point in the future my desire to write poetry–and read it–will come back.

Author | Engineer