Writerly resolutions: February status

2021 continues to be a good year for writing. Graph of progress on the novel.: It shows the first draft of chapter 25 finished and the rewrite of the vhapter almost done.It was even a good year for physical fitness for a while with my hitting my move goal every day until we had an extended cold spell this month which broke my streak. 

On the novel, I finished a first draft of chapter 25 and am almost finished with the rewrite of that chapter. I’m perhaps not progressing at my ideal pace, but I’m reasonably happy with the rate of my work. I’ve realized that chapter 26 is likely to be very long, most likely longer than any other chapter in the novel so last month’s estimate of finishing the first draft of the novel in February or March was definitely optimistic.

I’ve been making solid progress on the story that I want to workshop with my writing group, but right now it’s still twenty pages of hot mess that needs a lot of rewriting before it can go up for workshop. Since my deadline is Thursday, I think I’m going to end up pulling a revision story forward for this month’s workshop. That said, this current story, which has been kicking my ass for some ridiculous amount of time (the oldest draft has a creation date of December 2009), is finally coming together and I think I finally know what it’s about.

Rejections continue to slide in, a mix of form and tiered rejections. One of my 2019 submissions is still lingering at the bottom of my Submittable.

Dewey Decimal Project: 760 GRE The Artists of Terezin

Nestled in the 760s, “Printmaking and Prints,” I found this book which talked about the background of the artists of Terezin as well as showing their work. Terezin was a former fortress city which the Nazis took over to use as a “model ghetto.” Living conditions were as awful as in other Jewish ghettos under Nazi rule, but there was a façade of respectability laid over the horror so the Nazis could claim that the Jews were being treated well for the benefit of foreign observers such as the International Red Cross.

Picture of bread being delivered in a horse-drawn hearse, but with a Jewish laborer pulling the hearse rather than a horse, drawn by Malvína Schálková

I knew a bit about Terezin from my novel research and this was a great opportunity to see the work created clandestinely by the Jewish artists who had been deported to Terezin. Like most Holocaust stories, it ends with tragedy—few of the artists survived to see the end of the war—but the work is beautiful and haunting.


Dewey Decimal Project: 759.054 RUB How to Read Impressionism: Ways of Looking

Growing up in Chicago, I’ve had tCover of How to Read Impressionismhe good fortune of easy access to what’s arguably the best collection of impressionist artwork in the work at the Art Institute (I remember visiting the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and realizing that they had fewer pieces than the Art Institute and many of the best pieces of the period were in Chicago rather than Paris). Perhaps as a consequence of this proximity to the work, I’ve always loved impressionist artwork even if I didn’t necessarily have a good understanding of the people and culture behind it.

In this book, James H. Rubin takes the standard approach of focusing on large reproductions of the artwork and adds a new twist in his presentation: rather than segregating the artworks by artist, he instead arranges the text around thematic aspects so we see multiple artists’ takes on similar subjects including work beyond the standard paintings that make up the popular consciousness of impressionism.


Dewey Decimal Project: 741.59 CHU Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere

Comics are covered in the DeweyCover of Why Comics Decimal system under “Graphic arts & decorative arts.” There was little chance that I would read anything else when I got to this part of the Dewey Decimals, but I had originally thought I’d read some collection of newspaper strips. With the wealth of options available, I ended up deciding to instead read some writing about comics and picked up Hilary Chute’s book.

Chute is a scholar of comics (something that is new and still uncommon) and she approaches the subject here on a series of topics beginning with “Why disaster?” before touching on such disparate topics as superheroes, suburbs, illness/disability and LGBT issues. Some of the artists were familiar to me (Chris Ware actually lives a few blocks away from me and I’ve seen him on occasion at our local indie bookstore. He’s much less geometric in person than I would have imagined). Others were new. A few of the books mentioned I ended up seeking out, in one case, with Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, it was a bit of brilliant serendipity as I was working on a chapter in my current novel about the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing when I read this book and Nakazawa’s book was a great way to help visualize the settings and events that I was writing about.

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Dewey Decimal Project: 731.42 HOL Polymer Clay for the first time®

I’ve always wanted to learn to sculpt. Cover of Polymer Clay for the First TimeThe whole concept of creating three-dimensional art has always fascinated me. So when I got to the 730s, “Sculpture, ceramics & metalwork” I was sure this was going to be my chance to finally learn this skill.


I picked up this book hoping it would be about sculpting with polymer clay, but it turns out that it’s really about making simple patterns by slicing rolled (or occasionally stacked) clay for things like necklaces and decorative objects. It’s my own fault that it didn’t fulfill my hopes. I could have looked closer at the book before clutching it to my breast and scurrying out of the library. I don’t remember if there was anything closer to my desires among the books at the library or if the other options would be books about sculpture rather than about how to sculpt.


Wait, What?

I’ve grown accustomed to odd things popping out in my Goodreads recommendations, but this is a weird one: Because I’ve begun reading Stephanie (Stephen at the time of publication) Burt’s Close Calls with Nonsense, Goodreads has recommended not one, but two books about Jeffrey Dahmer. There’s no index in the book, but a glimpse over the table of contents doesn’t give me any clues about why this might happen.  With any luck, it will be clearer as I read the book.


Dewey Decimal Project: 720.483 MAR Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg’s Urban Vision

Bertrand Goldberg’s Picture of Marina CityMarina City has always been a fixture of my perception of downtown Chicago. As a child I attended a broadcast of the local children’s television program, BJ and Dirty Dragon from the Marina City TV studios (now the House of Blues), saw Steve McQueen chase the bad guys through the parking garage until they crashed through the railing and plunged into the Chicago River in the TV trailers for The Hunter, not to mention all the times that I saw the towers in person, always from the outside (although I did look with interest at rental listings when I was apartment hunting in Chicago in the late ’90s).

I knew bits and drabs of the history of the towers, mostly from Blair Kamin’s writings for the Chicago Tribune along with books about Chicago real estate and development by Ross Miller, Richard Cahan and Lois Wille that I read back about the same time that I was apartment hunting. But this book put it all together into a single narrative, explaining how union money met with Goldberg’s utopian socialist ideals to build this unique complex (Goldberg’s even more ambitious River City exists as only a small fraction of the originally planned complex.) Between having only vague memories of 20+-year old reading and not knowing details at all, I was left with a fascinating account of the development and life of some of Chicago’s most iconic architecture.

I had for a while believed that I was born in Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital and Maternity Center at Northwestern Hospital, but in researching this post, I learned that it was built after I was born so my birth took place in a different Northwestern Hospital building. So much for my connection to Goldberg reaching back to my birth.

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Rush Limbaugh is dead. Good.

There are few people whose death would make me happy. Limbaugh is one of them. He was a poison in American culture. The only sad thing about his death is that it didn’t come thirty years earlier.

Dewey Decimal Project: 711.4 SMI The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City

Image from the plan of Chicago showing the proposed civic center plaza and surrounding buildings

Had I gone to public school in the city of Chicago instead of just outside it, a mandated part of my education would have been learning about Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. Since that’s a counterfactual, I only learned about the plan in dribs and drabs, a lot of retailed by my father and grandfather who were products of the Chicago Public School system.

It was an amazingly utopian vision, something that one would imagine having little actual chance of happening if it weren’t for the existence of Hausmann’s renovation of Paris which had taken place in the half century preceding Burnham’s plan. Reading this book, I got a chance to learn about the origins of the plan, and its ultimate failure to be implemented except in vague nods by later city planners (the boulevard system of interconnected parks being the most notable survival of Burnham’s vision). I would have liked more reproductions of the maps and illustrations from the Plan of Chicago, but failing that, this was still an intriguing read.


Dewey Decimal Project: 700.19 LAI The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

And now I enter theCover of The Lonely City 700s: Arts & recreation. In the generic category of “Arts” I decided to got with The Lonely City Olivia Laing’s book which is a mix of memoir and examination of the works of artists who treated on the topic of solitude.

The mixture of genres within this book worked extraordinarily well and struck me as a fantastic exemplar of the creative non-fiction genre. Enough time has passed since I’ve read this that I’m hard pressed to cite anything specific (it’s been over a year—I’m way behind on these blog posts), but I remember enough that I can wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone who might be interested in it.