Writerly resolutions: January Status

I succeeded in Graph showing generally steady progress on the novel from 12680 words to 24614 wordsgetting at least a little bit of writing done on the novel every day this month. At the current pace I’ll have draft two finished in mid-July. Of course there are always bits of research digressions which can throw me off (like I wanted to know what the name of the railroad tracks that divide Lawndale from the Near West Side was in the 1930s. Talking with my dad was not especially helpful, although I did manage to find a historic map which identified them as “C.T.T. R.R.” and further research turned up that this was the Chicago Terminal Transfer Railroad which was absorbed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, so I’m referring to them as the B&O tracks unless I get better information than that.¹

The revision work on workshopped stories continues. I’m currently doing a complete rewrite of a piece which was originally written in an invented pidgin² which I’m retaining for some of the dialog, but not for the whole piece like in the previous drafts. It will need at least one more revision round after the rewrite, but that should be less time-consuming. I’ve also found a number of problems with the mechanics of the story in the course of the rewrite (mostly minor inconsistencies in action or characterization) which I think the pidgin made harder to find.

The new story, which I had thought I’d be able to knock out in a month or less continues to challenge me. I’ve been creating a growing deleted text file from the story. I have realized that these things tend to be more aspirational than practical (sort of like those beautiful hardcover notebooks that so many of us will buy, write on the first 5–10 pages and then never use again) but it does make it emotionally easier to jettison stuff that needs to go. 

  1. To complicate matters, it’s not uncommon for Chicagoans to refer to things by long-changed names. There’s the obvious case of the Sears Tower, but there’s also things like Crawford/Pulaski or Northwestern Station, which was torn down and renamed twice and even the conductors on the Metra trains going into it still called it Northwestern Station.
  2. I can overindulge myself in linguistic things like this.

Song of the Month: Somebody’s Baby by Jackson Browne from Solo Acoustic Vol. 2

Something new. Once a month I’m going to highlight a song from my music collection that’s worth a listen or twenty.

To start things off, I’m going with a solo acoustic version of Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby.” The song was originally released as part of the soundtrack for Fast Times at Ridgemont High which I don’t think I saw until a few years later when it showed up on cable. I still have no idea where in the movie the song appears.

This version, with all the 1980s production stripped out manages to catch the emotional core of the song, the longing and desire for the unattainable.

For me, the song is forever attached to my own high school experience. It received steady airplay all through my freshman year of high school and is forever engrained in my mind with my memories of a girl in my Advanced Algebra class who I had a secret silent crush upon, which I could never act upon because she seemed an ethereal being beyond the grasp of a mere mortal such as myself and she was a junior while I was a mere freshman so even if I weren’t afraid of talking to girls, there was no hope that she would respond positively to me asking her out.

I remember that she wore skirts and dress blouses to school every day except Wednesdays, a conundrum that was finally unravelled when I discovered that she was in the work experience program at the school that had her working part time at a local bank for class credit (in the 1980s it was typical for banks to be closed on Wednesdays, thus her casual attire on that day).

There was another student in my math class who also had an obvious case of lovesickness for her, which as far as I could tell, he also never acted upon. He had a somewhat nerdy demeanor and felt kind of like a potential future version of myself from my vantage point. I would like to imagine that he eventually managed to work up the courage to ask her out and they began a wonderful relationship, but most likely no such thing ever happened.

Jeannie and Anthony, this song is for you.


Wait what?

Watching I, Claudius, it was a bit disturbing to see a picture of Patrick Stewart looking like

Patrick Stewart as Sejanus in I, Claudius

but then looking for an image to share, I  found this picture

Patrick Stewart with long hair, sans toupee

and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again


Who were all those Facebook friends anyway?

It’s been a year since I’ve dropped off of social media. I occasionally fall off the wagon when I check the Twitter account for creativewritingmfa.info but for the most part I’m social media free and happier for it.

That said, I was a bit curious about who the people I was friends with on Facebook were. I’d engaged in some ruthless pruning of my friends list, clearing out the people posting racist and sexist stuff (and then in 2020 also anyone who thought that that Plandemic video was worth sharing). Maybe a better person could have engaged with them and brought them to reason. I’m not that person.¹

In my last days on the site, I tediously made a list of all 420 people I was friends with on Facebook and put them into a spreadsheet so I could make all sorts of nerdy charts graphs and calculate random statistics.

First off, how did I meet these people?

Family 5.7%	Early childhood 1.4%	Grade School 10.7%	High School 16.2%	College 14.0%	Grad School 18.1%	Church 7.4%	Music 6.0%	Work 1.7%	Online 4.8%	Writing 6.4%	Type 1.4%	Other 5.5%	Never Met 5.7%

 The categories are arranged roughly chronologically and there is some overlap (e.g., people I knew from early childhood—i.e., non-family who I knew before I started kindergarten, were often also grade school classmates and grade school classmates often high school classmates, but no other overlap beyond that really) which is why the percentages add up to more than 100%. The big categories, grad school and high school come down to when Facebook was a big thing (Facebook became a big communications medium for my MFA program) and the fact that early on, I used to accept/extend invitations to pretty much anyone I went to high school with.

Some categories call for explanation: Music is folks I was in various non-church-related musical groups with over the years (once upon a time I was a pretty active bass player), online is folks I only ever knew from online communities, writing is people I knew through writing activities, and type from my days when I was big in the typography world.

Given where I grew up that was overwhelmingly white and the overall state of American society, my racial breakdown of friends isn’t so great:

? 0.2%
Asian 4.5%
Black 3.8%
Latino 6.9%
White 84.5%

The gender breakdown was 56% male and 43.8% female with one person of unknown gender (I have no idea who “Dain Deon” is or was). I may have misidentified some people’s gender who don’t identify as male or female.

One thing that I found interesting was that Facebook “outed” a number of LGBT folks² in my friends list. In some cases it was their own activity, in other cases, it was the algorithm suggesting that because C⸻ was interested in a pictures of men in their underwear group perhaps I would be too. In most cases though, it was more a case of the person being out and my just not realizing they weren’t straight. My possible undercount had 5.7% of my friends being LGBTQ with almost half of them outed to me through Facebook.

Other interesting stats: 2.4% of my Facebook friends were dead, 11.2% were musicians, 27.4% were writers, 2.1% clergy, 2.1% used pseudonyms, 5.5% had deactivated their accounts and 2.9% were people that I looked at their profiles and had absolutely no idea who they were (although in some cases, I was able to figure it out eventually).

  1. And let me just say, a huge number of the people I grew up with are disturbingly racist. And this was a big motivator to dropping out of Facebook. They weren’t people that I would have continued friendships with later in life if Facebook didn’t exist so why would I want them in my life just because Facebook does exist. A couple of hours in a banquet hall every ten years for a high school reunion is plenty of exposure to these folks for me.
  2. My prize-winning outing story, though, would be the actor Dennis O’Hare who I met on a walk from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica who was outed to me by Gus Van Sant when the director appeared on Fresh Air.

Three poems in new anthology

I had three poems come out this weekCover of Rising Voices in the anthology, Rising Voices: Poems Toward a Social Justice Revolution. These are all part of my Chicago Sonnets series.

Chicago Sonnet #4 has its origins in a research paper I wrote in high school where, somewhat enamored of my role on the school paper, I decided to focus on journalism and picked two books from the school’s library to write about. One was Mencken’s Minority Report, a collection of short notes and observations. The other was a collection of articles written by Carl Sandburg for the Chicago Daily News about the 1919 race riots in Chicago.¹ Reading about this stuck with me (and it’s interesting that so few people are aware of this chapter in Chicago history) and when it came time to write sonnet #4, I decided to have it focus on this particular event. Of course, since I originally wrote it, the poet Eve Ewing has written a whole book of poems on the subject which covers it far better than I could ever have accomplished.

 Chicago Sonnet #27 tells of the fate of Cabrini Green, long the bogeyman of Chicago’s public housing, its location was far too valuable to be squandered on poor people and so the community that did exist there (Mary Schmich’s² articles in the 1990s for The Chicago Tribune were a great source of my own knowledge of the neighborhood even when I lived less than a mile away while reading them) was erased so that luxury housing could take its place.

Chicago Sonnet #29 was inspired by free-style rap and how rhyme was retained and meter largely discarded. Using this to give the perspective of a young Black man on the streets of the West Side is something that I’m still not entirely comfortable with and perhaps should the sonnets ever be collected it may find itself replaced with a different poem but for now it will stand in that number’s place.

  1.  One of the distinct memories I have about writing this paper was going to the downtown Chicago library to pull up microfilms of contemporaneous reporting on the riots. At that time, the original main library in what is now the Chicago Cultural Center was closed and the Harold Washington Library had not yet opened so there was a temporary facility on a couple-three floors of a high rise somewhere in Streeterville. 
  2. Schmich’s greatest claim to fame is being the author of “Wear sunscreen” which has been widely circulated as being a graduation speech given by Kurt Vonnegut. She deserves the full credit for a brilliant piece of writing (which I’d first read when it was published in her column space in the Tribune. She also is a Claremont Colleges graduate (Pomona College to be precise) which is another big plus for her. I’d say something about the shared mascot for Pomona and Pitzer where I got my degree but I don’t think in my years in Claremont, I ever met anyone who ever attended any sort of athletic event who wasn’t participating in some fashion.
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Writerly resolutions for 2022

My goals for the year:

  1. Goals are nice, but remember that they don’t really matter. I’ll get done what I’ll get done, acceptances are out of my control.
  2. Get We, the Rescued through the rewrite and revision stage and then get some people to read the whole damned thing.
  3. I’ve got eight stories that have been workshopped but not gotten post-workshop revision. I need to prioritize getting those kicked off my computer.
  4. I need to get myself finishing some of those unfinished (or unstarted) stories that are lurking about, but trying to workshop monthly is a bit insane. It’s fine to pull back a bit if necessary.

Writerly resolutions for 2021–the post mortem

I set ambitiousGraph of the progress on the novel showing the completion of the first draft and the beginnings of the rewrite goals for 2021 and I failed at them all. Perhaps I should set less ambitious goals? Or perhaps I should remember that the goals don’t matter in the end and that creativity doesn’t follow schedules and spreadsheets.

I had two goals for the year:

  1. Work on We, The Rescued daily until I’ve got it ready for other eyes to look at.
    I didn’t do too bad on the daily part. I only missed 5 days’ work on the novel, but I didn’t get the first draft done as quickly as I would have liked and I’m still some distance from finishing the rewrite.
  2. Workshop a new piece of fiction monthly.
    I workshopped something every month, but I had to dig into my stash of rejected stories that I still want to submit most of the time. I did succeed in getting two new pieces into workshopping, but that’s ten less than twelve.

But even with missing my goals, I did have two stories and five poems accepted in 2021, so there’s room to not be too hard on myself over my performance.

2021 in rejections (and acceptances)

2021 was a pretty good year for me publication-wise. I’ve not been that good about getting stuff out the door, but what I have submitted has been well-received. In fiction, I managed to have fewer responses this year than last despite the fact that in 2020 I didn’t actually submit anything¹ and this year I did. I do feel like my new writing group has done a lot to up my game so while my acceptance rate was only marginally higher, my tiered response rate was my best ever.

Graph showing my total acceptances, tiered responses rejections and lost submissions since 2007. This year 37% of responses were tiered or acceptances with a 3.8% acceptance rate

Publications this year were “Saint Anthony in West Hollywood” and “The Norton Anthology of Self-Destructive Behaviours.”

 Poetry was also a pretty good scene for me this year, I had my best acceptance rate ever and my best rate of tiered responses as well.

Graph of poetry rejections I sent more stuff out this year, but more stuff got accepted too.

Most of the publications are coming out later in 2022, with just one poem, “Chicago Sonnet #19,” coming out in 2021.

  1. All of my 2020 rejections and acceptances were for pieces submitted in 2019.

Things that delighted me in 2021 (that aren’t books)

I thought it might be a nice thing this year to add in some lists of the things that delighted me this year that aren’t books.

I’ll start with Is that Ted Danson? No it's Ted just standin' there.White-haired Ted Danson. My least favorite thing about Cheers back in the day was Ted Danson, and that made me less inclined to pay much attention to the qualities of him as an actor and while I did watch movies like Cousins and Made in America, it was more despite Ted Danson than because of him. But this year, I’ve come to really appreciate him, whether it’s on Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Good Place or my latest binge, Bored to Death, he brings just the right level of whatever it is he has to his role making White-haired Ted Danson the best Ted Danson ever.

Like most white-collar professionals, I’ve been working at home and I splurged earlier this year on a huge monitor. In this case, I got an LG 38UC99-W 38-Inch 21:9 Curved UltraWide monitor.

One big-ass monitor

There’s something about having all the extra space that was totally worth the roughly $900 I spent on this thing. It works nicely divided into thirds so I can do things like have one-third dedicated to a web browser and the other two-thirds  set up for programming work, or when I’m writing, I’ll have three windows across it, one with the manuscript I’m working on, another with notes and the last with a browser for active research. Even more than fear of Covid, I’m reluctant to not work from home because I won’t have a great monitor like this in the office.

I’ve only been to the movie theater once this year (on my birthday) and I hope to get out one more time beforeStarro the Conquerer year’s end, but I saw on a large-ish screen at my brother’s house, The Suicide Squad, a movie which is not afraid to dive into the inherent absurdity of super hero movies with its cast of B-grade villains acting the hero role. The DC movies have largely been a huge disappointment, especially given the superior quality of their Marvel competitors, but Warner Brothers did the smart thing here by snatching James Gunn during his separation from Disney and giving him free reign to make the movie that the first Suicide Squad could have been. I’m looking forward to seeing the spin-off series that Gunn has made for HBOMax that will be coming out in early 2022.

Finally, my biggest delight of 2021 was the Covid vaccine. It’s absolutely amazing that a year and a day after everything shut down from Covid, I was able to get a vaccine that would greatly reduce my chances of getting Covid and enable me to finally go to my parents’ house and hug my mom. This was a fucking miracle of science.

And then, Fox News and the Republican Party decided to fuck things up by leaning into their Covid denialism by turning into anti-vaxxers.  I honestly cannot understand this. Boost your short-term profits by making your viewers and voters more likely to get sick and die? But then again, I still have to remember that this scene was written, filmed and aired before anyone knew that Covid was going to be a thing. If it were written now, everyone would be declaring it too on the nose.