12 March 2001
My brain is mean.
In fact, I think all of today has been a demonstration of how my brain is mean. Here's an example:
I was talking with Tim on e-mail about setting. He's set several novels and short stories in towns he's lived in, and I have done a lot less of that, but some. So I was thinking about it. The town in which the "our world" component of the other place series is set is something of a cross between Lawrence, Kansas (where I lived for a year in sixth grade), and St. Pete (St. Peter, Minnesota, where I went to college), with bits of Omaha and random components thrown in. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to have a book set on the Oregon coast, where I spent the summer after my junior year of college.
But I did explain to Tim why I wasn't going to have anything big set in Concord (where we lived for the last year and a half): it's just not that interesting. Then I went to get in the shower and face the outside world. And my brain, without any permission at all from me, started working at Concord: not interesting? An entire suburb with over a hundred thousand people, and it's not that interesting? It has to have something.
Of course it has, and of course by the time I was done combing out the tangles in my hair, I had the plot and characters vaguely figured out. I suppose "orneriness" is a pretty decent answer to "where do you get your story ideas?", but "the shower" is more accurate.
I don't like to write novels in places that actually exist. I don't think that's for any specific reason; that is, there are lots of short stories that are not set in any real location, either, but I also have some fairly place-specific short story ideas. The Faberge egg story, for example, clearly had to be in St. Petersburg, and the Sioux Falls story had its obvious geographical roots. "The Empty Place" was in Ann Arbor for no specific reasons that I can discern -- it didn't need to be in Ann Arbor. It just was. But a lot of my best stuff is in towns of my own choosing. The real places dictate a lot of things to me that I'd prefer to dictate for myself. The geography of the other place is very special to me. I read -- I think it was either Ursula LeGuin or Sarah Lefanu or maybe Joanna Russ, I read them all in the same week -- someone saying that fantasy's landscape is a map of the author's psyche, and I think that's true in some interesting ways and false in some much less interesting ones.
In my real-life setting, I went to the library. On the way there, they were planning Madonna on alternative radio. Excuse me? Since when is Madonna alternative? Under what definition of alternative could this possibly be true? What was alternative an alternative to if not The Eighties' Rock? And what the heck is with the guy who has Eddie Vedder's voice? Is he holding it for ransom? "Okay, Eddie, unless you give me some of your angst-ridden millions, I'll continue to sing songs about tears of joy streaming down my face -- and I'll sing them in your voice! Muwahahaha!"
I don't think Eddie Vedder's voice should be used for sap. I really don't. Unfortunately, I don't mind Creed's stuff, compared to the crap Pearl Jam has been putting out lately. That stupid "Last Kiss" song was bad in its original. There's a very narrow class of songs that will stand remaking. It's the stuff that was not so bad that you wish it would crawl under history's rock and die there. But it's not so good that a remake has to be a disappointment. In addition to this vital categorization, the remake has to be significantly different to be worth the change. The Lemonheads' "Mrs. Robinson" is a prime example of the latter not working out: okay, so it was a little harder than when Paul and Artie did it, but sheesh. Not worth the change. On the other hand, if it's too different, the freak-out value will kill it. Tori Amos singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" comes to mind. Cannot listen to that without laughing.
But that's not my brain being mean. I got to the library with the determination that I was going to only get books related to my Chinese American immigration book. Then I determined that I was only going to look at the Women's History Month to see who they had and whether I liked them or not. It was mostly a not, but I grabbed one so that I could feel better educated in discussing revolutionaries. And then the gates were open. Then it was okay to get interesting books that were shelved near my research material. Then I'd already broken down, so why not go for broke? Three volumes of poetry and I don't even want to think about how many random works of fiction and nonfiction later....
See, it's the library. So I can't justify not getting something because it's too expensive. It's not expensive at all. In fact, it probably will save me money. Do I believe that in the long run? Not a chance, because if I read these books and love them, I will want to own them so that I can re-love them any time I want to. The library is like advertising for me, when it's not useful for a specific research project.
It would have been a lovely game of Confuse The Librarian, by the way. My stuff gets pretty random that way, and today was a good one. Except I got a cool librarian, which makes the game much harder and less worthwhile. Because he gave me one of those, "Oh, what a nice person you are!" smiles about halfway through the stack. Having recently talked to Kev about library habits and what statistics the government asks of them, I believe it's because he had pegged me as a Regular User and a book lover, which is always good for a library. And, presumably, for a librarian, by extension.
What always confuses me is how many librarians don't seem to be interested in books inherently. What is being a librarian about? It's about books and organization, as far as I can tell. I mean, they do educational thises and thats, but books and organization are the basics. And if you don't do it for the love of books, that leaves the love of organization. While I like things to be well-organized myself, I am purely horrified at the idea of someone choosing a career based being allowed to organize things -- by someone else's system.
It was good to go to the library, though, because it roots me a little more firmly in our new location. Everything we find around here that we can enjoy or use makes me feel more at home, more present. This has been more of a problem out here than I expected it would be. I knew I was only going to stay in St. Pete for four years, and yet it became home. Our apartments feel like home to me, but the cities we live in haven't, so far. I haven't consciously said to myself, "Don't get too attached, because we're moving back to civilization" -- it's just that the slight smell of juniper and ocean and the way the hills look, that isn't enough to grab me and pull me in here. Being able to take the train up to the City or to hang out in Berkeley or to go to the coast, that's all too diffuse. It's like Minneapolis was when I lived in St. Pete: accessible, but not really part of home. Actually, I think Minneapolis felt more like "part of home" when I lived in St. Pete than San Francisco does here. Yet we're officially in a San Francisco suburb (or maybe an Oakland one, or San Jose -- it's all the same, and Oakland and San Jose don't feel any more like "part of home" than San Francisco).
So. I wrote 2000 words worth of novel today. Easily and (I believe) well. Also I talked to Mark, my grandparents, and my parents. Of course, this would have been better if my brain had not been mean. It gave me all the inane things to say (like I told Mark I bought him pomegranate juice--I keep secrets like I'm about five if I don't concentrate on it)--but forgot to ask Daddy if he liked that one TV show (he knows which one I mean) or anything of a dozen conversational topics that occurred to me after the other people hung up. Mean ol' brain. And I took care of the still-sick Timprov. (But he is getting better! I promise!) And ran errands and attempted to see Amber and Marte-girl and Marte-girl's boyfriend. I failed utterly in that last, which is really too bad, but I will deal. Came up with a new story. Got lots of books to read, which will distract me from getting work done, but I'll manage somehow. One of the pitfalls of self-employment. I'm going to send a few e-mails and then read and go to bed. Maybe with a bit of fruit leather beforehand, since I went to Trader Joe's again today!
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