In Which There Is More Than One Bad Guy (But None of Them Are You)

1 July 2004

I was writing along in a cover letter last night, and I started to think, "Hey, I sound good. I'd want to publish me. I'd want to represent me." This officially marks the starry-eyed push to the end of the book, wherein everything is sunshine and roses. Occasionally difficult sunshine and maddening roses, but still.

I'm going to try to enjoy this while it lasts, because I don't think it can last more than a month, if nearly that long, and it will be followed, inevitably, by the, "You've got to be kidding me, I'm going to become someone's secretary and never bother another editor/publisher/agent again ever ever ever." Of course, even when I'm in that mode, I keep sending out the stories that get rejected. Because I've done this compulsively and routinely enough that I have stopped connecting sending out short stories with oh, this is embarrassing trying to get published. It is as though the postal beings need ballast in their sacks and I have signed up for a program to oblige them. When the sales come, it's hard to emotionally connect them with the action of mailing and e-mailing stories out.

And one did come yesterday: a semi-pro sale of one of my oldest stories still in circulation. SDO Fantasy wants "From the Hip Flask." Rah for that. June sucked an amazing amount of pond scum, to borrow my mom's vernacular, but at least it ended with a sale.

I read Seppo Zetterberg's Finland After 1917 yesterday afternoon, when I was giving my back a rest. This is a fairly good pattern for me: get up, work in the morning, do chores and read in the afternoon, work more in the evening. It's fine if I have to adjust that pattern on specific evenings not everyone can socialize with me in the afternoons but it's how I work best when I can.

I also read The Baltic and the Outbreak of the Second World War, edited by John Hiden and er Thomas Lane. Who knew? I would not have predicted that as a future career choice. I have to say, if my name was Lane, Lin, or Reimer, I would not name my kid Tom. Man, you think my folks didn't like it when I lived out in California, just think what they'd have been like if it had been Underhill.

I'm almost done with People of the Sky, but my own book and the Finnish books intervened with that a bit. I'm not sure what to pack for books for the weekend. I'll likely do some reading in the car, and we often have quiet Saturday mornings at the folks, eating bagels now that the Bin has hired some shabbas goyim and reading our books and the newspaper. But I've been in such variable moods this week, I don't really know what to grab first.

The newspaper...oh...I read some of the letters to the editor sections my folks sent along from the Omaha paper, and one of the letters was extremely educational in a very depressing way. It contained the sentences, "The draft is not evil. The terrorists are the evil ones."

Oh. So...there can only be one set of evil ones. And if we are fighting the evil ones, nothing we do can be evil. Well, that's a relief. All we have to do is find a bad enough opponent, and we'll be justified whatever we do.

It's rare that you see a position like that laid out so clearly and unambiguously, that evil has to affix itself to one side or the other, that one need not justify the goodness of one's actions because it is self-evident if only one considers the opposition. More often this sort of thing is further under the surface. Like in James Lileks's Bleat today: clearly anyone who has doubts about how effectively the rule of law will handle Saddam's trial, or whether it was a good decision to invade Iraq, or anything of the sort, is a slack-jawed hippie or Bertie Wooster-flavored idiot. The only thing you ever need to know, apparently, is that "the dictator has been brought to justice." He is the bad guy. Therefore, we are the good guys, and people who question the goodness of any specific action we choose to take are stupid.

We joked in high school that my friend Jeff carried with him a portable right of way. When he was on foot, pedestrians had the right of way. When he was driving, vehicles had the right of way. If Jeff had taken up pogo-sticking, I think he would have asserted loudly that pogo-stickers had the right of way. You don't really get to have that in transportation. You certainly don't get to have it in morality. Ever. Not in peace, not in war, and not in wars on abstract nouns, whatever middle ground those occupy.

(So far, the abstract nouns are winning. We still have poverty. We still have drugs. Maybe we should have declared a Strong Dislike Of Terror instead.)

(Oh dear. This probably shouldn't have given me insight into one of my story cycles, but it did. One takes insight as it comes, I suppose. Sometimes I think that the whole process of becoming a writer is about learning to handle insight. Both channeling it into something useful and not fighting with it or freaking out at it: big skills.)

I've had one of those weeks where I have to set specific times to stop writing, because otherwise I could ruin my shoulders entirely. (Especially going into two six-hour drives this weekend.) This is a good feeling, being able to just sit down and go indefinitely and of course, as usual, my brain when well occupied is even better at finding other occupations. I've written the beginnings to three new stories since I got up yesterday, and scribbled notes on several more, and I could have just "gone" on them, too, if I wasn't fixated on this book. Instead, I write enough to remember what it's about, and then I go back to Sampo, as it deserves.

Remind me of weeks like this when the doubt creeps back. Weeks like this are not perfect I have no belief that I'm a perfect writer this or any other week, that the prose I'm putting on the screen is better than any other week, any of that. I write approximately equally well whether I'm miserable about it or humming happily. I would love to be as heartened as Damselfly in a recent livejournal post, wherein she was talking about writing depression preceding a leap in abilities, and I haven't seen that to be the case for me. In some ways that's good I don't have to depend on being miserable about my work to hope for improvement in it but in some ways it drives me nuts, because I can't see any purpose to the periodic feelings of not being able to write my way out of a paper bag. They just happen. They things are. Sometimes doldrums are progress towards pinnacles, but sometimes, for me at least, they are just plain doldrums.

But today is a good work day, and I will enjoy writing my book, and that is, I think, as much as I can ask of it. Maybe more.

Oh, and Canadians: happy Canada Day! The very first day I was ever in Canada, they had a big party with lots of music and food and fireworks, and I think that's given me a happy view of the whole place ever since. I was six, I think, and it was Canada Day, and no one had told me. It was glorious. I hope yours is, too.

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