24 November 2001

I was thinking about learning from other authors, the other day. Timprov and I were talking about the tradition of using the kids who have all the concepts down as unpaid teachers' assistants in grade schools, and he said something I thought was right: "If there's too big a gap, it's not going to work."

I think this has been true of learning from other authors, too. When I was younger, I would read really well-written books and be awe-struck by them, inspired and wonder-filled, just as I am now. But I think I learned less. They affected my writing in some obvious ways -- I'd try to pick up on a theme, or a plot, rather than on the way they achieved those things. Sometimes it was easier for me, when I was just starting to be conscious of the process of writing at 13 or 14, to learn from an author who had only done one thing right, or who had been only a few steps ahead of my own abilities. I could see how to do things more easily if I leapfrogged like that.

Now I know I learn more from the really good books than I used to, and it grows on the re-readings. My theory is that I'm narrowing the gaps. The closer you get to something, the easier it is to see the details -- and if it's well-done, you can learn from it, too, and not just from the grand sweeping goodnesses.

It also helps me to learn from books that otherwise would have been too bad, oddly enough. Because if an author is doing one thing really right, but everything else is not working for me at all, I can still focus on the thing that's right. I can better abstract it out and look at it separately.

I'm really glad I don't just read to learn to write, because that would kill a lot of the joy in it. But I'm also glad that I can learn from a wider range of books now.

Hey, those of you who are writer-types: from whom are you learning right now? And what are you learning from them? I'm not too proud to put a shameless ploy for e-mail in my journal. Write to me and let me know.

I think there's a pretty big gap between me and the folks who came up with Buy Nothing Day for yesterday. We bought a few groceries and a tank of gas, and I am not at all repentant. Nor would I have been if we had braved the hordes and gone Christmas shopping. I don't see the point in setting aside a day to symbolically not shop. If you're using things well, why not get them? If you're not using them well, don't get them any day. I don't really see the point of setting aside a day for something that's either a problem in all your life or not at all.

It's going to be a very pictureful weekend around here at Morphism; you are forewarned. Last night, Mark and I drove up to my godfather Joe's house and hung out with my godfather Dave and Aunt Doris and Uncle Rudy. (For those of you who need a scorecard here: Aunt Doris is my grandma's younger sister. Uncle Rudy is her husband. Joe is their older son, who lives in Walnut Creek. Dave is their younger son, who lives in the L.A. area. Joe and Dave are both my godfathers. I have a godmother, too, but she's not involved here. These are the people we spent all the holidays with when I was little; Aunt Doris and Uncle Rudy lived three or four blocks from Grandma and Grandpa in Brooklyn Park. They now live in Arizona, and Grandma and Grandpa live in Omaha. Everybody clear? Good.) Joe couldn't make it; he was working late.

We learned a valuable lesson about digital cameras last night: even if it looks fine, take two, because the screen is too small to see whether someone has their eyes closed. I don't particularly want to post bad pictures of my aunt Doris all over the place. So just trust me. She was there.

This is me with Dave. (Yes, he's single. What makes you think you're good enough for my godfather?)

And this is Uncle Rudy and me.

So we had turkey sandwiches and talked about politics and baseball and various and sundry other topics. Finally I was aching a little too much in the rib department, so we came home to bed. Maybe we'll see Joe for his birthday or some time around it. He's out of town a lot, though. The plan for today is to pick Sarah up and spend some time around Ghirardelli Square, depending on how late her plane is, then to go on the Alcatraz At Night tour, then to fetch Timprov (who will either BART up to meet us at the pier or will have come with and will be working at Bowdoin or somewhere nearby) and go to House of Nanking for dinner. Yum. Pictures forthcoming, I'm sure.

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