The freelance life

Fortune cookie

Week one of unemployment. Or, depending on your point of view, week one of free-lancing. I’m a little confused on the point. In theory, I ought to be throwing myself into my job hunt right now. But (although I’ve cast a few lines into the water), I’ve been too busy… working.

The Norwegian media company I translate for (may they prosper like the North Sea oil fields) sent me a fairly hefty chunk of prose to process – another densely worded script outline. And the deadline was tomorrow, which it almost is now in their time zone. So I jumped on it and turned it in a couple hours ago. Since this will eke out my finances, however briefly, I think it merits priority over mailing resumes.

The idea of just being a freelancer is extremely beguiling. But I need more income sources than this one company. So I guess I’ll be fishing for freelance gigs at the same time I’m looking for a regular job. Sometimes I think the freelance dream is a worthy goal. Sometimes I think it’s moonshine – get a real job. After all, unemployment is way down. Unfortunately, the market for librarians is saturated, and there’s never been a big market for writers.

But we’ll see. I haven’t even gotten my bearings yet.

When I ate at a Chinese restaurant tonight, my fortune cookie said, “You will be wildly successful in the entertainment field.”

I think the Almighty’s just messing with me.

‘Coffin, Scarcely Used,’ by Colin Watson

Coffin, Scarcely Used

I am fond of English police procedural mysteries. But I’m frequently annoyed by the increasing political correctness infecting the genre and turning it into a form of fantasy. So a series of English procedurals written during the 1950s seemed like just the ticket for me, especially when the books are described by critics as “wickedly funny.”

Coffin, Scarcely Used is the first of the Inspector Purbright series, set in the fictional seaside town of Flaxborough. No crime is suspected when a city councillor dies suddenly. But when his neighbor, the former local newspaper publisher, is found dead of electrocution, wearing carpet slippers, underneath an electric pole near his house, questions get asked. As Purbright and his assistant dig into the lives of the two men and their circle they unearth secrets that the foremost citizens of the town would rather keep secret.

I didn’t enjoy Coffin, Scarcely Used as much as I hoped. The whole affair seemed to me lightweight and superficial, in the way of the classic English cozies. I generally approve of cozies in the moral sense, but I prefer the grittiness of hard-boiled stories and the more recent generations of procedurals. And the humor, though sometimes fairly Wodehousian, just didn’t move the needle enough for my purposes.

But you may feel differently. If Coffin, Scarcely Used sounds to you like your cup of tea, enjoy it.

Reading Encourages Virtue

World News Group’s Listening In podcast interviews Professor Karen Swallow Prior today on how reading broadly and deeply enriches our lives and encourages moral virtue. The talk anticipates the release of Prior’s book, coming out in a few days, called On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books.

The talk begins by describing the classic understanding of the “good life” and spends some time on courage as a measure of how much good would be preserved over the risk of the action.

The Pure Fun of LitRPG

Professor Joseph Bottum explored a new genre a couple years ago, one he found fairly enjoyable despite its weaknesses.

LitRPG, this new fiction is called, its stories set inside computerized role-playing games. The result is a little hard to describe. It’s sort of a cross between science fiction and fantasy—with a good dose of layered realities, à la The Matrix, as the characters transition in and out of computer simulations. And as of this summer, Amazon lists well over a thousand of the things, with around 90 percent of them existing only as e-books, and 90 percent of those self-published.

If a single one of the novels is well-written I have yet to find it, as I crashed my way through thirty or so of them in the past few months.

I looked up one of the novels he mentioned and found this note on an updated edition, “The new edition features heavy grammar and word choice updates.” So the previous edition must have been a draft. But while the ambitions of these writers are low, their stories are generally pretty fun. “As a result,” Bottum says, “they’re producing what is sometimes more fun, but always more pure, as a species of light genre fiction.”

Apres moi, le deluge

Counting down the last two days of my librarian career. I am not doing well, thanks for asking. Sleeping badly; fuzzy-headed at work, where I flounder to remember to tell people the things I need to tell them before I surrender my keys. Training my boss in the new library management system, which I haven’t yet had time to master myself. Trying – probably with little success – not to be a grump.

I feel a little like a man on death row – half terrified of the end, half wishing to get the bloody thing over already.

The interior turmoil has exterior manifestations – external to me. Stuff is being torn out. Stuff is being brought in. Half the things I’m teaching my boss may prove to be unnecessary, because they’ll be changing to other technology anyway. But I don’t know these things for sure, so I share my antique wisdom.

I’m still skeptical about the operational plan for the library. I may be less than ideal as a resource person to whom students may appeal to for help, but the new alternative seems to be nobody at all, most of the time. I find it hard to believe an absence is preferable to my presence. There will be assistants around in the afternoons, but that’s not when most of the students will be using the resources.

But, as I keep telling myself, it’s no longer my circus.

Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither. The readiness is all.

‘Solveig’s Song’ with Sissel

I am, if you’ll pardon me, a little moody this evening (alert the media!). So I’ll post another song.

I shared a piece from Grieg’s Peer Gynt not long ago. Here’s one more, but it features none other than the Divine Sissel (who is wearing the Bergen bunad — the city folk costume). In the play, Solveig is Peer’s faithful and neglected girlfriend, whom he treats badly, as is his wont. She sings of patiently waiting for him. This is one the standard classic songs in Norway. Amundsen and his men had it on a recording to listen to on their way to the South Pole, I believe.

Delete Your Social Accounts

Richard Clark reviews a curious book that argues social media is the shadow that stalks and soon will strangle you. It is Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. 

If the claims of this book sound like cynical fear-mongering, then it’s time to wake up. The downsides of social media are no longer up for debate, and this is coming from someone who has esteemed its virtues for years. The structure upon which social media has been built, in the big picture, brings our meanest, dumbest, most impulsive tendencies to the forefront of public life.

This has bled into other areas of life and media as well. We are being actively encouraged to overshare our personal lives and spit out hot takes on all the major social platforms. Taking time to think, meditate, and rest is becoming weird and maybe the best way to become out of touch. This joke about only doing devotions so others will think well of you is where some people actually live.

I wonder about the shelf life of our current social platforms. Will my children take to any of them or will they consider them a bit stupid? I won’t be surprised if five to ten years from now the major platforms will be gone or greatly changed because the money or the people or something else just isn’t there to sustain it.

‘A Private Investigation,’ by Peter Grainger

A Private Investigation

Bittersweet. The last of a good thing is always bittersweet, and Peter Grainger’s DC Smith books have become one of the small pleasures in my life. This one may be the last in the series (though the ending is ambiguous).

As A Private Investigation begins, Detective Sergeant D.C. Smith is rapidly approaching mandatory retirement, two weeks away (it was a little weird for me to start this book just as I was two weeks away from the end of my own job). Smith is keeping a low profile, tidying up the records on his last case. No one expects him to do any serious investigation; he’s just filling time. His old team has been broken up. His new superiors, one a former subordinate, the other a long-time rival, are keeping their distances.

And then a teenage girl disappears. It strikes Smith as odd that his career should end with the abduction of a young girl; that’s what his first major case was.

But then there’s a shock – a connection is discovered between that old first case and this present one. Which does not impel Smith into action – that would be against regulations. But he pays attention, and gives his friends on the case some useful pointers.

But that won’t be enough. Someone is preparing a final showdown. D.C. Smith’s career will not end quietly.

I very much enjoy this whole series of books. D.C. Smith is a fascinating, engaging character – reserved, ironic, quirky, but beneath it all a man who truly cares about victims and the justice due to them. Also, here and there, author Grainger throws in hints of a conservative world-view.

There may have been some bad language, but I don’t recall any. I really have no cautions for you. I enjoyed A Private Investigation, and recommend you read the whole series.

Who knows? There may even be another book.

Two New Animated Godzilla Movies

I never watched the original Godzilla from 1954 in Japanese or 1956 in American English, but I think I did see one of those early films, one with Mothra or Rodan maybe. What I remember is a Godzilla that acted more like the savior of Tokyo and all Japanese children, not the embodiment of retribution against human hubris as he is today. He was more like the giant robots I played with as a kid. (Does anyone remember the robotic Shogun warriors? I had Raideen. Hey, there’s Godzilla with the warriors in a commercial.)

In this decade, the Godzilla franchise has turned back to the themes of the original movie. The King of Monsters was originally a symbol for the atomic bomb. Though they kill him at the end of the first movie, we are told another beast just like him could emerge if nuclear weapons testing continues. We were the horror we unleashed on the world, something as destructive as a giant radioactive dinosaur! There’s an argument in the 1954 movie about releasing the research done to create the weapon that kills the monster. “Bombs versus bombs, missiles versus missiles, and now a new superweapon to throw upon us all! As a scientist – no, as a human being – I can’t allow [the release of the research] to happen!”

In the new stories, the nuclear threat has been blended with pollution and all threats to the environment in summing up the reason Godzilla exists, and the anime movies I mean to review here (two parts of a trilogy) don’t try to offer a cogent reason for the monster’s existence, only hints and statements quickly abandoned to the action.

The Earth after Godzilla
The Earth after Godzilla in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters begins with the human race on an interstellar ark searching for a new place to live. We quickly learn Captain Haruo Sakaki is the angry radical of the group who believes the leaders are cold-hearted and aimless. He’s also the one who hateses Godzilla the mostest, my precious! After a tragedy with a landing party, leadership concludes it’s been roughly 10,000 years since they left Earth (time having shifted due to their spacecraft’s warp drive). Surely Godzilla is dead and Earth can receive them again.

With little development in the story, we learn humanity has been joined by two alien peoples, both of whom lost their planets to monsters like Godzilla. One group, the Exif, is primarily represented by the priest Metphies. He calls on the others to seek a vague god figure and harmony while also encouraging Haruo to pursue his passion to destroy Godzilla (If you believe in yourself, kid, you too can kill a really big monster). The other group appear to be all logical warriors, the Bilusaludo. This group was on earth trying to build the Mechagodzilla counter-weapon before the King of Monsters smote them with his unyielding wrath.

Continue reading Two New Animated Godzilla Movies

Bilingual orientation

I forget what the word “blogging” originally meant. I know it involved a conflation involving the word “logging,” but I can’t remember where the “b” came from. In any case, blogging used to be a pretty big deal, but now only a few of us are left, systematically throwing messages in bottles out into the digital sea, hoping somebody will find one of them washed up on a virtual beach.

The original blogs, as I recall, tended to be rather confessional, like personal web cams, but involving only psychological voyeurism. Not many do that anymore (though James Lileks still excels). But occasionally I still cast up the odd personal log here, and today will be one of those days. Mostly because I’ve been so busy I haven’t had much time to read, so I can’t do a book review. I may finish the book I’m reading now in time to review it tomorrow.

Today was my last Monday at my job – though I’m informed they’ll be wanting to bring me in as a contractor now and then in the next few months, to do the stuff nobody else knows how to do. In my free time, I’ve been surprisingly busy. Odds and ends that demanded attention. The first inchoate stirrings of a job hunt. I haven’t spent much time on the couch watching TV, though it’s what I really feel like doing.

Friday I got a message from the woman at Meteoritt, the media translation company in Oslo, asking me if I wanted to translate an 18-page document, due Wednesday. I said sure. No problem. I’ve begun to get a handle on how long it takes to translate a script, and 18 pages is no big deal. Script pages, as you probably know, are mostly white space.

But it turned out it wasn’t a script. It was what I believe is called a “treatment” in the industry. A treatment (unless I’m mistaken) is a narrative of the story organized in paragraphs. One paragraph per scene, I think. Which means that a treatment is a pretty dense document. 18 pages of a treatment is a chunk of verbiage. Continue reading Bilingual orientation

‘The Media Cannot See Beyond Politics’

In 1978, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave a commencement speech at Harvard. He wrote in his memoir that his secretary urged him to soften his words and the press expected him to give an anti-Communist message with plenty of praise for America. He said he was surprised at the applause from Harvard and shocked by news critics in the months afterward.

At the end of my speech I had pointed to the fact that the moral poverty of the 20th century comes from too much having been invested in sociopolitical changes, with the loss of the Whole and the High. We, all of us, have no other salvation but to look once more at the scale of moral values and rise to a new height of vision. “No one on earth has any other way left but — upward,” were the concluding words of my speech.

. . .

What surprised me was not that the newspapers attacked me from every angle (after all, I had taken a sharp cut at the press), but the fact that they had completely missed everything important (a remarkable skill of the media). They had invented things that simply did not exist in my speech, and had kept striking out at me on positions they expected me to hold, but which I had not taken. The newspapers went into a frenzy, as if my speech had focused on détente or war. (Had they prepared their responses in advance, anticipating that my speech would be like the ones I had given in Washington and New York three years earlier?) “Sets aside all other values in the crusade against Communism . . . Autocrat . . . A throwback to the czarist times . . . His ill-considered political analysis.” (The media is so blinkered it cannot even see beyond politics.)

(from “My Harvard Speech in Retrospect” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, reprinted in National Review)

‘Victor’s Song’

Yeah, I’m dry today. So I’m going to post another song from “Local Hero.” I’m gonna make you like this movie whether you want to or not.

“Victor” is a Russian trawler fisherman who drops in on the Scottish fishing village from time to time. He is an unabashed capitalist (this is before the Cold War ended). When he comes to a ceilidh, he always does this song, a favorite with his Scottish friends.

So we’ve got a Russian singing a country-western song to Scots. Fits right in with the whole film.

‘Mist Covered Mountains’

Today James Lileks, blogging from England, posted a musical piece from the 1983 movie “Local Hero.” Which happens to be one of my favorites.

So I’ll just post a “Local Hero” selection of my own. The movie, a light treatment of cultural miscommunication between an American oil man and the population of a Scottish fishing village, is full of magic. But the most magical part (for me) is the ceilidh, the musical party and dance held in the village hall. I could have posted the wonderful country-western song sung by a Russian fisherman, but the real peak of the night is this waltz, “Mist Covered Mountains.”

You may notice a brief appearance by Peter Capaldi, who would go on to become a Time Lord, but not before Time had had its way with him, good and hard.

Novels via Instagram

The New York Public Library has begun to distribute full novels on Instagram Stories, you know, meeting the kids where they’re at and stuff.  They announced it this way: “Introducing Insta Novels. A reimagining of Instagram Stories to provide access to some of the most iconic stories ever written. And to bring over 300,000 more titles straight to your phone.”

Perhaps someone will read something sometime.  (via Prufrock News)

 

Book Reviews, Creative Culture