Hey, have I told you about my test?

Is there anything more tedious and self-indulgent than a middle-aged man telling you all about a medical procedure he’s been through? And yet here I am, and at least some of you seem to expect a report. (More sensitive and tasteful souls are advised to stop reading here.)

I shall not name the procedure I went through yesterday. That low I will not descend. Many of you will guess. The rest of you are better off in ignorance.

The worst part of this particular procedure is preparing for it. It involves two days of eating low-fiber food, and then one day of what’s called a “clear liquid diet,” capped off by the liberal use of certain medicaments which have prompt and dramatic effects.

I had a lot of opportunity to read during that last preparation day. I fear that I will always hereafter associate the reading of The Fellowship of the Ring with… rather intense physical sensations.

The day of the test itself was pretty easy. They don’t allow you to drive yourself, due to the sedatives used. As a certified urban hermit, I was entitled to a cab ride to the clinic, and a shuttle ride back, paid for by the study (there was a bad moment at the front desk where the receptionist told me they didn’t provide rides—I should have been told that. Turned out it was a misunderstanding, and the study people had my ride scheduled. Right hand uninformed by the left hand, as it turned out).

I had to undress and put on a hospital gown and robe (we all know they design those things to deprive us of all human dignity, don’t we?). In the operating room they gave me intravenous drugs for pain control and relaxation. I was told that one effect was amnesia in regard to the test itself, and I was interested to find out what that would be like.

They did their thing, and it was a lot less unpleasant than the preparation had been. Also quickly over. I did not get amnesia. I remember the whole thing, what it felt like and what it looked like on the monitor.

Once again a psychotropic medication has failed to have the promised effect on me. I seem to have superhuman resistance to such things. I think I’ve mentioned that antidepressants do nothing for me at all (except for the side effects).

I should probably be a spy. I can see myself bound to a chair, like Jack Bauer, saying, “I’ll tell you nothing! Your puny sodium pentathol is powerless against me! Uh, what are you doing with those pliers…?”

But I must admit the Valium component did relax me. So much so that I actually made conversation with the shuttle driver on the way home. Or rather, he made conversation and I (uncharacteristically) went along with it. It still took an act of will for me to ask a couple questions, but I did it.

And I had the nicest afternoon nap I’ve had in years.

I could have made a blog post after all, but I’d been through a soul-searing ordeal, and the day was mine, mine, mine! Or at least what was left after the nap was mine. As long as I didn’t drive anywhere.

Are Online Books Really Books?

Here’s a report on books, libraries, and the Interweb from Bryan Appleyard (by way of Frank Wilson): The final chapter in the life of the book? He makes a good point about teacher, which Frank quotes, but let me point out something else. Mr. Appleyard writes:

Intellectual property is the big difference between the developing and developed worlds. But intellectual property rights and the internet are uneasy bedfellows. Google’s stated mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. The words “universally accessible” carry the implicit threat that nobody can actually own or earn revenue from any information since it will all be just out there.

This is one reason an Interweb library search, like Google Book, won’t take over the literary world. Publishers and writers, who can’t afford to work for free, won’t allow it. At the same time, I won’t be surprised if users won’t allow it either when they realize the Interweb can’t offer everything for free (it doesn’t even today) and what they want to read or know won’t be online.

From Treading Water to Walking on It

Lynne Scanlon has darkly roasted and robust conversations about modern bookselling at this post: “Wicked Witch of Publishing Takes Over Pretend Independent Bookstore. Will She Thrive—or Just Survive?” Post and comments, all very interesting, such as:

  • Find ways to save money and make money simultaneously by renegotiating your building lease and subletting to authors or anyone who needs a bit o’ space.
  • Answer the question “What would you have to believe about my store to be willing to come here and spend money here?”
  • In the comments: what on earth does this say about the basic premise of even having an indie if you have to do all this to prop it up?
  • If we had been voracious business people instead of voracious readers we might have had a chance — maybe.
  • I believe that anybody should work for a minimum of 12 months alongside an experienced bookseller who has a proven sales record.

New meme for 2007

Which of these two statements do you believe to be either true or closer to the truth?

1.

a. The best things in life are free.

b. If money can’t buy happiness, then maybe I don’t need to be happy.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

2.

a. Perception is reality.

b. Reality is what you trips you when you’re walking through the dark.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

3.

a. When I fall in love, it will be forever.

b. Hello. I love you. Will you tell me your name?

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

4.

a. The glass is half full.

b. The glass is half empty.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

5.

a. Life is too short to drink the house wine.

b. The small garden of a free gardener was all my need and due.

c. Both of these statements are equally true.

Continue reading New meme for 2007

Worst post ever. Don’t even look at this.

This is appalling. I should just face my failure and give up on blogging now.

I’ve reached the bottom. The absolute sludge-in-the-Worcestershire-bottle of blogdom. I’m going to do a post about my health.

I’m sorry. So very sorry. I’ll try to do better in the future.

First of all, I probably won’t be posting on Monday. Nothing serious. I’ve agreed to participate in a long-term medical study, and it involves undergoing a certain test which I won’t specify, because you may be one of those who (like me) eat at the keyboard. But it involves being sedated, and I may not be up to posting.

If I do post, you’ll know it went better than I expected.

I also saw my doctor today, on an unrelated matter (getting a prescription changed for insurance purposes, if you have to know).

It’s always dangerous to see a doctor, needless to say. 90% of all people who die of lingering diseases have seen a doctor recently.

It’s especially dangerous to see a new doctor. I had to change horses because my previous Galen, a man who believed in doing as little as possible as long as the patient wasn’t actually in debilitating pain, has retired. The new fellow is more energetic, brimming with fresh ideas for improving my life.

He thinks I ought to be sleep tested, to see if I need one of those C-PAP machines.

I’ve lived in fear of those devices for most of my adult life. In my mind, C-PAPs are for old, fat men.

The fact that I am in fact an old, fat man is of no comfort to me. (Thank you so much for bringing it up.)

On the other hand, the doctor speaks seductive words about improved mood, lower cholesterol and a reduction in acid reflux.

I think I see a face mask and a plastic tube in my future. I’ll keep you posted.

No need to thank me.

British Racism and Stupidity

Ugly news out of Britain today. Author Kiran Desai, winner of the Man Booker Prize winner for The Inheritance of Loss, says she has been insulted for being Indian by Britons.

“I certainly have been walking the streets of London and elsewhere in England and people have said, ‘Go back to where you come from’ or, you know, ,You damned Paki,'” she said recently.

This comes to light because actress Shilpa Shetty was in a reality show where she took some harsh words from other participants.

I suppose some news commentators/reporters will be asking whether all Britons are bigots, but that’s a bit ridiculous. Do they ask whether everyone is a murderer after a rash a homicide reports?

From our stupid news desk comes a report on comedic duo Baigent and Leigh who have returned to court to appeal the ruling against last year’s plagiarism suit. They are the authors of that wonderful fantasy, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and wanted to sue Dan Brown for stealing their imaginative ideas. The suit was thrown out, hence the appeal.

“A Random House spokesman said: ‘We regret … that more time and money is being spent trying to establish a case that was so comprehensively defeated in the High Court,'” according to Reuters.

James Brown on AccuRadio

I can’t confess to being a fan of James Brown, but I feel compelled to pass on this link to AccuRadio’s Classic Soul channel, which is playing a tribute to James Brown this month. “Throughout the month of January, we’re featuring dozens and dozens of songs by the Godfather of Soul, spanning the entire amazing career of The Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” reports one of the best, if not the best, internet radio sites.

Sincerity is overrated

I’ve started taking up my personal devotions more systematically lately (fortunately I started this just before I lost my meal ticket… er, renter, so I can’t accuse myself of doing it just to curry favor in Heaven. My mind does work this way. Really). I’ve switched from my old NIV Study Bible (great notes) to an English Standard Version Bible.

I like it. I’ve been reading Dynamic Equivalency Bibles for decades now, seduced by the argument that if you really want to convey the sense of the original you’ve pretty much got to rewrite everything. Moving back to a more literal translation, I get a pleasant sense of solidity. Nobody’s telling me what they think the text says. They trust me to be a grownup and be able to read books written for grownups.

My first Bible was King James, and then I got an RSV (the old one, before they went all PC and started fiddling with gender and stuff). The ESV is a direct descendent of the old RSV, and so far I’m pleased and comforted.

The following almost feels as if it’s connected, but I can’t think how.

When I was writing song lyrics in an obscure Christian singing group, there was one thing I never did (actually I never did lots of things, notably make time with girls, but that’s another story). I never claimed that “God wrote this song.”

I saw it way too many times. Some sweet, sincere kid with a guitar would say, “God wrote this song. It just came to me while I was laying in bed, and I got up and wrote it down in fifteen minutes. So I know it came from God.”

Then he/she would play the thing and it would be repetitious and clichéd, and you could always count on the word “strife” being employed in contexts where you’d never use “strife” if you didn’t have a desperate need for a rhyme for “life.”

And I wanted to scream at them, “Don’t you realize what you’re saying here? You’re saying that God’s a lousy lyricist!”

I never did, though. I’m too kind-hearted. And cowardly.

I thought of that today when a book crossed my desk at work. It was a novel written by a man whose shoes I am not worthy to polish. He’s one of those unsung saints the newspapers and magazines will never profile, someone who’s given his life in sacrificial service to Christ and his neighbor, living from hand to mouth and enduring a fair amount of danger along the way.

He wrote a novel.

And it’s lousy.

I want to tell people (I’m telling a few right now) that the fact that you have something to say, and a story to tell, and spiritual insight, doesn’t make you a writer of fiction.

Sincerity won’t do it. I might be very sincere about wanting to build a church, to the glory of God. I might pray over every nail, and work with a heart full of devotion.

But that won’t make it a good church building.

Because I’m not a competent carpenter.

Writing fiction is a craft, just like carpentry. It has its own tools and skills, protocols and shortcuts. Regardless of how good your basic idea is, the nuts and bolts have to be properly tightened, the corners squared.

I’m not telling you to stay away from fiction if you’re not a “professional.” I’m not saying I belong to some priesthood which alone is privileged to touch the holy written word.

I’m just saying if you want to get into the guild, you’ve got to learn your craft. And that will take time and diligence.

Thoughts from a mule-headed protagonist

How am I today? Better, I think. A little better.

For one thing, the long-awaited third volume of The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis finally arrived. Each volume has been longer than one before, and this one tallies in at 1,810 pages, including the index. It’s going on the shelf for now, but the next time I’m laid up with a multiple fracture of the leg, I’ll have my reading material ready.

I know it’s silly to look for divine signs in the day’s events, but on the way to work this morning I tried to fill up with gas at The Station That Usually Has the Lowest Price. I noted that the toll seemed to have gone up from yesterday, but I was there, and they’re usually the cheapest, so I assumed everybody else had jumped too, and I tried a fill-up. But the lock on my locking gas cap was frozen, and I didn’t have any spray to loosen it, so I drove off in a huff (actually I drove off in my Tracker, but you know what I mean).

This afternoon I stopped at Another Station That Sometimes Has the Lowest Price. Not only did my gas cap open (it was a little warmer today, so it probably melted in the sun), but the price was a full dime a gallon lower than my previous stop.

This undeserved bounty pleased me inordinately. I took it (for no rational or biblical reason) as a sign that God isn’t against me. Not completely, anyway.

Perspective is important, but it’s not my strong suit. There are probably people reading this entry who face the loss of loved ones, to disease or war. What are my problems compared to theirs? I’m sure they’d gladly have a mortgage foreclosed on them if it meant the restoration of their friend or family member.

And when I think it out, my situation isn’t so awful. I got notice in time so that I can still place an ad in the February issue of the Minnesota Christian Chronicle. That means it’s possible I could have a replacement sometime next month.

In storytelling, the dynamics of plot are always the same, whether it’s a literary story about an intellectual with writer’s block (unless it’s something experimental and self-indulgent), or a thriller about international counterterrorists and nuclear devices. The point of the story is always to change somebody. And the change always comes through pain and struggle.

You never read a story where somebody gets good advice, from a friend or from a book, and decides, “Hey, that’s right! I’m going to change the way I handle my life!” and everything is resolved right there.

The change always comes through conflict and hard times. I don’t think that’s only because it makes for a more interesting story.

I think it’s because it’s the way life is for real people.

God is trying to teach me something. So He’s doing what I’d do if I were writing my life—He’s making things hard for me.

Hope it works.

Aspirations and expirations

Blast.

My nice quiet renter is moving out, due to a personal crisis. There goes my economic security, until I can find another one.

Another opportunity to put my faith in God. He’s always taken care of me before. Why should I worry?

I hate living by faith, by the way.

Phil asked if I’d care to do the following meme. I’ll try it, but he’ll probably be sorry he asked.

0) What’s your name and website URL? (optional, of course)

My name is Lars, and… you’re here.

1) What’s the most fun work you’ve ever done, and why? (two sentences max)

The job I have now. Working with books, pottering about with old Norwegian volumes, what could be better?

2) A. Name one thing you did in the past that you no longer do but wish you did? (one sentence max)

Amateur theater, which I wish I had time for nowadays.



B. Name one thing you’ve always wanted to do but keep putting it off? (one sentence max)


Getting married.

3) A. What two things would you most like to learn or be better at, and why? (two sentences max)

I’d love to play the guitar. Unfortunately, I know from experience that I have no (zero) talent for it.

B. If you could take a class/workshop/apprentice from anyone in the world living or dead, who would it be and what would you hope to learn? (two more sentences, max)

I’d like to have taken one of C. S. Lewis’ literature classes. He’d probably have chewed me up and spit me out, though.

4) A. What three words might your best friends or family use to describe you?

Lazy, depressed, self-absorbed.

B. Now list two more words you wish described you.

Happy and thoughtful.

5) What are your top three passions? (can be current or past, work, hobbies, or causes– three sentences max)

I used to be passionate about the Body of Christ, spiritual adventuring and Norway/Vikings. Now I’m too bludgeoned to get excited about much of anything, except maybe live steel, and it’s the wrong season for that.

6) Write and answer one more question that YOU would ask someone (with answer in three sentences max)

Me ask a question? No, I don’t think so.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture