Coming down from intense projects can be quite disorienting. I experienced that yet again this morning, when I suddenly found myself without anything immediate to do after several days of very long hours.
Summers are an interesting time for the Langford family. Most years — including this one — early in June my wife takes off for Utah to help take care of her mother, who suffered a serious stroke 8 or 9 years ago. From there, typically she teaches a summer class via distance learning. Meanwhile, I’m left here in Wisconsin with whatever children happen to be here during the summer — which right now is all three of them — doing my own work and supervising the children, more or less, up until the point when some or all of us take off for Utah to visit.
We’re now (as of early July) about a month into that. And it always makes me feel like I’m juggling one-handed, which is kind of an odd simile considering that I’m not actually a juggler at all in any literal sense. Only metaphorical. But metaphorically, it feels like what I imagine juggling with one hand would feel like. Same number of balls to keep in the air, but only half the hands.
The first thing I do each morning is sit up in bed, then remove the mask on my CPAP machine. And then I tighten my gut and stand up.
Specifics can vary. Sometimes I may take off the CPAP mask first. Sometimes (especially when running behind), I may leap straight out of bed in a single motion, without sitting up first. But the gut-tightening is always part of the process, for unavoidable physiological reasons that also work nicely on a metaphorical level. Hence this post.
This Memorial Day, I spent most of the day editing a family history for someone while my wife did taxes. (We had filed a deferment, as we usually do these days, since tax time comes right toward the end of her semester and my busiest work time.) And then this evening, we went down to the river that runs through our town to listen to frogs and look at fireflies.
This coming weekend, our oldest child is having some friends over. Which, for us, means that it’s time to clean the house. Or at least the living room. This time, though, it’s the end of the semester, coming up on summer, and the kitchen and a few other specific areas are really quite unpleasant, and so it’s house-cleaning time.
And so I spent about an hour and a half just now cleaning house, in the middle of the day, with no one keeping me company. Which is a thing I hate. But I think it’s worth it.
One of the things that makes reading more of an effort than it used to be is my sense that when I read something, there’s usually something I’m trying to do with the text. I’m reading to pick up information, or edit something. I’m reading to give feedback to the author, or because my book club is going to be meeting and I want to be able to say something.
Or, sometimes, I’m reading to write a review: a self-imposed duty that comes with being friends with someone, or part of a community, or having taken it on as a commitment in some moment of insanity. Or simply because it’s become an impulse, part of my way of reacting to and processing a book: part of coming to know what I think, and then (let’s be honest here) using it as a chance to speak up and say something. Start a conversation. Because, hey, what’s a better topic of conversation than talking about a book you’ve read?
(Much insight into my character is revealed by the fact that I’m not actually joking about this last. Those with a disposition like mine, I anticipate, will see nothing odd about this: what can be a better topic of conversation than a book? Nothing, obviously.)
Judging strictly by numbers, I don’t actually write that many reviews. But each of them is, for me, a way of grappling with and trying to understand something about writing, about ideas, about myself. A review is an act of cultural and intellectual as well as literary criticism — at its best, in my view at least.
In the spirit of which, I offer up the following small list of books I’ve reviewed in the last year:
- The Crucible of Doubt: Reflections on the Quest for Faith, by Terryl and Fiona Givens, review posted at A Motley Vision, a follow-up to my earlier review of their book The God Who Weeps
- The Agitated Heart, a Mormon short novel by Scott Bronson, review posted at A Motley Vision
- Wandering Realities: The (Mormonish) Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck, with a review cross-posted on this blog and over at A Motley Vision
- Dark Watch and Other Mormon-American Stories, by William Morris; review forthcoming from Dialogue
There was another book that I had agreed to review, but partway through, I determined that I was not part of the book’s target audience and couldn’t really do the book justice, so I begged off on that one. Getting that off my plate was a surprising relief: not just a matter of one fewer thing to do, but something I had come to dread doing, partly because I didn’t think I could do it well.
It’s not a coincidence that all of these are in the realm of Mormon literature, three about works of fiction, two about collections that include sf&f stories. I’m part of a fairly small community of Mormon letters; there’s a need, I feel, for feedback, for the sense that someone out there is actually reading what you write, as well as for promoting titles people might enjoy. (I’ve been known to print out my book reviews and share them with people from my Mormon congregation, in the spirit of trying to entice them into reading the book in turn.) And there’s a vague sense that in so doing, I might be contributing as well to the development of a conversation not just about literary works but about literature in general within the Mormon sphere.
It’s a small output — smaller than I feel it ought to be, especially when the work I put into the review is nothing compared to what the author put into the writing. But if a review of mine puts one or two more readers onto a specific title, or makes a writer feel that he or she has been engaged with on a meaningful level, or provides me with a new insight or two into life and/or writing, then the effort has paid for itself.
Every now and then I have literary thoughts, which I feel I should credit myself for here even if they’re published elsewhere. So yesterday I posted an essay titled “The Appeal of Science Fiction for (Some) Mormons” over at A Motley Vision blog. If the topic interests you, I invite you to read and respond either there or here.
Below is an excerpt from an email I sent to a writing friend last night. It then occurred to me that this might interest my various readers on this blog…
As part of my worldbuilding for my fantasy novel, I’m trying to wrap my mind around river freight traffic in an inland area prior to steam power. (By “inland” I mean not near coastlines, outside the influence of tides and estuaries, etc.)
Last Saturday, I had the rare opportunity of being interviewed about a topic people more often are attempting to shut me up about: that is, J. R. R. Tolkien and his influence on the modern world. (Requirement for someone’s college course paper, I believe.) No one reading this blog will be surprised to know that I had a lot to say, even in cases where I didn’t necessarily know a lot. But then, isn’t that’s what interviews are all about?
Every now and then, something happens to remind me that I had said I was going to post regularly to this blog. While I think the number of those currently following the blog is probably in the low single digits, I nonetheless feel a certain obligation to keep my commitment, for no entirely clear reason. And so…
A little over three weeks ago, I got feedback from my online writing group on the prologue and first two chapters of what is now projected to be a five-novel series.
This, in case you were wondering, is serious progress. I mean, seriously. And yeah, the feedback I got (which was excellent, by the way; I have the greatest writing group ever) immediately made me set aside what I had written and start reconceptualizing the plan for my first novel, which I’m sure was not what they had been hoping for. But it’s what I needed, and even (kind of) what I had wanted. And I have, in fact, been working on that reconceptualization, and hope to be ready to resume drafting again relatively soon. “Relatively” being, you know, a relative term. Whatever.