90th birthdays and Stephen King's writings

Monday, February 16, 2004

I’m back. I’ve received messages from my Frequent Readers: both were terribly worried. Okay, they weren’t so much worried as disappointed. They asked, Why would you pretend to post often, even going as far as calling others out for not posting, and then turn around and not post at all. It’s a good question and I will describe the answer in sufficient detail to bore the lot of you (I was going to say “to tears,” but I’ll spare you the cliché—oops, too late).

Sit back, make sure your seatbacks are in their reclined and comfortable position, and prepare yourself. If the measure of a musing is the number of letters typed on the screen, then this one’s a doozy. If the measure of a musing is the amount of caffeine that I intake before sitting down to write, then this one’s a grande (that’s with caffeine).

To start with, as you noticed if you’ve read my last few musings, I’ve been in a bit of a rut. These musings have become less about what’s going on in my life and more about my writing, and lately my writing has been rather bad. I don’t write about my work life here, partly because this is a public website, but mostly because I deal with it enough during the day and I don’t want to relive each moment through this. Instead, I share my current thoughts and environments. I’ve written a number of musings on my Starbucks pals—pals might be too strong of a word. Except for the coffee girl who believed I was a student (I haven’t seen her in awhile), I avoid talking to the masses at the coffeehouses. (My entire conversation with the coffee girl consisted of her asking, “Aren’t you a student?” And me responding, “Why…umm…yes.” And her saying, “I thought so. Will that be decaf?”) The masses are not exactly beating down the doors to talk to me either, but I’m fine with that. I come here to write, not talk. If I wanted to talk, I have plenty of imaginary friends at home to entertain me.

At times, I’ve used this forum to share the broad strokes of my life in asides, usually as the first or last few paragraphs. And occasionally, like today, I sit down with the purpose of describing in detail what’s been going on in my life. But most of the time, I focus on my writing.

This is as good a time as any to come clean on the reasons I designed sewcrates.com (this is something that I should have put in the about section ages ago). First, I’m vain: very, very vain. I like reading my own writing and having others read it and comment on it (I enjoy the, Boy that was a great piece of writing, to the, That sucked! Don’t you know the word is “outset,” not “offset,” but both comments work for me—once my ego gets over the bruising, I actually prefer the latter (that’s the critiquing to those who get confused by the former/latter pair)) (notice the double closing parentheses).

Before I designed sewcrates.com, I started sharing my writing on a few websites, including Enter the Muse, but I didn’t like the comments I received. Not that I was looking for the aforementioned praise, but I was looking for insightful critiques and I wasn’t getting any. The thrill of posting a story got me back into writing again, and I thank those websites at least for that. But I decided the ego-gratification was actually hurting my writing. I ended up posting the story too soon just to fish for a comment or validation. This is something that still hurts my writing and something I will hopefully rectify by withholding the first draft (see below, way below).

Second, I wanted someplace to store my notes. Before I started this site, I explored a number of programs that promised to keep track of notes. You need to understand that my memory is not good. I have trouble remembering things that happened to me a month ago. Stuff that happened a year ago I remember when prompted with hints. Anything beyond that is fuzzy. When I visited Shannon this weekend, I forgot that he visited me in Houston two and a half years ago (I think he was on an interview). When he first mentioned that he had visited Houston, I thought, “What is he smoking? He’s never been there. I’m the good friend here, flying all the way to DC to see him.” It was only after I remembered a particular incident that I remembered that he had.

Shannon visited shortly after I moved to Houston and purchased my car. At the time, I was still learning to drive stick (I bought it because real men drive stick—don’t let wusses tell you differently—and, for the record, stick doesn’t give you more control over your car than automatic, it just makes you feel more manly as you manipulate the shaft). Shannon was showing off and parked my car inches away from the wall of my garage. (I still park the car three feet away from the wall, mostly because I can’t judge the front or rear distances. I really shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of an automobile.) When I started the car the next day, I let go of the clutch. Shannon had left it in gear (I didn’t even know you can leave it in gear when you parked) and the car jerked forward, denting the license place but doing no other harm.

Until I remembered this, I didn’t remember that Shannon had visited. After I remembered this story, I started remembering other aspects of his visit, including his disdain of Ruth’s Chris’s Steakhouse (high quality food does not impress his holiness—at the time I brought him there I had also forgotten that I had introduced him to the buttery goodness of this particular steakhouse in NYC). As you can see, my memory is bad. I’m not proud of it, but I have learned to accept it.

These gaps in my memory extend to academic- and work-related information. When I have information, my work product is rather good, which is one of the reasons I did so well in graduate school. My notes were specific and complete. To remedy my lack of an adequate way to store my home and work notes, I started trying out various pieces of software. I settled on The Brain. I used it for a few months, but grew frustrated with the lack of synchronization between my home and work computers, and my PocketPC. The Brain offered a web-based solution, but wanted to charge additional money. After forking over $70 for the original product, I was not willing to pay for a more complete solution. It was then that I decided to create a website to hold my notes. It wouldn’t be as fancy as The Brain, but it would hold the same information.

Third, I wanted a place to store my pictures and writing, someway to share them with the world. Like everyone who owns a website, I pictured that after I installed my website, millions of people would visit it. That hasn’t happened and I don’t expect it to happen. I’m not disappointed. The people I really wanted to share my thoughts with do occasionally frequent here, and that’s the important thing.

Finally, I wanted a presence on the internet. As a nerd, I felt it was my obligation (and right) to mark my digital territory (visualize: dog urinating on wall). I reserved the URL david.figatner.name and sewcrates.com for this purpose. (I had problems linking david.figatner.name to this site. One day I’ll fix that.) I now have a presence and everything seems right in the world.

The creation of my original website is an interesting story, but I’ll leave it for another time. In short, after the Chuck Inspiration (we’ll call that post-CI), the current incarnation of sewcrates.com came into being.

I’m sure Doolies is asking where is the Doolies section in the musing (she does word searches for her name and skips right to that section—and you think I’m vain). I’m getting there right now. I spent the last week with Doolies. She had another one of her mythical one-week vacations. I describe the vacations as mythical because as an intern (she incorrectly refers to herself as a first-year resident, or an R1, but in reality she’s just an I), you’re supposed to work your butt off. Last year, the medical powers-that-be implemented, among other slavery-saving procedures, an 80-hour workweek. Since then, residents’ life, most especially Doolies’s life, has become much easier. Doolies has four, one-week vacations. While I think it’s despicable that tomorrow’s doctors are not going to have nearly the skills of today’s doctors, I’m personally grateful for this change. I wouldn’t see Doolies half as much if her schedule were what it would have been in 2000. We also couldn’t go on all our exotic vacations (see the photographs section for more details).

Doolies flew to Houston on Saturday night. She could have flown Friday, since she had Friday afternoon off, but she’s not a good planner. She also could have flown from SNA (which is ten minutes away from her home) instead of LAX (which is forty minutes away), but, again, bad planning. In the end, I had to wait an extra day to see Doolies, a long extra day. My plan for the week was to work four hours days on Monday and Tuesday. Work had a different opinion. It dumped oodles of paper on my desk and I had to work full days while Doolies stayed in my apartment. The good part is that Doolies, who is incapable of staying in a messy place, cleaned my apartment (before you ask, my apartment was David-clean before she arrived, but that’s a completely different standard from Doolies-clean).

We went to DC to visit Shannon and Max (and her 13 children and grandchildren—fish and birds, which you would have known if you remembered Shannon’s distaste of monsters) on Wednesday and Thursday. He is getting along as usual. We then went to NY for my Grandma’s ninetieth birthday and Orli's second birthday. I won’t get much into these visits. I've posted pictures of these events. Doolies also created her second album with my assistance as sound engineer (and Sugar Daddy for buying all the expensive sound equipment). Ain't she great? My intention today (as if I have an intention in this poorly organized and much too long musing), was to discuss my new writing rules and Doolies (always Doolies). I’ll breeze over my trips to accomplish this in a reasonable five pages.

While waiting for Shannon to finish his treatments (his laser zapping of mostly female clients in search of the smoothest skin—I asked but he wouldn’t let me play with the lasers after-hours, in case you were wondering) on Wednesday night, Doolies and I bided our time in a monster-infested mall. There weren’t many monsters in the mall, but every other store sold monster accessories. Everything a monster could possibly need (or, more exactly, everything that a monster’s parent would think a monster could possibly need). Shannon later told us that in DC, having children has become a sort of status symbol. The more monsters you leashed, the more important (rich, good-looking, powerful, etc.) you were to the rest of society. This is wrong on so many levels. As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, while in the mall, we stopped in a bookstore and for $5.98 I bought Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s an autobiographical look at his career as a writer, including his advice to young and impressionable writers. Since I’m such a writer (or at least pretend to be one), I read it. It was a bit slow at parts, but overall it was a good read and I picked up some hints and validations of my current writing plans.

In brief, Stephen (since reading his book, I feel like I’m on a first name basis with him) validated my decision to stop watching television. I have now changed the rules for DVDs: I will only watch them on the weekends, leaving my weekdays free to focus on my writing. Before the vacation, I had been playing the Jedi video game rather often, even without friends (yes, this does get around my no-video game-without-friends-rule, but I made lots of excuses for this, such as, I needed the practice so Jason would stop kicking my ass when I played against him). Before the vacation and especially after Stephen’s book, I decided to curtail this and stop playing video games unless there’s a real, live friend in there with me.

Another suggestion he made was that to write well, you must read and write a lot. He recommended six hours a day, which seems fair to me. I calculated that I read and write an average of three to four hours a day, not counting work or internet sites. I’m going to try to increase that to six hours (I’m on my way with this musing, which I’ve been fiddling with for the past three hours, sad, huh). I’m also going to increase my reading intake. That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to change my DVD watching rules. I’ve been spending too much time watching movies instead of reading. I’ve also gone out and bought an audio book on CD for my car. Now my five-minute trip to work will count toward my reading total.

Stephen discussed not overdoing the synopsis. When I thought about this, it made sense. I’ve been consternating and fighting the plot for my latest story about the lost mall child. Stephen’s suggestion is to pick a situation, a few one-dimensional characters, and let the characters and the situation tell the story. A plot will develop from their experiences, and the author will be pleasantly surprised by this development, which should flow better than if it had been meticulously planned. This is a good thing. I look back to my failed Grelko story for an example of too much planning. I became so obsessed with planning the details of the story that I lost track of what the story was about. In the end, I wrote the story more to just be done with it than to tell the story. The writing was halting and the characters undeveloped, pushed along more to get words on a page than tell the story. By having the characters tell the story, more possibilities will open up. In the end, the results are similar. Instead of planning the plot in an outline form and then writing from that outline, I’ll plan the plot in the form of the story. It might force me to rewrite parts of it after I discover a better plot twist, but that’s not bad. The more I write, the better I’ll become. It’s like the circle of life, only different.

The last important suggestion Stephen made relates to drafts and sharing drafts with others. This will have the greatest effect on my adoring fans (cough, cough). First, Stephen recommends that after you finish the first draft, you put the draft aside for six weeks before reading it again. This allows you to review the story with a different mindset, and lets the story percolate (my word, not Stephen’s) in your brain for a while. By the time you revisit the first draft, you’ll have more distance from the story. This should make it easier for you to cut your “darling children,” since the second draft should ideally be 10% shorter than the first. Besides not reading the first draft, Stephen also recommended that you not share the first draft with anyone else. This draft is a “closed door” draft. The only person you’re trying to please with this draft is yourself. Once the second draft is finished, then it’s time to share it with trusted friends (i.e., all three people who read this website), to get their honest opinions on the story and characters, the “open door” draft. I’m going to try this for my current story. Except for some thoughts on the direction of the story, you will probably not read anything for a while about my current story. I’ll keep you updated on where I am, but I’m not going to post any snippets until the second draft is finished.

I’ve also adjusted my writing schedule a bit to make more room for writing. I’m going to attempt to wake up early to write my story. You’ll be happy to hear that I plan to visit coffeehouses to draft musings in the evenings. We’ll see how long this lasts. Waking up at six this morning was difficult. What made it worse was that I only wrote three lines in my story. I’m hoping it’ll get better with time.

I did want to get back to Doolies. I had a wonderful week with her. I forgot how much I love sleeping with her (get your minds out of the gutter, we’re talking about the actual act of sleeping now). She’s warm and quite squishy and fits rather well in most of my sleeping positions. She flew back with me to Houston yesterday before heading back to LA. Seeing her off at her gate was difficult, extremely difficult. I felt a ripping pain in my stomach when I watched her board the plane. I’ve never really felt that before. As I was driving back to my apartment, I missed her terribly. My feelings for her have grown over the past year that I’ve known her. I love her. I now can say that I know what love is. I’ve always known what familial love is, but not this other type. Where that will take us, I don’t know. But I felt it was important to say.

Starbucks is closing in five minutes. I think I’ve dragged this out long enough. If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed. If you’ve just skipped down to the end then you should know that the Butler did it in the Pantry. I’ll try to be more regular with these musings.