Sidereal ramblings

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cynicism, regret, and unhappiness

The third short story collection I read this summer -- just finished it today -- was Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver. As I mentioned earlier, I really admire Carver's writing and style, and the latter stories in this book are vastly superior to the early ones. One common feature I've noticed about Carver, and this book in particular, is that many of these stories are downright depressing. A lot of the characters are on their second (or third) spouse, and none of them seem to be very happy. Several stories deal with the very moment of breaking up and dissolving a relationship. There's a fair amount of cynicism, regret, and unhappiness that seeps through this collection. Not that these are bad stories by any means -- quite the opposite -- but it's not the feel-good kind of book you want to read to lift up your spirits. Sadly (?), I can relate all too well to the feelings that a lot of Carver's characters are going through.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The end

So the great sleep experiment of 2008 comes to a close. Last night I was scheduled to go to bed at 9:00 p.m. I got to bed just before 10:00. This morning I was supposed to be up at 6:00. I got up about 6:30, after several uses of the snooze button on my alarm. I didn't have any real trouble getting up at that time, and I've felt okay, if a bit tired, all day. We'll see how this all works out over the next couple of days, as I get back on my regular school schedule. I didn't want my first day back to be the first day I got up at the regular time, which is why I'd planned for today to be that first day. I'll be headed to bed soon, I'm sure. Tomorrow it begins: up at 6:30 every day for work.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Nap Time

I may have screwed up my experiment. I'm still sleeping (or trying to) during the designated time periods, but since I've been having trouble sleeping when I'm supposed to (and that's pretty much been happening my whole adult life), I've taken a couple of naps in the meantime. I hope this doesn't mess things up too much. It shouldn't. Under "normal" circumstances, when I only get five or so hours of sleep at night, I'll often take a short nap during the following day if I can work it in to my schedule.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wednesday night

I didn't sleep very well today. Actually, I slept pretty soundly, just not for very long. I woke up after sleeping about five hours, wide awake, and couldn't get back to sleep after that. With my particular breed of insomnia, that happens to me a lot.

Wednesday Morning

One thing about staying up all night is that I'm pretty much staying home. Sure, I took a walk last night about 2:30-3:00, but here in Fairmont there's nowhere to go. The only places open are the 24-hour grocery stores and Kwik Trip. Sadly, there's no 24-hour restaurant where one could go, sit, and have a cup of coffee (if, for example, I drank coffee). I've probably gotten more reading done than I would during the day, just because there's fewer distractions. I did get pretty tired this morning around 6:00 a.m., so I took a little nap. Just a little one, though. I went over to school this morning for a few minutes, and had a chiropractor's appointment afterwards. Now I'm home and about ready for bed -- at noon today.

I think 4:00 a.m. is the oddest (maybe the lonliest, maybe the most invigorating) time to be awake. There are people who regularly stay up until 2:00 or 3:00 (I'm one of them), and I know there are people who get up very early, say around 5:00 or 6:00. But when you're awake at 4:00 a.m., you know it's kind of special.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Missing Tuesday

Some people might say I missed the whole day today. I slept from just after 9:00 this morning until just after 6:00 p.m. tonight. But I would say two things to that: 1) I was awake and busy all throughout the night, and 2) It was Tuesday -- what's to miss? Seriously, though, I got one of the best "night's" sleep I've had in recent memory today. And I didn't get bothered once: no one stopping by, no phone calls, nothing. That's not too unusual.

A note on getting up: so far I haven't used any type of alarm to get up at a certain time. Today, for example, I think the only other time I woke up, I glanced at the clock, and it was a little before 5:00. When I finally woke and got up, it was shortly after 6:00. Looking forward to the night...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Update -- short stories

Well, I got up a bit earlier today than planned -- about 2:15 p.m. I didn't sleep real well, lots of tossing and turning, half-awake, half-asleep, but that's pretty normal for me. Other than that, my day's been pretty normal: went to the library to read the newspaper, went biking for an hour or so, spent some time over at school working on this coming fall's curriculum. What really seems odd now, going on 11:00 p.m., is that I'm planning on being up all night, and everyone I know will be sleeping. Of course, that sense of being alone, and the only person awake in the world, isn't all that unusual.

Though no one has asked, I thought I'd provide an update on the short story a day summer project. It's still going on. I read a collection of stories by Charles DeLint called Moonlight and Vines. I really like DeLint; he's one of the original urban fantasy writers. He can really make you care about characters in just a few pages, a very sentimental writer. Lots of his stories tug at your heartstrings: lost love, unrequited love, things I can definitely relate to. One thing that kind of bothered me was that in a number of stories, he varied his point of view from first person to third person and back again. It struck me as jarring and maybe unnecessary. But it also bothered me because the novel I started writing last January (but has been on indefinite hold since then) alternates chapters being told by two different narrators. I wonder if I'm being too pretentious.

Right now, I'm reading a collection of Raymond Carver short stories. I really love and admire Carver's short fiction. This has been a really interesting book to read; the stories are arranged in vaguely chronological order (according to Carver's intro), and I can see a real progression in the writing style. Carver excels at the slice-of-life story, but the early ones seem to just kind of fall flat a lot of times, no real ending, just a stopping point. By halfway through the book, where I am now, the stories are much more coherent and satisfying. An interesting perspective for someone like me to take on a well-respected, well-known, professional author.

Sleep experiment

I've always had trouble readjusting to my sleep schedule at the beginning of the school year. During the school year, I get up regularly at 6:30 and go to bed sometime around 10:30-11:00 (I'm a firm believer in the 8 hours of sleep maxim). Once I'm on that schedule, I don't have much difficulty maintaining it, but when summer (or any extended break, really) rolls around, I quickly change my pattern to much later times. Most of this summer, I've been going to bed sometime between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. and getting up around noon, give or take an hour or so. Next week, all that changes.

In the past I've attempted to gradually get up earlier, say an hour each day, until I get to that 6:30 mark. It doesn't work very well for me; I'm tired throughout the day, and still don't want to go to bed early. One year I tried extending that my doing an hour two days at a time; i.e., getting up at 11:00 for two days, then 10:00 for two days, etc. That didn't work well either. A couple of years ago I read somewhere that a better way to adjust a sleep schedule like mine was to get up later each day (in increments of three hours) rather than earlier, until the desired time was reached. This year I decided to try that. Which means that for the first "night," I'm staying up until 6:00 a.m., then planning to sleep until around 3:00 p.m., then staying up until 9:00 a.m. the next day, and so on. In just under a week, I should hit the mark I'm aiming for, if this works. Someone suggested that I record how this works, so I'm doing that here. It's just before 4:00 a.m. as I write this, and I'm surprisingly tired, but I'm planning on staying up another two hours.

I'm not doing anything too different with my time. I've read some comics tonight, watched a couple of things on DVD. Around midnight, I walked over to the post office to drop off some outgoing mail. Late night walks in Fairmont, which tend to be frequent in the summer, are interesting. It's more than a ghost town. (Fairmont is a town where the sidewalks get rolled up by 9:00 p.m. normally.) There's no one else out, no traffic to speak of, and other than a few lights in houses here and there, no real sign of any life. I feel like I've stumbled into a deserted town in a zombie movie; I keep expecting a horde of them to shamble around the next corner. Thankfully, that hasn't happened yet.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Finishing Up

I'm not abandoning my short story per day reading for the summer, but I have read the last three stories in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror volume that I started with.

I'm not sure what the technical definition of a "novella" is (I'm sure K or Stix could help me out here), though I know it has to do with length. Ysabeau S. Wilce's story "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire" is described in the introduction as a novella. It's written in a style I wouldn't normally enjoy, but somehow it seemed to work for this story. Maybe it's just that as I started it, I realized it was quite long, and I was going to have to get through it, so I might as well enjoy it. Whatever. She writes in a kind of baroque, wordy style, which also includes a lot of offhand references and modern slangy words. I don't know quite how to describe it. Maybe a fairly random example will help:

"Ahead, a big red door, well barred and bolted, but surely leading Out. The bottom bolt snaps back under her tiny fingers, but the chains are too high and tippy-toe, hopping, jumping will not reach them. The demon is down the stairs, he's still shouting and steaming, and the smell of charred flesh is stinky indeed."

Nothing too long and convoluted there, but maybe you get the idea. One of my biggest issues with the writing is some of the word choice. She uses the word "hinder" several times to describe the buttocks. The first time, it comes from a child's perspective and makes perfect sense. But she uses it a couple more times in narration, and it just jumps out as being out of place. The story was a bizarre tale about bizarre people in a bizarre world. Without much to ground it, other than genuine human emotion, it still managed to succeed on its own terms. Enough about that one.

"Raphael" by Stephen Graham Jones might be my favorite story of the summer thus far. It's about a group of kids who form a kind of "scare club," who tell stories intended to scare each other. And, of course, things go horribly awry. If it ended with the kids' story, it would have been a really good story, but Jones takes it a step further, with one of them an adult, looking back, and the consequences of his childhood actions taking full effect on adulthood. Really well written and chilling.

I also liked "The Muldoon" by Glenn Hirshberg, the final story in the anthology. Another ghost story, with a couple cool twists and turns, and another story in which the protagonists (and narrator) are children. I'm not sure why, but I really like stories with children, even ones which aren't necessarily "children's stories." And this one clearly isn't.

So, I've finished the book, more than 250,000 words, as the cover proclaims. What to read next?