Hello and good morning. It’s Thursday, November 4th*, the first Thursday of the new month, and—of course—it’s time for another edition of my weekly blog post.
Halloween has passed, alas, and now we enter the weird time wherein Thanksgiving symbols—at least in the US—struggle to hold onto at least a brief period of prominence before they are overtaken, no later than November 25th this year, by Christmas decorations**.
I’m slightly sorry to have to admit that yesterday I flipped back to writing Outlaw’s Mind on computer. I’ve been getting quite a bit of minor but irritating arthrotic*** pain at the base of my thumb, and where the metacarpal meets the wrist. I’d forgotten this. It probably feels worse than it really is, since it’s been a while; also, the last time I experienced much of it, I was in wretched circumstances. But I’ve felt it plenty of times before, even going back to my teenage years. I think I tend just to get really focused when I’m writing and use those joints to a greater than ideal degree, causing wear and tear. That damage no doubt accumulates, since healing is rarely complete in any region of the body, unless you’re a spiny mouse, so the discomfort starts earlier each time. But it’s not primarily inflammatory, because there’s never even a hint of heat, redness, or noticeable swelling, and it only flares up with use, so arthrosis it is.
Because of that, and the minor inconvenience of storing my writing when not in use, and of flipping back to reread what I’d written yesterday instead of merely scrolling up, and, of course, because computer writing is easier to read, even for me, I’ve switched back. I’m occasionally troubled by the spirit of the great Harlan Ellison, who (so I’ve read) thought that one can’t write decently or effectively on a word processor/computer because it’s too easy. He supposedly disdained anything beyond the typewriter. Ellison-sensei could be an opinionated curmudgeon by all accounts, but such an argument clearly doesn’t stand up on its face****, or Ellison should have committed to writing every one of his first drafts on stone with a chisel.
I can’t say I would completely have put it past him.
But I don’t think writing with a modern computer is necessarily worse, or that it changes anything all that much in any given writer’s style. I wrote a good deal of the first draft of Son of Man on a very small smartphone using its note-taking app. That wasn’t easy on my thumbs, but at the time I didn’t have a portable computer, and I was riding busses about three hours a day, so I was able to do a lot of writing that way. I don’t think it was any easier than writing by hand at a desk would have been, and I don’t think my writing suffered or improved noticeably for it.
If you’d like to check, you can read Son of Man and compare it with Mark Red or The Chasm and the Collision or the short stories Paradox City and Solitaire, the first and often second drafts of all of which were written with pen on paper, and you can compare it also with Unanimity or any of my short stories starting with “I for one welcome our new computer overlords”, which are straight computer-written. You can also compare it with The Vagabond, which was originally written partly as pen on paper but mostly on a Mac SE using WriteNow. Or you can read all the tales in Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, which begins with a story part of the first draft of which was typed, if memory serves, and ends with a story that was written partly by hand and partly (first draft and all) in Microsoft Word™. Unfortunately, now that I’ve told you the difference, your experiment will be hopelessly confounded by bias.
Oh, well. Read them all anyway, what the heck. You can buy extra copies for friends and ask them what they think without revealing the above information. If you want to make things double blind, you can ask a third party to ask your friends what they think. Or you can just read the stories. I know that a lot of them are horror of one sort or another, but remember, just as a puppy isn’t only for Christmas*****, a horror story isn’t just for Halloween. The darkness of night continues to grow, at least here in the northern hemisphere. The time of daylight is in full retreat, and it will be weeks and weeks before it even begins to take back ground, let alone before it comes to dominate again, revealing all the stark unpleasantness of the world in its cold, bitter glare. In the dark, it is easier to pretend. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, your imagination can run away with you.
Which brings me back to Outlaw’s Mind, for which I’m gradually regaining my momentum, which was no small task since it’s been interrupted more than once. Maybe the handwriting thing was just a way to trick myself around my resistance to getting going on the story again. If so, it seems to have worked reasonably well, and Outlaw’s Mind will perhaps be all the better for its disjointed history. I’ll do my best to make it so.
In the meantime, Happy November to you all. It’s generally a month I like, even though it exists in the lee of my favorite holiday. It evokes memories of still-falling autumn leaves blowing about in briskly cold (but not yet bitter) winds, and the anticipation of two big family holidays, each associated with feasts and TV specials and games and long weekends and so on and on. And though many of those things are no longer mine to enjoy, alone here in south Florida, I can at least say that it’s a time of year where one can enjoy walks outside without obscene layers of sunscreen and emergency water rations to replace all the bodily fluids that have soaked one’s clothes.
I don’t know what it’s all like in the southern hemisphere but considering that summer’s on its way for them, it’s probably great.
*It’s my mother’s birthday. She would be turning eighty, if my memory is correct. Happy Birthday, Mom, wherever you are! Knowing her, if she’s anywhere, it’s someplace good. She certainly would deserve it. As would my father, of course, who would have turned eighty-two precisely a month ago. He was a bit of a curmudgeon—I take after him in many ways—but a good person. So, belated Happy Birthday, Dad.
**And to a far lesser extent, Hanukkah and other solstice-related holiday decorations. You rarely see any Saturnalia symbols, though. I’m not even sure what those would look like. Oh, well. We get plenty of the Norse decorations.
***The auto-correct thingy tried to change this word to “arthritic”, without even asking me, but that was an incorrect correction. The suffix “-itis” indicates inflammation, usually as a primary component of a given disorder. Though there may well be secondary inflammation in the root structures of my thumb, this is clearly a wear-and-tear phenomenon, and so is an “-osis”, not an “-itis”…the latter suffix which the program keeps changing to “it is”, which is again wrong, and again, it’s not asking me. I wouldn’t mind a little red wavy underline to bring it to my attention—asking me if I was sure about writing that—but especially if I enclose something in quotes, the program should not presume to correct what I write.
****Which sounds both difficult and painful.
*****It’s also delicious in a sandwich on Boxing Day.