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Bruce Holland Rogers
 
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    Saturday, May 3rd, 2008
    12:55 am
    Research again...
    Research again, five and a half hours worth.  Not what I had planned for the day, and it was a shortened day because of a social engagement.  But five and a half hours of research is better than nothing!

    Tomorrow I'll use the plan proposed for today: an hour on each of my four priority projects.
    Thursday, May 1st, 2008
    11:35 pm
    Research-heavy day
    I put seven hours in today.  Most of it was research time for a project that will mix fiction and non-fiction.  More later, when some of the fiction arrives in the mailboxes of subscribers!

    I have four priority projects to work on.  My plan for tomorrow is to put an hour in on each of them, and then spend the rest of the day working on the novel.
    Wednesday, April 30th, 2008
    12:31 am
    Onward!
    I wrote a chapter yesterday, e-mailed it to my novel subscribers today, and spent most of today on research for a London writing project, which I'll describe in more detail later.

    I want to get back to tracking hours and posting them here.  Today I put in about seven hours on research, but I wasn't tracking carefully.

    Tomorrow, I will track novel, column, and short story hours.  I need to get in some good work on all three.
    Thursday, April 24th, 2008
    4:28 pm
    Cutting by two thirds, and then some
    I'm back in London after a few days in Vienna, where I read at Vienna Lit 2008 and gave a lecture to a literature class at the University of Vienna.

    In the lecture, I talked about the various methods I have for getting ideas.  I took out the index card that I had been writing on the evening before and read out the notes I had made regarding things I had seen while walking around in the city.  One thing that had made an impression was a big hydraulic excavator with a demolition attachment.  This machine was taking down a building that, in America, would be an historic treasure.  In Vienna, it was a run-of-the-mill 19th century building of the most common sort.  I was particularly impressed by the sound made when the pincers on the machine punched through windows, prior to seizing the sills to pull down a section of wall.  The breaking glass reminded me of breaking ice in puddles on my way to school in Colorado.

    Often I don't get a story out of such an observation for months or years, but in this case, I started to think about the demolition site as soon as I returned to London.  I began to see the outlines of a story, and I drafted a story of about 1,000 words.

    When I showed this story to Holly, she evoked the words of our friend, Ray Vukcevich.  If you ask Ray how he writes a story, he says something like this:  "I just write.  Then I go back and take out the boring parts."

    Holly said, "There are some good things here, but this story is mostly boring parts."

    We talked about what she did like:  The idea of the sound of things breaking.  Breaking ice.  Later, windows breaking at a demolition site.  And the idea that someone could make music out of these sounds.

    What was left out?  Almost everything that I had thought of as "the story."  The idea that I wanted to get across.  The irony about a man who didn't understand the entire purpose behind his brother's art.  The whole elaborate business about performances that are, like the breaking of ice, never to be repeated in exactly the same way.  Impermanence as an explicit theme.

    I had spent two days thinking up all that stuff.  Now Holly was telling me that the good stuff in the story was actually those parts that were closest to the source material and my first thoughts.  I knew, as she told me, that she was right.  I was still irritated by what felt like wasted time and effort.  Except that it wasn't wasted.  Without the draft that was wrong, I would never have come to the Jack Daniels, which is what pulls the narrative together in its briefer, simpler form.

    Subscribers have just received the final version of the story.  It's a third of the length of the story below.  That final version is simpler and, I think, more interesting.  But I thought a few might be interested in seeing the path that I had to take through a mediocre story in order to get to the better one.  So here is that earlier draft:

    Legacy

    By Bruce Holland Rogers


    I don't get interviewed very often any more. I think the music professors and art historians who thought my brother was some kind of genius, they're starting to forget about him.


    What are you after? A footnote for a dissertation? No? Oh, a newspaper. Well, good. Maybe you don't think you already know it all.


    They used to ask me, What about music in the house when you were boys? No. I don't remember any music at all, unless you want to count the nightly shouting as a concert. No violins. No Papa Mozart for us. More like a fist and Jack Daniels.


    All this talk of genius... If anything, I was the sensitive one. Winter mornings, we'd start for school early, before the other kids, so we could find the places where puddles had frozen on top and drained from underneath. I'd race him. He was smaller. I'd get to the best ice sheets first, and I broke them slowly, deliberately. I listened to the ice groan and crackle under my foot before it shattered and the pieces tinkled together like glass. Aran, he just wanted to smash through as many sheets of ice as he could. He liked smashing.


    I don't think he was even aware of how bad it was between our parents until, one day, our father was gone. Meanwhile, he was sassing his teacher, knocking food trays out of the hands of other kids in the school cafeteria. He lit the living room drapes on fire once, for no reason. He never had a reason.


    Interventions by Social Services, a stint in Juvie, jail when he was old enough. Does that sound to you like the life of a genius? Our mother was no gem, but it's not like she didn't try. I managed to turn out all right, you see. I had a steady job, wife, kids. Aran wasn't messed up because of our mother. It wasn't that single-mother business you hear.


    Out of jail, he knocked around a while. This and that. I wouldn't hear from him for long stretches. Eventually he got his heavy equipment training, and he told me he was working demolition sites, operating something called a hydraulic pulverizer. I saw him at work a couple times. The pulverizer was a mean set of pincers at the end of a hydraulic arm, and Aran's job was to pull down buildings a little bit at a time. When he'd come to a window, he would punch through the center of it, and the sound reminded me of our childhood winters.


    After years of demolition work, he came to me about the music. He said, You know business. How do I do this? How do I sell tickets and advertise and make it all work?


    I didn't see how his idea could work at all. He had put wireless microphones on his machine and around his work sites to record the sounds of buildings coming apart. And that was music? Who would want to hear it? And he rejected a lot of what I did suggest. If he did get an audience, I thought he should try to sell them CDs, but he had this thing against recording. He said that if you heard a window breaking in his performance, you heard it once. You might hear a sound like it, but that was a different window. You can't break the same window twice. And once the performance was over, it was gone. No recordings.


    I pointed out that the whole noise symphony was recorded, and he said, No, only the notes were. Like that made a difference. To him it was a big deal that there was no repetition of sounds, no duplication of performances. Demolition sounds were edited and arranged in sections, on different machines, and there was no master recording, no single digital medium containing the whole work. The sounds played from different sources, through different sets of speakers around the performance space.


    I don't know why it caught on. His music was different, a novelty, sure, but to pay what people were paying at the end? For the sound of things breaking? And there was an arms race between my brother and people who were trying to sneak in recording devices at his concerts. You had to go through a metal detector. The performance couldn't start until his security guys swept the room for microphones.


    Granted, it was a success. But Aran was also a bonehead. The way he drank, smoked, and did the other, which he never admitted to me, but I wouldn't be surprised...the way he did those things, you'd think he was trying to kill himself. And with his success built on all these recorded sounds, he stores them all in one place? No backups? That's genius?


    After the fire, I even said to him, I said, What were you thinking?


    You know what he said? He said, Ta-da! Like he was taking credit.


    After that, he burned through all the money he had made. He went back to working demolition, pulling down walls and popping windows, but without recording the sounds. He died before he was old enough to retire. People who heard his music, if you want to call it that, can sort of remember the overall feel of a performance, but not the details. We'll go on forgetting the little bit we do still recall. The last of us will die.


    I loved my brother. I don't have anything against calling him a genius if people want to think that. But, come on! Good luck calling something a work of genius if it doesn't last.



    Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
    4:06 pm
    Labyrinth
    Last Sunday, I spent an hour walking a Labyrinth. http://www.labyrinthuk.org/page3.htm

    As with all meditative practices, sometimes an insight or two bubbles up during the process. My insight was that somehow in recent years, my spiritual practice of writing has become a job. I have been happiest when thinking of my writing as my ministry, and lately I've been acting as if it were a career.

    So part of why March sucked was the burglary and the incapacitating illness --- which turned out to be this year's relatively wicked influenza. But getting kicked onto my but by those events provided the context for realizing that I am spiritually off track as well.

    I don't know what this is going to change, exactly.

    On the positive side, spring has definitely sprung, and even thought the London days have been gray lately, it's definitely a springtime gray. That helps me feel that I may muster the energy and emotional resources to do whatever it is that I have to do next.
    Monday, March 31st, 2008
    8:42 pm
    Not my favorite month
    I had an experience yesterday that told me I was spiritually ailing. For the last couple of weeks, I have been physically ill. I see the doctor day after tomorrow, and I'm almost hoping for a diagnosis of walking pneumonia so I at least can say, "Well, no wonder I've had such a difficult time!"

    More about all of this later. Starting with the burglary and ending sick of soul and body, I am really looking forward to having March 2008 in the past.
    Monday, March 24th, 2008
    12:58 pm
    Taxes. Bleh.
    Sorting through tax records that I got rather sloppy with in 2007 has been absorbing a lot of time, but I have been writing a little every day, too.

    Today's a day of more taxes and a short local trip to meet my Polish translator in London. I will get some writing done, too!
    Thursday, March 20th, 2008
    10:43 pm
    Back in the saddle...which way is forward?
    Well, I did get back to work on the novel today. I revised and emailed two chapters of Steam to my novel subscribers. I don't know how long I was at work though, because once I started, I forgot about setting the timer.

    Two chapters revised. That's all I can report with certainty. Anyway, it's concrete progress, however imperfect the day's statistical report!
    12:06 pm
    Back in the saddle
    Back in the saddle at noon today. I'll report later on hours of writing.
    Monday, March 3rd, 2008
    6:54 pm
    Burglars suck
    A burglar was lucky enough to pick exactly the right half hour in which to case our flat yesterday, the one time when we were out and our downstairs neighbors were out, too. Holly and I returned home to find our back door in pieces and our computers gone.

    As I walked on my way to buy a new computer today (no insurance, so...ouch!) I found myself singing, with the burglar in mind: "You're a f**king f**king a**hole, a f**king f**king a**hole, a f**king f**king a**..." I sang this through several iterations before I stopped myself and tried to identify the tune I had been singing the words to.

    It was "If I Only Had a Brain" from The Wizard of Oz. I laughed out loud. It felt good to laugh.

    I felt amused again when Police Constable Rebecca paid me a visit and we talked about security. "Queen's Park is a safe ward," she said, "and burglaries are rare here. But I can't say the same for some nearby areas, such as Harrow, Harlesden, Kilburn High Road, or Willesden." Those happen to be the neighborhoods that surround us on four sides.

    But even after the burglary, I'm glad that we live where we do. I like all the above-named areas. Those are all the places where I do my shopping, go to restaurants, or just walk for exercise. I like the diversity of this part of London. I just wish we'd had a stronger back door.

    Obviously, this has thrown a wrench in my work plans for a while. My computer needs to be loaded with software. I have to try to restore various lost records. Taxes are going to be an extra challenge this year...

    So I intend to get back to work as much as possible as soon as possible. But this isn't going to be quite according to plan.
    Thursday, February 28th, 2008
    11:11 pm
    Skipping three days
    Today should have been Day Nine, but I'm leaving town for two days, and today I saw Things That Needed Doing before I could go. These swallowed the day. I'm sure I could have fit in an hour or two of writing, but I didn't. I did, however, send out a story.

    Sunday will be Day Nine. And I intend to do some writing on the train to Oxford and back.

    I joke with my students, when they aren't making sufficient thesis progress, about the condition of the batteries in my cattle prod.

    Turns out that my students have acquired cattle prods of their own and are reading this blog.

    Uh-oh.
    Wednesday, February 27th, 2008
    11:28 pm
    Day Eight
    I cheated, and paid for it. I thought I'd read a little bit of news while I was still waking up. As a result, I didn't start writing until after noon. I got in three hours of writing and drafted a story, but this is the kind of day I'm trying not to have.

    Discipline is hardest in the mornings, when I need it. :-)
    Tuesday, February 26th, 2008
    5:45 pm
    Days Six and Seven
    I was tired last night and forgot to report in.

    I started writing at 11:00 (after walking a friend's dog for the last time. She came home yesterday. Hooray!) and was writing by 12:00. I didn't check e-mail or the web until after 18:00. I put in a total of six hours, which consisted largely of outlining and researching a story, then realizing that to get the story right, I should really go visit the Old Bailey and have a look at a court room and the environs. Knowing that I couldn't yet write the story I wanted to without further research, I started outlining a different story.

    So today, I started moodling and making notes at 9:00. I wrote notes for one story on the underground, then tried to see a court room in the Old Bailey. However, my timing was such that I couldn't get in to see anything. I *did* get to see the reporters and photographers waiting outside to get photos of people emerging from the sentencing of serial killer Levi Bellfield. I knew nothing of the case at that time, but saw photographers swarm around a young woman whom I now know was Kate Sheedy, one of Bellfield's surviving victims.

    Since I was already in the neighborhood, I continued west to the Royal Courts of Justice, which I had always wanted to see on the inside, anyway. I watched an informative video about the building, about the divisions of the Royal Courts, and about court procedure. I wanted to see the stone dog and cat that decorate one entrance --- they snarl at one another and are meant to represent litigants! But no one could tell me where the dog and cat were. Not the woman at the Enquiry Desk, not any of the lawyers I asked. I sat in on a civil case until it recessed for lunch, and I still wanted to see that dog and cat. I asked a man who was pacing in the main gallery if he knew where I could find the dog and cat "over the judges' entrance." He told me he had been coming to the court for years and knew of no such sculptures, but he told me where the two judges' entrances were. Then he asked where I was from, and said that if I wanted to sit in on an interesting hearing, there was a murder appeal reconvening in Court 9 at 14:00.

    I checked the two entrances, but saw no dog and cat. I went to Court 9 at the appointed hour and discovered that the man who had told me about the murder appeal was the presiding appellate judge, Lord Justice Hooper (Sir Anthony Hooper). About the appeal, I can say only these things: 1. It was very interesting. 2. It concerned the alleged murder of a 45-year-old legally blind man, Colin Greenwood, by two 14-year-old boys, Leon Gray and Lewis Barlow (all of whom have been identified by name in the press) The boys had been convicted in September. 3. The defense succeeded in overturning the conviction, and a new trial has been ordered.

    More than that, I cannot say without violating the court's explicit prohibition on reporting any details of the appeal. I don't think I want to experience the courts as a defendant!

    I made notes, as the details of the case suited my fiction-making needs wonderfully, but I will, of course, make up my own imaginary flesh to hang on the bones of this actual case. I have two fully-developed story ideas, and have been writing or actively researching for eight hours today. Still no draft, but I account this a really good day. This is what I once imagined it would be like to be a writer: satisfying my curiosity about the real world, and then lying about it artfully.

    I did finally meet someone who knew where the dog and cat were. I had to go look from a back street. Actually, the dog and cat were anti-climactic, but they had brought me to Lord Justice Hooper's court, and for that I will be forever grateful.

    I first logged onto the web at 17:00. I still haven't looked at e-mail. That's next. And then I hope to draft at least one of these stories after dinner tonight!
    Sunday, February 24th, 2008
    8:04 pm
    Days Four and Five
    Saturday (yesterday) included some time-consuming chores and a night out. Today was better, but on neither day did I keep good track of when I started writing, when I checked e-mail, etc. On weekends, I seem to have this tendency to act as if I have the day off.

    On both days, I did track writing hours. Two yesterday. Four and a half today. Most of that time was devoted to developing a story idea.
    Friday, February 22nd, 2008
    11:02 pm
    Third Day
    I started writing at noon.

    I did a brief check of e-mail at one and still have not done any web surfing that wasn't related to teaching or writing.

    I failed to track my writing hours properly, but I was in the saddle for three or four hours and finished a short-short story --- a fable. Holly is reading it even as I write this.

    A satisfactory day. I might have written more in the evening, but we went out to dinner and to a play instead. "The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other." I'd give it three out of five stars. Interesting idea, a play with no spoken words. It needs cutting. The best parts were marvelous, but it was just too long.
    Thursday, February 21st, 2008
    11:46 pm
    Mulligan
    I'm declaring today a Mulligan. Don't ask.

    Tomorrow is Day Three. Today didn't happen.
    Wednesday, February 20th, 2008
    11:55 pm
    Second day
    Today I let myself start by checking the news for election results, so I first went online at 9:15 and didn't start writing until 11:30.

    First checked email at 17:00.

    Just three hours of writing today.

    With no elections in the U.S. for two weeks now, I should get much more done!
    Tuesday, February 19th, 2008
    11:15 pm
    Day One
    I started writing today at 9:15.
    I first checked e-mail at 17:00.
    I first looked at the news online at 17:00.
    I wrote for five hours, finishing a chapter and getting started on outlining the next one.
    12:21 am
    Thirty days on track
    I have become addicted (and I don't use that word lightly) to political coverage. I'm not only reading news and blogs about the U.S. Presidential campaign, but the idiotic comments by partisan supporters of one candidate or another. Just because this addiction of perfectly legal doesn't make it any less destructive. I'm throwing hours and hours of good working time down a rat hole of obsession.

    So for the next thirty days, starting with tomorrow, I will post at the end of each day the following data:

    1. What time I started writing. The earlier the better.
    2. What time I first checked e-mail. The later the better.
    3. What time I first looked at news, market reports, blogs, or any other web site unrelated to research for my novel or my MFA teaching. The later the better.
    4. How many hours I spent writing (to include hours spent pacing and pulling my hair).

    I have got to stop paying so much attention to the U.S. elections!
    Monday, June 25th, 2007
    4:14 pm
    Third story for June
    The third story for June at www.shortshortshort.com is, as I said in the introduction, based on the meaning of a Tarot card. In this case, I didn't say which card because this is one of the two cards that people bring a lot of preconceptions to. This story is based on The Devil, which represents not evil per se, but the temptations of superficiality and materialism. (The other card that tends to give people the heebie jeebies is the Death card, which is meant to represent cataclysmic change and a recognition of one's limitations. I'm over-simplifying, of course.)

    Falling for material temptations is a sort of spiritual enslavement, but one of the features of the Ryder-Waite deck's Devil card is that the man and woman who are enslaved by the Devil are wearing very loose chains around their necks. They could free themselves just by lifting the chains and walking away. But they don't. And neither does Sienna, the character in the story, just walk away from the material pleasures that she has come to expect from life.
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