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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Off the Treadmill

The first two-thirds of December was a treadmill system of processes. Do some grading. Step off that treadmill to go to a meeting. Work with a student freaking out about finals. Back on the grading belt. When all those belts reached their termini, jump on the neverending deal-with-those-piles-of-papers-littering-your-office treadmill, on which I do what I can, make a little progress, then happily leave. All of these things had to get done, and I got them done.

In the second third of the month, I’ve been in vacation mode. It’s usually a pleasant time of maintaining daily/weekly chores, making sure I exercise, and otherwise figuring out what to do with time that is as yet unscheduled. I’m grateful for this time and understand most people don’t get so much; I’m not going to whine about that. But the openendedness messes with my head. I spend most of my life wishing I had time of my own, then when I do, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not unusual in this way; lots of us feel this frustration. We’re too busy being busy to plan what we’ll do when we’re not busy.

Having more time has not resulted in spending more time on the novel, but I’ve maintained my daily time commitment, occasionally putting in a little more. If anything, I feel less optimistic about the project, which has become a small city of treadmills–imagine That OK Go Video but filmed on a backlot. The process is enormous. I know what I want to do, and it takes as much time as it takes. Having a windfall of time doesn’t speed things up. It’s like winning a $5000 scratch-off and thinking you’re going to buy a house with it. It’s a good thing, a minor boost, but when you land, you’ve got to keep pace so you don’t get tangled up in the conveyer belts.

Actually, the treadmill metaphor fits novel writing only if I add that I have to simultaneously ride the bike that powers the conveyance for the entire small city. I toss people on the belts, and they move along them, between them, among them, straight line to straight line. So much complexity devolves into tedious complication over years of this process, interesting like a puzzle, but where’s the story? Continue reading

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Christmas Promise

Not quite half my life ago, I wrote the following poem, which I originally posted on my other blog.

Christmas is gone again
like another hotel guest,
and with it went
the brilliant revelation I hoped
would unchain me.
I stalked and hovered,
but when I finally pounced,
I fell upon nothing
once again.

My hopes made a Christmas promise to me
that happiness and togetherness would prevail
over desolation and loneliness,
in honor of and beyond
The Season.

A promise never kept;
I fell for it again.

26 December 1990
Age 21

I wasn’t particularly Christian, just the American, default version that involves celebrating Christmas. Sometimes I miss joining in the fun, but then I hear about the tension and outright fighting that goes on at family “celebrations.” So much money is spent on gifts and to travel to be with family. A lot of people put a lot of energy into making this time of year matter. No wonder there’s so much disappointment. I’m glad I keep my distance.

If you celebrate Christmas and managed to get through this one unscathed (or, hell, if you had a great time), I’m truly glad for you. No irony. Glad the promise was kept. Hope the rest of the year goes well, too. For all of us.

Must Be the First Night of Hanukkah

The candle we lit hours ago is still burning.

My sweater is saturated with the scent of fried oil. In fact, the whole house smells that way.

I’m so full, it’s affecting my breathing.

But there’s one more latke, and I’d hate for it to go to waste.

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