Patience and Photo Cubes

The last couple months, I’ve been working on an oddball project that is proving quite time-consuming. I’m maybe half done, and already I could have written another novella in the hours I’ve spent on this. Sue’s folly?

It turns out that there are different kinds of patience, just as there are different kinds of intelligence. For example, I am quite happy to clock countless hours using Adobe Illustrator to mangle innocent bits of text. However, when I confront what will probably cost mere minutes to solve a print/sizing glitch, I stall out.

And it’s all for the love of photo cubes. Sue’s folly.

You’ve probably seen a photo cube. It sits on a desk with a picture on each face. Typically it lives in a cubicle. It’s a cheap plastic thing and yet. It’s awesome in a special way.

For a while now I’ve been preoccupied, pondering the possibilities of photo cubes. I used one to make a 3D collage of beach tar photos. Not an easy cube to like, apparently. Not many of us did:

tarcube

Yet my fascination with the cubes persists. Once upon a recent beach walk, I realized that I could put a poem on a cube, 1 verse on each of the 6 sides. I further realized that Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky would be great for this. (True, it has 7 verses. But the 7th matches the 1st.)

I next realized that I could combine my loves of typography and Adobe Illustrator:  I could mess with text to decorate the cubed poem. I would not presume to attempt illustration, as John Tenniel’s originals are among the greatest illustrations ever. Here is his Jabberwock (tinted by Fritz Kredel) from the 1946 Random House edition of Through the Looking Glass:

JabberColor

Armed with my realizations, I got to work. First I took the cube template from my beach tar cube and made that a background layer:

template

When I print something designed within this template, I can cut-then-fold the paper to create a cube… Hmm. Does such basic paper folding qualify as origami?

Early on, I had to decide rotations – how each verse would flow into the next on the cube:

lineuplines

That turned out to be the only engineering aspect that I enjoyed.

I’ve had tons of fun with the decorating – with interpreting Carroll’s special words and pondering the details of this fantastic unique poem.  I’m astonished at how many hours I’ve happily spent, taking unsuspecting text (mostly in the Didot font) and doing strange distorted things to it. I typically try and scrap 10 effects, for every 1 that I keep. Here is a snapshot of the current draft of the 1st verse:

firstface

On every cube side I’ve still got many tweaks to make. Relocating, resizing. For example, I need to rearrange this text, because the bloody bbs need to end at burbled (No wonder I love this project. Where else would I utter that phrase?):

newbs

I really like how I portrayed the death of the monster. Oh. Spoiler alert. The Jabberwock gets chopped by a blade. Here’s a snapshot of the death scene:

anotherslaincloseup

I don’t usually discuss my work in progress, but in this case I’m going public in hopes of nudging myself to the finish line. Part of me wants to give up and set this cube aside – it feels, I dunno, frivolous. Not what I should be doing. Whatever the hell that is…

(I’m a writer, so I should be writing, right? Okay, I am writing. I’m working on the final book in my speculative detective series, FRAMES. I’d also like to be writing something that deeply resonates in Our Situation. But when it comes to our pandemic. Woah. Dude. is as far as I’m getting.)

I’m frustrated by some of the things that aren’t going well in my Jabbercube project. For example, the printed, cut, and folded draft cube has some faces that are a titch too wide. The paper cube buckles when I slide it into the plastic cube. This didn’t happen with the tar project. I thought I’d done everything the same. Sigh. I hate that kind of fussy refinement stuff.

cubefolding

Also, early in the project I knew I was making effects that were too subtle to show up on a 3.5 inch cube. I opted to keep going, to find designs that worked best, and think about format later. But now it’s time.  I need to smallify some of the existing decorations so they will play well on the cube. But I don’t want to scrap any of the existing decorations. Which means I’ll need to expand those and move them into a larger format like a poster or booklet.

So! How about that! The one enormous project has split into two branches!

For both branches, I still need to come up with the right, overall design element. Something that sets off each cube face, something that says “Hi, I am a cube face” (or “Yo, I am a page”). I’ve tried/discarded several elements already. No clue how long until I hit upon one that I like. Now, this is a kind of experimenting that I do enjoy. But. I’m starting to hear a clock tick when I sit down to work on this. I don’t have a deadline but I’ve got so many other projects I want to start!

Admittedly, part of my impatience to be done comes from a fantasy that I had, when the world went into lockdown and many of my favorite musicians began performing music at #livefromhome. This hashtag gave an open invitation for anybody to share what they’ve done while stuck at home. I love that idea! Nobody wants to hear me sing or play an instrument. However, I listen to #livefromhome music while I work on this cube. So I imagined that I would share the cube. But the rate things are going, the lockdown will come and go and I’ll still be cubing.

(I assume I don’t need to add: of course I want the lockdown to end!)

OK, maybe it’s time to go move some bloody bbs.

(I wrote this in response to Discover Prompt Day 21: Instrument.)

Chickens, Eggs, and Other Dimensions

There are chickens, and there are eggs, and I don’t actually care which came first, yet sometimes it’s fun to do a few laps with circular questions. For example, I’m attracted to photographs that suggest windows or views into other worlds. It can’t be a coincidence that I’m writing a series of speculative fiction novels placed in an infinite set of dimensions called FRAMES. The attraction probably preceded the writing but I no longer remember. Of course, that’s because I’ve been just-about-finishing the latest/second book in the series for longer than my memory stretches, but I digress.

On a recent trip to Dallas, I came upon a building that may be a Grand Central to many other realities:

2015-07-14 08.02.04

In writing FRAMES I have also indulged or created my belief that buildings have personalities. This summer in Chicago I caught some buildings in another dimension, smoking…

2015-07-21 17.44.31

And who could not want to chat with this guy? Gal? Whose voice do you hear when you imagine a conversation with this building?

2015-07-21 18.56.17

(The WP photo challenge was Boundaries.)

When Anything Could Be Anything

I loved the days when my kids could take just about anything and convert it to something fun to do. For example,

giant-boxes-on-board-screwed-into-two-sets-of-skateboard-wheels +  gentle-incline => tandem go-cart race

StartPoint

On your mark…

AwayTheyGo

And awaaaay they go…

 

I probably thought this was horribly dangerous. If only this had remained the pinnacle of risks that my now 19-year-olds would ever undertake.

The Value of Shards of Writing Time

More progress with less time.  That seems to be the bottom line. Yesterday, the middle of three days off, I had all day to write. I frittered and chilled and squandered all those hours on doin’ nuthin’ (which has its own rewards but that’s another story).

This morning, crammed between the trip to the mechanic and the shuttling of kids – first items on a long must-do list – I knew it was now or never and I got a weekend’s worth of writing done in a couple hours.

These are recurring refrains. The tighter the time span, the more I get done, especially when preceded by a day of “nothing”, during which some part of my brain figures out what I need to write: when I sat down today I had it all figured out, but yesterday I had not a clue.

An Ode to Repetition

On one level, I hate routine. I’ve made important life decisions based on a futile attempt to avoid repetition. Changes of jobs, homes, cities – and probably relationships. I have to fight feeling trapped once I exhaust the options for fresh experience. But that time will always come. There are only so many ways you can drive to the store, if you are going to the same damn store from the same damn house.

Yet, concurrently, repetition and routine provide essential foundations to so much that matters to me. While it is always great to share a new experience with my kids, the comforting patterns of family life are constructed of routine. There is no question that I plan most of my writing during mundane tasks like toothbrushing or weeding. And one of the richest benefits of travel is how much I appreciate home when I return.

I have a friend who talks about Buddhist intent to stay fully present in each moment – aware of the give of the keyboard as I type, conscious of the flow of water and the scratch of the scrubpad as I wash a plate. She strives for this awareness to feel grounded and calm. I try it and discover subtle variations that make each repetition unique. Doing this seems to be as close as I can get to meditation -with all my Western impatience and resistance to organized faith.

Unknown and Unread…?

In 1967 Delacort published a novel by Patricia Cooper called In Deep. Ever heard of it? Probably not. I read it waybackwhen, remembered liking it, now I’m re-reading.  It. Is. So. Good.  My Dell paperback reprint wants to portray it as a sex romp through swinging Manhattan. Actually it is an edgy and suspenseful family drama, full of wit, insight, and memorable turns of phrase. As far as I can tell, this is Cooper’s only novel. She may have written a couple other, non-fiction books. (She doesn’t have much of an on-line footprint  and there may be more than one author with her name.)

Wonder why she stopped writing fiction. Hope it was because she was done, not thwarted or demoralized. It can be hard to distinguish between done  and done in. I hope she didn’t give up.

As I write about her, I think about me, and I hope I don’t give up. Twenty years between novels makes me a first time novelist twice over. And the publishing world of the early ’90s was so different that memories of it can be liabilities today. But I’m not done. So I’ve decided to believe that Cooper pulled a Harper Lee and stopped because she had said what she wanted to say.

Now I had better sign off to go get some writing done.

You Can Talk About Writing – Too Much

If I talk about what I am writing – or planning to write – I make the writing more difficult and put the piece at risk of getting set aside, ne’er to be finished. It doesn’t matter what the listener’s reaction is – enthusiasm or boredom, support or disdain – sharing the ideas damages my process of converting ideas to fiction.  After I talk about writing, I simply feel less urgency to get it done.

Seems like it would be fun to brainstorm with other writers or use them as sounding boards. But  I’m not sure I could even talk to the cats without jeopardy. Maybe I could talk to a mirror? Never mind about that. Creepy.

Am I the only one in this situation? That doesn’t seem possible. Other writers, which side of this fence are you on?

You Can Think About Writing – Too Much

I do a lot of planning for every novel. I have the whole thing roughly laid out before I start writing and I decide what I want to accomplish each day before I begin. And yet, I never sit down to think about my writing. All my best ideas come when I am brushing my teeth or weeding the garden. Then, when I do sit down to write, the unplanned, unanticipated bits are so often the best products of any writing session. Furthermore, if I need to solve a particular writing problem, I can’t sit down and stare at the screen or the page.  I have to take a hike instead, or do some housework, or go to sleep.

All of which makes me conclude that my un-, sub-, and super-*conscious brain is a better writer than my conscious one. And I speculate that all the planning and the structure are craft equivalents of brushing my teeth: they give my conscious brain something to do while the rest of my brain gets the real job done.

*Damn, now where did I get that phrasing from? “Un-, sub-, and supernatural forces” I think that is how the original went … something by Stoppard, I believe… Rosencrantz?

My Unrequited Career as a Musician

I have had so many jobs, and quite a few careers. Writing is my calling, so that has persisted through change after change of day job. But if I could have just one job – and if I got my choice – I would be a musician. I guess I would need to be a musician who writes songs, as I’ll always need to write.  Yes, that’s a plan I could live with.

The only problem with my being a musician is that I’m no good at it. No talent. No vision. Incredibly average voice. Skill that rarely breaks past the rudimentary barrier. My best hope of being a musician was back in the early days of punk,when desire trumped ability. I don’t know why I wasn’t in a band back then, say a goof of a band like Heather once had in my novel Scar Jewelry. I suppose I lacked the right kind of cojones.

All four of my novels (three completed, one in progress) have musicians in them and two of them have music as a focus. I only just noticed this as a pattern. Sometimes the author is the last to know.