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05/26/2004

Open Thread on Reading

I'm declaring this an open thread for anyone who's reading something they want to share.

I'm currently reading Diane Middlebrook's Her Husband, Hughes and Plath—a Marriage, which forms a background to a project of mine called 'Thought Foxes'. Also newly brought home from the library is Ibid: A Life, which is composed entirely of footnotes. I'm curious to see if the form holds up the story.

May 26, 2004 in good reads | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/24/2004

I'm Tinderboxin'

(to the tune of "Barefootin'")

Mark Bernstein, Tinderbox architect

As Mark writes, it was exhausting and exhilarating and exhausting. I have been remarkably stupid all day, which I hope is due to fatigue and not my reset-to-default state.

I got to meet a number of people I've run into online: Mark, of course, and Elin, but also Ken Tompkins, who like me enjoys being married and who has gorgeous medieval stuff at his site, and Marc-Antoine, who needs a more expressive web site because his all-text one doesn't do his kinetic gamin presence full justice, and Jeffrey, of the elegant Tinctoris, who helped confirm that a bit of worldbuilding for my novel-in-progress The Doe's Heart—(a "mandolyre")—might well be a plausible and useful instrument.

As promised in the virtual brochure, the first day we met in the Armenian Library and Museum, which was a marvelous setting and was stuffed full of interesting exhibits I didn't get a proper look at.

Elin Sjursen at Tinderbox Weekend

Elin got things off to a start by giving us what was nominally a tutorial in Tinderbox's basic workings, but also was an engaging example of good teaching (capture your audience and make them care) and a delightful excursion into hyperlinked narrative. (Elin, not only did you demonstrate the linky goodness of Tinderbox, you captured your audience. If good wishes have power, you'll never have a dateless Thursday night again.)

Rosemary Simpson and Ken Tompkins

The whole weekend was like this, really. The best moments were those sudden glimpses into other people's Tinderboxen. I am grateful to Rosemary Simpson of Brown for unseating a very fixed prejudice against MS Word, showing me that the art tools (silly bloated add-ons) can be used to make witty cloud callout adornments for Tinderbox maps. The complexity and size of her research file was boggling and yet extremely graceful. The latent indexer/archivist in me wants to sit at her feet and learn from an expert.

Since we were sharing, I demonstrated my rudimentary mastery of getting agents to collect stuff related to my paper filing system (pretty much fullfilling my prophesy of revealing my skill level to be on a par with toast) and received all sorts of clever suggestions for expanding this particular file's usefulness. People got a good chuckle at my names for things: the file cabinets "chaos" and "entropy," frex.

Melissa "Penny" Chase shared a conceptual map of links to all things Egyptian, which, when zoomed, gave somewhat the effect of exploring an excavated tomb and finding wonderful little side-rooms and galleries.

I don't even know how to describe David Kolb's uberfile. In map view, the top level looks like a Calder mobile that has been self-replicating when the curator's back is turned.

I was sorry to leave Marc-Antoine's presentation of how he's hacked Tinderbox before the end—and miss, too, the closure of the conference. (I had a sudden strong allergic reaction to something—very odd—perhaps there was cilantro in my salad?—and wanted to be sure it didn't blow up into something that would prevent me from driving home. As it was, the drive was a white-knuckled affair with the storm sitting right ON the highway most of the way. It looked exactly like the tornado weather I used to see when I lived in the midwest, and there actually was a tornado watch out for Connecticut not long after I got home.)

May 24, 2004 in Tinderbox | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/20/2004

Have you eaten your carbs today?

I almost missed out on learning that today is Save the Carbs Day. A holiday after my own gastronomy.

Resist faddish behavior. Embrace grains!

Have you eaten your gratuitous carbs today?

May 20, 2004 in dailiness | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/18/2004

Marriage

I love being married. Personally, I can't imagine a better way to live, a happier way to be.

What if someone had said, 22 years ago, "No, you can't marry. You two don't match (or you match too well)." Huh?

Good luck all you newlyweds in Massachusetts. May your marriages be happy, and lawful, partnerships for all time.

You can read some marriage stories here, at MarriageFairness.org.

May 18, 2004 in dailiness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifteen Minutes

Not of fame, but of concentration. When I find myself scattered in too many different directions, I push myself to set a timer and spend 15 minutes focusing on just one thing.

Like now, for instance, I'm trying not to clean, file, cogitate on client work, design anything, eat, comb the spring sap out of the dogs' coats, or surf online.

Instead, for fifteen minutes, I'll push words along the screen. You know, hit those keys and all that. The cursor buzzes along the horizon like one of those hired airplanes you see on a day at the beach, a message trailing after it: Lisa has her butt in her writing chair. New words daily.

Five minutes left. I could deploy more planes. What's my message? I haven't the faintest idea. "How can I know what I think until I see what I've said?"

May 18, 2004 in blockbusters | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/16/2004

Snippet from an old notebook

I found this while sifting through my files:

" [A woman I used to know] only wears black and white, or black, or white. Always white stockings and high black pumps, even in summer.

" She is painful to look at--so, so thin, with a sharp nose and an aggressive mole on one side of her face. She combs most of her shoulder-length hair to the other side and then leans that way as if it's very heavy.

May 16, 2004 in snippets | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/15/2004

Filing Filibuster

Nothing like getting blogged by Mark Bernstein for driving traffic to my site... Y'all come back now!

A footnote (ha!) on my filing project. I mentioned that my physical space imposes limits and requirements on where and in what type of product I file a paper document. A document itself has its own specs for where (how easily accessible) and in what (hanging files, accordian files, funky non-standard container). These in turn influenced how I set up the Tinderbox index to these files: I wanted to know where they were in the room and in what type of file thingie I had stashed each one. This led me to create agents that gathered notes for each file based on a user-defined location attribute (filePlace) and also to give myself a few other user-defined attributes like "relationship" (is this a file for a client or for my stuff?), and "genre".

As I get further into this project, what I'm finding is that the Tinderbox file is showing me whether I'm really making appropriate use of the different file spaces that I have. I can see a primo-accessible space getting filled up with what are really archival materials and elect to change things around. It's really quite dynamic, this interaction between the physical sorting and arranging and the digital cataloguing and analyzing.

A note to any clients who may be reading: I am not just cleaning my office. Think of this process as enabling me to serve you better. Besides, I'm dividing my time between filing and working on your stuff. Really.

May 15, 2004 in Tinderbox | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/13/2004

A Dishy Recipe for Fiction

Beth Bernobich, who has brought us such dainties as "The Secret Diaries of Writers and Editors," is in fine form yet again and serving up "A Recipe for Writing Fiction."

May 13, 2004 in good reads | Permalink | Comments (0)

Mission Tinderbox

I will be attending the Tinderbox Weekend in Boston in a little more than a week, so I've been playing with the program with renewed energy and a somewhat desperate desire not to appear dumb as toast in front of the experts.

Tinderbox is brilliant for collecting and tracking information, so I'm seeing if I can use it to make a digital key to my paper filing system.

Ha! "What paper filing system?" (Sez anyone who's had a gander at the current state of my home office.) Numerous household moves, the chaos and entropy of the early childhood years, and my own reluctance to commit to any fixed system have left me with a bewildering and bulky collection of paper files.

This is not just an exercise in what to purge and what to keep. It's how to keep so I can retrieve, because as any organizing guru will tell you, if you can't find it, you don't really have it.

There's both a physical and a mental challenge in this. The space I'm using for my office is a definite factor. I love this room, a small nine-foot by nine-foot enclosed back porch in an 80-year-old house. Time out of mind, someone thought it ought to be a breakfast room, and fitted it up with some white cupboards and a small corner hutch. To our family, this purpose seems silly and redundant, since the "breakfast" room is right next to the "dining" room, which is just fine for breakfast. No, the room I've chosen holds the door to the back yard, a door my two dogs must go in and out of approximately 628 times a day, making this room the obvious location for a home office. That and the convenient network/phone connection and the fact that it possesses one of the very few grounded outlets in the whole house.

However, this room has only one wall--the rest of the space is doorways and windows or built-in cupboards. The one wall accommodates a desk but not a traditional file cabinet. So a bit of improvising is called for, and some creative ways of thinking about "what is a file?"

In one of her early books, Annie Dillard describes keeping her "files"--an extensive collection of 3x5 card notes--in a capacious trunk. An organizing guru would call this a creative use of containers.

Our old tax records are in a trunk in another room. In here, I have to figure out how to make my "files" fit on windowsills, under the desk, on a bookshelf, and in a very shallow cupboard. There's a lot of storage space in this room, when you think about it, just none of it is file-shaped.

Pottery Barn came to the rescue on the windowsills. Two cubby units, meant to be used singly to span a desktop, exactly fill my windowsill and provide cubbies, drawers and nooks, as well as a long horizontal surface ideal for sorting and collating. I now have a place for my most active files--and the stapler.

The bookshelf behind my chair, which is positioned in front of a curtain that conceals one half of the French doors to outside (a way to cheat a just little more "wall" out of this room), tells me that it could accommodate accordian files, if they are colorful. Well, accordian files are a good tool for anyone with any sort of attentional challenge. One accordian file equals one project and everything related to that project--correspondence, drafts, contracts, billing--can live there. When it's no longer an active file, the whole thing can move to storage and make room for another accordian.

This is good for the dozen or so active client projects I have going at the moment. But what about the three dozen files for clients who are not currently active, but I might want to check on? What about the bulky drafts of the four novels I have in progress? What about the research for those novels?

Somewhere along the way, I'd acquired two sturdy canvas-and-leather file boxes with fitted covers. There's room for them under the desk, but once they're loaded, they don't move easily. I don't like crawling under the desk to reach them. The organizing gurus have a good thought on this. Castors. Putting them on wheels actually does make these two boxes much more functional.

The two boxes take care of the novel drafts and research files, which are too bulky for accordian files. But I still have at least two traditional file drawers full of files I need to have nearby and logically arranged.

The skinny cupboard, too shallow even for dishes, turns out to be the answer. Two humble wire-mesh desktop files will fit on each shelf of the lower half of this cupboard. Four total provide the same space as two conventional file drawers. And, with this discovery, I have become an organizational guru.

I will spare you the agonizing decisions that winnowed a much larger cache of files down to what's contained in these four areas: the windowsill cubbies, the underdesk boxes, the on-shelf accordian files and the in-cupboard wire-mesh files. (This will help me conceal the bare fact that this process is ongoing and far from complete. Hey, at least I have a plan.)

But I started this posting with thoughts about Tinderbox. If I had all my files in one gigantic credenza, I don't think I would want or even think to make a key or an index to them. But with my files stashed in these different areas, I probably need some sort of breadcrumb trail to help me remember what I've stuck where. And, even if I don't, I need practice with Tinderbox.

So I make a digital file that's a key to my paper files. I have four locations, so I make containers that are also agents that can search notes for the filePlace attribute. I also want to be able to track by projectName (as opposed to file name), by relationship (client, writing buddy, my stuff), and by genre. More agents.

 

view of Tinderbox file

The notes on the files themselves are sparse. I mostly want to know if I already have started a file for a person or a category, and where I originally thought such a file ought to live. But the notes give me a place to record that the 3X5 card micro-outline of the children's novel I just mailed to a contest is not stored with the rest of the file in the box under the desk, it's in one of the windowsill cubbies, because I plan to use it as an example with one of my clients who wants help with outlines.

I don't know if any of this is interesting to anyone else. I find shows like Mission Organization very soothing--through the magic of television, in just half an hour, horrific messes and clutter become serene orderly spaces.

With Tinderbox, I even have a map of my office that I can show you. This is may be uber-geekdom, but I don't care. I'm beginning to know where my files are.

map of file locations in my office

May 13, 2004 in Tinderbox | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/09/2004

Night of the Living Dead Metaphors

Apparently, my poem "Night of the Living Dead Metaphors" made its debut in Strange Horizons on April 26th. Don't know how I missed it! Check it out:

What if women were not circles

and men were not straight lines?

read more...

May 9, 2004 in announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

05/04/2004

To Paint Trudy

Well, this is a fine state of affairs, to announce, "I'm back" and then not post for a week. Pah. My blogging muscles have atrophied.

I have a smidgen of good news and self-promotion to announce:

My poem, "To Paint Trudy," long listed as "forthcoming," is now OUT, in the May/June issue of Cicada.

May 4, 2004 in announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)