Trying to Dictate (a little bit of a finished story)

This is not much of a post, but I was actually almost hard at work earlier, attempting to defy the continual and continuing issues created by Mountain Lion and the app that forced me last October to “upgrade” my system, Dragon Dictate (version 3). After I experienced one crash/forced hard restart mid-morning, I tried some dictation about 11:00 AM…

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Test. I started to dictate “Taking the Plunge” about a half an hour ago. I got the first two or three sentences done, but when I proceeded to orate into the Dictate window the remainder of the first paragraph, suddenly we were in spinning beach ball territory! Endlessly. I finally forced the computer to shut down and restarted.

Naturally, this time Spotlight began to run even before everything in the Menubar had loaded. (I just checked, and it is still grinding away. As always. Endlessly.) QuicKeys at first would not finish not loading so I force-quit it, and on the second try the (essential, for me) program did eventually load. So I moved on to try Dictate.

At first, as it did before the computer restart, Nuanceʼs program jumped straight to the Dictate text window (I am not sure if I feel altogether happy that it did retain the sentences I had uttered before the beach ball and forced quit), but this time it also tried to open the Load Profile window (which is supposed to be the first step when the program launches), and when I clicked on the JRB profile, we just got beach ball. Again? However, this time around, I was able to get Force Quit to force quit Dictate (the previous problem had been that intervention did not work, and so I had to physically forcibly shutdown the computer). I tried again. And after some stalling and closing the still-remembered Dictate window from before the crash, here we are with me successfully dictating (directly into MacJournal). Hurrah!

“Taking the Plunge” is a Tourist story, the second one completed. The first (and a segment from that story is one of the oldest posts on the blog) was set in London. “Plunge” takes place in San Francisco, written in the fall of 2009 in the first flush of freedom and getting “Underground” completed and typed (and unsuccessfully off for publication). Hereʼs how it starts:

Taking the Plunge

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

from Wikipedia — I could only find sunny days (but that fits the narratorʼs fourth day on the bay)

San Francisco sunlight, a surreal gift of certain bliss after days of fog and rain. The sun came out my fourth day in the city, my vacation having reinvigorated the old Mark Twain observation, “The coldest winter I ever endured was one summer in San Francisco.” My early experience this trip had been wet, cold and dismal.

The worst day had been Sunday, my second, when I had determined to take a ferry across to Sausalito, an excursion Marsha Kay and I had only contemplated when we were on the bay many years ago. Weʼd gone on a local tour (Dolphin Tours) to the wine country and Muir Woods, and the van in which we and five other couples were loaded had dumped us all on the highway through Sausalito to fend for ourselves for lunch. That had been one sunsparkled, bay-brilliant day — so thoroughly unlike my chillingly dismal return — and we both had discussed the pure California loveliness over lunch in a fish house on the water whose name fled from me in the hectic years since.

But I treasured the sensual bliss of my memories — yellowbright, windscoured and catarchingly warm — through the too-many midwestern winters we shared and then I suffered in weary lonesomeness since. Shoveling through eight inches of heartbreaking snow for myself alone in bitter predawn dark just to be able to get a car to struggle, swerve and skate over icy, scarcely cleared roads to work — among others only those fragments of solarkissed bliss on a July afternoon in Sausalito.

But the bleak reality of this return chilled me more thoroughly than any black midwestern morning, that well layered for the subzero darkness, I had endured in patient expectation of renewing the California sun. So I had suffered disillusionment those first days — dark, cold, drizzling — unimaginably worse weather than back at home, until that fourth morning frothed with solar effervescence in my uncurtained hotel windows, alluring me before 7:00 to awakened alertness, anticipating at last the day to come.

Showering I relived the bay crossing less than forty-eight hours previous. Icy drizzle from the moment I awoke — not quite so early on Sunday, not as early as I had intended, either — about 9:30. The boats I had explored started running at 8:45, and I had intended to cross the bay as early as possible and really explore Sausalito for most of the day. But the grey rain had soothed my mind, evidently, and the touch of frost in the air made me unconsciously snuggle deeper into bed as this most unsummerly summer day had dawned.

Noises in the hall, a family departing for the day, whining brats complaining loudly about the dank weather, stirred my consciousness again well after 9:00. I felt groggy — aware I was late to my schedule, but too dull to care much. And what did it matter? I only had myself to amuse.

So I lazily showered, shaving, dressed and prepared to leave the room for the maidʼs casual attentions in my absence, closing the door about 10:20 and heading off uphill to cross down to the ferry building, at least a twenty-minute hike. I figured Iʼd be in Sausalito for lunch by 12:30.

The ferries didn’t keep to my schedule, however. And the sea-spray, rainy crossing — me on deck, almost alone, drenched and shivering (at least, after the icy hike to the waterfront, Iʼd decided to purchase a fleece at one of the businesses in the ferry building — overpriced but warm enough, though by the time we docked it was much more than damp), brought us across the bay about 1:30. In my misery, I had even missed Alcatraz in the dreary damp. Late for the lunch I had come for, I elected with rare wisdom to forgo the nostalgic waterside deck and eat indoors, too utterly iced through already for more freezing drizzle so soon.

I got busy with other stuff after that. But apparently dictating works again (although with at least a dozen quite strange errors I had to catch while posting), and I have plenty of digitzing talking ahead of me when I donʼt choose to really write (fresh material).

Come on, computer, keep with it: do your job, finally.

What do you know? No footnotes. Almost a first in the past year or more.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cromwellʼs Descent

Sitting at my chiclet keyboard on a gloriously sunny, clear-blue-skies afternoon,* with Eric Claptonʼs exhilarating Derek & The Dominos-era guitar ringing from the iTunes-inspired Bose computer speakers, I realize that my previous perfervid post wasnʼt much of a literary review. I really just raved about how excellent was Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall (and I really did like the book, a lot). Letʼs rectify that slackness just a little.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel.

This portrait (of Thomas Cromwell) and Holbein painting it receive much attention in the novel. Mantel successfully brings this hardfisted, aggressive fellow to sympathetic life (and her character even sees himself reflected somehow truly in Holbeinʼs image).

Wolf Hall is the story of as-yet-to-become English Lord Chamberlain Thomas Cromwell, whose reality had until this novel been thoroughly colored, for me, by Leo McKernʼs indelible and ruthless characterization in the film version of Robert Boltʼs A Man for All Seasons.** The (21st century) book covers most of Cromwellʼs life, from childhood (it begins with a shatteringly evocative, harrowing sequence of young Cromwell being beaten by his father — the provocation for the youth to leave England and commence his wayward career toward politics, via trade, mercenary soldiering and finance) through the execution of Sir Thomas More. Some of the bookʼs pleasure, for me, arose from clever (and appropriate) resituating and revisioning of Moreʼs memorable bon mots as recorded in Boltʼs play and film. The published (and also Man Booker prizewinning) Bring Up the Bodies covers the years through the execution of Anne Boleyn, and the third volume will take us through Cromwellʼs own extralegal but state-sponsored demise.

Mantel turns Boltʼs seriously cold, cruelly calculating villain into her protagonist (perhaps tragic hero) by placing the novel firmly within his point of view (that vivid opening set piece establishes the perspective while promptly and efficiently promoting our sympathetic identification). Seeing the world from his mindframe keeps him very human (uxorious, family-loving, generous in spirit, cultured) even as his actions gradually turn vengeful and (not noted to himself in Mantelʼs prose) scheming. Cromwell reappears, grown to middle age, as Cardinal Wolseyʼs utterly competent jack-of-all-trades*** just as the crimson-robed butcherʼs son is about to fall (failing to acquire Henry VIIIʼs desperately sought divorce from first wife Catherine of Aragon). Wolsey, perceived through Cromwell, of course is also a mostly positive figure, whose humiliation, defeat and death earn our sympathy (and Cromwellʼs, naturally — very importantly stimulating motivation for the blacksmithʼs sonʼs subsequent political career in this novel: those behind and present for Wolseyʼs destruction almost all “get theirs” by the end of Wolf Hall****).

Once Wolseyʼs died, Cromwell moves into the orbit of Anne Boleyn, unwillingly (she caused the cardinalʼs fall, after all) and over the years (and the pages) while suffering his own losses and successes arranges the necessary divorce, then the royal (not legally a “re-“) marriage and crowning for Queen Anne, meanwhile putting various enemies (unstated, until toward the final pages) and friends in their places (negative and positive places) as he rises and grows close to the king. What Cromwell and Anne share is then-modern religious feeling and theology, both being firm to-be Protestants supporting vernacular translation of the Bible and corresponding faith and doctrines.

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Thomas More — also by Hans Holbein (one of the fun moments during the book was figuring out who “Hans” might be… )

Stubborn, fanatical zealot Thomas Moreʼs descent from power and doomed course toward execution — all capably managed by our sympathetic Cromwell (he really does sympathize with the thoughtful Catholic philosopher but not with his heretic-burning, self-flagellating, regressive and reactionary creed). As More participated in Wolseyʼs ruination (not to mention multiple burnings at the stake for personal friends and religious compatriots of Cromwellʼs), his destruction brings our protagonistʼs rise from the ashes of his becrimsoned mentorʼs defeat to a vengefully victorious climax. Also, tellingly (although the book ends with Cromwellʼs scrupulous care for Moreʼs bereft, scholarly daughter being able to acquire her traitor fatherʼs head for burial) we witness in the final stretch Cromwellʼs satisfactions here and there as various enemies are managed (capably, competently, effectively) and revenge (for Wolsey and others) accomplished. Clearly, the abused boy (grown to calm, proficient maturity) has coarsened his character, steeled his soul, descended morally — he is quietly but definitely headed toward his own fall, barely six years in his future.

It is a lovely book, engrossing, colorful, detailed, marvelously told and brilliantly written. It brings both the people and the era to vibrant and fascinating imaginative life.***** Mantel richly deserves her many accolades and awards for this wonderful book.

Now to relax a bit. Claptonʼs still playing (the computer has offered almost no blockages to my work, even with iTunes in action), and the day is yet lovely. Later, gentil readers.

* (it snowed, heavily — huge flakes obliterating any view whatsoever for hours midday — yesterday, piling up at least two and a half inches of snow here in Our Town, more to the north)

** Andrew students had to suffer (or possibly enjoy) that movie to introduce Renaissance England (and ultimately Shakespeare and Hamlet) in Advanced English for, I believe, decades. (I at least enjoyed the ritualistic annual indulgence in great storytelling… ) Just as McKern made Cromwell in my perception (from my mid-teens onward), so did Orson Welles embody Wolsey and of course Paul Scofield for Thomas More.

wolf-hall*** His capable and smooth omnicompetence (at just about everything, so literally so) is the manʼs major characteristic in the book. We witness the multitudes that he knows and understands within himself and how others (at least say they) perceive him; the king in particular comes to value Cromwellʼs ability to get done whatever needs to be accomplished.

**** And much as we may come to identify with and care for Thomas Cromwell (invariably in the book just “he,” often confusingly — but deliberately so), his hardening heart and vindictive progress are revealed… quietly.

***** Thus we come to the big topic — historical fiction. But I have said so much on just this book that I had better reserve my thoughts on books about (and from) the past for some other post.

Images from Wikipedia

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Really Good Book

So. I missed “yesterday,” as stated in my previous post. And I missed yesterday, as in relation to this post (I hope) as well — meaning that I also missed posting on Pi Day (preferably known as Einsteinʼs Birthday), as well. In both cases we must blame the computer (and somewhat my own sloth — but mostly the computer: bless you Apple with all sanctimonious and cynical sarcasm). Even today, with a new update for Mountain Lion, I have spent most of the day with the iMac frozen and (seemingly) forever restarting (fortunately, The Lovely One asked me to clean the house in preparation for some guests, who called last night to indicate illness all week was undoubtedly going to prevent their visit; so I could at least go away from the detestable device and do something worthwhile today — as yesterday I determined to not just sit and fume at spinning gear images and what not but read instead).*

Clearly I should keep this brief before the computer interferes with working successfully yet again.

KindlleHere it is: I love my Kindle (not so fond of the Kindle app for Mac, however, as it now takes a full five minutes to start and run, when not in “safe” mode when it loads perfectly fine and fast, and also apparently caused the most recent system freeze and forced hard restarts). It is really cool to be able to carry a full library around with me in one little, thin device. And I do mean a full library. Although the Kindle Reader only counts 437 books downloaded and included, a huge number of those are the cheap and usable “complete” collection available from various packagers of royalty-free material, meaning that about 50 of the “books” include from twenty to fifty books each!

However, the best thing about the amazon.com device is that I really get into reading things on it — new, old, reread for the umpteenth time and utterly fresh. I have always been a lover of the actual, old-fashioned book — the scent, the feel, the comfort of real pages in a real binding (paper or otherwise). But on the Kindle, reading works just as well, and I get perhaps even more lost in the stories. In my contemporary state of increasing joint pains (sometimes desperately excruciating), holding the Kindle beats trying to keep a hardbacked book open in my lap (not to mention the utter delight for My Beloved to be able to make the font just as large as necessary for her post-surgical eyeballs to perceive readily).

wolf-hallAnd one of the best things that I actually read (new and complete) thanks to the electronic reading machine has been Hilary Mantelʼs Wolf Hall, a brilliant book that thoroughly captured me and kept me up late, late (intolerably so when it came to arising sometimes less than four hours later to get out and work out), unwilling to pause at any story break and go to sleep.

I had first encountered her text in portions published in various literary magazines before the book was actually published (at least here in the U.S.) — in the TLS for certain and I also think in the New York Review of Books and possibly The London Review of Books** as well. Although I read the material each time (and also the subsequent glowing reviews), I wasnʼt entirely whelmed at the third-person present-tense imprisonment in the protagonistʼs perspective.

I did eventually buy the hardback at a Borders going-out-of-business 80%-off price a couple of years ago, but I never got further than the first fifty pages. Maybe, for an old man weened on the hagiography of A Man for All Seasons, it was too hard to imagine a Thomas Cromwell not utterly wicked and venal (although one can clearly perceive his hardening character in Mantelʼs telling, once I did read the book).

In October or November (I donʼt now remember just when I bought the e-book version), with the next volume in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, well reviewed and winning Mantel her second-in-a-row Man Booker Prize, I sprang the nine bucks for a Kindle version. And have been devouring it since (spaced judiciously for other reads, particularly various research items for Sepharad and other books I whimsically have afforded to create the massive library that fits into my pocket).

Wolf Hall. Wonderful stuff. Incredibly well written and easy to read voraciously.

Now I am postponing the start of Bring Up the Bodies (also on the Kindle for some time now) in order to enjoy other things — The Moonstone for the fifth time and for  second time Anthony Burgessʼs Earthly Powers, which became available in January. And triter trifles, too (like Jack Vanceʼs Demon Princes series again and a pleasant discovery from a dead favorite — a mystery by Roger Zelazny, The Dead Manʼs Brother, already completed and archived). And more to come.

* And even now Spotlightʼs incessant cataloguing keeps taken over from my typing and leaving me with not a cursor but an Apple-effing spinning beachball.

** That periodical did publish the text of the speech the author gave recently about the royals which got her into trouble for (not really) disrespecting the expectant mother of the heir-to-become.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Nothing to Say?

So, itʼs two months and a week since my last post. What else isnʼt new?

Well, jaw-droopingly enough, The Lovely One  has actually asked me to try posting regularly. (I know — tradition holds she hates any time I spend at the computer, even writing, and she has always thought my pathetic posts here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog were, uh, pathetic.) So at her behest more or less, letʼs  conclude the ten-week hiatus:

ClocksI have been doing nothing much with those 69 days. nearly nothing at all. (I did finish and revise a short story to submit for possible publication — the result still suspended in the atmosphere somewhere/somewhen. “Scholarsʼ Folly” takes Søren, sans Judah, from northeastern Iberia to Córdoba for a really bad day with supernatural intrusions, his subsequent ethical self-flagellations being reserved for what will become the following chapter in the final novel. However, that effort filled less than a week, really, the original composition having been part of my NaNoWriMo 2012 enterprises. The revised product was e-mailed for editorial consideration way back in mid-January.)

Today, having actually gotten a break from nearly daily snowfall (no lie — culminating in three days of flood-inducing rain), punctuated by regular weekly blizzards (both requiring me to shovel rather than head out to exercise first thing in the darkness before dawn), I did my time on the elliptical and came home feeling genuinely determined to do something (for once) today.* So here I am pecking away…

Unfortunately with nothing to say.

You see, that (lack of postable content) has been the major problem (other than lazily and worthlessly diddling all my time away each day) preventing the blog from acquiring updates. Nothing to say…

(And when I consider all that I found myself able to blather in 2010 when I did the post-a-day thing so glibly and logorrhea-cally, perhaps the current chastity of content seems less pitiful and more prudent. Perhaps.)

The same lackluster life (mine) has also prevented me from keeping my letter-writing particularly current (and I do need to write both to my long-suffering aunt and communication-deprived bother later today or no later than tomorrow). I havenʼt even added more than a few thousand words to my creative endeavors. Plenty of mental composition but nearly nary a word even smartpenned to paper for eventual upload into the (contemptibly frustrating) digital presumed-reality.**

However, even with this despicable deficiency of (for equally miserable want of better terminology) subject matter, I felt as though I must post something. So this drivel is it.

Enjoy!

* Of course, my eff-viscerating, worthless computer has had other ideas: those first few sentences have taken some seventy minutes to get on the screen, as multitudes of pointlessly intrusive background processes have taken over the computerʼs processor cycles ahead of my considerably-less-than-feeble keyboard smashing (but regardless how fiercely I punch a key, for some reason Spotlight uselessly updating its database or the virus-protection programʼs mercilessly intrusive “Behavioral Injection” activities take precedence regardless). Yep, nothing has changed; and the computerʼs incompetence frustrates me and drives me away from the infernal screen/mouse/keyboard to do something that might seem potentially productive (or at least less emotionally traumatic) — like reading the Kindle instead (but more on that tomorrow). Appleʼs demonic apparatus and its meddlesome softwares even contrived to get me to delete somehow the original final sentences of the parenthetical conclusion of the paragraph above the one to which this footnote appends.

** And now, suddenly there is no ceaseless drive-grinding (blessed silence on that front for my tinnitus to fill with ethereal cacophony of unreal audio-effervesence instead), and the menu meter indicates merely four percent of the memory and processor active — thus my letters and words actually transfer from brain-and-fingers through the keyboard to the machine and thus the screen (and eventually, we hope, onto you). Astonishing.

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Once again, I do have reports on reading (and recommendations thereby/fore), not to mention some travel and maybe even other items, for future posts — assuming as inevitably ever, the damned device permits.

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.