Friday, August 20, 2010

A Not-Entirely-Misspent Afternoon

I've been spending a moderately productive afternoon in the attic: reading, relaxing, reviewing notes on a story that's starting to almost make sense; and letting my mind off the leash.

That last is an exercise that can have interesting, sometimes entertaining, and occasionally useful results.

On the other hand, occasionally not-so-useful results.

As I was getting toward the bottom of the thermos of coffee I'd taken up with me, I remembered that I had a Loonfoot Falls Chronicle-Gazette column to write. That's 250 words for a fictional newspaper in an equally fictional small town. Sort of like Garrson Keillor's Lake Wobegon: except that I actually life in a place like that.

Where was I? Remembering that I had a deadline coming up. Right.

While mulling over my weekly challenge of finding something to write about for that nonexistent small town's imaginary newspaper, this phrase dropped onto the front desk of my mind:

"Loonfoot Falls and eight tiny reindeer."

In the context of what I'd been reading a couple hours earlier, that almost made sense - in a convoluted, quasi-metaphoric way.

I think.

On the other hand, aside from that aphasic glow of self-satisfaction I experience when cool phrases fall out of whatever bit of cognitive ductwork they've been lurking in, there didn't seem to be much I could do with that conjunction of ideas.

Besides, I was starting to feel hot and in need of dealing with all that coffee. Which, eventually, led me back here to my place by a north window.

And I still don't know what I'll do about Loonfoot Falls today.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Setting, Research, and a Telephone Directory

This post really does get around to the topic of writing. But first:

Minimum Standards and Scraping By

My household's cable got cut while a contractor was removing a couple trees from my back yard. Not his fault, I think. Turns out the cable service provider is under the impression that as long as the cable is (just) under the sod, it's okay. Which works fine, until somebody with a Bobcat comes by.

Live and learn.

The point is that I had quite a lot of time on my hands yesterday afternoon. With the cable cut, I couldn't get online - which meant that my blog writing and research (other way around, actually) was a 'once and future' set of tasks.

So I drove over to my father-in-law's, used his phone to contact our ISP/phone/cable television provider, talked, took a few photos - all of which still left with me with time on my hands.

Fairly Normal: For a Guy Who Reads Dictionaries

Some fifty-something guys, in my position, would get out the golf clubs, or watch a replay of the Super Bowl. I transcribed a telephone directory.

It wasn't a very large directory: I ended up with a spreadsheet that's less than 700 lines, top to bottom.

One of my daughters, at least, has been impressed that I read dictionaries. For fun. I don't do so all that often, but sometimes I enjoy going through the pages, looking for interesting words and noting where they came from.

In the case of the phone directory, it was more work than fun - but I'll admit to enjoying the data-entry process.

Getting to Know Another Way of Life

This wasn't just any phone directory: One of America's naval bases has a telephone directory that's available to the public, with what appears to be a modestly-complete list of offices, desks, schools, and stores. Along with, in many cases, which building they're in.

I'm not entirely clear on where Building 160 is: but I don't need to. I've learned that it's the building to go to with questions about vending machines, recreational vehicles, and cable television.

On a naval base? Isn't that, you know, military?


I also know how to call someone with questions about child care for kids age six weeks to five years, and the bowling alley's number.

The assumptions I made, taking data from the directory, have me with the bowling alley and a barracks being in the same building. Which either means that my assumptions are wrong - or some sailors aren't getting much sleep.
Why Would Any Sane Person Deconstruct a Phone Directory?!
I wasn't seeking "to expose deep-seated contradictions in a work by delving below its surface meaning" by tweezing apart that phone directory. (deconstruction, Princeton's WordNet) I figured that, once I mined its data and put it into a spreadsheet, I'd be able to see what sort of activities happened on the base, and - in very general terms - how they were organized.

I found out that there were quite a few schools on the base. That wasn't a surprise: I knew that one of its functions was training, and training happens in schools.

I found out that a sailor stationed there could rent recreational vehicles on the base. That was a bit of a surprise.
M*A*S*H, College, and the Real World
I've enjoyed watching reruns of "M*A*S*H." Because of the show's wide and lasting popularity among American audiences, I've used Frank Burns as an example of a particular sort of mindset in another blog.

But "M*A*S*H" isn't real. It's a moderately well-researched television series - of the 'relevant' sitcom variety. There's an element of truth to many of the show's characters, but I'd no more use it as a reliable reference for military life than I'd watch Star Wars to learn about astrophysics.

I could draw from my own life experiences: but I know better. I'm old enough to have picked up my limp in Vietnam, but my draft classification is 4F - by the time I was in my teens, an x-ray of my left hip joint looked like the last stages of arthritic decay. Which is a topic for yet another of my blogs.

I have no first-hand experience of what life is like on a military base.

I'm certainly not going to trust the sort of impressions I picked up, going to college in America during the seventies and eighties. That was a colorful and strange era in our history - which I strongly suspect will appear in articles on abnormal psychology in centuries to come.

Which is yet again another topic.

So, very little of my own, personal, experience is useful in my research.

Analysis of a phone directory won't give me much of an emotional picture of what it's 'like' to live on an American naval base in the 21st century - but it will, I think, help me build a structure that I can hang more touchy feely information on.

Why Bother?

I've spent about five hours, so far, on this 'phone directory' project. I think it's worth the trouble.

I now know that at least one large American naval base really is like a small town in many ways, with its own 'downtown,' and even a movie theater of sorts.

Nobody would mistake it for a 'real' small town, of course. For example, the analogues to civilian functions seem to be on a smaller scale than what I'd expect in a town of that size that grew naturally.

I also learned that there may be a certain amount of humor in - of all things - the numbers assigned to buildings. This particular base's marina/summer equipment rental facilities are in Building 13.

All This - For Galaxy Cadet?!

I'm doing the research now, because I've been developing background and settings for a story or five about Galaxy Cadet. (March 28, 2010)

I wrote, earlier this year, that I should probably "loosen up" by writing a distinctly non-epic, lightweight story. Being the sort of person I am, my notion of 'loosening up' has now involved analysis of a telephone directory.

It's not as crazy as it sounds: I'll probably be able to use the same research for at least one other setting that's 'back burnered' right now.

Privacy Policy

Nothing spooky here.

These days it's important to have a "privacy policy" available: so here's mine.

I do not collect information on individuals visiting this blog. If you leave a comment, I'll read what you wrote: but I don't keep a record of comments, apart from what Blogger displays. (In other words, the only record of what you write or who you are will be what people see at the bottom of the post.)

I do collect information about how many hits this blog gets, where they come from, and some technical information. I use the WebSTAT service for this purpose - and all that shows is which ISP you use, and where it's located.

You can stop most of Webstat's data gathering by disabling cookies in your browser. I don't know why you would, but some folks do.

I'm also an AdSense affiliate, so Google collects information on what I've written in each post: but that's mostly my problem.

I'm also considering starting an affiliate relationship with DAZ Productions. You should be able to keep DAZ and Commission Junction, their provider of affiliate services, from collecting information by - again - disabling cookies in your browser.

And you can keep DAZ Productions from finding out anything about you, by not buying any of their products.

Again, I don't know why you would: but some folks do.

Or, rather, don't.