Saturday, 27 November 2010

NaNoWriMo: some thoughts I had about it all

1. There are many ways in which it felt like something other than just trying to write a novel, like some sort of life exercise, or a thing you might do as a discipline in order to learn about yourself and grow as a human being.  After all, people write diaries for that reason.  And let's face it, the thing really holding my diary back from being interesting is me. I've always disapproved of my own diary attempts as an unhealthy pandering to my innate introspective egotism. Hurray for leisure novelling!

2. It's wierdly emotional.  I started off feeling a deep and very satisfying hatred for my book, and this was the undercurrent of the whole experience.  It felt like the sort of emotion that a supervillain might feel for a hero, a fascinated and enjoyable detestation.  I also felt occasional flashes of triumph just at the thought of the sheer number of words I was getting through, and moments of deep pity, as if I had accidentally injured something helpless.  All the way through there's the disgust when you inadvertently reread what you've read.  I dealt with that mostly by ignoring it.  (If I were a Catholic I would have "offered it up".)  When I got to fifty thousand words I felt stupefied, and when I finished the whole story I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of terror.  The NaNoWriMo thing is not conducive to sanity.  The message boards are quite good for this, because they make you realise that everyone is a bit loony, and that this can actually be a strength, making stories more interesting, and helping to keep you going.  There are excellent posts where people ask for help with things like, if their hero has the superpower of turning things to jelly and he accidentally does this to the office block where he lives, what's his best hope of escaping from the 20th floor alive?  And would viscosity be an issue if you were trying to fill a cave with custard?  And there are memes like the travelling shovel of death.  To participate in that one, you simply kill someone in your novel with a shovel.  I killed a viking with a shovel, right to the back of the neck.  Go England!

3. Quality.  Quality is a big issue.  How could I possibly write 50 000 good words in a month?  I don't think I could.  Can I write 50 000 good words at all?  I don't know.  Usually when I try to write fiction, I write a few paragraphs and then worry about whether or not they're any good, and spend lots of time revising those bits, and then I give up.  Throughout NaNoWriMo it's been the case that I know that most of what I'm writing is awful, not "oh bother I'm disheartened with my work, I quite liked it yesterday but now I think it's bad" sort of awful, but obviously and straightforwardly bad from the moment it emerges from my fingertips. It takes the worry out of it if you decide to let it go and just get on with it.  But the whole NaNoWriMo thing is a huge exercise in humility.  You'd have to be a very bad reader, or one of those super-unrealistic people who sing appallingly at X Factor auditions, to think that you are writing something like a proper novel as you go.  (Or maybe you could be a genius like Dostoyevksy, but if you are I don't want to know about it.)  The NaNoWriMo people make this very clear, to their credit, and suggest you look upon what you write not even as a first draft, but a zeroth draft, or a halfth draft -- one month for writing, and eleven for revising.  In a way it's a shame they call it a novel at all.  It could be NaFiDraWriMo.  But the whole time you are writing you are humiliating yourself by doing something you care about and doing it badly.  It feels quite mature to keep going anyway.  That's definitely one of the hardest things about it, not just producing the words but quelling your self-dislike as you do so.

4. The anti-NaNoWriMo press annoys me.  It reminds me a bit of my school cello teacher.  I loved my cello though I wasn't that conscientious about practicing.  I hated playing those horrible concerts where  kids take it in turns to scrape through some "Tune a Day" piece about a happy pigeon or something, and all the parents clap all the kids on the understanding that that way their own children will also receive hearty applause.  I hated that.  One time I got as far as turning up with my cello and then just plain refusing to perform.  My cello teacher could not understand anyone not wanting to play for other people.  She said to me, if no one can hear you, what's the point in playing the cello?  I did not feel like that.  My favourited cello-playing times were with no one else in earshot,  trying to pick out tunes I knew or playing old favourites, or making things up as I went.  And however much journalists may act as if the only point in writing is to sell it (stupid Samuel Johnson) it's clear that a huge number of people do not write for that reason.  Look at fanfic and its amusing sub-genre slashfic.  People who write those know from the outset that they will never make money from them because they don't own the characters.  It has to be done as an expression of love (or other, stranger emotions).  No one goes to art classes and tells the painters to give up because they'll probably never sell their work commercially.  No one tells knitters just to buy their jumpers from M&S.  If I join a choir and sing in it, no one's going to say I'm fooling myself because I won't get paid.  I could go jogging, and I probably ought to, and I'm not going to be put off just because I'm unlikely to win any marathons or acquire lucrative sponsorship deals.  No, I'll be put off because I'm lazy.  People enjoy writing.  I would like to publish a novel one day, it's true.  It may well be that this one has to be one of those "I wrote four novels before I got one published" sort of things -- as you can imagine, I'm pretty scared to read the damn thing, so I don't know yet.  If that's the case, and even if I never publish any fiction,  then, nonetheless, it has not been a waste of time. It's been an experience.  It's been a painful and creative sort of fun.

5. If at all possible I'm going to do it next year.  I don't know what my work circumstances will be next year, but I think that an hour a day with maybe a couple of extra hours over the weekend is enough.  This year, even though I have hated my novel most of the way through, I have still found it very easy to motivate myself.  I have even managed to use the prospect of evening novelling to help me work on my freelance stuff during the day (much of what I'm doing at the moment comes down to formatting, and it does get a tad dull).  I think that next year I'll try doing something a bit crazier, perhaps involving talking rats.  Not something that could ever be commercial, but something I'd feel good about writing. The novel I wrote this year started out as a joke in my head, and I feel that if I'd left it a bit more jokey and undefined then it might have been more fun to write. There could have been pirates in it!

6. I printed it out -- it comes to 176 pages in 1.5 spacing, so I printed it duplex for the sake of the trees.  I made it a front cover using Wordle and bound it with four treasury tags.  I like that "people" is my most commonly used word.  I'm going to pretend that it's a deliberate calque on the Old English word þeod instead of just a word I overuse. And now I've got to reread the thing.  The idea fills me with dread.  I feel like I'm going to the vet to find out whether my puppy is riddled with disease. I'm going to reread it once quickly, for an overview of structure, and then, unless I feel I have to put it out of its misery, I will work through it several times slowly, revising properly, trying to turn some of the sentences into good sentences.
72, 288 words of historical detective story by me.

7. I won NaNoWriMo!  Go me!  Also, so did my only NaNoWriMo buddy, nwjvfoi, who started at short notice and improvised more, which I think may be more in the spirit of the thing.  Go nwjvfoi!  We rock!  Oh yeah!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

It seems that books are great even when they're rubbish

Validation for NaNoWriMo goes live at midnight.  After checking up on the procedure I ended up on the forums, which are generally quite fun.  I'm going to write properly about my reactions to the whole NaNoWriMo thing at some point in the future, but I've been annoyed by anti-NaNoWriMo press which alleges that NaNoWriMoers are not readers.  So I was looking in particular at the posts which mention reading.  If you register you are e-mailed occasional pep talks by authors to keep you going, and today one was sent out from Lemony Snicket which mentioned briefly the idea of books that change you.  This has led to a post which I have found oddly moving.  It backs up what I mentioned in the last post, about how people sometimes seem more like real people on the internet than if you bumped into them in real life.  It's not full of people extolling the virtues of Dostoyevsky, far from it.  Most of the works mentioned are not especially good.  But the stories of how Harry Potter got kids reading and they've never stopped -- quite a lot of NaNoWriMos are only teenagers -- or even how the Twilight books have made a real difference to their lives, are actually strangely moving.  So many kids having a rough time learn to accept themselves because it's the message they picked up in a book.  And Tamora Pierce!  I loved Tamora Pierce as a teenager, though I always felt they were a little young for me.  Terry Pratchett, the Lord of the Rings, and Narnia also get mentioned a lot.  The Narnia books were the ones which got me reading as a kid, and were the first proper things I read alone.  I vividly remember crying my eyes out when Aslan died as about the first time I ever felt so completely part of a book.  When I started reading again it said that Susan and Lucy had cried so much they couldn't cry any more, and I thought, that's me!

Anyway, that's a bit off topic.  I'm not sure I'd claim that this ability to mean so much is unique to books.  I'm not sure I'd claim anything in particular, just that this post suggests something about being human which moves me.  Remark how many of the books mentioned are Sci-Fi or Fantasy, even the high-brow ones if you count things like Ovid's Metamorphoses or Kafka.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Lots of present suggestions

The weirdest thing about the internet is how personal it is.  You experience random people on the internet much more as actual people than you experience the random people sitting in your carriage in the tube.  (This is very much the case with twitter, which I try to avoid but which keeps sucking me in.  A lot of twitter is a bit like overhearing things on a bus, but on the bus you pretend you're not eavesdropping, while on twitter you're supposed to eavesdrop, and it's all a bit confusing.)

I think my favourite internet thing at the moment is handmade stuff.  I'm trying to plan all my Christmas presents this year to be handmade either by me or, which is more likely, by people who are good at it.  I know I've posted about this before, but the three big sites for this are etsy, folksy, and dawanda.

Etsy is the original and by far the largest.  It's priced in dollars and most of the sellers are US-based.  Almost everything is on etsy.  Would you, or someone you love, like a pair of felted brain earringsAn ipod cover with crocheted mould?  I think this hand-blown wine stopper with a portrait of George Washington in it is really rather lovely, and I like this spooky linocut portrait of Boris Pasternak.  You can get excellent literary badges at beanforest, and amandertot sells bags with useful slogans like Jane Austen's "Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint" (it's just occurred to me that this sums up why Buffy is better than Alias).  What about a silver woot necklace?  People do all sorts of things with upcycled comics and books.  I bought some wooden buttons and earrings from this bloke in Slovenia, and they are really lovely, and very cheap.  Of course there's lots of jewellery, from tribal-ish to semi-precious stones.  And Mattias Inks sells original pictures here.

The problem with etsy is that it's not easy to look for things made locally.  You can browse local shops if you don't care what they make, but you can't search for an item and get the UK producers brought up first, like you can on abebooks, for example.  USA means long delivery times, high postage costs, and the possibility of being made to pay customs duty.  (Though that only happens occasionally I did get hit for an extra ten quid on this, which my brother is getting for Christmas.  Brother, if you read this, DO NOT CLICK THAT LINK.)  But there are a lot of international sellers on it.  If someone only has one shop, it's on etsy.  And the plus side is the possibility of making an alchemy request.  This means you describe a commission, people bid for it, you choose one and discuss the design, and then they make it for you.  I've just done this the for the first time, and the item is in the post.  From the picture I saw before it was dispatched, it's a very pleasing thing.  Mine was a pretty boring request, but you could get someone to make you a t-shirt of Tupac riding a dolphin.

Folksy is the UK one.  There's not as much on it as etsy, and you have to be prepared to do skimming to get good things, but then you know it's coming from a local seller, which makes things more straightforward.  Perhaps you'd like to think wistfully about escaping your problems by being eaten by a brown bear.  Maybe someone you know would like a jumper for their kindle. Who wouldn't appreciate a notebook covered in an upcycled religious comic, or a bag to celebrate the wonder of Tunnock's chocolate teacakes?

Dawanda is the European one.  Postage is easier than from the US, and although you have to negociate the occasional shop in Dutch, on the plus side the things on it tend to be classier than on folksy.  There are a lot of Germans out there doing sophisticated things with thick grey felt.  I would love to have this owl ipad cover, if I had an ipad, and I think they do them for other devices too.  This is an excellent site for finding laptop and phone cases, and I'm thinking I might buy my laptop a skin at some point.  (I've got a kindle skin now and I'm really pleased with it.)  I really like this etching of the Vitruvian Fly.  There's a lot of things on there which are the works of young European designers, like this porcelain cup.  Also Dawanda has very impressive search filtering.  You can choose just to see UK stuff, or search by colour.

The problem really is that I could find endless presents for myself, and have no idea what, for example, my parents would like.  What would my parents like?  My dad would probably like a tree, but I don't know which one.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Old Testament, a summary

I am going to read some Marilynne Robinson one day, I promise, even though it might be too clever for me.  In the meantime I have just read her interview in the Paris Review.  I like her précis of the Old Testament:
The first obligation of religion is to maintain the sense of the value of human beings. If you had to summarize the Old Testament, the summary would be: stop doing this to yourselves. But it is not in our nature to stop harming ourselves. We don’t behave consistently with our own dignity or with the dignity of other people. The Bible reiterates this endlessly.
She's a Calvinist, and I think they may have a pretty good understanding of the Old Testament.  Another thing I intend to do one day is to read some Calvin.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Life is a glorious cycle of song, a medley of exemporanea

They were the same height in real life.
You'd have to be pretty unkind not to wish an engaged couple all the best in their future life. But I have this wierd feeling about this new royal engagement that, like jokes about the death of a much-loved family pet, it's just a bit too soon. I think that for my generation Princess Diana was a pretty defining figure. I was five when they got engaged, so it didn't strike me until much later just how young she was. I didn't quite understand all the fuss about the picture where you could see her legs through her dress, because I thought, though I was prepared to be told I was wrong, that everyone has legs. I was angry when my mother explained that in order to make Charles look taller than Diana for official pictures like the ones on the stamps, Charles had to stand on a box. I thought that was stupid. Then as I grew up, things got worse and worse for Diana, as revelations got into the press about how she wasn't loved, and we found out that Prince Charles's idea of sexy talk with his mistress involved tampons, and that we as a nation liked to eavesdrop on Prince Charles talking about tampons with his mistress. None of us were coming out of this well. I read Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love as a teenager and realised that Di was now a Bolter. The Martin Bashir interview was while I was an undergraduate, and a couple of us watched it with my Director of Studies. It was fascinating and upsetting, an early lesson in how, just by sitting still with our eyes open, we can be implicated in something not quite right, a sort of accessory to someone's mental damage. And then she died, the summer I graduated and turned 21. A lot of people are very rude about how upset the country was, which annoys me. You can criticise the illogicality of it only if you have never cried at the end of a book or a film (and if you've not ever cried at a book or a film then frankly you're a lot wierder than the people who cried for Diana). It was a very sad story; a teenage girl presented with the supreme fairy-tale happy ending, only to realise that her husband doesn't love her and has married for dynastic reasons, sending her on an increasingly frenetic hunt for love. And the two poor boys, already doomed to mental disfunction by the accident of birth, now had no mother. It's like the whole country had been watching Bambi together for the last fifteen years, and suddenly wolves leapt out and slaughtered Bambi's mother, and they were our wolves -- and come to think of it we had been talking to them recently about the delicious taste of venison.
Having said which, the phenomenon still involved an element of wanting to be part of a phenomenon. The idea of a nation all sharing a feeling was quite an appealing one. There was a candle-lit vigil on Parker's Piece, I think on the eve of her funeral. I went along in a Chuck Palahniuk-ish way to see what it was like to feel the same thing as other people, to participate in a national moment. But when I got there I got the impression that most people had gone with the same motive, and that people who actually had the feeling were in short supply. Still, to stand quietly on Parker's Piece with a candle while thinking about the transience of life is not such a bad way to spend time.
Poor old Princess Diana. I was never a girly girl who wanted to be a princess, but if you'd decided slowly to teach a generation of primary school children that fairy tale endings are a fatuous and dangerous concept, then you couldn't have gone about it better. You can't really ask us to suspend disbelief again now, even if Kate Middleton does seem like a tougher kind of girl.  There are several reasons why I am not that keen on the Royal Family, but if I had to pick just one, I'd say that I'm a republican because I think it's rude to stare.

Anyway, here's an old polaroid I found of me winning first prize for fancy dress at a local Royal Wedding fete in 1981.  My mother had turned me into a wedding cake with the help of cardboard boxes.  The total number of entrants in this class was one.  My prize, a blue tin with the royal couple on the front, was discovered by me to have contained fruit jellies only after said sweets had all been eaten by others.  You can't really tell, but in this picture I am crying because everyone is looking at me.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Forgiveness and 90s pop acts

As I write this Take That are standing on the X Factor stage, performing as a reunited five-piece group, and I am feeling slightly emotional. They probably should have stayed a four-piece, without Robbie. He's likely to flake out at some point in his large-pupilled dazed Bez-like way; not to mention that he's said some unpleasant things. But still they took him back. It's like the parable of the prodigal son in man band form.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

You'll momentarily forget all your problems

In case you haven't come across it, here is Harry Hill's Little Internet Show. I think I'm going to save them up for when I feel in need of a tonic. They should make a longer version of the theme tune, for cheery times.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Instead of moaning about my novel

I do think there's some great female solo artist pop around at the moment. It's helping me to novel with its up-tempo energy. (Novelling mood-swings update: today I am sad face.) I blogged the Saturday's video before, and I like the Cheryl Cole song even if it's a bit feverish and I don't know what she's doing with those wierd puttee things on her legs. Rihanna ("RiRi") has a good song out too. Here is Nicole Scherzinger trying to do Toxic and doing pretty well.

Although I do disapprove of all Pussycat Dolls on principle. I am on record about how they remind me of the sexy lapdog in Pynchon's Against the Day.

I do love the way that all pop songs these days start with someone, usually the "feat." rap artist, shouting the names of all participants over the intro. If they had done this in my youth then it would have been much easier to tape songs off of the radio. Go RedOne!

Sunday, 7 November 2010


Also I forgot to say that the field with the new lambs in it was scattered with mangelwurzels almost as big as the lambs. This is to supplement the ewes' diet since the grazing isn't great at this time of year. You have to love somewhere which has a genuine use for mangelwurzels.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


The hunt are out again. I can see them from my window as I type, and I can hear the horns blowing. They do make an excellent sight. I can see the hounds casting around an old barn a couple of hundred yards away. When I was doing my PhD I used to go riding at a place just outside Cambridge called Haggis Farm, which was right next to where the Trinity Foot Beagle hounds are kept. I used to ride a horse called Parker, who was quite young and had been brought over from Ireland, where of course he had hunted a lot. When they called the hounds to their food with a hunting horn Parker would prick his ears up and his head would go high and he would flare his nostrils out very excitedly. Lots of horses do this in their fields when the hunt goes past. Poor old Parker. He was a bit too big for a riding school horse, with a long stride, and they didn't have much hacking round there. Haggis Farm has since become a polo school, and he's certainly no polo pony, so hopefully they've sold him on and he gets to shake his legs out a bit more now. He's the only horse who has actually ever fallen over with me on top. Falling off a horse is one thing, but a horse falling right over when you're riding him is pretty disconcerting. It amazes me now that I ever had the courage to ignore my bruises, get back on a horse which has just fallen over, tell him not to be so silly and put him again to the jump he didn't like. He was fine, by the way, we did check that first. It was the smallest jump ever, which may have been what wrongfooted him.

Anyway after writing that paragraph I just went out to get a better look at the hunt. When I was a kid we used to follow the hunt on foot on Boxing Day. My parents' most recent field is called Siding Hill, and it's really only half a field. The other half was bought by a man who earned his money shearing, and he calls it "Sheargraft Farm". If you want to farm and don't have land then I think it's a pretty common route to spend a few years as an itinerant shearer, maybe in New Zealand, while you save up. He keeps sheep there and he still shears. My mum is hoping that when they eventually sell up he'll buy the other half of the field and it will be back together again. There's a footpath that goes over across the fields, first in our bit then in his, so I went up that. I could see at least thirty horses with the hunt, riding across the next door field which is stubble from wheat. Some of them were doing the most fantastic dressage movements, they were so excited, beautiful passages and canter pirhouettes. Oh how I wish I had ever been a good enough rider to hunt. When a horse is excited like that it's like holding a bow in a drawn arrow, and you just release them and you're both away. It's utterly glorious. But the great surprise was that the Sheargraft Farm part of the field was full of lambs! I walked across that footpath the day before yesterday on my way back from the bus stop in Uffculme, and then the field only contained broad-beamed sheep. And now there are loads of tiny lambs, sitting bleating with their little legs tucked under them, and still with long tails. I did not pick any of them up -- this is the definition of self-control.

If you read this blog and haven't already gathered, I love Devon. It's not all pastoral quietude -- some of it's quite hard. Is it OK to kill foxes with dogs? (Though they are probably drag-hunting because who wants the legal hassle.) What about the little rubber bands on those lambs' tails, put there to constrict the circulation so that the tails will fall off before long? What about keeping lambs in a field with a footpath? When I was a kid I knew very well that if any of our dogs worried sheep then they would be shot. I still love this place though. I love the fact if I wanted to keep a horse then it would probably cost me less than keeping a car, especially if, like many people round here, I didn't have it shod. I love that even on the motorway you get casual views down into little valleys that shift round you as you pass. I love the way it's noisy with noise not made by humans, and stinky with non-human smells. I love that the man whose wife sometimes grazes her cobs in one of our fields collects up the horse dung and barters it with someone in his office for old comedy DVDs. Even the fact that personalised number-plates are still considered a form of wit in these parts has a certain charm. (One of the local farm vets has one that reads M005 VET, e.g. moo's vet.) Now if there were just some way of making a living here...

Friday, 5 November 2010

Twenty thousand badly-chosen words later

Is it bad luck to speak too soon?  Does pride come before a fall?  Is it inadvisable to count your chickens before said chickens are hatched?  Because so far I am blowing NaNoWriMo out of the water!  It is less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels!  Never mind the quality feel the width (as the bishop said to the actress or, in East Anglia, as the art teacher said to the gardener).  Let's celebrate, not at all prematurely, with Alan Partridge:

Eat my goal!  (New Partridge here.)

I've sort of got over the way that reading it back makes me wince, and how totally it sounds like it was translated from Latin by someone who doesn't quite understand Latin.  I don't care that roughly half of the characters have a claim to be renamed Basil Exposition.  Or that everyone has very similar names (which is after all the Anglo-Saxons' fault with their stupid names).  And yesterday, when I needed some evidence for my detective to absorb, I just wrote "PUT EVIDENCE HERE" and moved on.  I feel a bit like a primary school kid who has decided to invent an amazing new colour by mixing lots of other colours and hasn't yet realised that when you mix loads of colours you get brown.  Or who doesn't care because brown is a colour too!  Hurray for not worrying and just enjoying yourself!  This must be what it's like to be Wagner.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Hoot La

My father has just got back from plant-hunting in Arunachal Pradesh, the bit of India that's further east than Bangladesh.  They went right to the eastern end, between Tibet and Burma.  My father was, at 60, one of the younger members of the group.  Before he went my mother kept making dark references to Last of the Summer Wine, which made every one of us who heard her think of them all careering down the Himalayas in bath tubs...

Anyway, plant-hunters are a tougher bunch than most of us.  They travelled all day on foot but often got no further than about a mile, not just because of the extremely sloping ground, but because there were almost no paths except for hunters' tracks, and they had to hack their way through the forest.  Most nights there was no flat land to put their tents on, and apparently the bearers would cut a small shelf into the muddy slope, and pile up bits of vegetation at the other end, and they'd just try not to move too much in the night in case the tent started sliding down the mountainside in the mud.  They went to a place called Hawaii, and a place called Hoot La.  "What a great name for a place," I said to one of the people who went with my dad.  "Well Hoot was very nice," he said, "but not so much the La."  La means pass, apparently, like Shangri La.  Their bearers were Adi, though they called themselves Abor, my dad says, which was originally an ethnic slur but which they are now adopting for themselves.  He gave me an Adi scarf which one of the bearers gave him when they left.  It has proper hand-made flaws in the weaving, and I like it.  Also it smells of rancid yak butter.  (If you are wiser than me you will never try authentic Tibetan tea with rancid yak butter, but some years ago my dad made it for us all at Christmas with such an air of puppyish enthusiasm that we all of us suspended our better judgements and gave it a go.)  I may nick some of my father's photos of Arunachal Pradesh and post them, if they're good. The problem is that most of them will be of rhododendrons.

In noveling news, I'm still perversely enjoying the terrible terribleness of my work, and every dull sentence and wooden piece of dialogue is filling me with a sort of righteous anger.  Perhaps I like the way it vindicates my hitherto novelling-free existence...  Though I did write quite a lot of one when I was fourteen.  It was called "The Rose and the Thorn" and had its own bright orange binder on which I drew a rose in permanent marker.  It sort of tailed to an end when I realised that the hero was an arsehole.  Adolescence -- such a magical time.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Hating the writing

We're only just twenty hours into the NaNoWriMo novel-writing challenge, and six hours of that I spent asleep.  Somehow, though, I am already sick to the back teeth of my grindingly dull and neck-breakingly pedestrian novel.  I really really hate it.  I'm determined to finish it out of spite.

This feeling is oddly comfortable.  I wonder if my brain was permanently bent out of shape by the whole PhD thing?  When you've hated something that much for so long it would probably make a mark on your psyche.  And I do have this odd feeling that nothing I've done since then has really counted (though in the intermediary years I have written a friendly book and a scholarly book, been a fellow of an august body of scholars, lived in Italy, etc etc, so I haven't really done nothing).

I'm trying to get a good chunk done today anyway, so that I can hate it on a more secure basis.

I like Putin's new Siberia survivor pictures.  If it weren't for the sunglasses it could be the start of the People's Act of Love.  If you haven't read the People's Act of Love you are a fool to yourself.

And I like that Shakespear's Sister is at no. 8 on the itunes chart after Cher's rendition of Stay on Saturday.  Itunes says I have now downloaded 500 tracks from them.  This is the 500th::