Monthly Archives: December 2011

My Top Eleven Discoveries of 2011: Part Two

5. La Sagrada Familia. I went to Barcelona thinking that the Sagrada Familia was a wacky-looking unfinished giant African termite mound of a cathedral that the locals praised because they were stuck with it.

Admit it: you can totally see the resemblance.

Then I stepped inside. And I have a new favorite building. As I point out in the previous blog essay linked to there, I’d never even thought of the idea of a “favorite building” before. Sagrada Familia is a temple of the human spirit, and a reminder that great architecture is as important to art as great painting and great music.

4. The Netherlands and Belgium. What amazing countries! Canals, cafes, flowers, bicycles, charming old streets. I visited The Hague, Leiden, and Antwerp, and although the Hague is necessarily a rather vague, diplomatic city full of Eurocrats, the other two were brimming with character and life–but not with traffic or noise. To list all the things I love about the Low Countries would take hours. To start: double-decker train lines, walking along canals, the relaxed atmosphere in which everyone seems so comfortable with themselves, the friendliness, the flower-boxes…

We ate at the place on the far right. Also: told you this place was huggable

…the street performers…

Street pianist, Antwerp, Belgium, May 2011

…everything. I could move to Holland or Flanders tomorrow. Oh, and what exactly did take me so long realizing that Belgium would be wonderful? For some reason I assumed the country would be sort of bland; but of course it couldn’t be. Any nation that can produce the world’s finest fries, waffles, beer, and chocolate has to be awesome.

3. That I Can Walk 20 Miles in a Day. It’s not easy, especially not with a backpack carrying all my clothes and supplies, but it’s possible! And fellow Rice alum Carina Baskett and I walked across 75 miles of northwestern Spanish hills this summer. The actual walking can bring exhaustion and weariness, especially at about 3 p.m. if you’re up in the mountains without a nearby fresh water source, but there is also a strange way in which walking, and then keeping on walking, becomes reassuring. It’s harder to stop than it is to keep going. And, whether because of the views, the food, the people, or the simple pleasure of knowing that you’re on your own and going where you want to go at your own pace, the experience is truly very satisfying.

Here’s a blog recap. And here’s a photo:

Sunset at Lires

2. That I Can Write a Novel in a Month. I’m as surprised as anybody, honestly. Starting in January, we’ll find out how long it will take me to edit a novel written in a month.

Writing a novel proved, I should say, surprisingly awesome and kind of thrilling. Working without outline, plot, or a feel for any of the characters, I genuinely did have a ton of uninhibited, unplanned fun almost every day, and the story eventually managed to gel into some semblance of a functioning whole. There were maybe three days where the work was hard, two because the chapters were dull and I was feeling uninspired (not to fear; these are earmarked for rewriting) and one because (spoiler alert) the ending of my book is depressing and I didn’t much like having to write it. A trusted friend has told me that the final chapter is “perfect,” so at least it worked. There is much work yet to do, but the actual month-long marathon of writing a novel as quickly as possible proved satisfying in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Second only to finishing my master’s degree for my proudest achievement of the year.

1. Phineas and Ferb. Reasonable people all agree: a cartoon show which gives one of its main characters a three-minute-long Bond-style jazz/rock theme song describing him as a “semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of excellence” is surely the best thing to ever appear on a television screen.

Also, let’s remember that this is a children’s television show which once created a song called “Give Up” with the lyrics “It’s not really failure / if you’re not even tryin’.” We are in the presence of genius, ladies and gentlemen.

My favorite discovery of 2011? Phineas and Ferb: the only show I ever need to see again.

Bless you, Perry the Platypus!

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My Top Eleven Discoveries of 2011: Part One

I learned about a whole lot of new things this year: places, people, foods, TV shows, music, trends, ideas, factoids, and fun jokes. It’s been a year of discovery, truly–from the very beginning of 2011, when I found myself at a ska club in Barcelona, to the very end, in the Texas Hill Country celebrating the arrival of 2012 with some of my oldest friends. What better way to condense a rich, unforgettable, unsummarizable year of new adventures into a few hundred words of jaunty prose than to make a list of the best things I discovered over its months?

So here we are: a top eleven for 2011, of my favorite discoveries of the year. This first part counts down from 11 to 6:

11. Flipbacks. Flipbacks are these tiny little books you can hold in the palm of your hand. They’re smaller than a deck of cards, and lighter too. You hold them sideways and, if you so choose, you flip the front cover under the back cover to create a super-portable but super-readable tiny book.

This is a Flipback in action.

Flipbacks are awesome for traveling. They’re so small I could fit one in a pocket (unlike those “pocket-sized” books that are always too big), they’re so lightweight you would never think twice about carrying one, and they’re kind of fun to use too. The only drawback is a fairly mediocre selection of books so far; there’s exactly one book per type of reader. If you like Michael Lewis, they have one of his; if you like Stephen King, they have one of his; mine was John le Carre’s masterful espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I carried it in my pack as I walked across Spain. If your type is “trashy”, then they have A Million Little Pieces, too!

10. Extreme Ironing is a real thing that exists. There is a sport where people compete to iron clothing in the craziest places.

Yes!

Extreme ironing competitors are also judged by the quality of the ironing. So they actually have to get the job done, rather than simply whipping out an ironing board and taking a picture.

Some of you are saying, “OH MY GOSH THIS IS AMAZING SHOW ME A PICTURE OF SOLDIERS IRONING IN IRAQ.” My pleasure.

Extreme ironing, Mosul, Iraq

Others might be saying, “Hang on, I don’t get it. Isn’t this a really silly pointless waste of time? What’s so appealing about it?”

To which I reply: mankind’s noblest pursuits are their own rewards. This man, for example, will always be able to look upon his life with pride, and know that his purpose on this earth had been successfully fulfilled. Because no matter what happens to him, and no matter what hardships he endures, he will know in the bottom of his heart that nothing can stop him. Because one time he ironed clothing underwater.

A true human hero.

9. Austin, Texas, is actually very cool. I feel like I was the last person on earth to figure this out. Everyone else already loves Austin, so I’m late to the party. But you know, we got off to a bad start. The city doesn’t make a great first impression: it’s cramped in the extreme, with tiny traffic lanes, tiny parking spaces, and tiny public areas, but slightly too big and hilly for a conveniently walkable city center. The university atmosphere has a sort of grungy, dirty underside; there’s a lot of town which is unappealing. And the traffic is, incredibly, the worst in Texas, all centered on a huge state school with an unhealthy fixation on football.

But I wasn’t giving Austin a fair chance. On further inspection, the city offers so much that is good-humored, delicious, and all-around wonderful that I really need to reverse my opinion.

How did I finally come to love Austin? Let me (Roman-numerically since this is already a numbered list) count the ways: (i) Book People, one of the best and biggest truly independent bookstores around; (ii) the original Whole Foods, just across the street; (iii) spacious, lovable Zilker Park, with its lake views, hiking trails, rock escarpments, and herb garden; (iv) a real-life frozen banana stand with a sign out front inevitably reading, “There’s always money in the banana stand”; (v) the Omelettry’s uniquely amazing gingerbread pancakes; (vi) cheap and clean public buses on a fairly regular schedule; (vii) maybe the most delightful food truck scene in America; (viii) a truly outstanding local-ingredient and specialty-food scene; (ix) some quiet, cozy neighborhoods which offer shelter from the bustle; (x) an easy-going attitude that you sense would be open to more or less anything; (xi) Hopfields, the too-comfy gastropub with 43 spectacular beers on tap and casual French food on offer (tomato and manchego cheese tart, anyone? what about ratatouille?); (xii) definitely the best taco I have ever eaten. Behold:

The Democrat taco, Torchy's on Guadalupe, Austin, TX. Marinated barbacoa meat, avocado slices, onions, cheese, salsa, and a hint of lime. What else do you need?

I really cannot emphasize enough how amazing this taco is. It’s not one whose flavor jumps out at you and seizes your attention: its glory is, if anything, the exact opposite, the way that the taco welcomes your palate like an easy chair. There’s a certain trend among food lovers today to go for really complicated crazy gourmet stuff: burgers with eleven toppings, macaroni with seven cheeses, penne with chicken, pancetta, and shrimp. But some of the very best things in the world are the simplest. And the Democrat taco at Torchy’s is a taco so perfectly executed it feels like no effort was involved at all.

Austin is the opposite of that, in a way: a city into which tons of effort was clearly put, a city caged in by busy roads and interstate overpasses. But it is the spontaneity, the effortlessness, the easiness of the true Austin spirit which makes this city, well, redeemed. I’m glad I finally learned to like it.

[Other items in the Top 2011 Discoveries, Special Subcategory: Stuff Everyone Else in America Already Knew About but I Somehow Missed: 30 Rock, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, This is Spinal Tap, the glories of melted goat cheese, taco trucks, the city of Dallas, full-time employment.]

8. NotGraphs. Somehow, I managed to be a good baseball fan for years without reading FanGraphs, but I rectified that in 2011. FanGraphs is an analysis site for true baseball nerds, covering every move (and many a non-move) in as wonky, detailed, and stat-oriented a way as possible. Just my thing. But what’s really shameful is how long it took me to discover NotGraphs. NotGraphs is even more just my thing: it’s all silliness, all the time.

As baseball’s leading (only?) devoted humor site, NotGraphs is happy to provide you with old pictures of Ron Paul in an Astros uniform, a battle of the sexes over the worth of fantasy sports, real Mets-logo toilet seats, what prominent players would be if they were food (“The Prince Fielder”: an order of every vegetarian item), comical clips of players making wacky mistakes, and overly-literal illustrations of athletes’ inane Twitter thoughts. Fun, fun, fun!

Also, I’m very much hoping they take up my own suggestion of a “Write a Sentence About Baseball in the Style of David Foster Wallace” contest.

7. Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony. Funny; the Gothic Symphony doesn’t place first on my mental list of the best music I’d never heard before 2011 (Schubert’s string quintet in C, or Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra), nor was it probably the best or most soul-nourishing concert I saw this year (Mahler’s Third live at the Warsaw Philharmonic), but seeing the Gothic live was one of the great concert spectacles of my lifetime. An earlier blog essay talked about this at length, and I’m pleased to report that that blog essay will soon be appearing in the official journal of the Havergal Brian Society. In the meantime, here’s one of my photographs of the 1,000 performers at the Gothic:

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Concert Orchestra, organist David Goode, and some of the nine choirs, pre-performance.

6. The sticky toffee pudding at Brown’s Pie Shop, Lincoln, England. The guidebook described this dessert as “earth-shattering.” That’s putting it mildly. Their sticky toffee pudding was the most astonishing thing I ate in England and one of the three best foods I had in 2011, alongside the Democrat taco (above) and a goat cheese salad in Girona, Spain (at Restaurant Vinil).

Served piping hot.

That does it for this installment; stay tuned for my top five discoveries of 2011, coming to this page soon!

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Book of the Year: Infinite Jest

The worst fear of any serious Infinite Jest reader is that some well-intentioned person will look at her or him hefting about an enormous novel and, with kindness, ask, “What’s that book about?”

In September I finished the novel, a 1,079-page behemoth known throughout the literary and twenty-something worlds as a sort of novelistic Mount Everest often read to say that one has read it. And, now, after twenty-six days of reading, and several months of being-finished, I’m just barely starting to form an answer to the question, “What’s the book about?”

That cover, so harmless-looking.

I’ll put it this way. We’re all told in this era that we should find a passion or job or occupation which we love, and then throw ourselves into that thing. Do what your heart says, in other words; if your occupational counselor says be an accountant and your heart says snowboard, then go snowboarding, of course!

But imagine a scenario where two people have followed those passions. Let’s say there are two people who crash cymbals in orchestras (as a bit character in fact does in Infinite Jest). Let’s say that ever since they were kids, all they ever wanted to do was play the cymbals, and they spent years training and getting cymbal-crashing degrees, then found jobs and now all they do is crash cymbals all day. Suppose one of these two people absolutely loves it: he’s found the thing that makes his life worth living, and he crashes cymbals every day with a sort of fulfilling spiritual joy. Suppose the other one, though, feels strangely empty and lost while he crashes his cymbals. He stands there in the back of the band wondering: is there something else to life? Or maybe the tragedy is that he does not wonder that at all; he’s not aware that he’s feeling empty; he’s just lost, and depressed, and in a funk, because he has spent his whole life working to fulfill his passion for cymbal-crashing but he never realized there was anything else.

In a single sentence, what Infinite Jest is about (maybe) is: what is the difference between those two people? Why do some people center their lives on something and feel happy while others center their lives on something and feel as if they’re in hiding?

All of the characters in the novel are facing this problem. The first of three primary plot strands concerns teenage boys at a tennis boarding school, where they spend six-and-a-half days a week practicing and playing tennis, improving their technique and mentality, training rigorously for a career in professional tennis. One of the boys, John Wayne (nickname: “No Relation”), is a tennis prodigy because he has apparently shut off all the emotions and feelings which might lead him anywhere other than the court. Another, Hal Incandenza, begins for the first time to have the idea that maybe he doesn’t want to play tennis every day, and his game is in danger of falling apart.

When kids are trained from birth to compete, and to win, then when they fail to be anything other than the very best, will their lives be a crashing disappointment? More interestingly, if they do achieve the goal they’ve been raised to target–then what? If you spend your whole childhood training to be a tennis champion and actually become one, does that actually make you feel happy? One teenage tennis star in the novel achieves the No. 1 ranking and immediately shoots himself. He’s been chasing an ephemeral goal, and once he reaches it, like a pot of gold, it vanishes.

A second plot strand concerns a halfway house for drug addicts (alcohol included). Somebody in the book makes the valuable point that taking a drug is basically a lonely activity, something that separates your experience from everyone else’s. People hide when they do drugs because it’s illegal, but they also hide when they do drugs because drugs are isolating. The halfway house throws them all together.

The book also raises interesting questions about 12-step programs. Consider: does Alcoholics Anonymous replace an addiction to alcohol with an addiction to Alcoholics Anonymous? If so, is that a bad thing? Is it slightly sinister? Or, since it at least gets people off booze, is it an improvement?

The third plot in the novel asks just how far people will go to achieve instant gratification, and how screwed up, exactly, our idea of happiness is. See, a crazy old filmmaker’s last work before suicide was a short movie called “Infinite Jest,” which is, Monty-Python-style, so incredibly entertaining that anybody who watches it replays it and replays it and watches over and over until they starve to death. And somebody keeps making copies and sending them out to unsuspecting victims. Now both the government and a crazed gang of legless separatist Quebec terrorists called the Wheelchair Assassins (Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents) are trying to find the master copy of the tape.

So there’s a lot going on, and there’s a great difficulty in saying what the novel is “about.” But there are a few tentative hypotheses: the novel is about the way in which so many people substitute addictions for the grunt-work of finding lasting pleasure; the novel is about different means of gratification, instant or otherwise, and whether they, too, can be addictive; the novel is about people who aspire to great things and then aspire just to be normal again; the novel is about our reliance on external creations for entertainment, rather than ourselves or each other; the novel is about the unreasonableness of our demands to be made happy.

There are approximately 15 more blog posts’ worth of things to talk about in Infinite Jest. For example, there’s the prose, Wallace exhibiting a scarily accurate ability to write the exact way his characters think (one of the difficulties of the book is that characters who can’t spell have their lives narrated with attendant poor spelling). There are sentences which glow like moons suspended above the page. There are profoundly sad sections and there are hilariously funny subplots, like the backstory of the Wheelchair Assassins or the young tennis players’ game Eschaton, in which every player is a Cold War nation lobbing tennis balls at the other nations’ nuclear stockpiles. The Eschaton game might be the funniest scene I’ve read in a novel in months.

Another thing worth talking about is: why is almost everybody in the novel deformed in some way? There are characters with gigantic boxy heads, faces burned by acid, agoraphobics, an entire network of amputated murderers, an epileptic, a Saudi prince who eats only Toblerone and has tons of digestive problems as a result, a recovering alcoholic with no hands or feet, a midget, a woman whose right half is paralyzed, a Crohn’s disease patient, tennis-playing Siamese twins, and a tiny birth-defected boy who can only stand while propped up by some kind of support. What’s up with this fixation? Does it mean anything? I don’t know.

You get the idea. Books have been written about Infinite Jest, and will be written about it for some time. Months after finishing it, I still can’t organize a blog essay about it. It is a huge novel, yes, maybe slightly too huge; its vocabulary is off the charts and I had to keep a dictionary on standby; some episodes are a little too preposterous, some characters sound a little too much like each other. The novel’s worst page, weirdly, is its first. Yes, there are slight flaws in the tapestry.

But the feeling I had upon finally finishing Infinite Jest was a feeling I’ve only had after finishing one other book. That other book was The Brothers Karamazov, which Wallace mentions in the novel’s final pages. The feeling I had, upon finishing Karamazov and Jest, was much the same. I looked at each novel’s massive heft and, more urgently than any other desire, wanted very much to turn back to page 1 and start all over again.

The parallel is no mistake. In a 1996 essay, Wallace praised Fyodor Dostoevsky as an author who “appears to possess degrees of passion, conviction, and engagement with deep moral issues that we cannot or do not permit ourselves.” DFW (as he is called) thought FMD (as DFW called him) a “model” for any contemporary author who intends to write “morally passionate, passionately moral fiction [which is] also ingenious and radiantly human.” A self-aware thing to say, since the phrase is also a perfect description of Infinite Jest.

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The Real-World Math Test

My job for an education company brings me into contact with lots of math test questions for public school students. A lot of it is stuff like “which of these graphs is a function?” and “Malik wants to paint the sides of a regular tetrahedron. If the radius is 3 inches, what is the surface area he will have to paint?” But occasionally I run into a question that seems uncommonly real-life-oriented, even genuinely useful. And it made me think: maybe there should be a math test to check on your ability to do the math you really need.

So here it is.

The Real-World Math Test

1. Marcia has $1.83 in change. She wants a package of napkins that’s $1.59. If the local sales tax rate is 9%, can she buy the napkins?

2. Dave has a stack of 50 dimes on his desk. He also has a library book that’s exactly 6 weeks overdue. If the library charges 15 cents a day in late fees, does Dave have enough dimes?

3. Brian wrote a 56,596-word novel in November. He didn’t write anything at all on the 23rd-26th. How many words per day is that?

4. Anne got a $5.95 burger, $1.95 fries, and water. Bruce got the chicken parmesan for $8.50 and a $1.50 soda. Celia got a salad for $7.95 and water. Dario busted his gut with an $18.95 porterhouse and $4 pint of beer. The waiter can’t split the bill. Dario only has a credit card, Celia has only ones, and Anne wants Bruce to give her a buck because he ate so many of her fries. Who pays how much, to whom, and what should each of them contribute for the tip?

5. Amazon UK has Perry the Platypus bobblehead dolls for £12.49, and shipping to America is £2.95. Molded Marsupials USA will sell the bobbleheads for $21.95 each and shipping is free. Based on the exchange rate, what’s the better deal?

(Artist's conception by Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz)

6. Yoenis is moving to America from Cuba. He likes to tell all the ladies that his biceps are 60 centimeters around, and then prove it. But he has to convert his measurements to English for the American chicks. What diameter are his biceps in inches?

7. Betty has a really awful washing machine. Whenever she puts her husband Don’s new clothes in for the first time, they shrink 5%. If Don’s trousers need to be 32 inches waist by 30 inches in length, what size should he buy?

8. Madison filled the tank of her 2009 Honda Civic when the odometer said 40598 and now she’s filling up again at 40952. How far did she get on one tank of gas?

9. Radovan’s phone company allows him 500 text messages per month (30 days). Over the first two days he has a great big argument with Slavomir and uses up 139 texts. Now how many texts per day can Radovan use for the rest of the month?

10. Add up your monthly income and all mandatory expenses: rent, insurance, utilities, internet/cable, gasoline, etc. Create a budget. How much spending money do you have next month?

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GermanDeli: Best Thing Ever

Q. What is the best thing ever?

A. GermanDeli.com.

GermanDeli.com is a Dallas-Fort-Worth-area-based importer of, well, German stuff. Bratwurst, German-brand cheeses, bulk Haribo gummies, calendars with pictures of beers on the pages, buttercakes, German coffees, German magazines, and so on. You get the idea.

Anyone for Apfel-Streusel Kuchen?

Anyway, GermanDeli is probably an unlikely choice for my Personal Favorite Online Retailer Ever. But, Gott in Himmel, they are!

When I placed an order (kept secret for Christmasy purposes), I was treated to maybe the best online shopping experience ever. First, the actual ordering pages asked me questions like, could they substitute a rival brand if they were out of stock? and, should they just cancel if they were out of stock? and, most amazingly: what day do I need it by?

The first email I got began along the lines of: “Thanks again for your order. Our staff has just downloaded your order…” and then reached these heights of customer-service beauty:

“before we pack your order we’ll first check to see if your order will be affected by FedEx, UPS, or USPS weekend or holiday schedules.  If we determine that what you ordered could be damaged if it is on the road for too many days, we may hold your order until we know it will travel uninterrupted once picked up from our warehouse.  For example, an order received on a Wednesday afternoon that we see would be on the road for 3 business days might need to be held until the following Monday so that it won’t sit somewhere over a weekend.”

Isn’t that amazing?! But wonders were not about to cease!

Your order has been shipped and we want to provide you with an update on your final charges. As is our policy, your shipping charges have been reduced to reflect the actual shipping cost.

Yes! Shipping turned out to cost a dollar less than I had paid, so they gave me my dollar back!

That’s it. I love GermanDeli.com. You should too. Go buy all their stuff. For example, you might enjoy knowing that they have 22-ounce jars of Nutella.

In case I haven’t made myself clear, I love GermanDeli.com. All I ask is that they sell everything ever made so I can buy it from them.

P.S. Some of the runners-up for Best Thing Ever include actors reading lines from Jersey Shore as if they were written by Oscar Wilde, those churros I had in Spain, having a friend I’d trust with anything, and, of course, Perry the Platypus.

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Friends and Foes: November

This was fun to write last month, so here’s a new installment in the what-now-must-be-a series. Apologies for the slight delay, but here are my friends and foes in the month of November.

Friends

Asakusa. Wouldn’t you know: Fort Wayne, Indiana has a superb Japanese restaurant. This is especially shocking because Fort Wayne previously had scarcely any creditable food at all. But Asakusa supplied udon as good as any I’d had and other fixings; my father’s sashimi came on a preposterous wooden boat, too.

Having Thanksgiving on a Friday. Not only do you have an excuse for not shopping, but there’s also less awkward day-after-Thanksgiving griping about the food! Actually, by a weird twist of fate, this year I had Thanksgiving dinner on Friday and leftovers the day before. There can only be one explanation: I am in control of time-travel technology.

Barack Obama. Okay, this is not about politics. This is not about Obama’s governance. I just had a thought the other day: there has been no Obama sex scandal. How hard is it to be a politician and keep your pants on at the appropriate times? “Oh, come on,” you say, “it can’t be that hard.” But then there’s Herman Cain, paying off his mistress for thirteen years behind his wife’s back; Newt Gingrich, having an affair behind his wife’s hospital charts; Anthony Weiner, getting a little too intimate on Twitter; John Edwards, pulling a Newt Gingrich; Mark Sanford, running away to Argentina; Eliot Spitzer, hooked on hookers; John Ensign, paying off those in the know; and who was the last Democratic president? There are more or less three major politicians around today who still have squeaky-clean sexual records: Mitt Romney, probably because he was born without the part of the brain that loves things; Ron Paul, because he’s Ron Paul; and Barack Obama, who’s youngish and dashing and has a great smile and more power than he thinks he has but keeps his belt buckled. So until we find out what Barry’s having on the side, I think it’s appropriate to say: kudos.

Sarah Nixon. My co-worker kindly reminded me about the existence of National Novel Writing Month exactly five days before it began, giving me just enough time to write a good outline. Just kidding: I figured out the idea for my story on the evening of October 30, and on November 1 didn’t really know the names or behaviors or relationships of any characters at all. I had to pause halfway down the first page to figure out the name of the person giving the opening monologue. This is what veterans of the write-a-novel-in-a-month process call “pantsing” (going by the seat of your pants), and I can now confirm that I did indeed successfully finish an entire novel in a month with no planning at all. Call it writing in the second degree. Thanks, Sarah!

This is what pretty much my entire month looked like.

Everyone who put up with me doing nothing but write a novel for a month, even if it meant waiting longer to get replies to letters or emails or requests for Christmas gift ideas. Seriously, folks. Thank you.

Foes

Patricia Ladd. Patricia was my nefarious archenemy in a slightly imaginary race to see who could finish their NaNoWriMo novel first. Patricia’s devastatingly devious device to defeat my dazzling debut was derailed due to a delayed day one, but she defied the disparity by devilishly discharging her drama with dizzying dispatch. In other words, I had a head start but she finished first. For that rough beginning, Patricia can blame an amazing wedding and a tactfully unblogged-about honeymoon.

Some English website that apparently was selling the complete Haydn string quartets and the complete Haydn symphonies for $5 each but they fixed the pricing error before I could get home from work and find out about it. But the people who did order in time actually got their copies sent to them at that price. Moral: I should shop more at work?

Amazon.com. For shipping all the Christmas gifts I ordered to my former address by default. Okay, I probably could have paid more attention, but I hadn’t had anything shipped there in 20 months. Why would that be my default?

Bud Selig. Thanks to the Houston Astros’ impending (2013) departure from the National League (NL), baseball’s two leagues will have an equal number of teams. That’s a worthy goal, but it also means that literally every baseball team within nine hundred miles of my home will play in the Artificial League (AL). Consider:

What the heck, baseball? Some of us do think that the designated hitter rule is just a subsidy for fat, old, creaky people who never learned how to be an athlete but expect to get a job in athletics anyway. (click to embiggen)

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