It Is Finished

Okay, it’s Sunday.  Two days past when Advance closed up.  I have been sore all weekend.  I hate to admit it, but I’m just not used to that level of intense physical labor anymore.  Weight lifting does not compensate for it.  Strong enough?  Certainly.  Ready for seven straight hours a day of hard lifting?  Not on your life.

But it’s done, it’s over.  We dismantled the entire lab.  This included two Kreonite paper processors, a Kreonite C-41 film processor, and E-6 film processor, some 14 enlargers, a mounting press, a slide mounting machine, stainless steel sinks of various sizes, counter space, tables, oversized trimmers….

I’m getting tired just listing it.  Suffice it to say that we were a full service photographic lab, with all that entails.  There was very very little we couldn’t do.

Yesterday (Saturday) I did virtually nothing.  All day, I basically sat around.  I read a little bit, Donna and I had a few conversations, we napped.  Nothing of any major effort.  Then we went out for a celebratory dinner.  Donna left it up to me and I decided on Franco’s, down in Soulard.  A friend of ours works there, Angela, and when I called she answered.

We sat on the patio in back, in near perfect weather, and indulged in a gourmet delight.  Explaining what was the cause of our celebration to Angela, she threw in a few extras that really added.  Especially at the end, when, after ordering our desert, she came out with another waiter in tow bearing two more desert plates on the house.  Excellent.  Well worth it.

We took Coffey for a walk when we got home, because just sitting around would have been inadvisable.  We were stuffed.  But not so stuffed as to be in pain.

Wonderful day.

Today, we went to our Dante group—of which Angela is also a part—and had a good session.

Donna and I are agreed, if even remotely possible, I am not going back to a day job.  Not unless it is extraordinary.  Certainly not in a lab.

So I have a summer of making things work ahead of me.  I worked at Advance for 12 years, about 10 years longer than I’d intended.  The last 4 have been hell.

I’m still recovering from a few muscle aches and bruises.  Tomorrow is Monday.  Tomorrow the new work begins.  For now, I am contented to know that I am home.

Last Week

Today is the first day of work for the last week I will be employed, at least employed at Advance Photographics.  I have, as you might imagine, mixed feelings.

Interesting phrase, that.  Mixed feelings.  If they were truly mixed, mashed together as it were, would we be aware that there are several feelings, some conflicting?  Wouldn’t it be one feeling of a particular alloy?

Be that as it may.  I have mixed feelings.  I have never particularly wanted to work there.  As is my habit, I have tried to make the best of it.  I’ve liked most of the people with whom I’ve worked there over the last 12 years.  I mean no disrespect to any of them when I say that I’d rather not have worked there long enough to know them.

Not that I didn’t get a lot out of it.  Advance paid off our house.  I was able to continue doing photography on some level by using the place as my own lab.  I’ve made my first halting steps into digital photography from there.  It made possible certain things that were clearly not possible otherwise.

But it is a testament to failure on my part in many other ways.  Just the fact that I have been forced to keep that job means that I have not succeeded at the thing I want to do, which is writing.  For a few short years, I thought my goal was in hand.  Between 2000 and 2003, I thought I was on my way.  But then everything collapsed, and the sudden spurt of novels appearing between 2000 and 2005 came to an end, as did two of my publishers, and the third one did not make enough money on my last novel to entertain buying anymore.  Those of you who may read this blog regularly are well aware of all that.  I made a nice little piece of extra change during those years and it helpd in many ways, but until the house was paid off it was never enough to allow me to quit a job that I had come to despise.

Not for any reason other than what it symbolized to me.  Oh, like any job it had good days and bad, and occasionally I was really pleased with the work I did.  But the fact remained I didn’t want to be there.

But I am not a quitter.  It’s not in my nature.  If I accept a task, take on a responsibility, I may not perform it as well as others, but I do not quit.  Sometimes to my regret.  But this is part of who I am.

So I have stuck it out to the end.  Digital overwhelmed the wet-process, “traditional” photofinishing industry, bringing in changes much faster than we expected.  That stove in a goodly part of our business, certainly reduced my job.  Till the point where what used to require six to eight people now took two, one of them part time.   Nevertheless, we were holding our own, according to the boss, until October, when the economy really went into the crapper.  It was obvious to me what was happening, but I wasn’t going to quit.  I was curious to see how long this could last.

When Advance opened its doors in downtown St. Louis, we had at one time 23 or 24 employees, all busy, most working overtime, with one or two part time people besides.  We had a fulltime delivery driver on staff, two salesmen, three color printers, two black & white technicians, etc etc etc.  Including the boss, there are now five of us, and only one of us is getting any overtime—the digital tech.

So this coming Friday is the last day.  I intend drawing unemployment and writing for a year or so.  I don’t know what is going to develop.  I have plans, of course.  For one thing, paradoxically, I’ll be putting on my very first gallery exhibit in July.  Fortunately I have all the prints already.  We’ll see how that goes.

I have projects mapped out, so it won’t be a question of not knowing what work on.  But the question of how to sell it remains.  I’ve recently had a long conversation with a close friend about that, how the concern over money can utterly sabotage what you do, what you try to do, always second-guessing yourself, thinking oh, this is crap, this won’t sell, and not finishing or even starting on something that very well may be just fine, except that you’re looking at it with the wrong lens.  To a certain extent, I’ve never really had those kinds of doubts about my novels—I’m not doing anything so outre and experimental that no market exists, but that only makes it more frustrating for me, wondering why the books won’t sell.  Perhaps they’re too ordinary, but I doubt that as well.

But as I said, I am not a quitter.  In this regard, I may be exhibiting a profound intellectual fault, not being able to recognize the futility in something.  But I doubt that, too.

I may post something this coming weekend on the Last Day.  Stay Tuned.

Truth and Power…and Other Stuff

On Dangerous Intersection, an article was posted recently about the problem of Power in relation to truth.  I wrote a response and decided to post it here, as a short essay on the (occasionally etymological) problem of Truth.

When people start talking about what is true or not, they tend to use the word like a Swiss Army knife.  It means what they want it to mean when they point at something.  Truth is a slippery term and has many facets.  Usually, in casual conversation, when people say something is true, they’re usually talking something being factual.  Truth and fact are conjoined in many, possibly most, instances, but are not the same things.  The “truth” of a “fact” can often be a matter of interpretation, making conversation occasionally problematic.
The problem is in the variability of the term “truth”—like many such words, we stretch it to include things which are related but not the same.  There is Truth and then there is Fact.  2 + 2 = 4 is a fact.  It may, if analyzed sufficiently, yield a fundamental “truth” about the universe, but in an of itself it is only a fact.

When someone comes along and insists, through power (an assertion of will), that 2 + 2 = 5, the “truth” being challenged is not in the addition but in the relation of the assertion to reality and the intent of the power in question.  The arithmetic becomes irrelevant.  Truth then is in the relationship being asserted and the response to it.  The one doing the asserting and the one who must respond to the assertion.

Similarly, in examples of law, we get into difficulty in discussions over morality.  Take for instance civil rights era court decisions, where there is a conflation of ethics and morality.  They are connected, certainly, but they are not the same thing.  Ethics deal with the proper channels of response within a stated system—in which case, Plessy vs Fergusson could be seen as ethical given the criteria upon which it was based.  But not moral, given a larger criteria based on valuations of human worth.  To establish that larger criterion, overturning one system in favor of another, would require a redefintion of “ethical” into “unethical”, changing the norm, for instance in Brown vs The Board of Education.  The “truth” of either decision is a moving target, albeit one based on a priori concepts of human value as applied through ethical systems that adapt.

Bringing this into the realm of religion, it gets tricky.  Because the concept “god” can be formulated according to personal criteria that have only desultory relations with what we might call Fact (for instance, “god” can be seen as purely a philosophical notion identifying certain characteristics of human response to the sublime as well as characterizations of personal assumptions about states of being which cannot be derived by deductive reasoning), to make the claim “there is no god” is functionally devoid of truth.  The best you can say is “there is no god for me.”  If I acknowledge, for example, that my “god” is purely a mental construct I carry around inside to allow me to function according to a set of precepts, your claim that there is no god is merely opinion, just as unverifiable or testable as my assertion that there is.  The “truth” lies outside those opposing statements, which are really trying to establish fact in a realm of ideation.  Conversely, to say “there is no god but god” can only ever be a personal statement of belief, unattached to any factual content.  The truth is personal, disconnected from material fact.

(Agnostics and atheists get into a lather over the validating quality of religious documents, and contest the “facts” stated in the Bible and other tomes, claiming that because these facts do not conform to reality, it invalidates the assertion that there is a deity behind them.  All it really does is take away the material foundation of religious claims—belief remains a personal choice.  This is no mere equivocation.  Finding Truth in this quandary is difficult at best and finding proper expression for deeply held beliefs or disbeliefs drives political discourse.)
Likewise, then, you get into the difficulty of determining moral behavior as opposed to the simply ethical based on these personal apprehensions.

Power introduces a third element that distorts all sides of the Truth/Fact, Moral/Ethical discourse by rendering all elements subject to arbitrary force.  The force is a fact and may well establish an ethical ground, but it will always have a tenuous (at best) relationship to Truth and Morality.

Power should always be suspect and expressions of it always discounted in considerations of truth, even though expressions of power are difficult to ignore.  For instance, the legal power of a religious state may well assert its right to put someone to death for a lapse in religious expression.   This in no way establishes the truth of the verdict or the guilt of the victim in moral terms.  This is no more than power asserting itself and demanding conformity.  But the discourse becomes thoroughly distorted by the acknowledgment that certain expressions may not be uttered.  While within the strict confines of the system in question, the death penalty may be construed as ethical, in a larger context (the innate value of individual thought and expression of conscience) it cannot be construed as moral, even though the state in question claims adherence to a moral dictum.

Teasing these elements apart is essential in deriving a sane methodology of community.

De Stael Conference

This past weekend I attended an intensive three-day workshop on the apparently much debated, highly-regarded Germaine de Stael.  I audited this because Stael (pronounced, according to these folks, Stahl) is going to be a central figure in my alternate history.

Well, not “going to be”, she is, but so far she’s been mostly in the background.  In the second book, she will be onstage, although in slightly bizarre, nonhistorical form (this is SF after all), but in the third book she will be central—my protagonist will be in her entourage from 1797 until her death in 1817.

Germaine de Stael nee Necker was at one time one of the most popular and well known intellectuals in Europe.  After the fall of Napoleon, the quip was made that “there are three powers in Europe now—Russia, England, and Madame de Stael.”  When I began researching her, I had no idea.  Never heard of her.  I was told this weekend that in France, she is still widely regarded and talked about, but here in the U.S.A. I’d never heard of her until an odd paragraph in a Napoleonic biography—which did little to illuminate just how significant this woman was.  (I’m particularly annoyed at the short shrift Simon Schama gave her in his otherwise marvelous history of the French Revolution, Citizens.) Well, this is the sort of thing that feminist writers are always complaining about, and rightly so.  Napoleon’s ultimate fall can be directly laid at Germaine de Stael’s feet—she brokered the Grand Alliance that defeated him (the first time).

(She was instrumental in keeping the Republican spirit alive even in the face of Napoleon’s destruction of everything the Revolution had aimed at achieving—and largely missed, to be sure.  She was a networker par excelence and a philosopher of the first water.)

In that she will be a major character in my trilogy, I wanted to know as much about her as I could find out, and through the machinations of internet serendipity I found a blog that led me to a woman who is a specialist on Stael and  got me invited to attend this conference, which fortuitously was held at Washington University right here in my home town.  It may be two years before the material I gathered will be required, but the conference—only the Second International one, the last held 11 years ago—was now, so I had to go.

Very worthwhile, extremely informative, I have a wealth of data to work on and several contacts who will gladly answer emails, etc etc, and maybe even one or two new friends.  My head feels stuffed to bursting.  My thanks to the co-organizers, Karyna Szmurlo from Clemson University in South Carolina and Tili Boon Cuillee here at Washington University.

I say all this up front because I want it clearly established that 80% of this conference was worth the money and the time and I am delighted that I went.

One problem.  And this is an academic problem.  It has always annoyed me in books, but this weekend I ran into it in lecture form and it just, well…

At least four of the presentations and virtually all the direct quotes in the course of two and a half days of lectures were done in French.  Without translation.  I was apparently the only person out of about 35 or so attendees that could not speak or read French.  I did not make a fuss—what would be the point?—and I ended up blaming myself for never have acquired another language, especially when one lecture was conducted partly in Italian as well.  I missed what were evidently excellent talks through being hopelessly monolingual.

But what really annoyed me was that in two or three of these instances, handouts were passed around containing the major quotes from the lecturers, and these were likewise all in French.  No translations.  I have the papers, I have at least three friends who can read them to me.

As to the rest, well, like I say, it was excellent and I have much to work with.  So it’s a minor complaint, really.  I sat there, expression neutral (I hope), feeling stupid, and said nothing, then or later.

This practice really annoys me in history texts.  I wonder if it is done that way in other languages—say, for instance, a book published in Brazil and written in Portugeuse, but with direct quotes in another language without benefit of translation.  I realize Americans are notoriously monolingual, but I doubt everyone everywhere with an interest in history is multilingual.  Making that assumption is, forgive me, rude.

At the final banquet, we were treated to an address by another scholar who is working on a book about the French experience in North America, and he began the talk in French, and I thought  “shit, not again…”  But he switched to English after a few paragraphs and the rest of the speech was fine.

The thing that really bothered me about not understanding the French parts?  I missed the jokes.  Sitting there, listening to the musical meanderings of the presenters, all of a sudden the room would erupt in laughter.  I didn’t get it.  Obviously.

But.  I think now I ought to go to work on the alternate history.  I feel charged up now.

What was also nice was the reception by these folks of the idea behind my novel.  You know, you’re never sure how that’s going to go over.  But generally, there was sincere interest and a little excitement.  Even the suggestion by one of the organizers that when I finished the project, perhaps I could come to a future conference and read from the novel.  Well.  Not too shabby.

I am thoroughly mentally exhausted, though.  I am not a formal scholar and “keeping up” can be something of an effort—a lot of assumptions get made and acted upon in such a narrowly-self-defined group.  But I managed to “decode” enough that I kept up and even, finally, contributed a modest remark or two.  All in all, really great stuff.


Once upon a time…

I had pretensions long ago to be an Artist.  I still dabble.  I stumbled over a sketchbook the other day.  These are some of my abstracts.  Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.
NeuronapathyWinnersTongue of Empire

Neuronapathy, Winners, and Tongue of Empire.