The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cat vacuuming? I don't even have a cat!

Last Thursday Mrs Early took a well-deserved long weekend away. I'm well within deadline on my next book, but well behind my unofficial target for it, so a few days on my own might seem to be a good time to go at the writing full tilt. The only other things I definitely had to do was fill in my author comp tickets form for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and pick up two pet gerbils to look after while young Master Early & his beloved swanned off to a Greek island for their well-deserved break. I duly picked up the Early vermin on Sunday, in good time to pop a can of Pepsi Max and chomp Doritos while watching England v Germany in the World Cup. No gloating from me - one of our neighbours had a German flag up, but I wouldn't do such a thing. Enough of my family and friends are England supporters for me to feel a twinge of sympathy for the fans if not for the team, as well as a twinge of that feeling the Germans have a word for. Through the open window I could hear singing. Is 'Deutschland Uber Alles' still the German national anthem?

How-evah ... whenever Mrs Early is away I feel a strange, guilty urge to do something that will impress her when she gets back, and these days ironing her work uniform isn't enough. Besides, I was still smarting from having exposed to the world the state of my workroom, on my very own shiny new webcam at that. Before she left I'd mumbled something about tidying the workroom.

But, you know, first things first. Back to Friday morning. There was writing to be done. One kitchen floor wash and one cooker-hob cleaning later, interspersed with occasional updates on the state of the world as mediated by the blogosphere, I was fit for nothing but finishing reading Iain Banks's The Steep Approach to Garbadale, a worthwhile project in itself. Smelling faintly of whisky and household cleaning products, I went to bed at the crack of dawn on Saturday.

I woke up ready to tackle the workroom. I began, logically enough, with the teetering stacks of books. Turning these into stable stacks with the spines facing outward led to the rediscovery of books I'd forgotten I had. Some of these I'd picked up in charity shops on the off-chance. I had to pause to consider whether each one should be added to the stack just outside the workroom to go to the charity shop. Sometimes I had take a quick look inside, just to check. Did you know that Journey to the Centre of the Earth is really quite good? For one thing, it's got one heck of an opening hook.

Then there were the books I'd read, and appreciated. But. If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity, or school metaphysics, for instance The Penguin Guide to Modern Theology, Vol 3: Biblical Criticism, let us ask, would I ever want to read it again? No. Commit it then to the charity shop.

(You see how I did that? I couldn't lay my hand on A Treatise of Human Nature so it's just as well I never chucked out my copy of Language, Truth and Logic, which quotes that passage. Otherwise I'd have been looking for the Hume book all day. Oh, there it is, on the inner stack on a bookshelf.)

So much for the books. Now the magazines. There's the stack of copies of New Sceintist from 2008-2009. That stack was the result of a previous tidying. No problem. Move the stack into the hallway and ring up the school librarian on Monday, to see if she wants them. (She didn't. Anyone?)

And that leaves the heap of paper and jiffy bags and plastic bags and cardboard boxes (empty) in the middle of the room. It swirled before my eyes like a pool full of sheets of paper and plastic bags does when it swirls. I started by pulling out all the empty boxes, and the grubby jiffy bags, and the cardboard, and putting them all in the biggest box. And then there's the packing material and the plastic bags. An entire bin-bag's worth of balled-up newspaper that someone used as packing material. Time for a coffee, and time I checked my email.

The heap took days. Hot, humid days. The trouble with the heap is how it accretes. The process starts with the workroom tidy, and new magazines and mail and kipple severely excluded from it, instead piling up on the end of a dining-table bench, on the coffee-table, under the ... anyway. The workroom is tidy. Then someone comes to visit, or we have a party. All of this gets swept up in armfulls and carried upstairs and stacked in the workroom. And once there's one stack, it gets added to. Then there's another stack. Then they fall over. Then I do my tax return. Then there's a heap.

So sorting through the heap involves lots of new and exciting discoveries. And decisions. What on earth is that Sunday supplement from 2005 doing there? Was there something interesting in it? I scan it carefully to check. Nope. But by now it's practically a historical document. A museum piece. Can you believe people dressed like that back then? A shame to ... nah. Into the recycling bag with it. Oh, so that's where that form went! They still owe me for that talk ... Eventually I have a stack of magazines I want to keep, and everything else. This eventually becomes a stack of proof pages, typescripts, conference and con programmes and notes (several new paperbacks from the goody bags go into the charity shop pile) and everything else. I go looking for a box to put the everything else in, and find all the boxes are full of all the packaging stuff. I take that to the garage, because you never know.

Then I see the box of author copies of The Restoration Game, all of which are spoken for. Good grief! I'd better get in touch with all the people mentioned in acknowledgements, and ask for their snail-mail addresses so I can send them their copies.

So now I have an empty box (and a neat stack of copies waiting to be sent, but I'll get round to that in a day or two). I put the unsorted kipple in the empty box, and that's it done. I check the stack of books for the charity shop, remove a few items including The Penguin Guide to Modern Theology, Vol 3: Biblical Criticism from it and put them back on the new neat stacks, and take the remaining dozen or so books to the charity shop. I managed not to buy any more books while I was there, though it was a close thing.

Then I whizzed around with the hoover, admired the wide open spaces of the workroom, and ironed a work uniform for Mrs Early, due back that evening. I picked her up at the airport late last night, after I'd been in and out of town for the City of Lit salon evening in the Wash Bar, where Nick Barley, the director of the Book Festival, announced their new Unbound programme of free evening events. I remembered that I still had to fill in my author comp tickets form. I took the Unbound programme and the Filmhouse programme home with me and laid them carefully on the end of a bench in the dining-room.

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I was thinking you were going to say how you managed to lose the gerbils you were looking after. I'm glad you didn't!

A typical day in the life posting. Nice to know it's not all fancy restaurants and expensive hotels when you are a published writer with a nice backlog :)

Items accumulate (worst thing I found in a tidy up was an unpaid bill for a large amount 6 months overdue). You sound like a well trained housekeeper (my wife almost trusts me to most of the chores but I haven't reached that exulted status yet...

Hi Ken---The melody of the German National Anthem is still the same: something by Haydn. The words are now changed. The Anthem begins with something close to "Freedom, Unity, Brothership....".

I enjoyed your reference to Hume's famous words about what ought to be done with obscure and ponderous metaphysical/theological texts: the exact phrase is:
f we take into our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Consign it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

This text about books and flames is as incendiary as were the old words of the Third Reich's Anthem.

Hi George - 'Deutschland uber alles' (which isn't really the title) was originally a revolutionary democratic song and was adopted as the German national anthem under the Weimar Republic. Lots of details here.

Thanks Ken. I have been meaning to learn more about German history for years. That Wiki was helpful. I have also been meaning to reread Hume.

Loved the bit in this post about taking removing the book from the charity shop stack. Just moved into a new place in Seattle with wife and dog and it's only 60% the size of previous home. Was strongly urged (by both wife and dog) to substantially reduce library. Was not very successful in this endeavor. Did find some slightly more efficient ways to store the least frequently accessed volumes though -- my idea of a compromise.

Oh Ken, this post made me laugh so much. Now if only you could teach your dear son about ironing uniforms...

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