For lists of topics discussed in these weekly posts, see the 2018 index. At the bottom of that page, there is an essay which introduces this writing project, entitled “2018: My Year of Writing Maximally.”

2018 Week 28: The Week Ending Saturday, July 14th

Paul R. Potts

Sunday

Today sort of got away from me, and it’s a quarter to midnight. We got a lot of small things done, and unfortunately failed to get a lot of bigger things done. We weren’t able to record a podcast today, so I uploaded an old one. A very old one, in fact: the first episode of The Potts House General Purpose Podcast, recorded at the end of summer 2008. The show blog post is here.

We had planned to record a show in which we talked about Asad Haider’s book Mistaken Identity. But we’ll have to delay that. I finished chapter 3 this morning and felt excited to talk about it, but I really needed more prep time, as well as recording time. But we’ll talk about that book on the show as soon as we can.

Since Grace has gone public, I now feel free to mention that we’re having another baby in December. In fact, the due date is Christmas Eve, although take that with a grain of salt, since Grace’s due dates usually don’t match very closely with the actual dates of birth.

We are also planning a show where we interview one of my college classmates about one of her books. More news about that to come!

This is a pretty poor showing as far as daily journal entries go, but I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and it’s time to go upstairs and go to bed.

Monday

I never did get any dinner last night. I just drank a large glass of water and went to bed. I couldn’t get to sleep for a long time, though. I had a hard time cooling down and relaxing. So I don’t think I got to sleep until after 1:30 or so.

I was a bit sleep-deprived this morning, but not as bad as I’ve been some mornings.

Our Small Successes

To try to encourage myself, I’m reminding myself of some of the things we did get done this past weekend:

When I type out all the small successes, it adds up… not too shabby.

We also had a visit from our friend Joy, which was a very nice but all-too-brief little break.

The Tham Luang Cave Rescue

The Thai cave rescue story is occupying my thoughts. It’s the perfect news story: a dramatic race against exhaustion, hunger, hypothermia, and rising water. There’s also absolutely nothing most of us can do about it. So, complete edge-of-our-set drama, while remaining entirely inert and passive. Perfect! As I write this, the latest reports I’ve seen say that eight of the 12 boys have been rescued, leaving just four boys remaining, and their coach.

I’m guardedly optimistic about the rest. The remaining boys might be the ones who did not seem up to the long, harrowing, and dangerous underwater swim. From what I hear, the pumping they are doing has made it so that some parts of the route are now walkable, which is good, but there is still a very long dive that must be accomplished with each boy tethered between two divers. Getting the last few out might be much more challenging, and I would not be shocked to learn that one or more doesn’t make it out alive. But still, I can’t look away.

I didn’t get any reading done this morning.

Evening

The Crack-Up

Grace had the kids out at a beach for the afternoon. They all got a bit of sun. Me, not so much. Shortly before I left work, I got a call from our housemate. She told me that one of the windows in our family room was slowly cracking as she watched. It was quite strange. I don’t know exactly what happened. My best guess is that one of the kids whacked the window with something, and it had a very small crack or chip. Then this afternoon in full sun, the heat stress caused it to come apart. But I’m not entirely sure.

When I got home, after stopping for gas, I found that the window was still in place, but shattered. I think it is made of safety glass. Hoping it would not actually come apart and send shards of glass all over the floor, I put a layer of blue gaffer tape over the whole thing. I guess we call a window repair company. I’m not sure our odd-job handyman guy can fix the window.

My co-worker Scott gave me some bike helmets. One of his neighbors was getting rid of them and he got them for our kids. So we have a couple of bike helmets in excellent shape.

Lots of chaos and noise tonight. The kids are argumentative. I hate walking into this arguments. Pipping keeps getting into fights with Benjamin and starts screaming. No one can complete a sentence. Grace is trying to ride herd on everyone and it’s evident she’s pretty sick of them today. She’s been trying to get them to do chores since they got back, or maybe before they left. Our housemate made sloppy joes for dinner. I unloaded the dishwasher and got another load on. I’m getting concerned about our water use, especially this weekend, because we did a number of loads of laundry to try to catch up. Michigan is getting close to a drought state. I don’t know if that will affect our well directly, but without some kind of “gas gauge” I don’t know how to tell if we are using too much water or not.

Benjamin has been complaining about his teeth. In particular he’s been saying that his teeth are loose. They aren’t loose, but we think he means that they are hurting him because he has some new cavities. So he has an emergency dentist appointment tomorrow morning at 8:30. It’s now 10:20. We can do this.

Tuesday

Last night at bedtime I read the kids a bit more of Down and Out in Paris and London, but we had to stop the story because Joshua and Benjamin were getting into some kind of screaming fight. Grace was up just past 7, and got Benjamin to his dentist appointment. It looks like he doesn’t have any new cavities, but he’s complaining because of swollen gums due to some kind of viral infection. There’s really no treatment to give him, except to give him some children’s Tylenol and encourage him to get some extra rest.

I was relieved this morning to hear that the divers in Thailand have managed to get all 12 kids and their coach out of the flooded cave system. It’s an amazing achievement. We should also always, when we think about this amazing rescue operation, remember Saman Kunan, the diver who did not live to see the mission’s incredible success.

Note added during editing on April 8th, 2022: today I learned that a second rescue diver, Beirut Pakbara, died of an infection contracted during the rescue operation, over a year later.

Wednesday

The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen, with an Introduction by S. T. Joshi

I had a treat waiting for me: I received my copy of The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen, a story collection from Centipede Press. I got this via Alibris from Zeising Books. I’ve bought books from them a few times and the books they send are always in immaculate condition and nicely packaged. This is a very pretty book, and appears to be well-made. It’s a massive collection, over 700 pages of Machen’s stories. I am not really familiar with his work.

“The White People” by Arthur Machen, in The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction

I started reading his story “The White People” after the bedtime story. It’s frankly quite discursive and philosophical, with a framing story, and uses the old-school “secret manuscript revealed” storytelling device. Since I was already sleepy I realized that I had bitten into a story I couldn’t finish before falling asleep, so I’ll have to try again another time.

Note added while editing on April 8th, 2022: in 2020 I recorded a live reading of this story accompanied by ambient music. It is a bit flawed, but you can find links to the resulting audio on my Hodgecast blog here, at least for now. I hope to eventually consolidate all my podcasts episode descriptions onto my own web hosting site, rather than continuing to use Blogger.

This is the first book from Centipede Press that I’ve owned. This volume is priced, I feel, reasonably for a well-made hardcover ($40.00). Some of their other books? They ask for, and apparently get, serious collector coin. I want to support them by buying their books, but at the same time I don’t really want to encourage that model of printing limited editions made to be collected and not read. The first Centipede Press editions I ever heard about are their fancy editions of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun volumes. Those are scarce and quite expensive; a copy of Claw of the Conciliator is listed on eBay today for $419.99 (but hey, free shipping!) So I suspect I will never own that set.

There are other Centipede Press volumes I’d love to own, though. There’s a volume of William Hope Hodgson’s stories, as part of that “Library of Weird Fiction” series, but it’s out of print and copies on eBay are going for almost $200.00. There are volumes by Fritz Leiber, R. A. Lafferty, Haruki Murakami, Theodore Sturgeon, Algernon Blackwood, and John Fowles, but when I look at the prices on the secondary market… I can’t even. Although their Weird Fiction Review series looks interesting, and copies don’t go for crazy money. Unless you want the older ones. Damn.

There’s a lot to be said for publishers like the Library of America that work to keep all their books in print.

Hmmm, while I’m browsing, I note that Subterranean Press has a novella by Greg Egan I want to read, called Phoresis. And they’ve got a couple of trade paperback volumes of the collected stories of Robert Silverberg. Can we please sell our Saginaw house soon, so that our money situation is a bit looser, and I can buy a book or two a month without feeling like I’m being irresponsible with money? Pretty please?

Anyway.

Things were chaotic last night when I got home, and the family room and kitchen were fairly well trashed, so Grace and I basically retired to the bedroom to read and surf the web for ninety minutes or so while the kids did some of their chores. For dinner Grace had only really gotten as far as starting a pot of rice. We both had this idea that we wanted to eat Thai food, but with so little cooperation from the kids we couldn’t make that happen. So we had a Costco salad kit and basmati rice topped with cashews and an assortment of other toppings. I mixed in some hot lime pickle with one bowl and added sriracha to another. Rice, cashews, and hot sauce makes a pretty good dish in my opinion, although for this I think we should have used brown rice. It was not exactly Thai, but it was quick. We were not able to fully clean up because the dishwasher was still full of dishes in progress.

At bedtime story time, three of the kids were still busy having their own story. So we had Sam, Joshua, and Elanor and I thrashed around a bit trying to figure out what to read them. I didn’t want to continue Down and Out in Paris and London without Veronica. I have been trying to read the kids more of A Wrinkle in Time — I think I forgot to mention that, and now I don’t remember which nights I was attempting to read it. But we keep getting derailed by fights or tantrums or yelling before I can finish a chapter.

“The King of the Elves” by Philip K. Dick, in Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick, with an Introduction by Roger Zelazny

I finally settled on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “The King of the Elves.” That’s an interesting story because it has a very mundane setting, but “low fantasy” elements. In fact, it seems like it might be a prototype of the recent Urban Fantasy sub-genre.

It cries out for a movie adaptation. Unfortunately, it looks like such an adaptation has been stalled in development hell for some time.

We’re all itchy from what seems like it might be a low-grade case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. Fun!

Wednesday Evening

Controlling an MX Instrument with LabVIEW

I made some good progress on LabVIEW code today. I finished writing a sample/demo program for controlling the MX series of instruments using a DLL from Silicon Labs. (Background: I wrote most of the firmware for this series of instruments, including the code that implements support for remote control.)

This is not a finished program that does something useful with the instruments, since it just turns on and off the red, green, and blue LEDs, but it is something we can send to customers to show how they build on the included library of code to write their own LabVIEW programs to send commands to these instruments, poll for a success or failure response, and read values. One of my favorite parts of the job is working directly with customers to help them get the instruments to do what they want. Sometimes I’ve been able to add requested features very quickly and get the customer a software update to try, sometimes on the same day. That’s one of the benefits of being the business unit’s entire software team — there’s not much overhead preventing me from making changes quickly and getting a new feature out for a customer to test. If it works out, I will later roll the changes into the next official software release on the company web site — but there’s overhead for doing that.

When I got home the driveway was full of people milling around and gawking, because our housemate’s boyfriend had a flat tire. I’m no mechanic but I was able to help him a little bit. The jack that came with my car was a little larger and sturdier than the one that came with his car and so worked better. The wheel was rusted on, but fortunately we happened to have a rubber mallet which was just the thing. I could bash on the wheel without scarring it up, and loosen it up enough to allow me to pull the wheel off.

While I was finishing up my program at the office Grace was standing in an aisle in the GFS (Gordon Food Service) store up the road texting me about dinner plans. She proposed baked potatoes and a salad, and I thought that sounded great, but wanted to add a protein of some kind. Grace has been having a hard time with reflux (and I have, too) so really we’re both feeling cautious about our meals. I can put cheese on my potato but some of the folks in the house can’t really tolerage any dairy. So she got some bacon crumbles, and we’ve got a little bit of leftover salmon and leftover shredded beef. So that will be dinner.

Sam has been reading The Complete Cosmicomics and I realized that I haven’t actually finished all the stories in that volume. So maybe tonight I will try reading the kids another one of those stories. I don’t think the kids are going to really enjoy “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen, although Sam has been asking me if I would read more Crime and Punishment. We also never finished Oliver Twist. Those may be better for long winter nights.

The potatoes are done and the kids are getting the table set.

Thursday

Last night’s story didn’t work out. I got a load of dishes going, and hand-washed a few things, but the kids didn’t follow their cues to get ready, so by the time I was ready to read a story, only Joshua was ready to listen to one, and he hadn’t brushed his teeth. So we sent them on to bed.

“The White People” by Arthur Machen, Continued

Grace sat up doing some things on her computer for a while. While she did that, I read more of Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” When she closed up her computer, I continued to read the story aloud to her for a while. It’s a pretty intense story. The writing style is remarkable; in this section of the story, we’re hearing the journal of a 16-year-old girl from the early 1800s. I’m not sure about the voice, but the flowing, stream-of-consciousness style is remarkable at the sentence level. Machen eschews paragraph breaks in this section almost completely, like Joyce did in the final chapter of Ulysses. Here’s a bit of the text I read aloud last night:

I tried again to see the secret wood, and to creep up the passage and see what I had seen there, but somehow I couldn’t, and I kept on thinking of nurse’s stories. There was one I remembered about a young man who once upon a time went hunting, and all the day he and his hounds hunted everywhere, and they crossed the rivers and went into all the woods, and went round the marshes, but they couldn’t find anything at all, and they hunted all day till the sun sank down and began to set behind the mountain. And the young man was angry because he couldn’t find anything, and he was going to turn back, when just as the sun touched the mountain, he saw come out of a brake in front of him a beautiful white stag. And he cheered to his hounds, but they whined and would not follow, and he cheered to his horse, but it shivered and stood stock still, and the young man jumped off the horse and left the hounds and began to follow the white stag all alone. And soon it was quite dark, and the sky was black, without a single star shining in it, and the stag went away into the darkness. And though the man had brought his gun with him he never shot at the stag, because he wanted to catch it, and he was afraid he would lose it in the night. But he never lost it once, though the sky was so black and the air was so dark, and the stag went on and on till the young man didn’t know a bit where he was. And they went through enormous woods where the air was full of whispers and a pale, dead light came out from the rotten trunks that were lying on the ground, and just as the man thought he had lost the stag, he would see it all white and shining in front of him, and he would run fast to catch it, but the stag always ran faster, so he did not catch it. And they went through the enormous woods, and they swam across rivers, and they waded through black marshes where the ground bubbled, and the air was full of will-o’-the-wisps, and the stag fled away down into rocky narrow valleys, where the air was like the smell of a vault, and the man went after it. And they went over the great mountains and the man heard the wind come down from the sky, and the stag went on and the man went after. At last the sun rose and the young man found he was in a country that he had never seen before; it was a beautiful valley with a bright stream running through it, and a great, big round hill in the middle.

It’s remarkable. There are not that many pieces of prose that I would really say invoke a “dream-like” state in the reader. For me, some Joyce does it, some Woolf does it, and some E. R. Eddison does it. This story by Machen definitely does it. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but it appeals to me.

I did come across a noticeable typo, though, probably an OCR error, in the Centipede Press text. (There could be more, but this is the only one that I noticed.) A line that should have read

her eyes shone in the dark like burning rubies

instead read

her eyes shone in the dark like burning rubles

Man, Vladimir Putin is influencing everything these days, apparently. But seriously — this text is in the public domain. Couldn’t they have cross-checked the text against the Project Gutenberg e-text which has undergone their “distributed proofreading” process and does not have these errors? (It has been a long time since I worked on it, but for a time I was a contributing proofreader, fixing OCR errors).

I noticed some interesting words. The story-within-a-story uses the words “voor” and “voorish” which appear in Lovecraft’s stories, and also in the odd and fascinating Radix by A. A. Attanasio.

The full text is available here.

A Lack of Sleep

We got to sleep by 12:30 or so, but about 5:30 Elanor woke up and started yelling at us. Grace had me get up and get her a bottle of water, and then refill it. I was in the middle of deep sleep and had a very hard time waking up, but after turning on lights, I was very awake. I considered just getting up and getting ready for the day, but it seemed like a bad idea because I’d be trying to do a full work day on about five hours of sleep. So I tried to go back to sleep. It took me a long time to get back to sleep, and I woke up feeling very groggy. So I’m honestly not sure if I made the right decision. I’m not sure what is going wrong this week, but Grace and I have been constantly tired, and every bedtime has been a nightmare with the kids. Maybe we’re all fighting a virus?

We’re getting on towards a drought situation here in Michigan.

Friday

I left work relatively early last night, just after 6. That always results in sitting in slowed and stopped traffic for an extra ten or twenty minutes, and this commute was no exception; that’s one of the reasons I like to leave later.

When I got home, Grace was out getting her hair done. I didn’t have it in me to do much of anything, so I actually wound up taking a brief nap, interrupted a few times by the kids. When she got home Grace made some latkes with leftover shredded potatoes and we had some other leftover stir-fried cabbage and greens. We didn’t finish them all, and Joshua packaged up some of the greens for me to take to work today for lunch. Naturally I forgot. I’ve just been spacey and tired. We’re simply not getting enough sleep. The boys are keeping us awake for one to two hours past the point when we send them to bed. Elanor’s been waking us up one to two hours before the time when we actually wanted to wake up. The combined effect is exhausting and demoralizing.

The kids keep begging us to watch videos after dinner, but they have blown off all their chores until after dinner, so there’s simply not time left after we get the table cleaned up, floor under the table cleaned of food, kitchen reasonably well cleaned up and dishes taken care of, the boys’ bedroom brought up to at least a minimal state of readiness, and everyone’s teeth brushed. We’re starting dinner with the kitchen and bedrooms and family room trashed. Much of that could have been done hours before I get home, but they procrastinate all day, and so they get no video, and some nights they get no story either. I’m perhaps too easy on them, in that I really don’t want to withhold the story, because I enjoy it and it’s one of the few things that I get to do regularly with the kids.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Chapter 6

Last night’s story was the rest of chapter 6 of A Wrinkle in Time. This chapter is odd in that it doesn’t break when you think it will. It covers the visit with the Happy Medium and continues right into the first part of the children’s visit to Camazotz, right up to the point where they are about to go inside the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building (no, that’s not a typo; it really is written out as CENTRAL Central Intelligence in the book).

We talked a bit about the differences between the book and the movie. In the movie, as I’ve groused about endlessly in my endlessly revised review, all of the scenery on Camazotz as well as the people are fake news. The red-eyed man is a puppet. The children and parents seem to be illusory. This effectively makes it so that the only living beings on Camazotz are the children, Meg’s father, and IT.

The stakes in this conflict are thus lowered, as there is no possible threat to bystanders from the confrontation with IT. It detracts from the moral complexity that L’Engle was presenting, where in a battle of good and evil, if you defeat the evil, a lot of ordinary people, people who may be collaborators but may also be just trying to survive, may very well be harmed, and this can’t be simply fantasized away. It’s part of what I see as the appalling simplification of the story.

“The White People” by Arthur Machen, Concluded

I also managed to finish Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” It’s a justifiably celebrated story: strange, gorgeous, and unnerving. Although as with many weird tales that use a framework story, I’m left a bit baffled by the framework story. The long conversation at the start about the nature of good and evil doesn’t seem to really make all that much sense in the context of the revealed story inside the framework. I’ll have to think on it, and maybe read it again when I can better concentrate on the text. But the story-within-the-story really is a thing of beauty, even though it suggests much more than it clearly delivers.

Friday Evening

I went to Costco and got our usual salmon, a huge box of diapers, some salad, some fruit, some chips, and a few miscellaneous things like a paleo cashew dip (odd but pretty tasty). When I got home Grace had made rice, but she was not feeling well and so was hiding out in our bedroom. The kids had not done much cleanup and had not even put away food that was left out. So we were nowhere near ready to eat. I was frankly pissed off. It’s the same every week. We could have just put away the food from Costco, cooked the salmon, thrown together the salad, and had our meal. But instead we had to do a lot of cleanup first. I had planned on serving twelve, but our guest family was not here. So we only had seven eating. There were a lot of leftovers to put away and a lot of kitchen cleanup.

Babylon 5 Season 1, “And the Sky Full of Stars”

The kids have been begging all week to watch videos, especially more Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu episodes. But it was well after 10 before we had a dish load running and the kitchen ready for Saturday breakfast. So I just put on Season 1 Episode 8 of Babylon 5, called “And the Sky Full of Stars.” It’s quite an episode — it covers some of the same territory as the In the Beginning movie. Sinclair starts to learn some of the details of those missing 24 hours when he tried to ram a Minbari ship and was captured.

Babylon 5: The Gathering (1993 TV Movie and Series Pilot)

After “And the Sky Full of Stars,” I put on the flip side of the In the Beginning DVD (it’s a double-sided DVD with two movies on it), and we watched The Gathering, which was the pilot for the series. There are a few noticeable differences. The doctor is played by a different actor than in the series, and Delenn’s makeup is quite different. The plot centers around an attempt to assassinate Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador. But mostly the plot just serves to introduce the main characters, and shake them up to show us how they behave under stress.

Saturday

Elric Books Received

Last night I received four books in the mail. They are four of the recent Michael Moorcock Collection volumes from Gollancz, which attempt to bring most of Moorcock’s body of work into a consistent, coherent, and edited edition. The Elric stories fill seven volumes and I’ve ordered all of them. They are dribbling in — apparently rather than put all seven in a box and ship the box, the seller decided to put each book in a separate mailing envelope.

I’ve received:

Still to arrive are:

You can find a list of all these editions on the Moorcock Multiverse Wiki here. It’s unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to be a web page from the book’s publisher that explains the collection.

Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories is the first of the Elric books and the first of the whole Michael Moorcock Collection series. It collects the earliest Elric stories (in their “in-universe” chronological order, not the order in which they were written). This volume allegedly fixes error and inconsistencies in the texts. For example, when reading the my old paperback copy of Elric of Melniboné I noticed that “The Ship That Sails Over Land and Sea” is called “The Ship That Sails Over Both Land and Sea,” (emphasis mine), but only the first time the phrase is used. That’s fixed in this book. Presumably there are many other minor changes like this.

So far I’ve read the introductions and a story, “Master of Chaos,” which seems to happen very early in the chronology, as a sort of creation myth, and helps explain, at least a bit, Moorcock’s conception of how story “order” emerges from chaos. It’s not a bad story, although it leaves me scratching my head a bit. Maybe it will make more sense later on. Next up is a graphic novel in text form, called Elric: The Making of a Sorceror. What does that mean? A graphic novel without graphics? It’s the “script” for a graphic novel, a sort of panel-by-panel description of the drawings, with dialogue that presumably went into the word balloons. It’s a bit like reading the screenplay of a television show. I’m not entirely sure why it’s in here; I guess this is where it fits into Elric’s chronology. The graphic novel is actually available, and copies aren’t scarce or expensive, so maybe I’ll order a copy at some point.

One of the introductions is a terrific and funny essay by Alan Moore, which gets at the way that Moorcock fit in (and didn’t fit in) with the fantasy reading and writing community of London in the 1960s and 1970s. Moorcock also describes his influences, and how he became a sort of “genre-surfer,” tailoring the genre to fit the story, wherever the story led him. That’s a bit mind-blowing. I can’t assess that claim very well because so far I’ve read so little of his work, but it does help explain the Cornelius books (which, unfortunately I didn’t really enjoy, but there is other Cornelius material that I might enjoy more). The Moorcock rabbit hole goes pretty deep, and I’m intrigued, although I’m not sure I’m quite ready to take the red pill and follow it through dozens of volumes.

I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do today. Since it’s 2:00 p.m., I guess that means we’re doing it, and have done a good part of it. I was up fairly early and made bacon and blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Only a couple of the kids were up to eat them, so we just left the rest on the table. Elanor has abandoned breastfeeding and is eating all sorts of food, so we’re trying to make sure she gets a decent variety of things down her gullet (I think if she had the choice, she’d eat only bananas), and stays hydrated.

Speaking of hydration, it’s going to be miserably hot out all weekend, although it is supposed to cool down a bit next week. Michigan is drying out and we haven’t had rain in weeks. With no working air conditioning in the truck — I haven’t fixed it because I’m holding off on any big expenses, as we have big house-repair bills coming up — we’re not going anywhere, at least not anywhere far away. Maybe we’ll go see a movie. Grace is not feeling very well, although better than she was last night. I’m not sure what we’re going to do about Mass and the podcast. We have some guests lined up; other people are willing, but we’ve got to get our act together.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Discussed This Week

This list does not include books, chapters of books, or other works that I only mentioned briefly in the text above.

Pittsfield Township, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, July 14th, 2018

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