Literary aspirations


I suppose if anyone cares or has been keeping track, the absence of a parenthetical number at the end of my previous post gave it away. I fell completely off the blogwagon in early December. I am so behind that its no point trying to catch up anymore. So perhaps I’ll restart again. But not at this time. Too weary and teary and etc. etc. I didn’t even make it half way 😦  Not proud of myself but not overburdened with guilt either. Overburdened yes but not with guilt.

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Back in September last year I wrote about stepping stone projects and mentioned one that was in progress. Soon thereafter, sometime in October we (its a joint effort with a co-author) actually finished it and submitted it to the Journal of the History of Biology. Last night–or more accurately in the wee hours of this morning–I just received notice from the the editors that it has been accepted. True there are “minor” revisions suggested which are actually quite extensive but nothing that requires major rethinking or going back to the drawing board.

The paper is about the impact of electron microscopes the problem of defining viruses. While a stepping stone for me, it is quite the opposite for my co-author, who had written and presented a paper on the topic many years ago. Actually he was my co-author in my last stepping stone paper as well, but there our collaboration was a last minute thing. I was writing a paper and toward the very end found out that he had written one on a similar topic some 20 years prior. He kindly shared said manuscript with me and I found that our ideas were so much in synch that I asked him if he cared to join me in a renewed effort. He agreed and within 10 days we had the the paper ready for submission; a month later (Jan 2016) we learnt it was accepted–again with minor revisions except those were genuinely minor and after yet another month or so it was published online.

The current paper has had a slightly longer journey. Ton first sent me a copy of his paper very soon after the publication of our previous effort suggesting a new label/wine-skin for yet another vintage gathering dust in his unpublished archives. I set it aside then because of various other obligations, but wrote to officially revive it on August 30 because I was just beginning to embark on the chapter 6 of my book, which is where this topic was relevant. We broke apart his first paper and rebuilt it (except for one part which might have to become a second paper–albeit a spin-off in the future). This time around it took us closer to 2 months rather than 2 weeks. And the turnaround was 5 months rather than the less than 5 weeks window of the previous. Given that it’s JHB I’m sure everything from here on in will take even longer. But it’s a publication and in one of the premier journals in our profession.

One thing that took me much less time was adapting it for the book chapter… I managed that in 2-3 days I think, basically distilling the “good parts” (ringing any bells oh ye Princess Bride fans?) into a tenth of the size of the first submission.

This has been the first silver dot in a very dark could that’s been handing over me for a while now. Not yet a lining mind.. just a dot. But it brings to mind a song that I learned while in school in Fortaleza way back when. Something about a spark to get a fire going…

Arrgh… just when I thought I was on track to made good on my once a week blogging resolution to myself, I’ve fallen off the wagon again. In my defense I have been writing a lot–just not here. I was trying to get a paper done–or rather the revisions–done and submitted–which goal I sort of reached today. At least a version of the rewrite is now sitting in the online submission site of the journal. I just hope the results are closer to getting published .. will report on that in a few. days? week? weeks?…  not more than that, I can only hope.

Meanwhile I created a new category–to which I’ll quickly assign various past posts, because I realized how much I write and reflect on writing. Not always meaningfully–here for instance I’ve been mostly whining, but sometimes–but I recall even in my pre-blogging Dear diary-type days too I would look over something I’d written earlier and write about it. Not today though–today was just to acknowledge the fact that I’m behind.. and having done that, move on.  (#29)

And add some thyme to foods that rhyme? A writing-from-the-senses inspired title where I’ve combined 3 food items whose names imparted a certain rhythm and which I feel would be a good prompt to write …

Except that it’s been years since that I wrote those words down and nothing has been forthcoming. But something about them won’t let me delete the prompt and be done either. What can one do with those three things anyhow. Combine the first two to smoke the third, as in a hock of ham? Or how’s this to keep with the rhythm of the original rhyme?

Hickory Chicory Hock,

They all went into my stock.

When the stock was boiled,

The hock I broiled,

And poured it all into a crock.

Corny in the extreme, what? But it counts as writing (#30)

 

… you ever read, or at least that I ever wrote! Read on…

So, I found this creative writing exercise online and was intrigued enough with one of the prompts/stories to give it a shot.  One of the mandates seems to be to make it difficult to arrive at the end.. which it should have been anyway. Else why make someone do it? But for the caveat it reminds of the a word ladder game I used to play as a kid to go from one word to another changing one letter at a time. e.g. from black to white.

black to slack to stack to stalk to stale to shale to whale to while to white

Below are a couple of one-sentence stories. Each has a beginning and an end. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to insert six steps after each beginning, making it as difficult as possible for the characters to arrive at the end. Airline strikes, evil stepmothers, phobias – whatever you like. Just make them work for it.
 
A couple fall in love in the supermarket and adopt a tiger

I thought I try the word game for a lark by going from “adopt” to “tiger” but couldn’t think of enough words… I mean adopt can only become adept or adapt and I got stuck beyond that, and working backwards from tiger did not work either since I can’t even think of one word (Tiber? but that’s a proper noun) so on to the main task at hand…

Couple fall in love in the supermarket [I guess I don’t need to worry about flirtation since the falling in love is done already]

Step 1.

“When did you know” she asked. “When did you figure out I was the one ?”

“Sometime between the artichokes and the cheeses,” he answered.

“How did you know so quickly?” she asked.

“It was your tiger’s eye pendant,” he said. “It’s so unusual and it matches your eyes so beautifully–I figured anyone with such unique sense of style was my kind of gal. May I take a closer look?”

To his utter dismay those same beautiful eyes suddenly  filled with tears and without a word she turned and ran.

Step 2. “Hey what’s wrong” he shouted in consternation before following in hot pursuit. “That was a compliment!”

She didn’t answer.. only ran faster. But suddenly another figure appeared out of nowhere and made a grab for her neck. She tried to dodge but unsuccessfully. The assailant had clamped her neck too tightly from behind and was now determinedly trying to work the chain with the pendant off. With another shout Leon (the guy–we don’t know his name yet, so we’ll call him that for now) jumped on his back to pry the assailant away from her. They both fell backward and rolled over but when he came to his feet, there was no trace of her.

3. “Where is she?” he demanded fiercely at the same time as the assailant, yelled “Now look what you’ve done!” Without answering the question or waiting for an answer himself the assailant darted around a corner and… disappeared. Without a trace .. just like the girl, the love of his life. Though he didn’t even know her name.

Dejectedly he turned to pick up whatever meager belongings had fallen from his pockets in his scuffle,  when he noticed a small bag–the kind one gets at a jeweler’s though he wasn’t to know that–that presumably, his assailant had dropped. Pebbles, he thought feeling them, but then remembering her pendant opened the bag to see if there were more gems. What tumbled out instead was candy. Crystalline and glittery bits of sugar, that looked sort of like her mesmerizing eyes, but were leaving his fingers sticky. “Don’t..” he heard someone say the instant before he licked a sticky finger clean and also disappeared.

4. Elsa–that was her name–didn’t know his name either–and wasn’t sure  she’d be able to find out. Having made the first dash away as fast and far as possible to escape he would-be captor, she needed to make sure she hid and stayed hidden. And hiding wasn’t easy in for a tawny-eyed tigress wearing a fortune in tiger’s eye  around her neck. Going to the local zoo was not the answer–its how Sim had found her in the first place. And while he wasn’t evil.. he was a pest and needed her tiger’s eye as badly as she did. Well.. she wasn’t going to give it up … not without a fight. Especially now that she had found him. Whatever his name was. Trouble was without human help she had no way of either hiding or changing back into human form,  Baying at the moon–that was for wolves, she thought disgustedly. Even crooning to the sun, the preferred heavenly body for the leonine, had no effect. Whatever was she to do?

“Rest” she though wearily. “First I need to rest.” Furtively she slouched along the streets when near the Public library she looked up to two stone lions resplendent in their indifference to the problems of the world. “Close enough” she thought to herself and leapt up on one of them and sunk into the stone for a much needed nap.

5. When Leon–as we shall continue to call him–came to, he was in completely unfamiliar surroundings–a cross between hall of mirrors at a carnival or department store dressing room, and a cathedral with stained glass windows, except here all the windows were stained in the golden browns and deep bronzes.

“Where am I?” he wondered bewildered, and as if in response, he heard the opening chords of the Survivor’s song (what else?), The Eye of the Tiger!

“Get up, get up” he heard a voice say. “If you want to rescue yourself and your true love you need to fight your way out of this tiger’s eye chamber.”

Completely disoriented, he got to his feet and staggered into a boxing ring that had inexplicably sprung up right in the middle of the chamber. “That’s right” said the voice. “It’s like the TARDIS–bigger on the inside.”

“Inside of what?” he asked? Instead of an answer, what should he see but a beautiful tawny tigress facing him in the ring, the patterning of her stripes a perfect match for the light that filtered through? Elsa, for it was she, was as bewildered as he to find herself there, but she unlike him was was elated. She after all, knew who he was. Joyfully, in a single bound she leapt on top of him.

“Whoa!” he said in some consternation, and tried to roll away but she was too big and too strong and too affectionate.

6. And so began a romp the likes of which had never been seen in the tiger’s eye arena, then or since. There was shape-shifting and supernatural goings on as one might expect in a fantastical story like this one, and there was also a lot of sex, which one may not think appropriate to mention, but which both parties hugely enjoyed especially since the audience had long disappeared, and by then he too had become a tiger. Or at least sometimes. Since he was a tiger now, calling him Leon no longer seems appropriate, and we should probably reveal his name, Calvin. Which was great because Elsa’s full name was E. Hobbes. And as everyone knows, Calvin and Hobbes are a magical pair.

Enjoyable as they found their life in the tiger’s eye cave, it was also limited and soon they wanted out. But they had to pay a price. Either live in staggered shapes forever, or go in for adoption (if the alternatives seem strange, remember everything about this alternate universe was strange). Furthermore they had to pay a price for the adoption–the candy–without which they could never return to this wondrous cave again. With such agreements in place they went to collect their baby, only to find out it was a baby tiger!

So they adopted the baby tiger, although it grew quickly and didn’t stay a baby for long.Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.17.33 PM Everyday they take it for a walk. Neighbors are getting quite used to the sight of the tiger on a leash. Sometimes the couple take it out and sometimes it’s just Calvin with a tiger. On such days, but only if you look closely, you might notice something different. One cannot be quite sure, what precisely the difference is, but it is there. And if you walk by the library, you’ll notice that one of the carved lions guarding the entrance has one tiger’s eye.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.18.03 PM(#31)

 

A  bit of playing with the forms of two rhyming words that I have been using repeatedly over the part two months. Silly but hey I found it entertaining. Think of it as a Seuss-ian moment. Or a Nash-(via Ogden)-ly impulse:

A particle is an article, but an article may also have many particles.

One could have particular article but I am not sure if there is such a thing as an articular particle.

There are also particulate articles,  but articulate particles would be very strange indeed.

While an articulated particle is entire possible, I am not sure that an article can be particulated.

But an article might have a particularity where a particle cannot have articularity.

I could go on with this article which already has several particles (of information) but fear I am running out of my powers of articulation.

But not particulation … for it doesn’t exist!

And so ends this particularly silly article. [Full stop].

(#32)

A job application that I am down to the wire on in making the deadline wants me to write, in addition to the usual suspects–cover letter, research and teaching statements–a “statement of contributions to diversity.” And because I am having trouble getting started I thought it might help to free-think some ideas here (and get my weekly quota of blog writing up as well).

The main reason for my troubles with the statement is that I am not sure how to write something that won’t come off as whiny or strident, self-glorifying, trite or any number of other pejorative adjectives that I can think of in the context of the issue of writing about diversity. First there is a Duh! factor: which is that I contribute to diversity on any number of fronts just by being–I am a woman, a “mature” candidate (would I count as “post-mature” in the jargon of my social scientist colleagues I wonder) and ethnically an Indian. Even as I’m listing these features it occurs to me to create a new acronym, OBG–for “Old Brown Gal”–which just happens to bring to mind the “woman’s” doctor in medical science, the ObGyn (As I’ve said, equally sincerely in other blog posts, this pun or whatever wasn’t planned…it just happened, I swear). I also happen to be diabetic and while it does not affect my workplace activities or needs, it is still one of the featured conditions in the disabilities section of any Equal Opportunity/Demographic questionnaire.

Of course I can’t simply make that statement- “I contribute to diversity just by being” because not only is it trite, it is also simply not enough. Just being a minority does not do much, if anything, for the betterment of the community, and to be frank, I have never been much for identifying with a community based on one aspect of who/what I am. Furthermore the categories represented in the label don’t even begin to cover the gamut of issues on which we need diversity–which label is usually used for talking about women, Ethnic/racial minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBT cluster and increasingly religion. Age, which I included in the OBG category, is asked about for demographic purposes, but seems to…

~~~

Well I petered off at that point two days ago, but did manage to get the formal statement, and hence, the application completed. In the end I began by “outing” myself as an OBG, though I did not use that term. And the diversity I focused on for the bulk of the paper was linguistic diversity. Addressing the issues of ESL/EFL student support for one, and that of linguistic impoverishment (again, though I didn’t use that word) within academia and ways to address it. I also managed to sneak in some pop culture–outdated as it might be to most–with a reference to that old Adam West Batman movies. Holy Tower of Babble Batman! you might say à la Robin.  I thought it apropos, and hope the readers get a kick out of it. (#33)

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