19th July 2013
This week I received the final copy edit from my publisher and some instructions in computer-ese about how to work the programme I would have to use to leave my own comments. The first thing I do when I encounter phrases such as, "make sure your tracking function is on," "create a comment balloon," or push the "stet" button for anything you want to keep, is I panic. It's the same kind of panic that used to happen in high school maths class when Mr. Logie was striding up and down the aisles telling us if we messed our graph paper up we would be in big trouble because graph paper is expensive. This was the same maths teacher I handed over my hard-earned money to for a non-slip compass, because he was selling them and I badly needed to butter him up. My efforts to win him over couldn't work, however, because my brain froze whenever I came within ten feet of a maths problem. Likewise any computer speak. But I did finally figure out the instructions and did make the necessary changes to the copy-edit. These people (copy-editors) have an eagle eye and catch all kinds of spelling inconsistencies, and actually go to the trouble of looking up dates I refer to in the text (and I did get one wrong.) There were a couple of minor things they didn't catch, and that would be the kind of thing that makes it into print and has readers shaking their heads and saying, "How is it possible for a book from a reputable publisher to have typos?" This is why - two people have gone through this final cut, and then so have I, but I can imagine there lurks somewhere among the pages one of my spectacular spelling mistakes (like "finally wrought," instead of "finely wrought" - caught that one!) I realised I had a spelling problem when I wrote a paper once at university on "The Critique of Pure Reason," by Immanuel Can't. It must have something to do with being bad at maths, a lack of being able to see things precisely.
Along with a famous writer's festival each summer in Aspen, there is also a two-month long music festival. This morning I was listening to "Bruch's Violin Concerto," and thinking (afterwards) about the difference between being moved by music as opposed to a piece of literature. My conclusion is that it is a question of the degree to which the brain engages. The spectrum of human creativity, with science and maths at one end and music at the other, stretches along the line of intellect. I think it was Wallace Stevens who said, "A poem should almost successfully escape the intellect." In that regard, music should entirely miss it. Not that it has no inherent order, it's just that it makes no appeal to the intellect (except for modern music which has lost this vision and asks to ponder itself.)
I am currently reading Marilynn Robinson's 1980 book, "Housekeeping." It's an odd book, because the narrator is barely fleshed-out at all, and consequently it is a strangely disembodied experience moving through Robinson's story. That said, there are some astounding sentences and series of sentences in this book. I'd argue, though, that too often, you feel as though you are grappling with Marilynn Robinson's brain rather than the heft of the images themselves. She's a good writer, though not as good as her famous pupil, Paul Harding (whom I promised I wasn't going to mention again - perhaps he has to fade gradually from the picture like a water colour kept too long in the sun.)
Back to this idea of music as the apotheosis of human creativity - perhaps this is why I envy musicians and if I could have a parallel career it would be as the conductor of a Philharmonic Something-or-other. Of course, then I'd be obliged on occasion to conduct the music of some composer I hate, like Benjamin Britten (the celebrated composer of this year's Aspen Music Festival!) I once had to sit through Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and it was an experience akin to William Wallace's being strapped down and having his intestines ripped out by a larger-than-life hook (at least, in the movie.)
So, perhaps I should stick to words, my own words, and leave conducting music to those with more eclectic tastes.
My book "Veil of Time," is now available for pre-order at Amazon US or UK. A published writer friend of mine claims that this is the nice quiet before the storm of reviewers hits. But let them at me! I have endured worse, not William Wallace's fate, but Mr. Logie's maths class!