Tag Archives: works in progress

Swiss Cheesiness

Well, hello there.  Sorry to be away so long, but lots has been going on behind the scenes — including some exciting news regarding Project Blue Harvest, which I promise — promise! — to reveal shortly.  Hang in there.

In the meantime, I’m coming to you from the Hotel Royal in Geneva, Switzerland, where the clocks all say 8 in the morning, but my body, despite my best efforts, is still trying to say it’s 2 am.  Barb is here for meetings at the World Health Organization (an intimidating marble structure that somehow mysteriously repels non-science types from its stern facade like Damian from the church door) before we leave this evening for London, where she has even more meetings over the next several days.  Once in London, however, I have some work to do, visiting two key sites related to Project Blue Harvest, and conducting an interview with An Amazing Person. Looking forward to it? You bet.

We spent yesterday driving from Geneva to Lucerne — about three hours by car — to have lunch with friends and stroll the streets of the old city. It made for a long day — by the time we returned to Geneva, we calculated we’d been up for 31 hours — but we love driving in foreign countries and meandering down back roads to see those places a bit off the beaten path.  Plus, when GPS technology makes it so easy to find your way back again, there’s really no good reason NOT to try to get lost for a while.  And believe me, I’m good at getting lost.

This morning, while Barb attends her meetings (she stressed to me that she is attending meetings, not a conference, as I kept exhausting her with a lame Geneva Convention joke), I’m catching up on e-mails, trying to keep up with the newspapers (apparently, there was some sort of soccer-related thing that all of Europe was interested in yesterday), and generally soaking up All Things Geneva, which includes enjoying a cup of Nespresso. Because George Clooney says I should.

Oh, and apparently in Switzerland, the “C” on the faucets means “hot” while the British pound sign thingy means “cold.”  Gotcha.  Lesson learned.  In the shower.

California Dreamin’

It’s confirmed:  Agent J and I are flying out to L.A. in early March for a meeting we’ve been working to schedule for some time.  No, we’re not discussing movie options for Washington Irving (though I still argue it would make a great HBO movie); rather, we’ll be discussing a potential new project.

I can’t say too much about it yet, but if we can make everything come together, it’ll be very cool indeed.

Stay tuned.

There’s Always A Nerd Table

The conversation I had with one of my sources yesterday — I always think of them as “conversations” rather than “interviews” — went spectacularly well. If this project pans out, and this is any indication of the caliber of people I’ll be dealing with — self-deprecating to a fault and bone-dry funny as hell — then this is going to be even more fun than I already thought it would be.

One of the best lines of the day came as we were talking about a particular conference that she and her fellow [AWESOME OCCUPATION REDACTED] attend each year. “Even all these years later, it’s still a small enough group that we mix together well,” she said.

“Ah. So, no Cool Kids Table, then?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said, then squinted in thought for a moment. “No, but there’s always a nerd table,” she said. “Always.

Don’t Go Away, I’ll Be Right Back . . .

I’m working under a deadline this week — as well as preparing my background materials and interview questions for another source for my work in progress — so I’m stepping away for just a bit. But I’ll do my best to be back here before the end of the week.

In the meantime, just because I think it’s funny, here’s video of Senator David Vitter of Louisiana — on the floor of the United States Senate during the debate on the auto bailout bill — struggling to use the term “bass-ackwards” and completely botching it.

Checking through the Congressional Record, I see some diligent staffer has gone through and cleaned up Vitter’s words for the official record of proceedings, removing from the speech any mention of the word “ass,” as well as Vitter’s bumbling attempts to come up with the right turn of phrase. Here’s the official transcript of Vitter’s speech, as it appeared on page S10844 of the December 10, 2008 Congressional Record (and you can follow along with the video above at the appropriate point):

Well, my reaction to that is pretty simple. I think the average American would say: What? Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? $15 billion, and then later, after that is out the door, we will see a detailed restructuring plan? Secondly, even more important than that, it means that the impetus, the pressure to make that restructuring truly fundamental, truly to the core, which is absolutely necessary for these companies to survive, that pressure is not nearly as great as if we held the money until that detailed restructuring plan was presented.

What? You didn’t realize the Official Record could be edited and revised? I’ll talk about that some other time, then.

Have a good week.

Hello, I Must Be Going…

Next week, I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from blogging while I do a bit of poking at my Work In Progress (which I still can’t talk about, but if and when I can, I’ll explain everything). On Monday, I’ll be interviewing a source for several hours, then heading over to the Library of Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, it’s a little thing called Thanksgiving; on Friday, I’ll nail my butt to the chair and do some keyboard pounding.

Meanwhile, to tide you over, here’s a bit of Groucho Marx, bidding you farewell in Animal Crackers:

See you soon! Be good.

Another (Relatively) Clean, (Somewhat) Well-Lighted Place

It’s official: I’ve moved into the new office space.

Just to review, we spent this summer retrofitting our 1930s-era farmhouse for a geothermal air conditioning and heating system, a labor-intensive activity that required us to move nearly everything out of our basement and attic storage spaces. In the process of sorting through the mess, we decided to change the function of several rooms in the house; namely, my upstairs office, just off the master bedroom, would become a large walk-in closet, and we would move me into the front room of the basement, previously the most cavernous, oppressive, and generally yucky space in the house.

We spent the last few weeks steam cleaning and waxing the tile floor, priming and painting the walls, hammering down baseboards, sewing curtains, hanging drape rods, skooching around furniture, unloading book boxes, and rewiring electric and phone lines. There was a brief setback — as I noted earlier — when we discovered some leaky spots in the fireplace that had suddenly decided to go nuclear, but with a bit of KwikPlug, we’re bone dry again.

As a reminder, then, here’s what the area looked like before the conversion, albeit with a cleaned and waxed floor and the beginning of a coat of primer on the wall:

And here it is now, in a photo taken from roughly the same place in the room:

It’s funny the things you surround yourself with. The stuffed bear you see on the mantel behind the desk was a gift my daughter Madi gave me about seven years ago, when I had just started to work on Washington Irving and became sick from a scorpion sting. She named the bear Washington, and he’s one of my Very Favorite Things — so there’s something reassuring about having him there looking over my shoulder as I work.

To the right of him, you’ll see two gifts from my wife, the first a short box where I keep a row of fountain pens, and then a stamp collector’s box where I hold all my assorted stuff, like pens, ink, stamps, wax seals, and stationery. Centered above the mantelpiece is a framed watercolor of Sunnyside, given to me by my mother and stepfather to celebrate the weekend I spoke there. Sitting on the desk, just out of sight on the left side of the picture, is a Snoopy telephone I’ve had since 1983, and in storage since about 1996. It was nice to break him out again.

The desk I’m using here is just an old farm table that once served as a dining table in my first apartment. It’s a lot smaller than the desk I was using in the old office, but that’s because given the space in the basement, I could essentially split my work area into two stations. If you sit at the desk, then, and look to your left, here’s the secondary work area — right next to the cabinet with the TV and DVD player I use solely for research purposes, I assure you:

The table is already cluttered by my writing desk, where I’ve tossed the journals and binder with my preliminary notes on my potential work in progress. You can also see the . . . er, adult beverages on the TV cabinet, and, on the shelf to the right,the ceramic Milk Bone jar our dog Abbey already strolls down the stairs to stare at, hoping to psychically force me into opening it and feeding her. It usually works.

Mounted to the ceiling is the ductwork for the new heating/cooling system. I decided to leave it exposed, rather than having it boxed in. I’m still trying to decide how well I like it.

Finally, looking to the right of the table and down the long wall, is the main reason I’m so thrilled to be moving to the basement: there’s finally enough room to put up my bookshelves and unload most of my books. The shelves are strictly IKEA, but the ability to quickly move shelves up or down is what makes it such an ideal system:

I’ve still got a few things to put away, but I’m finally back in business.

And now it’s back to work — once I shoo everyone out of here, that is. It’s already become one of the most popular rooms in the house. Not that I mind.

Friday Freeforming

I had a great time last night speaking at the Goshen Historical Preservation Society. The crowd was responsive, the food was good, and we even moved quite a few books. All in all, a successful event, and I couldn’t have asked for nicer hosts. My thanks to the GHPS and to all who came. I had fun.


Fall has officially arrived here in Maryland. After weeks of temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s, we’ve finally settled down into a much more autumnal mood. The trees have known what time of year it is all along, though, and have gradually, almost sneakily, been skewing their internal tint knobs over to orange and red and dropping leaves all over the lawn. It’s nice. I’ll miss tending my lawn and the flower beds, but getting the fall weather and fall color is a completely fair trade.


If you’ve been following this blog for a while now — and by god, why wouldn’t you be? — you know our house has been in complete and utter disarray for the past three months as we worked to retrofit our 80-year-old farmhouse with a modern geothermal heating/cooling system. As I reported several weeks ago, the system is up and running perfectly — so we’re now in the process of taking everything we moved out of the attic and basement to make way for the HVAC crew and putting it back. This gave us a perfect opportunity to sort through the clutter and get rid of some junk and, more important, change the function of several rooms.

You have to understand, our house has been added on to several times over its eight decades, expanding from the original one-bedroom/one bathroom farmhouse into its current hodgepodge of many odd-sized rooms. Some bedrooms are barely larger than closets, while others look like handball courts. A bathroom twists its way around the backside of a kitchen pantry. The upstairs doesn’t match the downstairs, and there are no real closets to speak of.

That sort of non-conformity is actually very freeing, in that it’s let us come up with some interesting functions for the various rooms and nooks and crannies. The upstairs room that once served as a makeshift kitchen, then, became my office several years ago. It’s a long rectangular room, only about eight feet wide — which was just wide enough for me to cram a desk and a bookshelf in one end of it. Our plan now is to move me out of the small office into the newly-organized basement, where I’ve got more room for bookshelves and all the random junk I like to collect. Knowing that I’m not much longer for my old office, then, I have adopted an I’ll put it away after I relocate attitude with my space. Thus, my normally tidy little office now looks like this:

Yes, it’s awful — like a Nerd Bomb went off, or something. Anyway, our task this weekend is to begin moving me out of that space, and into this one:

This is the front room in our basement — previously one of the yuckiest spaces in the house, but now gleaming with a new coat of wax on the old tile floor (notice the compass rose built into the middle of the floor — a nice touch that was almost invisible under the 50-year-old coat of gunk and grime we scrubbed off) and shouldering an incomplete coat of primer as I prepare to give the old panelling a coat of paint (a tough call, but the room remains very dark otherwise). The fireplace doesn’t work — the chimney needs to be sealed — but it’s a nice room, and with the new heating system, it’s the most comfortable room in the house.

There’s still a lot of work ahead — including running some new electric and telephone wiring — but our plan is to have the room ready and up and running by the end of the month so I can get back to work.

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday Afternoon

Sorry to miss you here yesterday, but I was at the library. And not just the library, but the library — the Library of Congress. I spent most of yesterday hunkered down in the Periodicals Reading Room of the Madison Building doing some research on my current work in progress — which is still in a way too scattered state for me to announce anything yet, sorry. At the moment, I’m just poking.

I love the Madison Building. With its stone pillared facade and drab interiors, it doesn’t have the old world charm or glamour of the Jefferson Building, but it makes up in substance what it lacks it style. You can wander the halls and the reading rooms freely — provided you have your library card, of course — and lots of books and reference materials are readily available without having to submit a formal request that can sometimes take a while to process before the book hits your desk.

The Periodicals Reading Room is an efficient, businesslike space. One end is crammed with row after row of shelves lined with hardcover indexes to more major metropolitan newspapers than you can imagine, as well as guides to public documents, Presidential letters and papers, and the Congressional Record. Tucked up just behind these shelves are tables for reading and research, and some angled desks where you can spread out older documents or manuscripts.

Dividing the room up the middle are several rows of cubicles with computers. Signs at each cubicle warn readers that these computers are Strictly for Browsing the Library’s Electronic Catalog, but most readers were quietly checking e-mail or watching YouTube videos — but with headphones on, I noticed, so as not to disturb those around them. (One patron was even playing what appeared to be a online version of Donkey Kong.) There’s also a small area for making photocopies — and you’ll need to purchase one of the library’s copy cards to do so.

On the other end of the room are tidy columns of filing cabinets full of microfiche versions of major newspapers like The Washington Post, New York Times, the London Times and Wall Street Journal, some dating as far back as 200 years. In fact, the files for the New York Times date all the way back to September 18, 1851, starting with volume 1, number 1, when it was the four-page New-York Daily Times. This is where I spent most of my day, shuttling armfuls of microfiche boxes from the cabinets back to my microfiche reader back in the far corner.

A microfiche reader is one of those really interesting old-school pieces of equipment that still works just as well today as it did a generation ago: simply load the film onto an overhead spool, flick on the light switch, and the image is projected onto the white surface below. Need to advance a page? Turn the crank on the side, and the image spins past. When you’re done, handcrank with all your might to reload the film on the spool. Efficient? Not really. But it works.

The only real problem I have with microfiche is that, even as I whiz the pages past, my eyes tend to try to follow each page. So I spend hours with my eyes quickly flicking back and forth, which makes me feel somewhat seasick by the end of the day. Suffice it to say, I staggered out of the library at 4:00 looking like I’d just stepped off the Pequod.

Random Abstract

It’s a beautiful day here in Maryland this morning — 70 degrees, lightly overcast, and one of those days where you’d really like to spend the morning in bed with the window open, enjoying the breeze and listening to the birds chatter.

But I can’t.

Some random bits today:

The HVAC crew is back at it again today, working hard to bring us into the 20th century, and maybe even a bit into the 21st.

I read this piece over on WendyC’s Writes in the City blog — providing some pointers she learned at the Southampton Writer’s Conference on how to present your work — and thought they were all dead on. For my part, speed is my enemy. I can talk at about 30 words per second, and slowing down takes a conscious effort on my part. I was on a radio show in Santa Fe earlier this year, and after asking me the first question, the deejay looked up at the clock in the studio to check the time. As soon as I saw that glance at the clock and became aware of the time, I was finished — I talked a mile a minute for the next 26 minutes (that would be 26 miles, if you do the math — a verbal marathon on my part). When we were finished and the deejay went to commercial, he flicked the red light off, looked up at me over the top of his glasses, and said simply, “Wow.”

Oh, and I started poking at a proposal for book two this week, too.