Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Agony and the Ecstacy of Computers

My husband gave me an Apple computer for my coming birthday. Make that coming birthdays -- plural. It's a restored Apple, thus more affordable, but we don't buy computers everyday. It's supposed to be as good as new, and I'm hoping this is true.

Now, my husband has always been the expert I consulted for problems with my old PC. He works on a PC and has for years and years, and knows tons of information for when things go wrong. But even he was stymied by the last problem I had. We took it to the shop, and the man there told us it was clean, no viruses, but even HE could not fix the problem. Instead, he offered to buy it so he could use the parts. (That says something about the PC's state of being, despite years of loyal service.) I felt guilty, as if I'd sent it to the glue factory.

But then I found I was getting an Apple. None of my writing friends has EVER had problems with an Apple. No one my husband knows has ever had problems with an Apple. (I suspect this motivated him a little: the fond hope that I would not be showing up at his office door, a sad look on my face as I uttered sentences that usually began with, "My computer just....")

Since neither of us has ever had an Apple, though, we are embarking together on a journey of demystification over the instructions. I'm armed with a copy of "Macs for Dummies" (after reading the author's assurance that no one in that series really thinks the reader is a dummy). We have lots of little instruction booklets for various software alwready installed or to be installed. At the moment, my Internet favorites, my pictures, and my word documents are on a flashdrive, along with my Outlook mail, all awaiting downloading. (Thanks goodness for Hotmail.) The Apple layout is different, to say the least. When I check out icons and navigate around various sites on the Apple, it feels a little like showing up for Spanish class with a French grammar book: Yeah, there are basic similarities, but there's a world of difference.

So presently I'm working from my husband's "back-up" PC; the one he can use if his main one is in the shop for any reason; the one I could use when my old one was in the shop. This whole transition thing, has left me a bit up in the air. I am avidly reading "Macs for Dummies" in the hopes that I will soon be whizzing around with confidence checking e-mail, Internet favorites, and word documents with no problems. No problems at all. Cross fingers.

What about you? Have you ever had to make the transition from one computer to another? If so, how long did it take? Who do you consult when things go wrong? Or are you one of those lucky computer users where nothing goes wrong at all?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How is a Novel Like a Sonata?

The other evening my husband and I were listening to the classical station when a piano concerto by Cezar Franck came on -- one I remembered from years ago. All through it, I kept whispering, "Wait, it's coming." I was referring to a favorite passage that seemed a culmination of everything that came before it, each note leading up to that musical moment. Then I thought, This is what we look for in a good novel, isn't it: The moment, when, as a reader, you realize, "Yes, this is how it had to be, this is what had to happen." That feeling of inevitability.

So I started wondering about other parallels between writing and music. (I'm comparing western classical music and the traditional novel. There are many other forms of either.)

For one thing, there are different types of sonatas, much like novel "genres". The overall sonata form follows a basic structure. In What to Listen for in Music, Aaron Copland explains that ever since the eighteenth century, "the basic form of almost every extended piece of music has been related in some way to the sonata." He goes on to say that a symphony is a sonata for orchestra; a string quartet is a sonata for four strings; a concerto is a sonata for a solo instrument and orchestra; and most overtures are in the form of a sonata's first movement. (Similar to mystery novels, sci fi novels, literary novels, etc.)

As for the basic form or structure of a sonata, it's usually comprised of three or four separate movements. The first starts briskly and is the "exposition", the "set-up". The second is usually a little slower; the third is moderately fast, and then the fourth fastest of all. In the case of three movements, the third would be the fastest. In either case, the last movement contains the climax of the piece and its resolution. This is similar to the "three act" structure of a novel (beautifully explained by Lydia Kang in her post of November 3rd: http://lydiakang.blogspot.com/2010/11/three-act-plot-structure.html ), where the first "act" sets up the situation, the second confronts or opposes or slows down endeavors, and the last "act" is where the climax and resolution occur.

In a sonata, you have themes and variations on the theme, and they are all related to the piece as a whole -- similar to the main plot with its subplots, or the main character and supporting cast. All have to work together so that the work doesn't seem disjointed. Each musical theme has to follow the "logic" of each movement. In other words, it has to make musical sense. Likewise, in a novel, all the subplots have to tie into the main plot, and the characters can't seem superfluous.

The themes rise and fall and repeat within their own movement, balancing each other, and supporting the sonata's (or novel's) development. Throughout the structure, there is a play of point/counterpoint, (think protagonist/antagonist). And, of course, there must be movement throughout, a musical equivalent of drama to keep a listener engaged. (We all know what happens to a book when a reader finds it boring.)

So, the next time you hear a sonata, think of it as a type of musical novel with a plot and subplots pulling you in, rising to a final revelating, and leaving you to mull over the story long afterward.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Writer's Work

This is going to be short, because I'm leaving for a four day trip in about 30 minutes, and won't be able to blog again before Tuesday.

But, I've been reading a wonderful book by Donald Hall, author of The Oxcart Man, about the nature of work for an author--or a painter, or a musician; for an artist of any field. The name of the book is Life's Work, and he makes a distinction between chores (those things that need to get done and don't require thought), labor (often one's paying job), and work. He makes the case that work (for an artist, anyway) is that which engrosses one's complete attention and focus, that which one feels called to do and cannot not do. It's a beautiful book, and I haven't finished it yet. It's a memoir, of sorts, a memoir about his life's work.

I love that concept of work. We writers often feel hard to justify what we are doing, really, at the computer for long hours. It doesn't look like work to others. And it certainly isn't a chore to us. We do it often without pay. We wouldn't think of not doing it. We're thinking about it, even when we aren't at the computer or the notebook. We are always at work on a WIP, one way or another.

So, now, when someone asks, "What do you do?", I can answer, "I work."

What about you? Are you "at work" on your WIP even away from your tools of trade?