‘Tis Folly To Be Wise

The past two weeks, getting the MS ready for the printer, have been ridiculous.  Here’s a future topic: Software Hell.

Software wasn’t the only thing keeping me up at night.  There was also the fact that I had set myself a deadline for submission to the printer, which meant that I needed to stop rewriting and polishing.

There’s a true line in Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Bottom, for all his faults, is a true artist, and urges the rest of the players, amateurs all:  Take pains.  Be perfect.  This has been my mantra lately, but I finally had to stop, and uploaded the novel last Friday.  They said they wouldn’t start to set it up until Monday or Tuesday, which meant that over the weekend I looked it over, made about a dozen changes, and resubmitted it Monday morning.  Then, today, the sun was out and the world was warm and inviting, so I got out on the mountain bike.  The trouble with kinesthetic activities, especially ones in the woods, is that narrative solutions pop into my head.  Called the printer as soon as I got home; they were just about to start working up the proofs.  Stop the presses!  One necessary addition and one absolutely essential change were made, and now it is out of my hands.

An exhausting two weeks, but today’s topic is really Bishop’s Castle.

Mr. Bishop’s castle is a major folly about 80 miles south of here on nothing but scenic byways, so it makes a great scooter run, especially in September when the aspens are turning gold.  I hadn’t gotten out of town on the scoot all summer, and I’d been thinking about follies in general lately, so a friend and I headed down on Sunday.

A folly, according to Oxford’s American is ‘a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, esp. a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.’  They’re mostly an English phenomenon, but we have them here in the States as well.  Mr. Bishop has been picking up and setting down rocks on a piece of private land within the San Isabel National Forest for longer than I know.  The highest tower must be somewhere north of a hundred feet tall.  I can’t begin to estimate how many tons of rock are involved in the whole structure.  He’s got a Bobcat skid-steer loader there now though, which I’ve never seen before, and that’s surely been a help.

It’s been a few years since I was down, and he’s really been making progress.  Used to be, he’d be working away quiet as a clam until you asked him about it, and then you might get more than you cared to hear.  Sunday, it was more like Speaker’s Corner in London.  He was going on about freedom, and the government, and what one man has built with nothing but his own two hands, without anybody even really listening.

One thing that people tend to ask me is how long I’ve been working on the novel, and it’s a tough question to answer.  Originally, in 1985 or thereabouts, I had an idea about a farmboy who develops a sort of schizophrenia as a result of the alienation he feels while living in New York City.  It would have made a fairly dull and unsatisfactory read, very Existentialist and serious, but luckily the necessity of keeping a roof over my head kept me too distracted to ever finish it.

I would return to it, fitfully, over the years, except that each time I did so, I found that the characters were less and less willing to do what I wanted them to.  It got rewritten any number of times, but never finished.  On the plus side, each new attempt taught me more about how to write, and each new version added a few more pieces to the puzzle.  Finally, just a few years ago, looking it all over once again, I found that the characters had sorted the story out all by themselves, and were waiting impatiently in the wings for me to write it down.

While writing his first set of string quartets, Beethoven, who was terribly addicted to walks in the Vienna woods, had a similar flash.  He wrote to a friend that he had just discovered how a string quartet should be; not a piece for first violin with string accompaniment, as quartets had always been written, but a ‘conversation among four reasonable people,’ in which all participate equally.  It took until the opus 59 string quartets for Beethoven to fully work this discovery out, but the result was a revolution in a musical form.

I don’t know about revolutions, but since this past June I’ve been working full-time on weaving my characters’ story into a novel.  I was astonished at how they’d worked everything out.  For the first time, all I had to do was figure out how to put it all together.  Shakespeare knew something about characters coming to life, and putting stories together, and surely it is no accident that he gives the line, Take pains.  Be perfect, to Bottom, the weaver.

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