Tuesday, 14 March 2006

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S.W. Mitchell's "Hints for the Overworked" Silas Weir Mitchell's best known for locking Charlotte Perkins Gilman in an attic for a couple of months. (If it not for him, millions of undergraduates would've been denied the pleasure of reading "The Yellow Wallpaper.") I've read a little Mitchell [thanks Miriam] lately and wanted to share some of his sound advice for mental laborers with my mentally laboring audience. First and foremost, you people are filthy. Intellectually filthy. Achtung! Strip and deposit your filthy self in a frigid tub immediately! A great lawyer, whom [Mitchell] questioned lately as to this matter, told [him] that his cure was a chapter or two of a novel, with a cold bath before going to bed; for, said he, quaintly, “You never take out of a cold bath the thoughts you take into it.” Did I not mention the novel? Achtung! Relax with a novel! Still feeling unduly taxed? Ride a horse! There is a Turkish proverb which occurs to me here, like most proverbs, more or less true: "Dreaming goes afoot, but who can think on horseback?" Still feeling overworked? There's nothing Mitchell and I can do for you. But here's what to expect: When an overworked and worried victim has sufficiently sinned against these simple laws, if he does not luckily suffer from disturbances of heart or stomach, he begins to have certain signs of nervous exhaustion. As a rule, one of two symptoms appears first, though sometimes both come together. Work gets to be a little less facile; this astonishes the subject, especially if he has been under high pressure and doing his tasks with that ease which comes of excitement. With this, or a little later, he discovers that he sleeps badly, and that the thoughts of the day infest his dreams, or so possess him as to make slumber difficult. Unrefreshed, he rises and plunges anew into the labor for which he is no longer competent. Let him stop here; he has had his warning. Day after day the work grows more trying, but the varied stimulants to exertion come into play, the mind, aroused, forgets in the cares of the day the weariness of the night season, and so, with lessening power and growing burden, he pursues his purpose. At last come certain new symptoms, such as giddiness, dimness of sight, neuralgia of the face or scalp, with entire nights of insomnia and growing difficulty in the use of the mental powers; so that to attempt a calculation, or any form of intellectual labor, is to insure a sense of distress in the head, or such absolute pain as proves how deeply the organs concerned have suffered. Even to read is sometimes almost impossible; and there still remains the perilous fact that under enough of moral stimulus the man may be able, for a few hours, to plunge into business cares, without such pain as completely to incapacitate him for immediate activity. Night, however, never fails to bring the punishment; and at last the slightest prolonged...
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How to Write a Robert Charles Wilson Novel, a Recipe Irrational insomniacs have for centuries fought sleeplessness with objects designed to keep them awake. Who am I to break with tradition? So I have spent the past two nights engrossed in the works of Robert Charles Wilson . (Someone I trusted told me someone he trusted had recommended Wilson. Three degrees of separation suffices in the sci-fi community.) I read and was impressed by Spin. So I was groggily enthused when I began reading Blind Lake late last night. "Here is an author," I said to myself, possibly aloud, "who rigorously works through the implications of his fantastic premises." Blind Lake proved to be an original and inventive novel. Unfortunately it proved to be the same original and inventive novel I'd read earlier in the week. "Why does this keep happening!" I yelled as The Little Womedievalist's alarm sounded. "What?" "Nothing, dear, nothing. Just blog stuff." "What?" "Nevermind," I said. So, without further ado, I present the recipe for writing Robert Charles Wilson novels: 1 large bowl 2 isolated group of humans 1 tsp. kosher salt 1 woman who "wants to feel again" 2 men who want to feel her again 1 rogue genius 2 inexplicable phenomenon caused by pervasive interstellar Buddhism 1 cipher to embody it 3 large eggs Isolate one scientifically-inclined human community in an inexplicable planetary envelope or military cordon in a large bowl. Add the woman who wants to feel again and beat her until she's good and numb. Slowly add one of the men who wants to feel her again. (Set the second aside for later.) Once you see life enter her eyes again, quickly pour the first inexplicable phenonemon caused by pervasive interstellar Buddhism into bowl. Add one large egg and beat until she almost can't feel again. You want her dejected but not suicidal, so pay attention to how much she cries. If she starts balling constantly, ease up on the whipping until you think she can handle it. Once you get her to the brink, add in the other man who wants to feel her again. (Some people like to spice this up with the rogue genius, but I prefer to wait until after the second inexplicable phenonemon caused by pervasive interstellar Buddhism.) Stir. Once the two men who want to feel the woman who wants to feel again have been properly agitated, add 1/2 a tsp. of kosher salt and another egg and beat vigorously. You want one of the men to fall apart. Once one has, remove the other and set him alongside the genius. (You'll need them to season the second inexplicable phenonemon caused by pervasive interstellar Buddhism.) Add the cipher and refrigerate. This part of the recipe should bore you. Pre-heat the oven to 3500° for fifteen minutes. As soon as the boredom is replaced by real narrative heat, remove the cooled plot from the refrigerator. Sprinkle the other man who wants her, the genius and the second inexplicable phenonemon caused by pervasive interstellar Buddhism on the mixture...

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