Saturday, May 25, 2013


The laundry where you take your shirts has a policy of asking you if a particular day for picking up is convenient or if you'd prefer a rush service.  In the years you have been using this particular laundry, you have never returned for your shirts on the precise date of delivery.

Some years back, in discussing the recovery time for a procedure he needed to perform on you, a surgeon suggested you'd need about six weeks to be back at your previous form.

Most automobile mechanics base their standard activities on a flat-rate book in which most regular tasks are broken down into a time frame.

Gardeners and plant nursery specialists have pretty solid estimates of various germination or blooming times.

Many such processes can be expressed in time frames of reliable accuracy.  You're quite fond of reminding students how one keepable page a day will produce a reasonably sized novel a year.  When making such statements, you often stop short of discussing the odds of getting a keepable page a day.  Creative things have their germination time, this much is true, but some, William Faulkner's magisterial As I Lay Dying, for instance, was produced in just under six weeks.  Donna Tartt's second novel required ten years.

From sublimity to ridiculous levels, there was a time when you lived at 3153-D Barbara Court in the Hollywood Hills, where you wrote a novel a month for at least a year.  In the former cases, the works took the amount of time the author needed to access and then capture them.  In the latter, a month was all the time you allowed yourself, although in some cases, you worked more than an eight-hour day.  Of equal truth, in some cases, you worked less than an eight-hour day, thus the need for longer work days.

From about 1974 until early in 1980, you were editor in chief of the book division of a scholarly publisher where, even more than scholarly standards, adherence to schedules and a devotion to planning ahead were given high priority.  This was management style.  It was not your style, which in some way contributed to you not remaining in the employ of the publisher after 1980.  If a project were completed before it was contracted and scheduled for publication, you had no difficulty keeping the process on track.  Works presented and contracted in a partial state provided another set of logistics, starting with the author, the author's available time for writing, the author's need for additional research, the author's teaching schedule, and as an outlier, potential sources of relevant research becoming available that would have an impact on the finished project.

Perhaps the most significant reason your position with that publisher was terminated had to do with the polarity of rational versus subjective.  A rational program is, first and foremost, rational.  Such a program may well be orderly and smooth.  Subjective approaches attract contingencies the way magnets draw iron filings.  Neither approach is right, neither is wrong, but quite often, when schedules posited on rational platforms are not met, subjectivity will be seen by the rationalists as irrational.  Rational visions will be seen by subjectivists as intransigent or perhaps inflexible or possibly even irrational.  A significant mantra at this publishing venture held:  Failing to plan is planning to fail.  Your own approach respected the need to plan but warned of the dangers of too much time spent on planning and hypothicating.

In subsequent circumstances you found yourself in ironically reversed positions, where you were in fact calculating the costs in potential lost revenue based on a failure.

Plans profit from consistency and observation.  Plans also profit from contingency scenarios.  A Plan A without a Plan B is a potential train wreck, based on the theory that a single train, when derailed, can be the instrument or object of a wreck.

Time is a vital factor; it is also a variable rather than a static force.  A day's work teaching may depend on the number of classes to be taught, the amount of material to be covered, the energy of the instructor and the students on a given day.  A day's work of editing would, under some circumstances, be judged by the number of pages edited, but it could just as well depend on the insights gained by the editor for sharing with the writer.  A day's work at writing could be the discovery of a character's name as well as it could be the completion of a tricky and cogent scene.

A day's worth of learning?  Sometimes difficult to know what you've learned until you experience a day's work writing in which you drive yourself and your characters into an impossible moral or intellectual or artistic quandary, at which point, exhausted, you quit for the day, then come back tomorrow.

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