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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Temptations, Statistics, Productivity, Books and Advice

Up North: Land of Temptations

During our last two Florida winters, it was easy for me to get up early and spend a couple of hours writing before David was awake enough for coffee. The winter mornings were dark, the house cold, our tables stacked high with books—all the temptations, one would think, to either lie in bed late or get up only to wrap in a comforter and read, and yet I followed my work regime scrupulously. So far this winter here at home, I have not been getting up as early. Is the bed warmer or the house colder, that I cling to sleep so assiduously, not rising until there is light around the window edges? I get up and start the coffee, and the second temptation presents itself, which is to get online and check e-mail before sitting down to work. That was impossible in Aripeka. There we had to get in the car and drive miles to a library to retrieve e-mail. The library is the third temptation, because while the libraries we frequented in Florida were filled with people, they were all strangers to us, where as our Leelanau Township (Northport) and Leland Township (Leland) libraries are full of people we know, and everyone is so happy to be out meeting in a cheery public that there is much more talking than reading or working. It will take a little while to find the right balance to my winter life this year, but I’m sure things will sort out before long. After all, we are nowhere near the middle of January yet, with my “official,” i.e., self-directed work-start date of Jan. 15, so maybe I should take these lazy mornings as rehearsals. On the other hand, what good is a rehearsal if undertaken lazily and half-heartedly? To work!

Mes lecteurs français, où sont-ils?

Most bloggers must go through a phase, I suppose, of compulsively checking their stats to see how many people are visiting, from what countries, via what virtual paths, as well as which posts are the most popular. There is also the very unstatistical business of which parts of a post generated comment—often, it seems, the more peripheral sidebars rather than the topic in focus. In general, what will bring people to your site, and what on the site will capture their attention is all quite fascinating.

From that introduction, you won’t be surprised when I confess that I’ve been watching my stats lately, and I’ll admit further that I was pleased to find (by backtracking from them) that “Books in Northport” is now listed on a “Best of the Web Blogs” site. (Though why “web blogs”? I thought “blog” came from web + log.) The piece I find puzzling is the list of countries where my readers reside. That is, I’m not at all puzzled that the U.S. tops the list and that second-place Germany is way behind, but why would I have more readers in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands than in nearby Canada, and why do I have none at all in France? Ça me rend triste!

N’existez-vous pas, mes lecteurs français? Ça me gêne beaucoup, car moi j’aime bien la France et les français, et si vous examinez la liste de ce que j’ai lu en 2010, vous y trouverez deux ou trois titres français. Alors, où êtes-vous? Cherchez-moi!

What Counts as Being Productive?

The answer to this question depends on who’s asking and why. When I ask if my day has been productive, I’m sometimes looking at immeasurables, a sense of accomplishment, as much as a satisfied checklist, and this Wednesday, my first serious at-home work (alone) day of the new year, felt very productive. It began inauspiciously, with my sleeping in until 8:30. Bad start! I should be up by six at the latest to get in a good morning’s writing! But telling myself that I didn’t have to go to the bookstore (Bruce is running things for me on Wednesdays) and so had the whole day to work at my own projects and at my own speed helped me settle down to writing rather than fall into the temptation of checking e-mail first—which, as we all know, can easily expand to fill available time. Before I knew it, I’d written for two hours and had 1700 words of a new story. Again, I’m not letting my editorial self judge anything I’m doing yet: the point for the first couple of weeks is just to “show up for work” and get words down.

Telling Sarah, who had not been denied her morning sortie, that we would go out again for a serious ramble at three o’clock, I next set myself to tackling housework, and as I moved from task to task it came to me what I love about this kind of work—not, I need hardly say, the deadly repetition, which everyone knows is the worst of it but something else that doesn’t seem to get much attention at all, namely the wonderful room it allows for improvisation. Beginning as always with a rough list in my head of things needing doing, I found myself, as always, noticing other things, and there was no one to tell me I had to finish one job before starting another. I get to do whatever I want to do and however I want to do it! In the end, I didn’t accomplish everything I’d set out to take care of, but I got much more done than I’d planned. So there was time productively spent.

Going outdoors for a walk might not sound like a productive use of time. Isn’t it more of a recreational break? All I can say is that it feels like both. I need exercise, Sarah needs exercise, Sarah needs a training session and wants and needs a chance to play, but on a cold day when the sun isn’t shining it takes a certain amount of discipline on my part just to bundle up and get us out there. When we not only go outside but climb a steep hill (that’s nothing for her, of course!), explore the snowy woods, and Sarah successfully obeys my commands to sit, stay and come, by the time we get back to the house it feels as if we’ve accomplished a lot.

Special Orders and Other Books I Couldn’t Resist

A couple people are looking forward to traveling to France. The lucky dogs! That accounts for two or three of the special order books on my list this week. Karen Armstrong’s new book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, I included because so many of my customers are Armstrong fans and because the title intrigued me. Many of Armstrong’s books are on the history of religion. This one sounds more practical—in the sense not of “money-making” (a much too narrow sense of the word, anyway) but in the sense of “doing,” of “practice,” compassion that is not put into practice being nothing but an empty word.

Next I re-ordered, because I love it so much, Jim Harrison’s book of poetry, In Search of Small Gods, and NPR had someone on one evening raving about Edwige Danticat’s Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist, so that went on the list, too, along with a special order from a customer for How Fiction Works. Someone else wanted the new Mark Twain autobiography, and I needed to restock Valerie Trueblood’s story collection Marry or Burn. The children’s book My Name Is Not Isabella appealed to me because it reminded me of a friend’s granddaughter, and Lord of Misrule because it’s an award-winning book by an author from Kalamazoo. Jaimy Gordon must have come to WMU after I left, because her name was not familiar to me.

Anyway, that gives you some idea of the new books I ordered during the first week in January and why. What is the word I’m searching for, an adjective to describe part of every new book order I put together? Not exactly quixotic--. And why is that always-insufficient but better-than-nothing thesaurus tool in my Word program no longer giving me any results whatsoever? Back to the books! The books are always better, anyway, I find.

Cautionary Words

“Words of Warning” sounded alarmist, and I don’t want to cause any spikes in blood pressure. There are just a couple things you should know if you’re driving to Northport this winter.

(1) Don’t coast into town on an empty gas tank! Scott’s Filling Station will be closed until spring, so you need to get gas in Traverse City, Suttons Bay or Peshawbestown if you’re coming up the east side of M-22, in Empire or Leland if you’re coming up the other side. (Is there a gas station open in Glen Arbor this winter?) In the middle of the county, there are gas stations in Cedar and Maple City. On May 16, the Filling Station in Northport will re-open, but until then we will all have to do more careful planning.
(2) For the month of January only, Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern between Northport and Leland will be closed. This is an annual closure. The Bluebird in Leland closes between Thanksgiving and Christmas, re-opening for the holidays, and the Happy Hour takes its vacation beginning at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Parisian system, where everything used to close in August but now the businesses work out different vacation schedules so that shopping will not all close down at once. The difference is that Paris does this during the busy tourist season, and northern Michigan does it in the dead of winter, when most of the tourists are thinking about Mexico instead of pining for Up North.


Deborah said...

I'm very impressed by your working Sarah and by her learning and obedience. The picture of her sitting in the snow reminded me of Dad's work with a trainer when he was training Husky or one of his other dogs. He told me that he thought his dog was quite smart for not sitting in the snow when commanded. After all - who wants to sit in snow!

P. J. Grath said...

Deborah, as you might guess, Sarah would almost always be running rather than sitting!

Gerry said...

There was a time when I could write 1700 words in two hours, but that time is so gone . . . You are going to have a good winter!

P. J. Grath said...

If only those two hours could be multiplied by the seven days in each week, but alas! Also, it's only the words one keeps in the end that count, isn't it? No, for now I'm counting work, not results, and you're right--it's feeling good.

flandrumhill said...

Though our country is large and close to the US, there are so few of us up here that our small population is probably the reason why we don't count for much in your stats. You have to think quality over quantity :)

P. J. Grath said...

I was good friends in graduate school with a woman from Winnipeg. When a friend of hers from home came to visit, the two of them introduced me to the popular Canadian practice of giving statistics in per capita figures, so that Canada wouldn't be left out. I have to say (cringing only a little and not really ashamed) that my manipulative little trick worked: the French in my post somehow made France appear on my list of audience countries. "Traze innerestin," as my husband likes to say.

Dawn said...

When I first opened your blog I thought Sarah was doing agility in the woods! :)

I need (desperately) to do some productive housework. Or hire someone else to do it.

I've never really spent much time looking at the stats for the blog. I don't think I even know where to look. Might be interesting.

It IS hard to bundle up and take the dog for a run. I've promised Katie we'll have an adventure tomorrow. I hope the weather isn't terrible. Otherwise her adventure will be in a store. Poor girl.

She's staring at me now, that means she thinks it's time to go to bed. She's probably right.

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Dawn. I'd love to introduce Sarah to some formal agility training. She'd be very good at it. As it is, she finds her own challenges in the woods. I hope you and Katie get in some fun time outdoors this weekend.

As for stats, you and I use different platform, so I can't tell you how to find stats for your blog. There is also, however, a free service you can sign up for called StatCounter. Look for it by that name, if you're interested. I signed up and look at it occasionally but not very often, now that I've learned how to find my Blogger stats.

Loreen Niewenhuis said...

I am currently reading Lord of Misrule . It has an amazing, omniscient narrator voice that I can't get out of my head. Great read (so far).

P. J. Grath said...

Another friend of mine down the road is reading it at present, also. You and she are in agreement, which nudges the book up two notches in my waiting list.