Things in Their Identity

We Episcopalians have a liturgy for everything.

The Easter Vigil — that is, the evening service on Holy Saturday, between Good Friday and Easter — is a traditional time for the baptism of adults who are just converting to Christianity, and also for welcoming new people who are joining your particular parish.  But this past weekend, we also had something new.  Wedged between the baptisms and welcomings was something called the "Affirmation of Name."  Reading through the text, it quickly became clear what that meant — a transgender woman was having the adoption of her new name blessed.

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That Sinking Feeling

In the past week, I've gotten in touch with two people who could make or break my Florence Nightingale biography, and they've both agreed to read it and write promo blurbs.  They're both part of the Nightingale Society.  One is a professor in Canada who compiled and maintains a huge digital archive of Florence's papers.  I couldn't have written my book without it.  The other is a professor in London, who also chairs the "History of Statistics" section at the Royal Statistical Society.  Today the London professor pointed out that next year is Florence's bicentenary, and told me she's the one organizing the promotional/educational outreach effort for that.

They're going to read my book.  Both of them.  Eeek.

Do you ever feel like you've unwittingly made some huge mistake in your writing, and it's only a matter of time before someone comes screaming at you about it?  Yeah, that's where I'll be for the next few days...

On the plus side, the Canadian professor said she likes the cover.  So do I, and in fact it's been getting rave reviews from everyone I've shown it to.  So there's that.


Gotta love the internets

I'm starting the next volume in my Mathematical Lives biography series, and on Saturday, I was reading through a set of oral history interviews from my subject, David Blackwell.  He's the most obscure mathematician in the set.  Without the oral history, I probably wouldn't even have a book.  Even as it is, my coverage of Blackwell's childhood is pretty thin.  But in the oral history, he mentioned one of his high school teachers, Raymond Huck, who gave the school math club problems to solve from this mathematics magazine.  One time, the teacher submitted one of Blackwell's solutions to the magazine and got it published.

In the notes I took on Saturday, I wrote, "Raymond Huck, mathematics magazine, David Blackwell solution," and then underneath it, I wrote, "Yeah, good luck with that."

Cue the internets...

Last night, as I was following coverage of the New Horizons mission, I went looking — and there it was.  Okay, not that easily, but I had enough to get started, and one clue led to another.  I had the problem and Blackwell's solution before New Horizons reached its target.  And now I have enough to write my opening chapter.

And speaking of New Horizons, this morning I woke up, turned on my phone, and was able to watch the first data come in without even getting out of bed.  The future is now.



Ever since I stopped writing about Trump and Resistance on my public blog, and started writing about my writing instead, my number of hits dropped way off.  Hmmm...  A bit discouraging, but I'd rather keep my sanity than have a high hit count.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that this journal could easily become my "dark blog" if I'm not careful.  The place where I write all the stuff that's too painful or gloomy for me to share with a wider audience.  That would make this a real bummer to read, wouldn't it?  I'll do my best to avoid it.


Revisionist History

My marriage was the gift that's kept on giving.  Giving me nightmares, that is.  Almost twenty-six years after it ended, I'm still discovering new ways it has affected me.

These past couple of weeks, I've been thinking a lot about my shift from writing fiction to writing non-fiction.  I've mentioned it both here and on my public blog.  One thing that puzzled me was that writing the math biographies felt like something brand new, that I'd never even been interested in before.  It's true that I had a brief time in the mid-80s when I was smitten by James Burke's documentary series, but as recently as a few days ago, I was convinced that I'd always really only imagined myself writing fiction.

Today, I realized that wasn't true.

There was a time when I'd thought about writing non-fiction, and put some serious effort into it, more than just thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice to write something like that?"  It came right after Ken Burns's The Civil War, and was pretty derivative of that series (imitation being fairly normal when you're just starting out).  I did research, worked out a scope and a plan, and even started putting an outline together.  I thought about it for months.

How had I forgotten about it?

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Subtle but Important

I made a slight change to this journal's title.  As of now, I'm calling myself a "mathematical storyteller" instead of "mathematical novelist."  That's because for the foreseeable future, I'm going to be writing non-fiction instead of novels.  Today, I got a contract for the full Mathematical Lives series — the first time I've gotten a contract for something I haven't written yet since my YCDTOTV days.  Writing the remaining books will take two or three years.  And if that wasn't enough, this week I sketched out a second series of books, covering broader topics in mathematical history instead of focusing on one or two specific people.  If I make a deal for that, it would be another several years of work to complete them.

This is who I am right now.  This is what I'm doing.  My publisher likes it, and it's working for me.  Not just in terms of productivity — I'm enjoying it too, more than I thought I would.  And despite years of effort, I simply cannot get my brain to focus on more than one book at a time.  There are several fiction ideas in my head, but they will just have to wait.

It left me feeling a bit guilty this week, as if I was betraying my characters.  I'd just about worked through it when the contract showed up.  The universe never ceases to amaze me with its timing.


New World Coming

I hope you won't think I'm trying to flaunt my wokeness if I say my favorite of the current comic book shows is Black Lightning.  One big reason is Black Lightning's mentor Gambi, who is someone I can identify with.  Um, not the part where he kills people, though.  The part where he's devoted to helping the new generations succeed, even when they don't look like he does.

My choir has a new director, a 30something man from China.  In day-job land, I was just moved out of the quality manager position and reclassified as a "senior quality engineer." The new manager is a 40something man from Mexico.  That latter change, by the way, is not a bad thing.  My job isn't in jeopardy, as several people have reassured me this past week, and I actually had been trying to get this guy moved here from Mexicali for a year (although not as a manager). I've been a manager for most of the last twenty years.  I never cared much for the "being a manager" part of it.  Now I get to be Gambi instead.  Or Victor Bergman from Space: 1999.  I've been waiting forty years to be him.

If life is a relay race, then when it's our turn to hand off the baton, we shouldn't care what color the next hand is.  We should just be trying to make the best handoff we can.  White or non-white, I'll help anyone I have a chance to help.  The future is too important for that to matter.


The Tipping Point

At what point in our personal growth do we realize that the outside world just plain doesn't matter as much as we thought it did?  Is there such a point for everyone?  Or just some people?  Or is it more a matter of circumstances?

Back in the 90s, when Dacor had me take the Myers-Briggs test, I actually scored as being borderline between introverted and extroverted.  Today, I peg the needle on the introverted end of the scale.  What happened?  Well, for one thing, I'm not trying to be someone I'm not anymore.  Dacor put me on the executive career track around the same time that I realized Hollywood wasn't the place for me.  I thought the business world was the only option left for me to find "success."  I tried my best to fit that mold, and made some pretty big mistakes before realizing that kind of "success" wasn't something I wanted.

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Performance Anxiety

I'm between books at the moment, wrapping up the second book in my "Mathematical Lives" series and getting ready to start on the third.  My brain gets into all kinds of mischief at times like this.

Something I've learned about the way I write — there's no such thing as an "easy" project or a "fun" project, something I can whip out a few spare minutes at a time, without much thought.  I keep telling myself there is, but there isn't.  Every project takes work.  Every project is an effort.  They can be fun too, and each one is at times, but they are never easy.  And why should they be?  Every story deserves my best effort.  Anyone who's going to read it should have the assurance that I gave it my all.

Something else I've learned about the way I write — it's really hard for me to put a story away when it doesn't work.  Not every idea I came up with will make it all the way to a finished book.  Many never get past the initial brainstorming, researching and outlining phase.  Some crash after a few chapters.  The same thing happens to everyone.  When it happens to me, I feel like I've let the story and the characters down.  I gave them my best effort, after all, but for some reason I fell short.  That's hard to take.  Especially when I've already started writing, and even more especially when I've told someone about the book.

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So, here we are again...

What is there to say after effectively leaving LiveJournal a year ago, and then making it official a few months ago?  It seems there are still things I want to say here.

This isn't the same internet that it was before, and I'm not the same internet user.  I remember back in the 90s, reading J. Michael Straczynski's online conversations while he was making Babylon 5, and thinking, "When I finally make it as a writer, I'm going to do that, too!"  I did it for a while with a group of You Can't Do That On Television fans I stumbled across.  It was fun for a while, but then, not so much.

Nowadays, it seems like the internet is designed so that anyone can live that kind of public online life.  Now there are people who made themselves famous just by being online, no previous real-world accomplishments required.  It's hard to keep up with that, especially if you don't really want to.

As an author, being online to promote my books and/or to "network" (ew) is part of the job, and so I will go on doing that.  But I miss having a smaller, more personal forum, where I can write things I feel like neither shouting at the top of my voice nor keeping entirely to myself.  Maybe that's what this journal can be, and maybe I can find some people who will be interested in reading it.

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