Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: Ghosting

Ghostwriting is a mysterious profession. It's something you really don't hear much about, for obvious reasons. When I do think about it I have a vaguely negative reaction, mostly against the person who allegedly wrote the book. Sort of like how I feel about cheating, but then I remind myself, writing doesn't come easily to all. Is it really so bad to hire someone to help you turn a better phrase?

I've read quite a few accounts of writers writing about writing, but never of a former ghostwriter coming clean and writing about ghostwriting.

Jennie Erdal gives a glimpse into this world in Ghosting, her memoir of writing for UK publishing icon Naim Attallah. Attallah, who she refers to only as "Tiger" in the book, is the eccentric, overshadowing presence in the book, as he is in her work life, for nearly two decades. In the book's first few pages she writes "the bird of paradise is already standing there in all his finery... His eyes sparkle like precious stones ... His voice is velvet and beguilingly accented..."

She paints a picture of a larger-than-life man who spent lavishly on clothes and furnishings (including a tiger skin for his office) and vacations to a retreat in France, and who took daily visits to the barber and dental hygienist. In one moment he's the most fun, generous person you've ever been around, with the ambition and energy to follow through with some humongous ideas, but in the next he's a "vainglorious dictator," a child obsessed with having things his own way.

It's an odd matchup with Erdal on the surface. The person tasked with writing in his voice comes across as mild, intellectual and pragmatic as she describes working on a slew of plum writing assignments -- a book of interviews with famous women, two novels, a weekly column for a major newspaper -- under the name of her famous boss.

She discusses her translation work and her role in interviews with celebrities with relish. But it is the novels that she anguishes over: "Can one write from another person's heart? I'm not sure it can be done ... It is of course possible to fake fiction, but it is difficult to see how it can be meaningful or eloquent." She proves successful at ghostwriting, earning good reviews (even for the novels) and a steady stream of work.

In the midst of her professional memoir, Erdal mixes in her own life recollections. These seem much quieter compared to the extravagance of her employer -- childhood elocution lessons, sneaking to a Catholic friend's Holy Communion rehearsal, the breakup of her first marriage. But there is an emotional honesty that shines through in these quiet scenes that show her skill as a writer. She gets at the heart of a divorce in an amazing way.

You have to wonder, why did she do it? Why did she give away all the glory and do something that is not quite on the up and up for that many years? "In the world in which I moved, there was a feeling that lying, pretending and dissembling were all just part of the repertoire," she explains. And "... I felt aggrieved at being exploited but I think I also enjoyed a sense of having become the power behind the throne; I had imagined myself immune from delusions of grandeur, but no -- a feeling of importance, the proximity to celebrity, my vital role in the construction of a rising scribbler -- these things gave me a vicarious kick."

Hmm, I can buy it. The way she describes it, it seems like a situation seems that could happen to anyone. I think most of us give away a part of ourselves in our work -- we don't get the recognition we deserve, we succumb to demands and do things that we wish we didn't have to.

But it is a shame that she didn't get the credit she deserved for her obvious talent, as displayed in a book that is entertaining, poignant and heartfelt.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

This TIME analysis of the "economic recovery" is pretty dismal:
Half of Americans say they couldn't come up with $2,000 in 30 days without selling some of their possessions. Meanwhile, companies are flush: American firms generated $1.68 trillion in profit in the last quarter of 2010 alone. But many firms would think twice before putting their next factory or R&D center in the U.S. when they could put it in Brazil, China or India.
A bigger issue is that the available skills in the labor pool don't line up well with the available jobs. Case in point: there are 3 million job openings today.
And let's not forget the youth-unemployment crisis. The youth unemployment rate is now 24%, compared with the overall rate of 9.1%. If and when these young people return to work, they'll earn 20% less over the next 15 to 20 years than peers who were employed.

Sick day

I'm missing the final two softball games due to illness: I came down with a cold yesterday. Probably not a good idea to spend two hours in 105-degree heat, spreading my germs to everybody in the dugout. Not going to pull a Nowitzki and play through it. Ugh, I hate getting sick.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wind and dust made two softball games unpleasant today. "Like a hair dryer blowing right on your face," said one of my teammates. And we lost both games :-(. My bright moment was when I caught my first fly ball.

I'm going to have to look up how not to strain my quadriceps. I'm thinking the solution will involve stretching exercises.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

So after reading all the stories I mostly think the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But once in a while I can see that life is still good, people still go out and have fun and make connections. And there's nothing like a dog to cheer you up when you're down.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

More Healthy Bite

Is Healthy Bite becoming an addiction? The special today was a turkey sandwich. $6 for a turkey sandwich and a glass of iced tea? Is the cost justified when I can make myself a turkey sandwich for less than $1 with materials from home?

But the sandwich was quite tasty - toasted wheat bread, fresh-tasting turkey cold cuts and Swiss cheese, nice green leaf lettuce and tomato, honey mustard. And I think more than that I enjoyed the ambience. I sat in a tall chair at a dark wood table, read my book, occasionally glanced out the window to see people walking by. In a cafe like this I can imagine I'm in some trendy place like New York, one of the few places in El Paso where that's possible. $3 for the sandwich, another $3 so I can escape for an hour. I think I can live with that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The real ER

The real Cook County hospital sounds even worse than the one on "ER," based on Dr. David Ansell's interview on Fresh Air:
Health care at County was very different from care at private or university hospitals. When Ansell first started treating patients, County had no air conditioning, poor sanitation and limited patient privacy. "The beds were lined up one after another, separated by curtains, but there was really no privacy," he says. "Patients would roll in and they'd be lined up around the walls of this one room, and the middle was lined with stretchers and wheelchairs. You were forced to take histories and examine patients under these conditions."
As usual, the audio version of the interview is better, and Ansell has some interesting things to say about the inequality of health care in the U.S. and attempts at reform. From the text version:
"The only fair way to do this is where people have a card that gets them in, where that card is accepted widely and broadly by everyone, and [giving people] choice," he says. "So you could go anywhere you want, you get the care you want, and choose your own doctors — and that would be some sort of universal plan — Medicare for all, single-payer. We need a system that really gives patients — poor or rich — adequate care."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I left an apple in my car for a few hours, by the time I bit into it it tasted like a baked apple dessert. That's summer for you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Finally, I play in a game where our softball team wins! Wasn't looking forward to playing in the summer heat but it was surprisingly not that bad, due to the shady dugout and a breeze. I didn't sit on the bench this time; I even got a hit and landed on first base once. Sports can be fun, I'd forgotten...

Friday, June 10, 2011

I told my mom,"My goal for this weekend is to be less grumpy." Life gets stressful, I really need a break so I can stop snapping at people for not very good reasons. We'll see how I'm feeling on Sunday...

Yesterday at Healthy Bite

The special for $5.99: half-tuna sandwich and cup of soup of the day, plus iced tea. Took it to go since the restaurant was full. Sandwich was on bread that tasted homemade, tuna had some cilantro in it. Unfortunately the soup of the day was clam chowder. Clam chowder and my stomach usually don't get along. It tasted good but I had about half and threw the rest away.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Article by Roseanne Barr on show business, feminism, and the lack of diversity on TV in NY Magazine:
To survive the truly hostile environment on set, I started to pray nonstop to my God, as working-class women often do, and to listen nonstop to Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.” I read The Art of War and kept the idea “He that cares the most, wins” upmost in my mind. I knew I cared the most, since I had the most to lose. I made a chart of names and hung them on my dressing-room door; it listed every person who worked on the show, and I put a check next to those I intended to fire when Roseanne became No. 1, which I knew it would.

Status: Unrecoverable

What I thought was a virus got into my computer a couple weeks ago. I was frightened it would render my computer unusable, so I did what I used to do on my old computer on a regular basis: I got into System Restore and had the program roll my computer back to a point in time two weeks before that.

I restarted the computer and it was just fine after the System Restore. Whew. Or so I thought. Yesterday I was about to upload some new photos into the computer when I realized I couldn't find any of my old photos: Trip to Chicago, gone. Easter holiday, gone. Trip to NYC, gone. My cousin's wedding, gone. I did a search for "img" and only one photo came up.

A horrifying feeling came over me. I checked the Documents folder. Also empty. My thesis, gone. A journal article I had worked on for months, gone. School papers I had saved for sentimental value were no longer there.

Google had a few answers. Users in a forum suggested some recovery software to try. $50 later I had about 120 pictures back: my cousin's wedding and some photos from London, mostly. Another software program yielded about 14 more recovered files, my trip to Colorado and a few from LA. Tantalizingly the software program would show you thumbnail previews of the old filenames, but when you would mouse over them, almost all of them would say "Status: Unrecoverable." Damn it. Like my life flashing before me, unrecoverable.

I tried not to panic. Facebook has many of these same photos. I've printed out a lot of the sets that are most important to me. Also in my favor, I've had this computer for less than a year, and a lot of photos (actually, most of them) are still on the hard drive of my old computer in the garage. Same with the documents -- a lot of these are stored on my old computer, or I can get a copy somewhere else. All is not lost, not by any means. Still, there *are* photos and documents that are literally gone forever, and for the ones that still exist somewhere out there it's going to be a hassle to recover them.

If I'm so upset about this, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for people who really have lost everything, in a fire or tornado or flood. I suppose losing records of memories isn't the worst thing that could happen; losing your health or life or family members would be, of course. Still, with something like this it feels like a piece of yourself has gone away, the "virtual memory" you have in addition to the one in your brain.

Right now I'm trying to accept that these really are gone, that no software is going to magically recover them tomorrow. The lessons for the future: 1) Keep the anti-virus software up-to-date. 2) It really is important to back up files on an external hard drive or online. I've never done this and it finally caught up to me. 3) System Restore can mean different things on different computers. 5) Losing things isn't the end of the world. It hurts but it's going to be OK.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A very strange scene out my window -- an overcast sky with the tantalizing prospect of rain. It hasn't rained here in 118 days. As much as I prefer dryness, this is ridiculous.