A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. not-10

Take . . . three?

Back in 2016 and 2017, I began reading through my old notebooks from high school, college, and graduate school, unearthing what bits of story I was working on when, pinpointing the moment at which certain things began, and so forth, all preparatory to sending those notebooks off to be archived. Then I dropped the ball until 2019 and picked it back up again — for a single post, after which I dropped the ball again until now. But dammit, I will persevere! (Because I want these notebooks to stop cluttering up my office, heh.)

So, onward into the tenth volume!

Forewarned is forearmed: this time I checked the back of the notebook, and sure enough, I did the same thing of taking notes for different classes from both ends. So I can keep an eye out, as I go through, for where the order of the pages starts going in reverse.

This is another grad school notebook, but I’d have to go diving into my transcripts to figure out whether I’m still in the first year or moving on to the second — I don’t as clearly associate certain courses with certain years as I did in college. Or possibly the evidence of my game notes will make it clear: I do have a pretty clear sense of what happened in which “season” of the Changeling LARP, so I might be able to peg it based on that.

Many of the notes early on in here are from the first course I took with Henry Glassie — a course whose name and ostensible topic I don’t even remember, because it was more or less a class on How to Be a Folklorist. Some history, some theory, some practical technique (there are notes in here about photography, ranging from “if you take a few photos you’ll support your argument; if you take lots, you’ll counteract your bias” to “don’t trust the light meter”), a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t fall into any of those categories. It’s mostly not directly relevant to any of my writing, except insofar as I can feel Glassie’s patience, humor, and humanity breathing off the page, even in this condensed form. He really was the best teacher I had in grad school, or possibly ever — a wonderful, soft-spoken man who could do a two-hour slide lecture on a random topic like Turkish carpet weaving and I would be awake and paying attention the whole way through. His first fieldwork was with storytellers in Northern Ireland, and he either learned a lot from them or was already their peer. And there’s so much great stuff in here about how to relate to the people you’re working with in a respectful manner, things like giving them the manuscript of your book to read over and comment on, and making sure you publish some form of your work in their country, maybe in an edition tailored to a more general audience. I’ll still probably send this notebook to Cushing, but man, if I ever wind up writing a novel about an ethnographic fieldworker, I’m going to go park myself in one of their reading rooms for a week or so to make use of my own papers.

Which doesn’t mean there aren’t still lines of me practicing kanji in between notes on what Glassie said, or random spates of Welsh song lyrics. But it reminds me that doing that wasn’t always a sign of boredom; I’ve always needed something to occupy my hands, even when I’m listening closely. Rote writing of random crap is sometimes that thing. In fact, I don’t think it was during this course — I was too new to grad school to do anything this bold — but I think when I took another course from him later, on the writing of ethnographies, I told him outright that if he saw me doodling in the margins of my notebook, he shouldn’t take it as a sign of inattention. And he understood completely.

Anyway, thanks to Glassie’s skill as a lecturer and discussion leader, we’re twenty pages into the notebook before any significant quantity of story material appears — an outline for the first chapter of the Viking revenge novel. In fact, that’s the only substantive thing I wrote down in thirty-six pages. There are smaller bits throughout, vague not-quite-story ideas; one notion for an incident in TIR, the novel I never wrote; one random typological thing about swords for no reason I can recall; a few higher-level thoughts about writing and the eventual direction of my studies — but mostly my thoughts seem to have been on the class. (It’s a shame I never wrote that Proppian analysis of The Princess Bride.) I actually wrote “Last lecture . . . <sniffle>” in my notes — that’s how much I enjoyed his course.

After that I move into notes for my fieldwork course, where you can see my focus of study shifting very directly to role-playing games, as I was in a really good position to do research on that topic. But I think I was also noodling around with the idea I had at one point to do . . . some kind of project? Maybe a masters’ project, except I’m not sure why I was looking at doing something like that when I was pursuing a Ph.D.; I remember there being some reason, but it’s gone now . . . anyway, a collection of short stories about Sahasrara, one of the Nine Lands, with accompanying commentary about the worldbuilding. That’s the only reason I can think of why I was speculating randomly about different animals and how to match them with each other in oppositional pairs but also connect them to different parts of the environment, as it doesn’t carry the marginal sign I generally used for writing-related stuff, but it has bugger-all to do with the class notes around it. Then again, I may have fallen out of the habit of using that sign, since a page later I’m back to conlanging and it isn’t marked.

In fact, yes: a little while later I have notes on Blood and Flowers, which was the working title for that project. I still don’t remember why I was doing it — maybe the folklore department required such a thing? — and it never did happen, but that’s definitely what those bits were for.

I’m sort of amused by the section where apparently we were discussing academic publication. I’ve got a laundry list of questions clearly shaped by my experience with fiction publishing, which is wildly different from how it works in academia. I think my professor was a little croggled by my approach to the subject.

This time around it’s easier for me to spot where the direction of note-taking switches from front-to-back to back-to-front. Why can I tell? Because I was apparently so colossally bored in one class that I started just writing out song lyrics — in English, for once — formatted as if they were my notes, and written in cursive to make it harder for anyone to tell what I was really doing. It’s one thing for me to do a few lines here and there, but this goes on for pages. Not sure which course that was, since on that day I appear not to have written down a single bloody thing that had to do with class. This happens several times, actually, which suggests I had one course that was really tedious. I could dig through my file cabinet and probably figure out which one, but . . . I don’t actually care enough to do that? Which kind of sums it up. 🙂

Anyway, flipping to the back of the notebook and moving forward: huh, for once in my life I took detailed notes on my reading. Possibly that was for a class where I was supposed to type up a primer for my fellow students on that particular book; it’s the only reason I can think of why I would have been so thorough on something that wasn’t for a paper I was writing. But that soon gives way to brainstorming “charms,” by which I seem to have meant small folkloric stories that would be told to prevent the rusting of iron, each one relating to why it rusts in the first place and how someone can counteract that reason now. These are actually kind of cool! And I don’t think I have them typed up anywhere, so I will definitely fix that before I send this notebook away.

OH MY GOD I think some of these notes are from the course that had That Guy in it. The That Guy-iest That Guy I ever encountered in all my years of school. You know That Guy. The one who won’t. shut. up. In this case, the one who once talked for ten minutes straight and twice steamrolled right over the professor when Bauman tried to shut him down. How am I sure these are from that course? Because I wrote down “Good god. Someone has told {That Guy} to listen to others.”

I had honestly forgotten how much random conlanging I did during this time, most of it for the Nine Lands. There’s a lot of work on scripts — trying to come up with something like radicals for one language; an abjad arranged into blocks sort of like Hangeul for another — plus ongoing efforts toward declensions (complete with vowel gradation!) for a third language, one I don’t have a script for, but I know I was going to make it be essentially based on ogham. I started working on the grammar for yet another one of that setting’s languages, this time using German phonology and Irish grammar — which meant I had to make up something to take the place of lenition. Why did I inflict this on myself? Mother of god, I even tried to work out the historical evolution that produced two related languages from one ancestral language. I also made up army banners for yet another country in that setting, and there are three pages of longhand fiction for TIR that I probably didn’t write during class. I really had the Nine Lands on the brain, likely because I was marinating in so much anthropology that it automatically flowed into the largest worldbuilding project I had available. But why most of it is linguistic, I don’t know — I wasn’t studying any languages at the time. There’s pages of this stuff, though.

But I was working on other things, too. There’s a draft of the pitch letter for another novel I might dust off someday, and — locating this firmly in my first year of grad school, not a later one — a list of the stories I had sent to the Asimov contest, meaning that we’re in December of 2002, since I heard back that I’d won in early 2003. (I may have dated most of my class notes, but only with the month and day, not the year.) Plus there are enough scattered notes on the Viking revenge epic to make it clear I was still preparing to write it and noodling around with the early bits; I finished that draft in the summer of 2003. Also periodic lists of which short stories I was working on, and a half-finished attempt to rework “But Who Shall Lead the Dance?” as a folksong, since it has the rhythm of one anyway — it looks like I did that even before I wrote the story itself. There’s relatively little game material, though, apart from one spate of Ree-related stuff and me listing the costuming and makeup I would need to play the first incarnation of the White Swan character.

This notebook actually has quite a bit of stuff I want to make sure I’ve recorded elsewhere before I send it along to Cushing. The short story ideas jotted down in it may not look like all that much, but I’ve had plenty of other ancient, dusty, not very rich concepts unexpectedly flower into a thing, so I’m operating on the principle of “keep everything, just in case.”

Now, let’s see if I can get through the rest of the notebooks in anything like a timely fashion!

2 Responses to “A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. not-10”

  1. Jeremy Brett

    I love this exegesis of your notebooks, Marie. I think I’ll include it as part of the documentation supplementing your collection, to provide additional context.

    • swantower

      I was thinking I might print out the posts and tuck them into the relevant notebooks — that way you know for sure which one refers to which.

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