Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm thinking more about prose and diction these days than I have since I was in writing classes in college, and maybe more than I did even then.

The immediate cause of it is reading The Hunger Games. It's jumping out at me just how elementary the writing style is. Nothing wrong with that for what it is, a kid's book. Also, I saw the movie before I even started the book, so that has aborted any suspense. But even so, I still find the writing style lacking. It tells the reader a lot without showing much. The first-person, present-tense voice has some advantages - I can see how it'll help a lot of later scenes - but isn't doing much in the first few chapters, and just seems lazy. And the setting seems too clichéd and simplistic and black-and-white. Everyone's starving, the Peacekeepers are an Orwellian force, Katniss has to be heartless to survive, blah blah blah, the system sucks, I get it. A friend informs me that later books get more complicated, but I might not get that far.

Again, THG is just a kid's book so there's nothing wrong with keeping things simple, and I don't want to give the impression that it's so bad that it alone has reminded me of reading other student writers in college. I've been thinking more and more like this for a while. I don't know whether this is a gradual evolution of thinking more analytically about writing over the years, but if it was inspired by anything specific, that inspiration was H.P. Lovecraft.

I started deliberately seeking him out about three years ago for two reasons: a historical interest in how and why he was so influential, and all his work is in the public domain, which is free or very cheap in e-book form. But in the process of reading his stuff, I think I absorbed a lot about the minutiae of writing. Love him or hate him - and his writing is indeed uneven, and the best thing I can say about all the racism is that sometimes it's unintentionally funny - he definitely has a unique, compelling writing style.

Gibbering horrors made me think about about how to write far more than poetry or soliliquies ever did - why "gibbering" instead of "babbling" or even "rambling"? Because of the sound? The etymology? The tiny nuance of difference in meaning or length? The topic itself? If nothing else, this seems like a good argument in favor of broadening your horizons. (Ironically, Lovecraft hated that.) I'm not saying this has made me a better writer, but I do think it's made me a better critic, and more able to appreciate good writing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I don't have a bucket list. I'm still young and healthy, I haven't had any particular mortality scares, and I don't plan very long-term in general. (Also, the term "bucket list" seems like an annoying cliché, but call it what you will, I don't have one.)

That being said, if I did have one, I can think of two things would be on it. First, visiting New Orleans. I've never been and it sounds like a fun place. And second, which I just learned about today and is what inspired this post, is winding the Clock of the Long Now, a clock designed to work for ten thousand years.

It hasn't actually been built yet, according to Wikipedia, but it looks like it will be sooner or later. And it's a pretty damn cool idea. As skeptical as I usually am about grand, sweeping claims of any kind (the idea that, say, nanotechnology will lead to the Singularity or transhumanism is only slightly more likely than the idea popular 50 years ago that nuclear power would, which is to say, not very), the idea of building a complicated machine to last and continue working for ten thousand years is very impressive.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We're getting close to backing out of the deal. (Or we were when I started writing this. In the meantime, e-mails have been flying, so who knows.) The problem is, it seems harder and harder to buy anything decent. Mostly because finalizing the financing process made us realize that the maximum price we can afford isn't as high as we thought it was when we started looking, but also because of all the problems with this place found by inspectors. I've used the banal aphorism "Location, quality, affordability: choose only two," more than once when talking about this, but at the moment that seems less like a general rule of thumb and more like a solid law of physics.

We'd prefer a house to a condo. We'd prefer a place in or near a nice neighborhood downtown to a place in the suburbs. We'd prefer a place that doesn't need too much work. And, obviously, it has to be affordable. But getting this close to buying has made us realize how rare one place with all that is. And, worse, I think we both find the house-buying process a stressful, red-tape-laden, paperwork-shuffling mess. I realize most people wouldn't enjoy it, but it seems like it's worse for us: neither T. nor I is all that comfortable with math, a few details of our situation make it harder than it should be like my bad credit or us not being married, etc.

As far as I can tell, we have four options: the fixer-upper we're in negotiations for now, affordable places in neighborhoods we like (which I now think are generally condos, and relatively small and/or old ones at that), affordable houses out in the suburbs, or just giving up for now, planning to sign another year's lease in our current apartment, and trying again next year after we've hopefully got better jobs or something.

Buy the place we're now looking atWe like the neighborhood. We can afford it (the house itself, at least). It has potential. The house-hunting process would be over with.Improvements to it are definitely going to cost a fair amount of money. Roof work, floor work, electrical work... We've got no bids at all yet, just estimates, so we're uncertain how much it would cost. There's a tenant we'd have to get rid of before we could move in. He seems reasonable enough, but that's still a concern.
Back out, go back on the market, and focus on condos or co-ops in the cityAvoids all the problems of the current house. Condo-owners have fewer responsibilities than house-owners, I assume, which means less stress, money out of pocket, time wasted, etc. We'd still have a place in the city.Less control over what we do with it. Depending on how high the condo fee is and what it covers, we might wind up saving little or no money. Overall, it's likely that we'd have less square footage, open space, natural light, etc. in a condo than in a house. We'd be back to the paperwork-shuffling mess.
Back out, go back on the market, and focus on houses in the burbsAnything we can even vaguely afford in the city would be a rowhouse or close to it. More space than that would be kind of nice. The price difference is probably huge. We haven't looked too hard out there, but in cursory searches I found decent-looking places for a hundred thousand dollars less. That would leave us a ton of money for renovations or whatever.We'd probably have to get a car, if not cars, and use them a lot. That's affordable but unpleasant. All else being equal, a bigger home probably means more work. Living in the suburbs is less fun, less convenient, less everything like that. We'd be back to the paperwork-shuffling mess.
Back out and stop looking for nowWe like our current apartment just fine. We'd save money, at least in the short term. We'd put the paperwork-shuffling mess off.We'd pay another year of rent and not get anything to show for it, no equity in a place we own or anything. When we finally do get back to the paperwork-shuffling mess, it will probably be under slightly worse circumstances. I understand that the loan interest rate is likely to go up, and housing prices probably will too.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Growing up sucks. Like this, but much more.

T. and I are getting close to buying a house, and it's intimidating, and a lot of work. By the numbers: I've received 24 and sent 10 e-mails today as of now about inspections or the loan. For comparison, I have received only nine unrelated e-mails so far today and sent none. This is probably peak e-mail day, both because we're into really-really-final financial stuff (unless we back out!) and because we're trying to schedule two inspections, so I admit the process isn't usually this bad, but still, it's boggling.

The house in question might be a money pit. We had an inspection, it found a bunch of problems, and we're now trying to schedule two follow-ups to see exactly how bad two particular issues are. I think we've decided that if the following reviews find any new or worse problems at all then we want to walk away. If we actually don't find any new problems and those two remaining issues are in great shape, then we'll probably buy it. That's just the start of the fun: I'll have to borrow money from my parents just to cover my half of the down payment. And we already know the place needs some work, and we'd want to do some of that before moving in (which costs even more money up front) and some more of it eventually (which is disruptive to live with). And even if we don't buy this specific house, we're still planning to have a lot more money-spending-and-borrowing and tied-down-being in our future. And all of that apparently needs to be figured out this week.

Also, I apparently have bad credit. I had known for a while that my credit rating wasn't all that great, partly because I've missed a payment on my credit card now and then, but mostly because I don't have much of a credit record one way or the other. I only have one credit card and I don't use it much because a debit card is just as good (except for establishing credit...), and my college education was paid for from my grandmother's estate. But now, bad credit matters. And now that I actually look closely at the report, I realize that my credit isn't just bad compared to T., whose credit report was unusually good, but compared to the average. Damn. In addition to the practical problems - our interest rate is a bit higher than it would be if we both had T.'s rating - I also feel guilty for inflicting my bad credit on her.

And the crazy thing is, home-buying is just the start. There are also two other big, grown-up issues I'm dealing with that weren't even on the radar a year ago and have got much bigger and more serious over the past two weeks. This is just the least private issue, but take my word for it, I feel like I'm going from 25 to 35 in a month or so.