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Deal 230: Enter the Librarian

I’m a librarian, and I know things. Or at least, I know how to find out how to know things.

It is often said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The corollary is that knowing enough to be safe is difficult, and more so because while on the path to safety, you spend most of your time in danger from the little you know.

I’ve been answering questions for both George and Michel for years. It was only recently that I realized that George was Michel’s landlord, and that neither had a clue about the other’s nature. I’ve left them ignorant of those details since I figured it out, since it seemed they were both safer not knowing. Naturally, they’ve both been completely about my nature as well. After all, I am just a librarian.

Heh.

You might have thought that being available to answer questions over the past several centuries might have been a clue. Nope. Not for those two.

But times are changing, and it seems likely that not knowing is going to be a whole lot more dangerous than it has been. So I am going to have to step up and spill some beans. Luckily, I know where they live. Actually, that was pretty easy. I am a librarian, and they both have cards at my library. And overdue books.

So today I will beard the lion in its den. Which may be too apt a metaphor given George’s habit of letting the lions run his household. Still, while I know the lions aren’t actually tame, they are also not entirely what they appear and actually do run his household and hardly ever maul the UPS guy.

I know its time. The owl has been a regular visitor. The King has been seen on the docks. I’ve heard rumors from the aquarium staff that the octopus has been restless. And if the owl is around, then Athena is too in some guise or another. I am a little surprised she hasn’t already come to me herself, but it is possible she still bears a grudge from our last encounter. She also has overdue books.

So today I will go knock on George’s door.

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Deal 190: Octopus contemplations

The school circled nervously. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

It was getting on my nerves.

I was going to have to admit that I wasn’t what I seemed and disrupt the lives of so many innocent fish.

Circling back and forth. Back and forth.

And they weren’t making it any easier.

I’ve been around this aquarium as long as it existed in one guise or another. But I wasn’t going to be able to keep the charade up much longer. The old man had been rattling doorknobs the other night. Clearly hints of my location floating around, even if he hadn’t been quite confident enough to just break the door down. If he had been certain, he could have raised a storm and pulled the whole building over. Of course, any action that bold would risk blowing the covers of many of us, and even his famous temper was able to be moderated by the risks that entailed.

The school continued circling.

Tina had been around too, but she had stayed in touch and didn’t have anything to gain by handing me over to the old man. I was pretty sure there were a couple of others in town, but hadn’t left my tank in a long time and really didn’t want to leave this form behind. I’d put too much effort into passing as an octopus to just throw it away on a whim.

But all signs were pointing towards an end to our recent peace. And if the portents were right, then it was getting to be time for me to move on, and take that which I’m guarding somewhere else. Possibly even return it to its owners.

But not tonight.

Tonight, the fish can continue to circle, dreaming fishy dreams, and imagining their escape by levitation from the hunger that will overcome me if I do change my mind.

From Brainpickings: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

I came across this post the other day, and thought it was interesting. Advice from one of the most creative people to work in the English language. Seen at Brainpickings: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block.

“When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

Sometimes you simply need a break to give your mind a chance to catch up. Go for a walk. Do the dishes that have been calling your name for the last couple of days. Take a nap, or if the time is right, go to bed and face it in the morning. What ever you do, coming back to the problem with fresher eyes will often make a difference.

“Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered.”

While most applicable to studying, and then to studying a deeply logical subject such as math, there is still a truth here. In many areas of study, knowledge is built in layers. In math and the hard sciences especially, we “stand on the shoulders of giants”1, and that is only a stable platform if we understand the principles upon which we are standing.

But even in the arts, it makes sense to make sure you know what your goals are, and if you are depending on assumptions, that you recognize that fact.

When designing magic, I find that I have to have both an image and method in mind when I start. By the time I’m done, both image and method might have been changed substantially. But to start with only a method becomes an exercise in concealed juggling, and starting with only an image quickly becomes little more than storytelling without at least places in mind for the magic to hang. Working together on both imagery and method allows the necessary work to be blended with the story and produces a more finely integrated whole than working on either alone.

When thinking about world-building for a story, the bits that the plot will depend on must be understood well enough that they are used consistently throughout. Otherwise, you end up with a kind of rule-free malleable world where Ensign Crusher can just invent a new particle to magic the Enterprise out of this week’s dilemma, while simultaneously forgetting all the weird tricks invented in all the past weeks episodes. Each episode might be entertaining on its own, but taken together the viewer is left without as much respect for the writers.

“My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest…”

Again, Carroll is specifically speaking about math. But the principle remains valid for anything where keeping track of the structure is important. A mystery writer must be careful to seed clues throughout, but not to reveal too much too soon. The judgement of the pace of revelation requires keeping the whole picture in mind. In magic, confusion of design leads to a confused audience.

All in all, there is a lot worthy of study in the letters of Lewis Carroll. Fortunately, many of them have been preserved and are available to the interested student both on line and as the subject of books.


  1. Isaac Newton wrote in a letter in 1676: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He was not the first to use the metaphor, but is probably the best known