One of the big lies told to writers is that you have to write every day. I have written the vast majority of days of my life, but it doesn’t mean spit if I take a few days off. Sometimes you need time off to fill the well.
Which is not to say I did no writing on vacation. I always do. My point here is that I live in a society devoted to selling the lie of overwork. Perhaps this is appropriate as it seems more young people want to work too little than too much. But experience has a way of changing that, so I don’t endorse the selling. Age cures a lot of things without my input.
American society sells that you have to work too much until you’re rich. Even if you don’t particularly want to be rich. I don’t think that’s special. Selling is what American society does. It sells the good and the bad without regard for which is which. So it’s up to each of us as individuals to choose what story we buy. (I also fail to see why being rich exempts one from the company line of working too much.)
I like to work hard at work I like. (That last sentence is almost palindromic, isn’t it?) But life is far more than that. A lot of things I choose to buy don’t cost money. I can’t get more meta than that, so I’ll sign off and do things that are fun. And free.
I'm an old guy, so I was doing the old guy thing of a low intensity workout. In this case I was wearing weighted exercise gloves and walking laps around Max & Irma's Diner which is closed early in the morning.
Thirty minutes into this process a fellow cutting through the parking lot stopped to ask me directions to a drug store. In no time we got talking about sports, as he and his wife were visiting from Kentucky to see a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. We talked baseball, football, and basketball.
We were very different guys with different accents and geographies, but we had a pleasant time due to a common interest in inconsequentialities.
This isn't intended to be a profound meditation on humanity. Just a small observation about something good related to sports. I sometimes denigrate the allocation of huge resources to sports. It seems only fair that I note that it can be a social lubricant, and make the world a nicer place, even if only in small ways.
The number one thing I ever need in a business hotel is fast, free, password-free internet. I never find this at business hotels.
This weekend I am at a chain hotel of the cheaper variety. It does not have a business office where I can print things. It has no pool and no fitness room. It is an older building as evidenced by the phone jacks all over including the bathroom. It pre-dates cell phones.
It does have fast, free, password-free internet.
If I was at a business hotel charging twice as much, there would be slow irritating wireless service which I could upgrade to competency for a sizable sum of money. This is bad business. If the price of the premium internet was rolled into the room cost, I wouldn't think twice about it. To charge me a large extra fee for what the coffee shop gives away free makes me want to stay at the coffee shop. I wonder if they rent cots at Dunkin' Donuts.
Yesterday I tried to blog with my phone. I successfully posted a title.
The technology claims to cater to the process. It does not. So this blog has been written with an odd combination of top end smart phone and antique netbook. The process is tiring.
The older I get the more I want technology to do what it says competently, rather than doing cool new things once in a while and incompetently .
You know what I mean?
There are lots of reasons to write, but they start with a simple division: private versus public.
I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words for private reasons, but I’ve also written a helluva lot for public consumption. Often I’ve been paid for public writing. Sometimes not. But in the end, the hope is that the writing reaches someone, and better yet, that they let the writer know.
I have had the privilege of actually meeting many of the writers who reached me such as Clive Doucet and Lucille Clifton. Others, such as Bill Pronzini and Randy Wayne White I’ve dropped electronic notes to and they have been kind enough to answer. I was slowly writing a letter to F.M. Busby whose ‘The Demu Trilogy’ is the second most often stolen book from my library (at least five copies have been lent out without being returned) when I found out he died. I wished I’d been faster about letting Busby know how much I loved his book.
Most of the public things we write are not actually for anyone we know. I am clear that my readership is not particularly my circle of acquaintances. That is the reason why when I FaceBook acceptances and publications, I don’t include links. I know I have lots of friends who are happy to hear that I’ve had another poem or story accepted. But that doesn’t mean they want to read it. Those who do will find a link.
A rare exception to this principle is when we write in-group as I have done with ‘Modern Poems of Pennsic’. No doubt people outside the SCA will read this book. No doubt people inside the SCA who I have not met will read this book. But this is a rare occasion when a lot of people I know will read what I’ve written.
In fact, within the first two hours of my FaceBooking the availability of the book, there were fifty downloads, and three readers had already taken the time to comment on the book.
To be sure, it is a great feeling to get paid for writing. And, I confess, the first time I was in a bookstore and saw a magazine with my name on the cover I was stunned. I had to come back a few more times just to soak in the fact that they were using my name to sell copies.
But feedback (within appropriate channels) is an amazing incentive to write. This explains the large number of bloggers plugging away on the internet. Add the principle of in-group high feedback, and fan-fic makes a lot of sense as an alternative to commercial markets.
That said, I still send most of my writing to paying markets. Just saying...
Oh, and you didn’t think I was going to leave you hanging, did you? The most often stolen book from my library (eight copies lent out and not returned) is ‘Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon’ by Spider Robinson.
I almost did it again.
I nearly started typing my blog into the blog spot on Weebly. Sunday I wrote a blog that pleased me, and Weebly ate it. Not that Weebly is special that way. Through the decades, AOL, Yahoo, and other internet services have eaten thousands of words I’ve written. Some of them were probably good. Others, not so much. But they are all gone into the ether, because of programming glitches created by non-writers.
So I rewrote my last blog, and parts were better than the original, and parts were worst. But more to the point, parts were lost.
I should have learned long ago, not to trust any program tied directly to the internet. At least writing in the privacy of my own computer I have some illusion control. Unless I’m using MicroSoft Word (cursed be they), which is the enemy of writers everywhere.
Of all the countless crimes MS Word has committed, the one that angers me the most is making English harder to read by waging war against double consonants.
When I was my daughter’s age there was a reading rule that said, “double consonants tell you that the preceding vowel is pronounced as a short vowel. A single consonant tells you that the preceding vowel is pronounced as a long vowel.” Imagine that; a coherent guide to some pronunciation of English. The Word spellchecker now invariably claims that words such as “labelling” are spelled “labeling”. That is unhelpful to the reader, and looks wrong to me. And it has infected book publishing style sheets to where it is becoming common place. I own tens of thousands of books that adhere to the above rule; but modern works are destined to confuse future generations with their digital blindness to the rule.
All of which is lead up to another issue. In his book ‘You Are Not a Gadget’ Jaron Lanier explains how the computer protocol MIDI was created to capture certain kinds of music, and became the industry default for all kinds of music, no matter how ill-suited it is to stringed (and other) instruments.
Much the same thing has happened with the epub protocol, and nearly all ereader protocols for that matter. At least one IT professional who makes his living creating ebooks claims that the entire format is designed to foil poetry books. The only thing harder to turn into an ebook, he claims, are math text books. A protocol designed for conventional prose has infected all ebooks.
Despite which, three of my poetry books exist as ebooks. Tomorrow, ‘Modern Poems of Pennsic’ will join them. Let me know how it works for you.
For those of who are used to publishing, the rule is "money flows to the author", and yet in this world of overflowing cultural goods (see last blog), an author may need to do her own publicity, work on spec, or even give things away. How odd then that I created a book as a gift.
I wrote 'Modern Poems of Pennsic' with no expectation of getting paid.
The book is a collection of 170 poems that try to capture the Pennsic War that occurs every year with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Pennsic is an event that is as famous as WorldCon & Burning Man. The difference between Pennsic and those other events is that I was lucky enough to discover this intoxicating Brigadoon long before most others. I have been attending Pennsic since it and I were young.
So I've written all these poems, and they are: snapshots, reminiscences, memoirs, no s--t stories, and they are full of: pavillions, courtship, knights & maidens, armor & fighting, exotic foods, rare sights, smiles, sighs, and old friends. Would you care to visit? It's free. Just click the button.
This book is a gift to the person I was thirty-five years ago, and to anyone who might care to share that worldview. The SCA is a different world that is sometimes difficult to reconcile with everyday life. In fact, this is probably the most escapist literature I've ever written.
Because every one needs to get away now and then.
I certainly do not intend to write this blog every day, or anything nearly like it. But to get started, I can generate content as needed. Today's blog is on the dynamic change in access to entertainment.
When I was my youngest daughter's age (nine), there were still only four television stations in and around Buffalo. It was a big honking deal on December 21, 1970 when WUTV started broadcasting. A fifth station! And one that broadcast afternoon Japanese cartoons such as Tobor the Eight Man and Astro Boy. This was much rejoicing among my peers.
When I was nine I did not yet own my 200th book. Or my 100th book. Or my 50th book. I was just discovering comic books which I could buy used affordably. At the peak of my childhood comic ownership I had less than 200. Given the 54 boxes stashed around my house, my wife can only dream of such a boon. Or at least that they had appreciated in value.
My older children don't watch broadcast television, despite my lack of cable. The library's blu-rays, Netflix and the internet take care of the need. Every day more books are published than were published in the decade of the '60's. Marvel Unlimited is an internet service that provides the subscriber access to more digital comic books than can reasonably be read in a lifetime.
As a child, my peers and I had to seek out and acquire quality entertainment. We were not always the most diligent critics because there simply wasn't enough to be too choosy. For my children's generation, one of their most important survival skills is tuning out the excess of quality entertainment. The available material is far beyond the ability to consume it.
The response of the millennial generation is curious. Instead of trying to harness the torrents of material, they generate their own content magnifying the excess of cultural material. Why? I believe they trust to the common judgement that will make anything important go viral.
I don't know that this is any better or worse than relying on other gatekeepers. But it is different. And now I find myself adding to torrent of free content, submitting the writing to the whims of viral popularity. As long as I'm having fun along the way, I might as well take a chance.
I don't feel like a blog kind of guy. And quite frankly I usually write to a greater purpose, such as publication or teaching materials. But I love to write, so I'm willing to give it a go.
As I am practicing it, a blog should have spontaneity as I am making this up as I go, rather than carefully writing it and vetting it. Fair enough. This is your chance to see my writing with all the warts.
I have desired a website for about fifteen years. And now that it is here, I am amazed at the amount of work it is. Attempting to hyperlink pages in an intelligent way, while using a web builder that does not really anticipate the needs of someone like me, is a challenge. In fact, it's another effing learning experience. Such is life.
To spice this up I'll admit to my greatest fear. Homonym errors. My mother did a fabulous job of training me to get all homonyms and apostrophes correct on the initial draft. In 1987 I was hit by a car. I was severely physically damaged, but I thought I was cognitively fine. Until I got out of the hospital bed, wrote a few things, and proof-read them. I shouted out loud! I had lost all ability to get homonyms and apostrophes perfect on the first turn through.
Sometimes such cognitive function returns with time. As I write this it has been exactly 28 years, and there is no sign of my regaining that function. I'm not going to hold my breath.
That said, I can't notice that I had one poem published before getting my neurons scrambled, and a thousand or so since. Perhaps it has been a positive contributor.
Either way, it scares me to put my grammatical vulnerability on the firing line. But then everything scares me, and almost nothing stops me: witness this blog entry. I think that's quite enough for the day.