Apologies for Silence (Post-Laptop Reality 2.0)

It’s been months since I’ve posted anything of length here.  In the interim, I ‘ve done a lot of traveling, a good bit of introspection, and as I have  moved back towards writing and posts of real substance I’ve hit a small speed hump that means regular posts are still, for now, a thing of the past and future but not something I can commit to now.  My laptop is officially on life support, having been resuscitated temporarily by a computer-savvy friend and returned to me with instructions to retrieve anything I have not backed up ASAP or risk losing it forever.  It turns out laptop video cards, at least in the case of my model, are soldered to the motherboard, so when they go out your options are replace the motherboard (which is expensive) or replace the laptop, which is (apparently) only slightly more expensive.  The DIY temporary fix involves covering the intake and exhaust ports of the machine and then turning it on for half an hour so that it overheats.  Sounds dreadful but it is simply a dire patch for a permanent situation.  Apparently, the intended result (and the result that my friend achieved in my case) is that the heat causes the solder points to expand and fuses the cracked solder back together however temporarily.  This fix, he says, can last for a day, a week, a year, two years, etc., but that when the solder cracks again, as it likely will now that it is weak, you will have to undergo the overheating process again.  Which may fix it again, or may not, as overheating the computer may cause other problems.

With that as my new reality, I have ordered another cheap back up drive to archive and possibly image my laptop before stripping it of substance and consigning it to the role of guest computer, I suppose.

So here I sit, at a Memphis Public Library  public computer, hammering out this place-holder for real prose (not lovely but certainly long overdue).  The guy next to me just left (finally!) after playing video games, punctuated by game-over sounds and repeated, more-than-audible, exclamations of, “Oh! My! God!” after each termination.  When his session ended (they have patrons on a two-hour timer here), he started singing (terribly and nearly tunelessly, of course) about computers and video games.  I believe the tune was “Deck The Halls,” but with more nasal delivery than strictly necessary for someone who wasn’t actually striving for obnoxious.

The going forward plan is that I will continue my lack-of laptop until after Christmas, so that we can take advantage of after Christmas sales to pick up another cheap laptop for regular internet use, bill-paying, ordering online, playing DVD’s outside, etc.  In the mean time, we will set up my study/office in our old bedroom (when we finish the floor of our new bedroom), and I will bring a much older desktop model out of mothballs and set it up again as my writing and blog-only computer.  I will in the meantime look around for a cheap (used) flat screen monitor to use with it, as the only monitors I have left from the old days will swallow half of my desk.

Until all of that happens, I have only these fleeting moments to log on and post, so that is the state of things for now.

The “perks” of writing and the compulsion to create revisited

One of the blogs I follow regularly is by a writer named Cristian Mihai, who often writes about creativity and the art (and business) of writing.  Although I’m not yet in his league as far as earning money for my writing, I do think this guy hits it spot-on about the “perks of being a writer.”  In a lot ways, reading this I found myself thinking, “oh, this is what I have to look forward to if I persist in writing regularly to the point where more people notice.”  At the same time, a big “perk” for me is one that he didn’t really mention: one of the best parts about writing, for me, is the ability to regularly and reliably stretch my creative and intellectual muscles. Why am I a writer?  I am a writer because I have to write.  The need to create and transform language and  thought compels me, and has for as long as I remember.  When I write, I am engaging with my world and my environment, while when I don’t write I feel like I am treading water and not making any progress at all really.  Here’s one of my favorite parts of this piece, which is worth reading in total as well:

“Okay, now on a more serious note. The perk I like most is that once in a while someone tells you they love your story. Whether a five-star review on Amazon, an e-mail, a blog comment, it doesn’t matter as long as someone genuinely loves your writing. Money can’t buy this mixture of admiration and envy that people feel when they read something really, really good. A paragraph or just a few short sentences that describe exactly how they feel in the world.

Two strangers, the writer and the reader, locked in this strange dance… there’s nothing that can compare to it. And you, as a writer, realize that you’re not as alone as you thought. Someone else feels the same way as you do.

As Tennessee Williams once said, you’re not lonely alone.”

For more on my thoughts about creativity and writing, you might check out these earlier posts from Greenfae’s Leaves (tagged “Creativity”).  Here are a few to get you started: 

The Recommitment

Not Writing Easily Now, I Find Myself Watching Old Movies And Trying To Stay Focused…

Another Great Article On The Origins and Practice of Creativity

A Universe of Its Own (this one is a perennial favorite of mine)





The Re-commitment

I have been less than consistent in my blogging habits this year. A combination of so many other commitments and less than optimal writing conditions, I suppose. And I am easily distracted and have not properly prioritized my writing by giving it a fixed place in my schedule. And then there’s my tremor, which makes typing and long-hand writing difficult, each in their own way. All of these are excuses as much as reasons.

The trick is, can I commit to doing better in 2014?

I believe that I can.

Part of “doing better” involves allowing myself to write about a wider variety of subjects. Since I realized I have readers, I’ve found it increasingly difficult simply to write for myself. It’s like, I can’t just write anything out of fear of disappointing expectations that someone (possibly me) has for what I write about here. The truth is, I set my own expectations on some level, so I should reasonably be able to loosen or change those expectations.  Occasional disappointment is normal, and I have to accept that as I am a perfectionist, by default, I cannot always meet my own high standards.

In other words, perhaps I should accept the process of writing and the possibility of less than stellar outcomes occasionally because, ultimately, writing consistently is more important than striving for a “perfect,” mostly unobtainable, outcome, especially when that will result in me writing and posting less overall.

I don’t think I have to post “shit” in preference to not posting at all. It’s really just that when not posting means I am not writing at all (as often was the case last year), this inactivity is poisonous to the process of becoming a better writer and usually results in a weaker, less frequent output overall.

My goal for 2014 is to try to post more regularly, on more topics and not to limit my writing  as much as I did in the last half of 2013.  Using old journal entries as a starting off point is fine, but I also cook exotic food, brew wines (and, one day, beers), collect media (especially books), and am a ravenous  (and passionate) explorer of a variety of music, often but not always experimental and electronic.  Music blogs like The Burning Ear have been hugely influential, not so much as sources of music but as an inspiration and reminder to keep my mind and my ears open for new sounds. One of my longest-time favorite sites for media exploration, and the source of so much good (& legal) music, spoken word, film, live bands, out of print books, and ephemera, is Archive.org.  A close second for inspiration, though their material is considerably less (intellectually and philosophically) accessible than the Archive is UbuWeb, one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging sources of avant-garde material that is freely available anywhere.

I have more interests now than the limited survey of my New York Times and old journal reading habits would show. I read books, the occasional magazine, and a number of other blogs that provide fuel for my creative urges.  I follow a lot of blogs and dip into most of them often but find myself returning most often to only a handful of regular ones.  As is true for many people, perhaps, intellectual stimulation is helpful, but only up to a point.  My favorite blogs touch on a number of subjects without fear. Although I respect bloggers who can post continually on the same subject, I am often stimulated creatively by the blogs that are more varied in their content.

Take my father’s blog, for instance, which he calls “Retired But Not Shy” and in which he posts mostly long-form (2000-3000 word) posts on a number of distinct, but often interrelated, subjects.

His posts are monthly and tends to focus on  Blues music (a passion of his), history of Georgia politics in the post-colonial period (one of his areas of experience and the subject of his degree study), and teaching history at the secondary school level (his old profession).   Varying his topics even this much allows him to use old journals (as I do), use notes that he has taken on several subjects over many years, opine on a variety of topics, and dispense words of wisdom on the subject of teaching to younger would-be teachers who find his blog courtesy of referrals by people at his old graduate school.  It’s a cozy arrangement and a clever one.  By blogging on a variety of interrelated subjects he is able to sustain his own interest and publish about subjects that appeal to several distinct and sometimes overlapping, audiences.  More unique readers, as well as a more repeat visitors, are possible with this scenario.

Another multiple-interest blog that I follow is my friend Barbara’s blog, which she calls, “Enamored With Life.”  She blogs about the latest studies on natural health topics, her art and experimental photography, her reactions to other people’s creative work, life, and her writing.  It is, in other words, a robust personal blog, the reading of which, allows me intriguing glimpses of some of my friend’s many facets.  I enjoy catching glimpses of her art work and that of her many talented friends and relatives.  I also appreciate how experimental her photographic manipulations are.

But don’t I write primarily for myself?  Yes, of course, I do write a lot to satisfy myself, but hopefully you, dear reader, will come along with me as I explore a variety of subjects here.  Ultimately, it is more satisfying, at least for me as a writer, to know that I have an audience and to receive feedback occasionally on posts I have written because it keeps me honest, keeps my voice authentic, and most of all, motivates me to continue writing and exploring.  On a related note, I just read a really incisive essay on why bloggers maybe shouldn’t get so hung up on their blog’s statistics.  It was by Matt Mullenweg, a founder of WordPress.com, on his blog, “Ma.tt.”  To summarize,  he finds that he is a better, more consistent writer when he writes for two people: one, his present or future self, and  two, the person whom he considers his ideal reader.  For each new post, he only considers what he feels about the post and how his ideal reader might respond.  It seems like he is saying that not getting hung up on which posts get lots of hits and which don’t has allowed him to feel better about all of his posts and not get discouraged about writing because, as he puts it,

 There is no predictable connection to the effort and thought you put into something and the response it receives…

Anyway, Mullenweg’s post, “The Intrinsic Value of Blogging,” seems very àpropos as I have spent much of the last couple of days pondering this same issue.

Another way for me to contextualize the experience of writing a blog is that it’s like being on the radio, something I did for ten years, as well.  While my radio program was a varied, woven fabric of intelligent electronica, experimental, beat poetry, free jazz, etc, there was a certain percentage of every hour where I had to talk about the music, give the station call letters, and read public service announcements.  When I started doing my show, I had the most trouble with the speaking part of the gig.  Some advice that helped me then is also rather germane now: when you’re on air, don’t think about all the people who could be listening, close your eyes and speak directly to your best friend (or ideal listener).  For one thing, it is probably impossible to please every listener all the time.  Also, when one speaks directly to one or two people (without using inside jokes or personal references that might alienate other listeners), it really is easier to connect the music with the listeners.  The other bit of advice that was probably more germane to radio than to WordPress (due to WP’s ability to generate real reader/visitor statistics) was to consider that for every caller that a DJ got, he or she might have a 1000 listeners.  What is perhaps even more true now than it was then, is that the easier you make it for your reader/listener to interact (read, share, comment, contribute) and the more valuable content you offer, the more potential readers/listeners you could have.

One of the most widely read single-focus blogs I know, according to articles, blog posts, and, yes, TED talks by and about the blogger, is Post Secret.  According to the data tag at the bottom of his home page, “Post Secret is the largest advertisement-free blog in the world.  Visitor count: 648,689,278!!!”  Although Post Secret is a definite guilty pleasure, and this blog clearly needs no help attracting new visitors, I include it because the numbers are stunning, and the fact that such a simple concept clearly resonates with so many people is pretty awesome too.  This blog provides a physical mailing address to which folks from anywhere in the world can and do send anonymous postcards disclosing secrets big and small.  Once a week, on Sundays, the blogger posts photo-scans of the best postcards he has received recently.  From this concept, he has drawn at least one TED talk, media appearances, and at least one book.  Every time I dip into the current batch of secrets there are stunning revelations, often in the original handwriting of the sender, written on whatever random bit of paper or postcard they chose to use.  One of the first “jaw-droppers” I remember from one of the first times I read this blog was a Christmas card with lettering in block print letters that said, “My husband gives me lots of presents at Christmas to make up for the abuse.”  Another that was up the first week of January features cute, apparently hand drawn, puzzle pieces in pale pastel colors.  The block-type lettering has been overlaid and features the following message: “Dear Evil Stepmother, I bet you are still looking for that last piece to your puzzle.  I took it!  Love, your passive aggressive step-daughter.”  There is also a feature called, “Classic Secrets.”  One of my favorites there is a post card of the Eiffel Tower with the following message: “I am secretly learning to speak French.  Then I am going to Paris with him or without him.”  Very clever stuff, really.

Another more singularly focused blog that I follow is my uncle’s blog, “Yellowstone Stories and Images.”  He uses his blog to promote his book, In The Temple of Wolves , which is phenomenal, by the way.  He publishes gorgeous photos of Lamar Ranch (which lies in a remote corner of Yellowstone) and blogs about the experiences he and his wife have while volunteering there for three months every winter.  I have a strong naturalist streak myself, so I can relate to the wish to spend time in the wild, to hike in the snow, to track wolves in the moonlight, to live where the moon and stars are mostly what you see at night.  I love that stuff too, but as I am not yet retired and haven’t made the life choices necessary to live that way all the time, I have to enjoy those adventures primarily through vicarious outlets like this blog.

So what can I learn from this small survey of regular blog gleanings?

Quite a few things, it turns out.  There is no idea so simple that it won’t appeal to someone, so a blogger doesn’t have to make every post a labyrinthine work of court intrigue to engage and keep readers.  Writing about passions and subjects that genuinely interest the writer more effectively engages the reader than subjects chosen to entertain or appease a supposed audience.  Big numbers are awesome, but don’t let stats come between you and your writing.  You write for your self first, your ideal reader second, and if you can please everyone else with that, more power to you.  The more of yourself you put into your writing, the better, but “there is no predictable connection to the effort and thought you put into something and the response it receives,” so don’t sweat it.  Writing consistently trumps writing perfectly; you write consistently to write better, so don’t let anything or anyone come between you and your writing.  It is just fine to put more than one passion or interest into your blog because it is your blog, although subjects that interrelate somewhat have the potential to knit together a larger audience.  Be okay with the process and the possibility that this blog may turn out to fuel a larger project.  Most of all, write, write, and write again.

My goals for my blogging in 2014 are, at least, to write more consistently and  a wider range of subjects that genuinely interest me and to put more of myself into the posts that I publish.  My blog has always been primarily text driven, although pictures and sound files might be nice occasionally too.  (I don’t have a digital camera, so regular picture posts might be farther away than I’d like to admit.  I also have very little experience working with sound, so sound files may not happen quickly either.)  Blogging is a process as much as a product, so I will expect my goals and my output to evolve with my experience and my ability.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

Not writing easily now, I find myself watching old movies and trying to stay focused for the work at hand

Cover of "Le Samourai - Criterion Collect...

Cover of Le Samourai – Criterion Collection

I like to put on a familiar movie, playing over and over, while I write.  Movies that are moderately paced with sparse dialogue are actually easier to work through than silence for me.  Silence makes me twitchy, in fact.  With nothing going on, I feel compelled to do something with my hands.  With bits of noise, ambient sound, I often find that I can drop into the space in between (think of it like that old definition of music being the space between the notes) and concentrate on my work.  Lately, perhaps because of other things going on, I’m finding concentrating at all difficult, whether with or without background sound.

I suppose it’s typical for me.  I am always “all in” at the beginning of a project, I bog down under the details of the middle parts, and when I have met my goal — keeping in mind that completion may not always be the goal — I am off to the next new thing.  Speaking of new things, I picked up a new book this morning.  I am perpetually dipping in and out of books, papers, magazines — always restless, stuffing my mind full of knowledge, striving to connect all of the dots.  This morning’s choice: The Renaissance Soulwhich purports to help me to understand myself and my need for many interests.  It also suggests that it is quite possible for me to channel those interests into financial and personal success without sacrificing those interests or the pleasure I get out of having all of those interests.     Reminds me of a line from a movie I saw recently, I think it was Now You See Me.  Somewhere in there, one of the characters say the secret to being successful is, “always be the smartest guy in the room.”  That’s my goal, ultimately, I think, although I like to think that I don’t pursue knowledge for arrogant reasons, but rather for its own sake.  I genuinely thrive on learning, enjoy packing my brain like a computer, and strive to be able to see the connections between things.

Anyway, yesterday I put in the movie, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and turned the volume down low.  I kept it running over and over for three or four hours while I worked on a longer blog post.  (It’s not finished, so we will all have to wait and see how it turns out.)  Loosely, I was working through my struggles with creativity, recalling the literary influences that have shaped me, trying to understand the connections between my influences and the writer I am struggling to become.  Today, writing this, I put in another perennial favorite: Le Samouraia film by Jean-Pierre Melville.  The pacing, cinematography, and sound track bear a bit of a resemblance to Tinker Tailor, although the former was a French-Italian production set and shot in the late 1960’s while Tinker was set in the early 1970’s, but shot in 2011.  Not unsurprising, really.  I like films like this.  They bear repeated viewing, aren’t flashy enough to be distracting, and yet are potent and influential in their own way.

A Glimpse [22 May 1998, Friday, 11:40 am]

Looking  at Lynn,

hunched over her register,

her body crooked into an awkward position,

though she still smiled.

I had  a flash,

call it intuition, call it what you will:

“So you are now — so you shall be again.”

This was Lynn, post-dated fifty years,

still smiling but with an ever more pronounced stoop in her shoulders.

I felt a cold chill,

as though I’d seen the surface

of my mortality.

Untitled [22 May 1998, Friday, ~9:15 am]

Thinking of you

Allowing time to pass

Writing a letter

I think of you fondly.