So I’m sitting here writing, and I know that I haven’t posted anything in a while.
It’s not because I’m depressed.
The thing is…I’m working on something.
Look, I may as well tell you: yes, I like writing things that you read, but I like it infinitely more when I write things that you hear.
This is a problem for YouTube, because when I make a YouTube movie, I get all hung up on what it looks like. It never looks that good, because I’m not good at visuals.
Then there’s the whole thing of syncing up the picture with the sound. That never works, either.
And anyway, all of this revolves around what you see.
I admit to being self conscious about what you see. Somehow, when I make YouTube films, I notice that my nostrils are enormous. There’s a huge space between my front teeth, and I have this huge wattle about which I’m massively self-conscious.
For this reason, for a while, I just want to focus on recording audio. Audio is a great thing, because it requires a lot less money to get it to a professional level. With video, you need a massively expensive camera, a decent set of lights, and some knowledge of how to record everything with the right exposures.
Audio is a lot simpler. With a Zoom recorder and a Heil PR 40 microphone, you pretty much have everything you need. This sets you back a couple of hundred bucks, and there you are…professional sound.
So I want to try something different on YouTube.
What I intend to do is start making YouTube videos where, for the first minute or so (but no more), you see my old, sagging mug, and hear the tinny sound of my laptop’s microphone. I tell you that I’m going to count to five, and that I need you to shut your eyes; I will recommend that you either listen to me with a decent set of headphones, or with a decent set of speakers. It is at this point that I hope that you do as I ask.
It’s worth your while anyway, because at that point, the screen will be black. There’s no reason for it to be otherwise. At that point, with your eyes closed, you’re providing the visuals anyway, and they’re probably going to be a lot better than the visuals I could provide with my limited video creation capabilities.
The audio will suddenly become dramatically better. My voice will become far more rich than it had been the moment before.
I will suddenly be thirty years younger. I will be thinner.
And if this works the way that I hope it will work, you will be in my world.
While you are in my world, you will hear the things that you’d previously read. I may very well continue to write essays, but now you’ll be taking them in through your ears, not your eyes.
You may very well hear stories from time to time. This whole idea of mine has me far more interested in stories than I’ve been in a long time.
As I’ve often said, this blog that I’ve been doing is more than just a creative endeavor for me; it’s a creative process. I try some things, and then, when they don’t quite work out, I take a break, regroup, and try something else.
I have no idea if this whole audio thing will work out or not. And yes, I know that I can do a podcast, but they’re logistically confusing, and anyway, I don’t want to do something that long. No, I just want to get my words out there, and YouTube is the most accessed medium around these days.
So that’s it. Soon, I’ll be posting videos that aren’t really videos. You’ll see me for thirty to sixty seconds, politely asking you to close your eyes. At that point, you will, I hope, close your eyes. And then, for a little while, I ask that you just listen.
Give me a day or two. I’ll have the first of a number of things up here. It’s just something I want to try.
For reasons that I don’t understand, I write best when I write short things.
It’s not just the essays themselves. With me, it just seems to work best when everything—the paragraphs, the sentences, even the words—are short and simple.
I don’t like my paragraphs to run more than three sentences. When I see a four sentence paragraph, I need to split it up. Sometimes this means that I create a one sentence paragraph, which most writing teachers discourage.
I like one sentence paragraphs.
Virtually all of the vocabulary I use in my writing is of a third grade level. There are certain words—paragraph, essays, virtually—that are probably a bit high, but other than that, most everything I write is one or two syllables, except for words such as “everything.”
Once I get to five hundred words or so, it just feels as if it’s time to stop. I have this mental wall that makes 1,000 words seem excessive, so I rarely, if ever, write something that’s longer than that. Most of the time, the average is 600 to 700 words.
I keep thinking about writing a book with somewhere between 50 and 100 chapters. Each chapter would be somewhere between 500 and 1000 words. If I kept to my average of 600 to 700 words, this would mean that a novel sized work—National Novel Writing Month says a novel is 50,000 words—would have something in the neighborhood of 70 to 80 chapters.
I think I do this because I had trouble reading anything complex when I was young. My mind was, and continues to be, something that races.
It is difficult to read something complex when the mind races. Processing advanced words and long sentences requires sitting still and slowing down.
This is not an easy thing to do. Nathaniel Hawthorne said “easy reading is damn hard writing.” He is right about this.
Writing simple things means spending a lot of time with fingers poised over the keyboard, thinking about what to write next. It involves questioning whether even a word such as “poised” is too complicated. Maybe “frozen over the keyboard” is a better choice, even if “frozen” has more syllables.
There’s a lot that I can’t do when I use simple words, and short sentences. I can’t write a long, detailed descriptions of a person or a place. Instead, I need to write things such as:
“When Paul Ryan was in third grade, he enjoyed telling the teacher that they had forgotten to give out homework just before the end of school on Friday afternoon. He liked the way the teacher praised him for this.”
Though it’s hard work, there is something relaxing about trying to write short things with simple words. It takes me back, in my mind, to a simple time, when I would go to the candy store after school and buy conversation hearts candy, which was the cheapest thing among the loose candy items. It cost $2.80 a pound back then, and I would get an eighth of a pound for 35 cents.
What I liked about conversation hearts candy was that it was easy to share it with my friends. I liked sharing things. It also was fun to comment on the words printed on each of the hearts.
I would go home, have a snack, and watch after school television. This makes me want to look at an old newspaper and check the TV listings so that I can remember the order of the shows I watched. Friday afternoons in May and June were best, because school was over for the week, and the days were long, which meant that I could watch afternoon television and then go out and play.
I didn’t have anyone in my class who reminded the teacher that she had forgotten to give out homework.
Anyway, I’m getting close to 700 words here, so I’m going to stop. I will write something else that is simple, and I hope that you will read it and enjoy it. That would make me happy.
If you’re reading this, I sincerely apologize, and urge you to stop reading it now.
I ask you to do this because I’m aware, as I write it, that it’s just not going to be all that good.
I’ve written this before, but it’s worth writing now (and I will probably write it many more times): though I do what I can to write for others, there are times where my writing is almost entirely for myself. This is one of those times.
I need to write. I just do. And there are times where, when I write, my writing is mechanical, and devoid of much style and emotion.
In fact, it’s devoid of virtually all style and emotion.
This is one such time. It is, above all, the act of writing as chopping wood.
For a number of reasons that I will not get into, this is one of those challenging points in my life in which friends call me and ask if I’m okay. We all have these moments, and we all know these phone calls. Friends speak to you with tactful reserve, as if they’ve visited your apartment to find you arranging your books according to font.
This is one of those times.
In such times, concrete tasks are a lifesaver. Writing, unfortunately, is not always the best thing.
It’s not the best thing because it involves getting way inside my head, and right now, way inside my head is not the place I want to be. I want to be doing concrete tasks, such as practicing guitar chords, going for walks, learning Tai Chi, cleaning my apartment, and, yes, perhaps arranging my books alphabetically.
Consequently, writing, if I’m going to do it, takes on the rote, mechanical quality of a task. It is something to do. It is something in which, when I’m done with it, I’m able to say “there, I’m done with that.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was staying at my friend Joe’s, and he needed to clear some brush from his rural yard. He sawed down some saplings, and cut them into smaller pieces. I was, at the time, busy sitting in the guest room contemplating all the things I wish I’d done with my past, when I caught sight of him. I went outside, and moved pieces of trees; this made me feel better.
And so it is with the writing that I do now. It is the equivalent of just moving pieces of trees from one part of the yard to the other, and perhaps shredding those pieces into chips that can make a pathway, or, perhaps, mulch. Unfortunately, mulch doesn’t make for the most exciting writing; I am sorry for this.
I need to post things up here, but right now, the stuff that I post just isn’t going to be the most exciting stuff in the world. I’m writing it and posting it just so that I can say that I’ve posted something.
There. I’ve written something. If I didn’t live in an apartment, I’d go out and clear some brush.
So okay, let’s be specific here: yes, I do write every day, but for the moment, it would seem that my pact to post something every day has, shall be say, suffered.
Alas, it becomes necessary to simply say the following: right now, my life is in, shall we say, a difficult place.
It is made more so by the fact that it is not the best idea, at the moment, for me to specify exactly why this is so. Suffice to say that it is something in which I hope to one day write about in great detail, and I shall.
In truth, actually, I have indeed written about it in my journal. I have written about it in great detail.
With this has come the desire to share what I have written in great detail. I would love to do this, because I admit that I very much enjoy sharing myself with the world; it is a weakness of mine.
Yet again: alas, now is not the time.
So I leave it at this: writing, at this moment, is difficult. Actually, not quite: writing long pieces in my journal about the specifics of what I’m going through right now—and how I would like to share it with the world—comprises a great deal of the words that I put together at the moment. It is actually quite easy, and quite satisfying.
Yet again though: as for sharing it, now is simply not the time.
I’ve come to see that there is something particularly frustrating—painful, in fact—in being a storyteller with a great story that he can’t tell. Right now, I know this much about all those things that I have written: they form a great story. I have edited it into close to 200 pages of great reading; it would be satisfying to share that story.
Just turn it in to a PDF and post it, part of me says.
But then another part says. No, not now.
Later, maybe. Okay...later, definitely.
Furthermore, it is incredibly difficult to go through life keeping this story to myself. So much of the writing that I do is about taking things inside of me that feel as if they have to come out, and getting them on the paper or screen so that I can share them with the world. To not do so is to somehow feel as if these things must remain inside me, where they haunt my mind and soul.
So yes, I share aspects of the things that I write about with friends and family. And even here, I’m careful. I don’t want to be drag, you know.
In fact, this is the reason that I so prefer getting this stuff down in the written word. With the written word, I do most of the work; I edit myself, and spend a lot of time getting the words right so that I don’t ramble. Also, the reader can read this whenever he or she wants; it’s not as if the person reading has to read it at the exact moment when I write it (unlike listening, which a person has to do at the exact point that I talk).
So yeah…right now, yes, I write, but there are a lot of things in which it is wise for me to keep them to myself. Leave it at this: my life, at the moment, has officially hit a rough patch.
I am writing every day. I may not post every day. Be patient, and be kind.
That is all. Thank you.
I’ve been going through a Rolling Stone record guide, highlighting the albums that have received five stars. It’s a lot of fun, because when I do it, I stumble onto a whole lot of artists I just wouldn’t have thought to check out. In addition to bands I knew about but just slipped through the cracks (Big Star’s Radio “Radio City” is an example), there are plenty of others that I’ve never heard of, but are now on the list (“Two Steps From the Blues” by Bobby “Blue” Bland is just one of these).
There is something about drawing as line in the sand like this that always amuses me. A five star Rolling Stone rating is the magazine’s way of saying that the album is an absolute classic, one that someone with even the slightest interest in the music should check out. Because I’m pretty much into everything, this means that apparently my life is not complete unless I listen to these before I die.
Four stars doesn’t quite cut it. Four stars means that the performance was outstanding, and that yes, if you’re a fan of the style or the artist, you can’t go wrong. Still, though, it’s not a five star album; a five star album means that even if you’re not all that into the music, it will rock your world.
Mind you this is a 2004 edition, so there’s fourteen years of music that’s not here. And because of that, certain artists get short shrift who have since became major big deals. If I just go by this book, for example, I can skip over Kanye West, because the only album that’s here is 2004’s “College Dropout,” which netted four stars ("Late Registration" would later be one of the few albums from the 2000s to collect five).
I can actually just about get up to date with this by checking out whatever albums Rolling stone awarded those precious stars between 2004 and 2018. There are a couple of websites that fill in the blanks.
One, in fact, made me see that I don’t need to waste my time highlighting these albums in my book. Rocklist.net has done it all for me. In fact, they have lists of the five star albums in each of the so far four Rolling Stone record guides: 1979, 1983, 1992, and 2004.
I could make a list out of this of every single five star album in these books. Then I could combine that with whatever else they gave five stars recently.
Rolling Stone actually doesn’t give much of anything five stars lately, unless it’s an album by Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. In fact, just about the only reasonably contemporary artists to get five stars recently were West, The White Stripes (whose "Elephant" got five stars in the magazine, but gets four and a half in the book), and Beyonce (for "Lemonade").
Doing this does make me contemplate the whole swath of music I wouldn’t listen to if I just kept my listening preferences to five star albums. Forget Iggy Pop, he doesn’t make it (though “Fun House” by The Stooges did). Forget The Police. Forget Tom Petty. Yet, at the same time, make sure to pick up “Discography: The Complete Singles Collection” by The Pet Shop Boys.
Then there are the albums that get four and a half stars. Why didn’t they get five? What is it about Outkast’s “Speakerboxx/The Love Below” that causes it to just miss the cut by half a star, while “Aquemini” makes it? Is there not a single album in the selected discography of Pete Seeger that warrants classic status? Apparently not, but there are a couple of those slightly imperfect, four and a half star offerings.
So just to be clear: all you need to know about James Taylor is “Sweet Baby James.” Listen to Talking Heads’s “Remain in Light,” and skip the rest. You don’t have to listen to anything by Taj Mahal, or Joan Baez. You do, however, have to check out “Rings Around the World” by Super Furry Animals (which, alas, is not on Spotify; a best of compilation is there, but who knows if it’s truly a five star compilation, you know?).
Check out “Psychocandy” by The Jesus and Mary Chain and forget about everything else. As for the Grateful Dead, “Workingman’s Dead,” “American Beauty,” “Dick’s Picks, Volume 4,” and that’s it.
And so on.
Ah, well, at least I can still listen to Tom Waits.
But only “Rain Dogs.”
So I took a break writing. Broke that streak of about four months of posting something every day. Figured hey, it was a good idea to see what happens if I don’t write for a while.
And now I know.
What I learned is this:
I must never, ever again go a few days without writing.
Look, I guess for some people, not writing for a while rests the engines. Yes, I know that for these same people, there are times that writing can feel like running on a sprained ankle.
And now I know that I am not one of these people.
For me, going some time without writing is akin to a shark not swimming. It immediately leads to the feeling that my writing muscles are slackening, and within a few days, after not writing, getting back to it feels as if I have been paralyzed and bedridden, and now must get up and walk.
It is a horrible, horrible feeling. A miserable downward spiral presents itself, in which writing is difficult, which then makes it difficult to write. So I don’t write, and feel miserable that I haven’t written. This, in turn, makes it more difficult to write.
And so it goes.
I’ve no doubt that there is other writing that I need to do besides these daily essays, and I certainly have no doubt that there is other writing that I need to do besides the self indulgent ruminations that I put in my journal. I want to write stories, and I know that I need to be patient with myself and have faith in those stories coming to the surface.
I have learned, however, that I simply cannot go a day without writing something of substance. Already, even now, writing the three hundred words that I have written seems like a trial. Before I stopped writing, this was effortless.
It’s quite frankly a bit chilling to feel such a complete and utter emotional meltdown from something as simple as just not putting together a couple of words for a week or two. Yet there it is: I simply cannot do this.
Fortunately, this makes me think about the other side of this, which is that the more that I write, the better I shall feel. I cannot think of a time that posting an essay has not given me some sort of good feeling. Even when it has been one of the essays in which I’ve written about not having much to write about, it has always felt good to get it out there.
Yes, it does feel like a chore, getting these essays out here each day, and sometimes, if I have nothing in the morning, I feel a particular strain that just isn’t that enjoyable. Yet at the same time, when I write a few essays and have them ready for posting that morning, there is a wonderful little ritual in the morning of posting the essay, checking out how many folks read my stuff, and then writing a few hundred words, if not a few thousand.
So I have learned my lesson. No, I will not expect too much of myself in these daily essays that I post. There will be days in which I write just to get the words up here, and what will be here will not always be the most exciting stuff in the whole wide world.
But I suppose that for me, to not write is to not live. For better or for worse, it is something that I need to do, every day. And I shall never, ever, go a day without writing again.
If you're one of those two or three loyal fans who read my work, I've been taking a break, and enjoying it.
Fear not...I need a few more days to rest my jets, and will be back on May 1st. Promise.
Dear Laurie and Joe,
The first thing I want to say is, thanks a whole lot. In fact, this whole letter is just about thanking you for one thing after another.
The first thing I want to thank you for is the squirrel feeders you set up in the backyard. It’s really hard to find food, and you guys have made it a lot easier. It would be nice if you filled it up a bit more—there’s, like, maybe one day of food in that feeder—but still, it’s great.
As long as I’m thanking you for the feeders, there’s something else about them that’s great. What I’m saying is, you turned getting food into a game. Let me explain.
We squirrels really like video games. We discovered how much we liked them when you let us hack into your router without asking so that we could play them. This actually allowed us to download copies of video games by hacking into the root code of Steam without asking, and it was really nice of them to let us do that.
Anyway, when we were done with Steam and figured out a way to get a free deluxe account on Guild Wars 2 without asking—which was really nice of the Guild Wars 2 people, by the way—we noticed something that reminded us of you.
In Guild Wars 2, right, there are these things called vistas. They’re these special places on top of mountains and buildings where it’s tough to get there. It’s a real challenge sometimes, because you usually have to find this special way there that involves jumping from one place to the next, and being in just the right place.
This is my favorite part of the game. Whenever I get to this part, I always imagine that I’m right there, trying to get to the top of that mountain or building. And when I succeed, I kind of imagine myself standing there, feeling all proud and mighty.
It kind of makes me wish that I were a video game character in real life, and that’s the reason I want to thank you again.
I notice you’ve been setting up all these obstacles around the squirrel feeders, and I have to think really hard to figure them out. It’s a lot of fun, and when I eat the food from the feeder it tastes even better, because I feel like I earned it.
So thanks for everything. Thanks for the squirrel feeders. Thanks for the obstacles. Thanks for letting us use your internet. Thanks for taking the blame when the FBI comes by to investigate all the break ins to all those websites.
If you go to jail, we’ll figure out a way to set you free. It’ll be another challenge. It’ll be fun.
Oh, yeah, just a heads up: a lot of birds are getting into the squirrel feeders. I just figured you’d want to know about this, because stealing is wrong, and I don’t want anyone stealing from you. So you might want to do something about that.
Forager, Second Class